Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The fate of HMS Bulwark

On the 26th November 1914 at 7.45 in the morning and the pre-Dreadnought battleship HMS Bulwark was laying off number 17 buoy at Kethole reach coaling from the Kingsnorth Naval base. The water was calm, no tide and not a single disturbance on the water.

The crew of the aging warship had been on shore leave in Sheerness and had reported for duty at 7.00 am that morning. Now the majority were having breakfast in the mess rooms around the ship, others were on duty carrying out necessary shipboard tasks whilst others were conducting drill as the ship's band began to rehearse.

For next five minutes all continued as it should.

What happened next was heard as far away as Whitstable and Southend where the pier vibrated and shook and German civilians interned on vessels gathered in fear as the noise and vibration reverberated across the estuary.

Lieutenant Benjamin Carroll who was serving as the assistant coaling officer in Sheerness was checking Bulwark's coaling level signal flag from a boat on the river when something caught his eye. He noticed a flame spurt from the abaft of the after barbette turret, then the flame passed along the vessel towards the after funnel in what he would later testify as an internal explosion. 

Another witness reported to a local newspaper that;
I was at breakfast when I head an explosion, and I went on deck. My first impression was that the report was produced by the firing of a salute by one of the ships, but the noise was quite exceptional. When I got on deck I soon saw that something awful had happened. The water and sky were obscured by dense volumes of smoke. We were at once ordered to the scene of the disaster to render what assistance we could. At first we could see nothing, but when the smoke cleared a bit we were horrified to find the battleship Bulwark had gone. She seemed to have entirely vanished from sight, but a little later we detected a portion of the huge vessel showing about 4ft above water. We kept a vigilant look out for the unfortunate crew, but only saw two men.

Aboard Prince of Wales men on deck reported seeing smoke coming from the stern of the ship before an explosion in an after magazine. Elsewhere witnesses reported hearing a low rumbling and roaring followed by a great sheet of flame shooting upwards with debris with a force so strong that it lifted the 15,000 ton warship out of the water before sending her crashing down and sinking into the murky estuary waters, the only thing marking her spot was a grey-green cloud of smoke that billowed from the waters surface.

With in moments, as the shock passed rescue boats rushed to the scene to see who could be saved from the water as debris rained down upon the town and river covering an area of four miles. An engineering officers jacket was found hanging in the Formidable's radio aerials, the former owner must have been blasted to smithereens.  Flotsam like hammocks, furniture, pieces of superstructure and bodies... and uncountable amount of bodies and pieces of bodies bobbed about in  water. There were few survivors.
Chief Gunner Breakspere's grave at Woodlands cemetery

In all 745 men and 51 officers were killed outright. Some blown to pieces others completely disintergrated. Only 14 men were pulled from the water and five of them died from their wounds, including Able Seaman Crow and Private Gilbert Guy RMLI.  The coroner's hearing at Medway Naval hospital ruled that the cause of death for the majority of bodies recovered and those of the men who died subsequently was extreme burns. Of the 51 officers, 11 bodies were recovered and a further 30 bodies (14 were identifiable by Cooks mate William Cooper who had been onshore on sick leave.) after the disaster although bodies were washing up on the beaches of Sheppey up to January the following year.

During the days that followed the Navy sent divers to investigate the wreck and found that the port bow from the aft sick bay lay 50 foot away from the mooring and the Starboard bow was a further 30 foot away but the blast had been so terrific that nothing else remained.

The big question was; what caused one of His Majesty's warships to explode at mooring. Fanciful stories of a rogue U-boat, spies or even Zeppelin attack quickly gripped the people of Sheppey and Medway but after a few days reason set in and with Lt Carroll's statement a U-boat was quickly discarded as was the notion of a German Airship. The Coroner was not satisfied with the findings of the court. Admiralty divers were certain that they had found all of the loose shells from the Magazine cross corridors (where they were being stored as the magazines were full) and that there was no evidence of treachery or loose cordite. The conclusion was reached that no one really knew what caused the explosion and could not provide an adequate answer. The enquiry returned a verdict of accidental death and the book was closed. It has been since argued that the cordite in the shells in the cross corridors must have overheated and exploded causing a chain reaction through the magazines that tore the vessel apart.

Woodlands road cemetery in Gillingham is the final resting place for many of the crew, be it in the communal mass grave of the unidentified (containing 70 with a further 12 individual graves) as well as 67 named graves.

