December 8 – Battle of Falkland Islands Day

Posted on December 8, 2016

I don't think of World War I being fought near South America, do you? 

But I guess they don't call it a “world war” for nothing!

Imperial Germany had a squadron of ships that disrupted other nations' shipping by attacking merchant ships and supply bases.

And on this date in 1914, this overseas naval group was effectively destroyed!

The Germans' squadron was made up of eight ships under Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee. In November of 1914 they had sunk two British cruisers with all hands (“with all hands” means ALL of the sailors and officers died) in the South Pacific Ocean, near Chile. This was the first defeat for the Royal Navy in a century. In response to the defeat, the British sent a large squadron to track down and destroy the German ships.

The British were waiting at the port of Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, when the German squadron tried to raid the supply base. The weather was good, and the visibility was excellent, so I wondered why Spee would attack seeing the British squadron in port. Well, it seems that he was confident that he could outdistance the big battleships he saw – the British Dreadnoughts – and he was probably overconfident because of his earlier victory.

He paid for his mistake.

It turns out that the Brits also had two swift battle cruisers designed to combine speed and maneuverability with power and big guns. Even as early as nine in the morning it was obvious that the Germans were outgunned and would be easily caught.

Eventually, all but one German ship were hunted down and sunk.

The British suffered only very light casualties – only 10 dead compared to more than 2,000 German sailors, including Admiral Spee and both of his sons. (The three Spees were each on a different ship. But remember, 7 out of 8 ships were sunk.) There were a couple of hundred German sailors who survived and were taken aboard the British ships as prisoners. It was considered the most decisive naval battle of World War I – and it provided a much-needed surge of confidence for the Allies.

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