The full casualty list for Bulwark can be read here

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The end of the raider SMS Emden and the battle of Cocos

Franz Joseph Hohenzollern
Prinz Franz Joseph von Hohenzollern, the Kaiser’s nephew, was having the worst day of his Naval career, possibly of his life as he stood on the burning deck of SMS Emden looking at the remains of the vessel he had served upon as torpedo officer. The fore deck was covered with wounded German sailors and marines suffering from burns, abrasions, broken limbs, splinters and disfigurements from the hour long battle with the Australian cruiser that had now left the scene. He and a small band of sailors held rifles and Lüger pistols and aimed them at the sky trying to drive off the Albatross that had descended upon the wounded tearing at cheeks, eyes and wounds.

It hadn’t always been this way. He remembered the day they left Tsingtao to look for Russian vessels as the band played Am Wacht Am Rhein, the day they returned with the Ryazan, the first victory of the war, the journey to meet von Spee, the last signal from Scharnhorst back on the 14th August;

Emden detatched – (Emden detached.)

The vessel had gone on to have an impressive career commerce raiding in the Indian Ocean having rigged up a dummy funnel to appear like HMS Yarmouth she was able to act in secrecy able to approach British vessels and then once on top of them raise the German Ensign and signal:

Stop your engines, send no wireless signals

On the 10th September, whilst operating on the Calcutta to Colombo trade spine, Kapitän von Müller captured the Greek vessel Pontoporros carrying equipment for the English but instead of sinking the vessel took the vessel into his service as a collier and began paying the crew. The next three days saw them pull over seven more vessels which had their crews removed to another captured vessel, Kabinga which was released to take the crews back.

Two encounters with neutral vessels changed the situation for von Müller’s command drastically. The first, a Norwegian, informed him of the British warship, HMS Hampshire patrolling for him and others were joining them. The second vessel, an Italian, immediately reported the incident to the British. Admiral Jerram responded by halting all trade in the area and dispatched British and Japanese cruisers to find the German cruiser whilst his armoured cruiser Minotaur and the Japanese battle cruiser Ibuki were sent to seek out where the Emden was getting her coal, if she, like Karlsruhe had a secret base that she was operating from. There were plenty of islands and deserted coast line, as well as many in India who did actively wanted rid of the British who might aid the Germans as a means to the end to remove the Imperial yoke. As for von Müller, he had already decided to quit for the east coast of India.

The 22nd September saw the German’s most audacious move and von Hohenzollern stood upon the deck of Emden in the early hours of the evening as the cruiser approached
Madras harbour and began firing. Oil storage silos were set on fire, a ship was sunk in the harbour, defensive guns silenced, 20,000 people fled and the British admiralty were left red faced by one German cruiser and 130 rounds of ammunition in half an hour.

Despite the irritation and many victories of Emden and her crew, the British admiralty and Churchill grew to admire the bravery of the plucky German commander and the gentlemanly conduct with which he carried out his war. All prisoners were treated fairly, they were fed well and kept until it was safe to release them in a group, on one occasion with a cheer for von Müller.

Trying to keep the British guessing he struck out at Western Ceylon taking another two vessels and then turning to the Maldives to re-coal and proceed to fruitlessly interdict the trade route from Australia to Calcutta. By then the crew was tired, strained and his engines and vessel long over due for repair and refit having sailed so many miles in the previous two months. Von Müller brought his vessel to the British outpost Diego Garcia some 600 miles from his hunting grounds. The gamble paid off as the islanders were unaware of the commencement of hostilities and they welcomed the German cruiser and von Müller played up to the charade and allowed his engineers to repair the island's motor launch whilst the crew rested, his boilers and pipes were cleaned and the cruiser's belly scraped off. After ten days  von Müller heard that the Royal Navy had reinforced the Hampshire and Chikuma with the auxiliary Empress of Asia which meant the area was safe to return to and so they left port with all their repairs completed. Yet again Emden was successful and between the 16-19th October they caught out seven vessels and released prisoners on the Saint Egbert to Cochinon the 20th October.

Admiral Jerram immediately ordered all merchant vessels to leave the trade routes and to black-out at night time. He also ordered that Askold and Yarmouth be released from convoy duties to begin searching for the Emden. He also ordered the Chikuma and Zhemchung to link up with the armoured cruisers Tokiwa and Yakimo to scour the east of the bay of Bengal.

The most daring raid came on the 28th October when Emden brazenly cruised into Penang harbour, an island off Malaya, with her false funnel raised, and began firing. Her torpedo officer von Hohenzollern gave the order to fire the first torpedo which struck the Russian cruiser Zhemchug as it lay at anchor. Moments later the German guns riddled the hull sending most of the Russian sailors fleeing for cover before a second torpedo struck igniting the forward magazine causing an explosion that lifted the ship up in the water before sinking her leaving 88 dead and a 121 wounded out of a crew of 250. The Commander, Cherkassov was off ship with a lady friend whilst the crew were drinking on deck without anyone on watch. All the ammunition, save twelve shells, were locked away so the one salvo that the Russians fired was all the ammunition they had available.  

The French destroyers in port began to get up steam and von Müller worried that a torpedo attack was imminent and despite the array of merchant ships and facilities that were prime targets the Kapitän decided it was not worth the risk to stay and made for the open sea.

French destroyer Mousquet
The French destroyer Mousquet was encountered as Emden withdrew and began opening fire but the German fire was too accurate and heavy killing the Captain, Lieutenant Théroinne and 46 of the crew with 36 wounded. Emden rescued 33 French sailors from the sea and put them on a passing British steamer with an apology for shooting at an unarmed Government launch during the raid.

The raid's purpose, apart from to cause chaos and damage Allied ships and prestige and to draw the Allied vessels to the east. His next raid, the severance of the radio transmitters at the Cocos islands severing communications between Australia and India. They were also aware that there was a troop convoy heading across the area and with his activity in this area it would cause the Allies to concentrate in the east meaning von Müller could return to the west coast of India again.

After coaling from the Exford on the 8th November, having spent the night searching for her, von Müller ordered Emden onwards and Exford to sail for Cape Horn and to steer away from where he believed the troop convoy was sailing in radio silence (it was actually 150 nautical miles southeast of the Cocos making for Ceylon) and von Müller and his crew were unaware of the real proximity of the Allied warships cutting through.

Early on the morning , 5.50am of the 9th November, a four funnelled cruiser heaved into view of Cocos island and came under the watchful eyes of the Superintendent of the Eastern telegraph company, Darcy Farrant. They had been warned by Admiral Jerram that they could come under attack at any time and to keep an eye on the horizon. As he examined the vessel he noticed that the fourth funnel looked wrong and examined it closely discovering it was in fact canvas. He immediately found Mr La Nauze and got him to run to the W/T sets and send an immediate SOS.

Offshore the Emden lowered a steam launch with first officer Hellmuth von Mucke leading fifty hand picked armed men with machine guns, demolition charges and W/T operators who could identify the right kit to destroy. Some of the team included gunners who were included as a reward for their excellent work at Penang. The Germans rushed ashore and overpowered the La Nauze and Farrant. Von Mucke's men began by placing charges on the tower (accidentally bringing it down on a large stock of whiskey), destroying motor rooms, electrical generators, the radio rooms and began pulling up the Atlantic cables. This took over two and a half hours, longer than von Müller had hoped for as von Mucke was having trouble cutting the cables.

Out at sea the SOS transmission had reached HMAS Melbourne via HMS Minotaur. The Melbourne was leading the troop convoy and was only fifty miles away from the beleaguered radio station. Captain Silver, her commander, was in two minds. Naval strategists feared that the Konigsberg from Africa, had broken into the Indian ocean and was either working with Emden or in concert with her and targeting other targets. The IJN battle cruiser Ibuki under Captain Kato pleaded that for the honour of Japan and the cruiser they would like to be the ones to take the Emden. Silver, however had was worried that Konigsberg could still attack the convoy and if he detatched the battle cruiser, he could be putting the vulnerable soldiers in danger as well as Melbourne and Sydney. However Konigsberg could be at the Cocos too. After great deliberation and much to Captain Kato's horror, Silver detached the Sydney at 7.00

von Müller, German corsair
At 9.00 von Müller was alerted by his lookouts that there was smoke on the horizon - it could only be one thing. Despite his operator's best efforts to jam the Island's signals he knew that some must have got through. He ordered the recall signal be blown from the ship's horn and for Emden to raise steam. Knowing it was a light cruiser he decided to put the ship to sea and brought the crew to high alert and left a bewildered von Mucke with his landing team bobbing in their launch watching Emden leave.

As they hadn't been expecting action Emden's engines were not at full steam and the engineering officer told von Müller that it would take an hour to get up to full speed. This was Emden's greatest strength over the Sydney who had larger guns and armour, von Müller would have to try to buy time but it was not to be.

Sydney opened the ball sending her first salvo over, Emden returned fire but with the same consequences as the gunners tried to find the range. Gaede, the gunnery officer ordered corrections and relayed to his Captain that the Australian vessel was firing 6" shells. Von Müller ordered Emden to close the range and brought her closer to the enemy bringing her 4" guns to a more effective range. The move paid off as the third salvo took out both of Sydney's fire control stations and another shell fell into the fo'castle between Captain Glossop and his first officer but did not explode. The German gunners had failed to turn their shells to active and were in effect, firing blanks. Had it gone off, the confrontation with Sydney would have ended much differently.

As the Australians brought their guns under manual range fire control the Germans fired another five salvos from 9000 yards starting a fire on Sydney's aft Starboard gun which could have started a magazine fire that could have caused catastrophic explosion but again, nothing. Emden's luck had run out. It had reached 10:05 and the Engineers could not provide full speed yet. The battle looked to be turning against them.

The Sydney's first major hit on Emden ripped the radio room apart killing all of the inhabitants, a second took off the foremast, the third killed the gun crews of the bow guns below the Conning tower and splattering the Command crew with blood and splinters. This was only the beginning as round after round ripped through the German cruiser taking down the fore funnel, ripping the rest of the fore gunners to shreds and wounding von Müller, another took out the stern guns knocking over a large stack of ammunition which started a fire. Damage control crews rushed to the area and tried to control it and recover the wounded gunners. Sixteen were dead including their officer, Levetzow who was a close friend of von Hohenzollern. The signals officer Guerard and his men were killed next as the foremast was taken out.

The situation was dire as Emden burned, her gunners were dead, wounded or dying as were their replacements, the ammunition hoists were wrecked and with the speaking tubes from the bridge destroyed as well it was really only a matter of time. Gaede was killed trying to assist on the decks and von Müller tried to asses his options. He ordered his loyal helmsman, the only survivor left in the bridge, to bring her to starboard and try and make a torpedo run. It was all he had left but even that was impossible. Von Hohenzollern reported that the torpedo flats were out of action. It was only 11:00. There was only one option left to von Müller and he ordered his helmsman to change course for Direction island and the reef and try and beach the cruiser. The Sydney continued to bombard them in rapid succession tearing more holes in the superstructure but the German's kept their nerve until the reef stopped the vessel with a loud grinding screech of metal on rocks.
The wreck of Emden

As Sydney left to catch Emden's collier, Buresk, von Müller assessed the situation. His ship's fighting, indeed sailing career was over, a third of his men (100) were dead and another twenty were badly injured. Ship's doctor Luther and von Hohenzollern reported to the Kapitän for orders. They were dispatched to the decks to rally the able-bodied and lightly wounded to put the fires out and gather the wounded on the foredeck. Others destroyed the code books and smashed gunnery equipment, if the Australians were to take this ship they would not get anything useful from her. Apart from the heat, fire and wounds the crew soon discovered that there was no fresh water available as the tanks were below decks surrounded or contaminated with salt water. Volunteers dove into the sea to swim to the island and bring back coconuts but the razor sharp rocks and strong currents ripped the men to shreds, von Müller would have to wait and make do.

Sydney found the Buresk out at sea and boarded her only to find the German prize crew had already opened the seacocks and she was already past saving. The Australian crews pulled the Germans free and brought them aboard where it was reported that one of the officers had said that there was no way that von Müller would surrender. This was backed up when Sydney returned to the wreck and saw the German ensign still fluttering in the wind. Captain Glossop signalled the Germans asking them if they surrendered, no response, he tried again and received a message saying they didn't understand the signal as codebooks were destroyed. They tried a morse code signal but no response. Glossop felt there was no other recourse but to open fire again for a solid five minutes tearing greater holes in the already ruined German vessel. Von Müller had been too busy trying to get his wounded together and stabilise his vessel and he had neglected to pull down the ensign, its' still flying meant that she was still at action stations. With another fifteen men killed in the shelling and more diving over the sides into the reef. He ordered the flag torn down and the battle came to a quick halt. Sydney turned away for Cocos to secure von Mucke's command slowing to pick up German sailors who'd been blown overboard.

Von Mucke had watched Emden charging off towards Sydney and realised what was happening. He ordered the pinace back to the island where they secured the radio crew and began digging slit trenches and deploying the machineguns. As they watched the on going battle von Mucke realised that Emden was doomed and made a daring decision. His men decamped to the island's sailing schooner Ayesha and made her seaworthy and fled the island whilst Sydney was hunting the Buresk. The journey they undertook over the next six months was to become one of the greatest escape stories of the First World War with von Mucke leading his men across the Indian ocean, through the Ottoman empire and finally arriving in Constantinople and reporting to Admiral Souchon.

By the time Sydney had secured the W/T station it was nightfall and von Müller's men had to stay aboard the remains of the swan of the Pacific with wounded dying from their wounds. The next morning the Australians approached with the doctor from Cocos to assist the German crew. With 137 men dead and another 69 wounded, von Müller handed over the remains of the crew and with a last look around his command stepped off onto the Australian lifeboat as the last man aboard, the sparkling career of the raider was over, much to the relief of the British Admiralty.

Von Müller's career was summed up by a reporter for the New York Times;

Her commander is doing with luck and skill an appointed task fully legitimised by the laws of war. Our own Paul Jones did the same thing, and to this day is occasionally called a pirate by the British. They know, however, that he wasn't one, and no more is the commander of the Emden.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The fate of SMS Karlsruhe

Fregatenkapitan Erich Kohler
On 4th November 1914 an explosion ripped through the German Cruiser SMS Karlsruhe breaking it in two and taking more than half the crew with her. One of Germany's newest warships, having only been commissioned in January of that year. Fregattenkapitan Erich Kohler was criticised by Geoffrey Bennett in his book Naval battles of the First World War for being ineffective compared to Kapitan von Muller's Emden. However this is not entirely accurate as after Emden the Karlsruhe was the most successful lone raider capturing 16 vessels in three months.

Kohler's campaign almost stuttered to a stop within days of the outbreak of the war. At the outbreak of the war the Karlsruhe was in the Caribbean sea to having relieved SMS Dresden on station to fly the flag for Germany and protect German citizens (and interests) during the Mexican revolution. The standard order to Cruiser commanders serving in overseas was to conduct cruiser warfare against any military targets and trade at the best of your ability. The Captain of the cruiser would have full jurisdiction and freedom to make the best choices. Kohler took his vessel out in a remote corner of the Bahamas laying 120 miles north of Watling Island where on the 6th August he rendezvoused with SS Kronprinz Wilhelm and began the slow process of transferring weaponry and crew over. Not long after putting two of the 10.5cm guns, a machine gun and a small compliment of crew under the Karlsruhe's  navigation officer Kapitanleutnant Thierfelder when smoke was spotted over the southern horizon. It was HMS Suffolk the flagship of Rear Admiral "Kit" Craddock and she was heading straight for them. Kohler ordered the transfer to cease, to raise steam and prepare to get underway, an order that Thierfelder echoed on the liner and the two German vessels parted company at top speed, the Karlsruhe heading up to 27 knots and the liner at 23 with HMS Suffolk giving chase to the cruiser which made course away from the liner. After a spirited chase that spanned around eight hours Suffolk was forced to finally give with the German's speed out pacing them. This was not  the end of the chase though. At 20:15 HMS Bristol which had reversed course on Admiral's orders caught a glimpse of the German cruiser in the moonlight. Captain Fanshawe closed to 7000 yards and opened fire. A brief exchange began but being caught at a disadvantage Kohler decided to retreat using his superior speed. The darkness again saved her as HMS Berwick changed course at the last minute when near enough on top o her.

The encounter worried Kohler. The Royal Navy were obviously searching for him and having been chased by at least two cruisers he decided that the Caribbean was too risky for a sustained campaign. The other thing that swayed his decision was coal. If he could pull over enough freighters (as Emden did.) he could sustain  his coal but that was a big if especially that it seemed the Royal Navy were actively searching him for him (with more ships than were searching for Emden). He could not do as von Muller did and relocate somewhere else quickly if there was a lack of coal. There was the option of raiding ports and colonies but this presented the problems of temporary gain and no guarantee that he could take coal stocks as to do so took time, time that he may not have if a radio transmission was sent and Craddock's ships were coming. There was also a choice that the port authorities may do what the French did at Tahiti to von Spee and ignite the stocks which would mean Kohler would have expanded fuel, ammunition and men for nothing. All three of these resources were irreplaceable and beyond value. The easiest target was the British merchant marine but where to find them?

On the 9th of August the Karlsruhe pulled into San Juan, Puerto Rico with only 12 tonnes of coal left and began coaling. Whilst in port he took control of the Hamburg-Amerika line Patagonia to coal up and head off the coast of St Thomas and wait for him to reach there. Karlsruhe pulled into Curacao three days later and took on another 1,100 tonnes  and met another German vessel Stadt Scheieswig and ordered them to carry as much coal as she could to the coast of Brazil. He then headed out along the coast of Venezuela picking up the Patagonia before proceeding in the Dresden's tracks.

Karlsruhe's first victory was on the 18th August some 180 miles east of Barbados and well off the usual trade route, some 70 miles north in fact. The Bowes Castle had been advised by Captain Luce of the HMS Glasgow that a German cruiser may be stalking merchant shipping and so it was best to avoid the usual routes. At 16:45 she had the misfortune to be overhauled by that very same German cruiser. After removing the crew to the Patagonia and any supplies the merchant ship was scuttled.

The following week he rendezvoused with his second collier Stadt Scheieswig at St Joao Island where he re-coaled and sent her on to Maranham where it arrived on the 2nd September. The arrival of a German ship buying up coal and supplies was reported to Admiral Craddock. Kohler took his cruiser along the coast trying to stay hidden and in a secluded inlet coaled from the Patagonia on the 30th. The following day he received good news via his wireless sets. Three German ships made themselves available to him. The Nord Deutsche line Crefeld and the Hamburg-Sud Amerika line vessels Asunchion and Rio Negro who were all directed to meet at Rocos reef.

Rocos reef was a focal point for trade travelling down from Europe and for the route that ran from New York to Cape San Roque. Here Kohler could have a massive impact on trade and gather a huge amount of supplies. He was immediately rewarded by overhauling the Strathroy which was on to Rio from Virginia bringing coal to the Brazilian government.  The steamer realised something was wrong despite being some 80 miles off the trade route and when she saw Karlsruhe on the horizon and tried to escape but was quickly pulled over. Kohler sent a prize crew aboard and had the prisoners were transferred to the Asuncion though a contingent of Chinese sailors were retained with the German prize crew to assist in the running of the Strathroy. He brought his officers together and explained his plans.

Coaling at sea was not only impractical due to the rough seas but also because it meant that both the tender and Karlsruhe would be vulnerable should the Royal Navy come over the horizon he would be caught. Kohler's plan was simple. Whilst cruising the coast he had identified a small inlet that was remote. The Strathroy would go with the Patagonia and lay at anchor. When supplies ran low Karlsruhe would sneak back to the inlet to coal and resupply. It would mean leaving the trade routes for the best part of a week but it was preferable to the alternative.
Luck played a big part again as at this time the Dresden pulled over two cruisers (Hyades and Holmwood) at the River Plate which immediately drew off the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy (Otranto, Glasgow and Monmouth) had already started a sweep of the Brazilian coast from the Rocos reef but three days before Karlsruhe arrived there with her flotilla of tenders! Admiral Stoddart, who was in command of the second nearest squadron had his hands full watching the Canaries from Cape Verde and policing ships heading towards England from South Africa and neither he or Craddock had the vessels available to police the route permanently which meant the Karlsruhe could operate with relative impunity. Kohler also devised a scheme to try and catch scattered shipping, his cruiser would sit between two tenders at a distance which increased the visibility of the squadron and they either drifted (to conserve coal) or cruised during the day time and at night they went into darkness and pulled in together. Where as Emden played a daring fast paced campaign, Karlsruhe played the waiting game. He also redistributed coal and supplies amongst the ships in the flotilla so that he could accommodate hundreds of prisoners which had the effect that he didn't have to send ships back to port to drop them off and meant that little to no intelligence was gathered about her movements for seven weeks! Kohler was incredibly cautious not to give away his position, even to the point of ignoring direct W/T messages from the Kronprinz Wilhelm which was in the vicinity on the 4th September.
SMS Karlsruhe

Along with coal the Karlsruhe was also reliant on the merchant ships to provide him with food and on 3rd September he boarded the Maple Branch out of Liverpool that was carrying livestock for exhibition in Brazil. The freshly slaughtered pigs, sheep and cows were a very welcome addition to the German crew and the foreign prisoners.

There was another close call where Karlsruhe and the Asuncion barely missed the Cornwall and Good Hope on the 6th as the Germans cruised to their secret base. After returning on the 10th they floated for four days without seeing anything until the Highland Hope was pulled over on the 14th. The British vessel had been running without lights through the night as per Admiralty instruction but was still sighted and pursued until daybreak. This encounter led to yet another lucky escape for Kohler's men. Whilst his men were boarding the vessel he received a W/T message from a neutral Spanish vessel, Reina Victoria Elene asking what was going on. Kohler managed to bluff his way through the meeting and told them they were a British convoy. He ordered his men to hurry up with stripping their prey which proved to be a prudent move as his Radio operators reported intercepting communications between the Spanish vessel and a British vessel, HMS Canopus a pre-dreadnought battleship that was cruising south to meet Craddock. This episode forced Kohler's hand and he again relocated to another part of the trade spine.

He returned on the 20th September after a period of coaling and captured an amazing five vessels in  two days! Two of them were neutral (Swedish Prinsessan Ingeborg and Italian Ascaro and they were set free.) and on their release they provided the first intelligence on the Karlsruhe on the 28th September when Ascaro arrived at her destination of St. Vincent. A third neutral, Maria, a Dutch ship carrying wheat to Ireland which was deemed by Kohler, and in the German high courts in 1915, to be a reasonable target as they were going to a British port and could go to the British army.

One of his captured colliers, the Indriani, was a modern vessel with a modern Marconi set and was soon renamed Hoffnung (Hope) and became one of Karlsruhe's permanent consorts. The Strathroy was scuttled having run out of coal and the last of her crew were transferred to the Crefeld which had become the flotilla's prison ship and carried in excess of 150 prisoners! Although the treatment of these crews was good it was getting more than a little crowded aboard and there were a lot of hungry mouths to feed, something the Germans were struggling to do with the long periods with no victims.

SS Crefeld a liner for 192 passengers carried 415 prisoners!
In the beginning of October things improved again. News arrived that Craddock's vessels had gone south to find von Spee, which was doubly good news that the Karlsruhe was less likely to run into the armoured cruisers and that the East Asiatic squadron could be on her way, however there was also news that another British cruiser was nearby and Kohler again relocated to another part of the spine which proved fortuitous because he sailed into a stream of homeward bound vessels catching another four vessels in three days carrying general stocks and much needed foodstuff. Their capture was very lucky and as all the vessels were forty miles off the trade routes and travelling with lights dimmed following to the letter the Admiralty orders. Crefeld now carried 350 prisoners and it was decided that on the 13th October she should make for the distant Tenerife so that by the time she arrived any intelligence about the German cruiser's position would be out of date. Thankfully before she left the cargo ship Condor was pulled over with a cargo of foodstuffs and 2000 cases of condensed milk! Although the journey was uncomfortable the vessel arrived without incident, though narrowly missing the auxiliary HMS Victorian and arrived on 22nd. The 415 prisoners could not tell the Allies any information beyond what had happened to them and their time in captivity and that Kohler had four tenders and ample fuel. They couldn't tell him about the German's plans or whereabouts.

Kohler continued to operate in the same area until the 22nd October which was the allotted date for the Crefeld's arrival. He moved off and spent time coaling in preparation for his next move. He had formulated a plan to strike where the British would not be looking. The Caribbean.

On the 4th November with the Hoffnung and Rio Negro in attendance the Karlsruhe was heading towards Barbados for a daring raid that would bring the Royal Navy back to the Caribbean to search for him whilst he slipped back to the trade routes. Most of the crew had gathered on the fore of the ship to hear the Ship's band along with their Captain up in the fore-bridge when a massive explosion ripped through the vessel tearing the vessel in half. As the aft bobbed for a further twenty minutes before disappearing below the waves the two tenders rushed forward and saved 129 of the crew and 15 officers. Sadly though Kohler, 14 officers and 259 men were killed. Although the explosion's cause has never been definitively identified it is considered to have been an ammunition explosion that caused a chain reaction.

The crew of the Hoffnung were taken off with all needed supplies and promptly sunk by Rio Negro which then made the slow journey back to Germany arriving in December having run the British blockade. In a sad coincidence it arrived at a time when the German admiralty were planning on recalling Kohler's vessel.

Although Kohler's campaign is not as glamorous as von Muller's in the Indian ocean it still managed to capture a large number of vessels. Despite this its impact was much less significant. Where as Emden became infamous and von Muller a legend Kohler and Karlsruhe were more of an irritant. The two ships pulled over by Dresden had more of an impact on shipping and Naval deployment than Karlsruhe's actions and the arrival of Crefeld with news of all of her successes. The trade route was so lucrative and made shipping companies so much money that they weren't worried about the possibility that there was an unlocated German raider on the route and Kohler's secretive and overly cautious moves meant that no one really thought much of a vessel being overdue at first coupled with the amount of ships that had gone up the trade routes without seeing anything. The sixteen vessels destroyed is impressive but was a mere drop in the ocean of vessels that had got past and the losses were more than sustainable. If they hadn't been then Stoddart would have had to make a concerted search for him.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Royal Navy's first loss - Coronel

TThe first of November 1914 became a historic date in the History of the Royal Navy and Admiral Christopher Craddock, who feared repercussions similar to Trowbridge, would not survive the day.

HMS Good Hope, Glasgow, and Monmouth along with their axillary Otranto were a long way from their Atlantic station as they approached Coronel on the Chilean coast.

Craddock, a professional and well liked flag officer had swept down the east coast of South America chasing the white whale that was SMS Dresden and any auxiliary vessels and the spectre of SMS Karlsruhe.

Terror of the Caribbean; SMS Karlsruhe
When the war started the German cruiser Karlsruhe was at Havana having relieved Dresden from her post and duties of flying the flag and protecting German interests and citizens during the Mexican revolution. Dresden had not left the Caribbean and was at Port au Prince. The threat that these two cruisers presented was very real. Both ships were fast modern and well armed and it would take quite a few vessels to track them down in the island filled Caribbean and like the corsairs of old Dresden and Karlsruhe could strike any vessel or port and colony at anytime working together or striking at opposite ends of the sea forcing the Royal Navy to divide their forces and commit a far larger force to find them.

The Caribbean sea is also the starting point for many journeys to Britain and a vital trade hub for vessels bringing merchandise south from the USA and raw materials from the South Americas as well as those coming through the Panama canal. Merchant trade would freeze up as Captains refused to sail and run the risk which could be crippling all because there were two German ships. There was also the lightly defended colonies that could be shelled or at worse have German Marines land and cause havoc amongst the populous.

Understandably Craddock saw that finding and defeating these enemies as quickly as possible as his number one priority. There were five cruiser squadrons operating around the Atlantic and Caribbean so dealing with any auxiliary cruisers could be coordinated at leisure but he would personally deal with these surface units with the vessels available in the Caribbean. From Vera Cruz on HMS Suffolk he ordered Essex and Lancaster to Halifax to cover New York and to reinforce the HMCS Niobe in case the German's went north. HMS Berwick was directed to Jamaica to defend Kingston and Bristol was sent south to join Glasgow off Pernambuco to watch the way south. It was a wide net and he would react with his armoured cruisers as soon as the two German light units appeared.

In London, the same wisdom at the Admiralty which interfered with the hunt for Goeben and Breslau and redistributed Admiral Jerram's forces and sabotaged the hunt for von Spee's fleet intervened again. The Admiralty believed the primary threat was the clutch of liners that were currently in New York harbour being armed to harass British trade. HMS Good Hope was detached from the Grand fleet for Halifax. Admiral Stoddart who's squadron was stationed at Cape Verde was ordered to detach Monmouth and send to Pernambuco and the Bristol was sent north with Essex, Lancaster and Suffolk to Sandy Hook.

Kapitän Kohler  had anchored Karlsruhe in a remote area of the Bahamas to rendezvous with the SS Kronprinz Wilhelm of the North German Lloyd line and a former Blue Riband winner (in 1902). They lay 120 miles north of Watling Island and began trading crew and equipment to bring the liner up Auxiliary status. Captain Grahn of the liner was demoted to First officer and Karlsruhe's Navigation officer Kapitanleutnant Thierfelder took command and began overseeing the transfer of equipment and crewmen.

HMS Berwick passed Karlsruhe in the night
Through a fluke of war Admiral Craddock's flagship on her northern journey came over the horizon onto the two German vessels miles from anywhere. Craddock couldn't believe his luck and ordered the Armoured Cruiser to intercept. Karlsruhe and Kronprinz Wilhelm began heading in different directions at full speed. Craddock prioritised catching the cruiser and set to chasing Kohler's vessel and signalled Bristol to reverse course and summoned up Berwick to try and cut off the German's retreat. Despite the speed of the German cruiser and the fact that she had only been commissioned that year compared to the eleven year old heavier vessel, Craddock managed to keep pace from 11am until nightfall when he finally lost contact. In the moonlight Captain Fanshawe of Bristol caught sight of the German vessel and opened fire at 7000 yards. Over the next two hours the vessels exchanged fire but to no avail and Kohler managed to slip away. Berwick prowled the Caribbean night searching for the German raider but to no avail. Craddock's luck had run out though, as his last cruiser swept for its' prey it changed course little knowing that just out of sight a desperate Kohler was fleeing. On the 12th August, with only 12 tonnes of coal left in her bunkers, Karlsruhe pulled in to Puerto Rico.

Craddock revaluated the situation and following reports that Dresden had passed the Amazon and was heading south and Karlsruhe was trailing behind her and with the lack of liners heading out of New York he decided to head south too. He transferred his flag to Good Hope, which was fractionally faster and left Suffolk and his already northerly stationed vessels to deal with any Auxiliary vessels and Karlsruhe should she change course. Craddock took Berwick and Bristol south to St Lucia to meet the French vessels Conde and Descartes on 23rd August. Meanwhile the Admiralty had also directed HMS Cornwall and the Auxiliaries Otranto and Macedonia to support the Glasgow and Monmouth. Craddock also considered, in agreement with the Admiralty that von Spee would probably be heading towards the Straits of Magellan. He began communicating with London and deploying his force to patrol the River Plate area whilst Glasgow and Monmouth were sent around the Magellan straits and requested information about von Spee. No one had sighted Scharnhorst and Gneisnau since early August in the Caroline Islands but they agreed that it was a possibility that von Spee could head that way.

Dresden had continued to sail south and had captured two merchant ships Hyades and Holmwood (on 14th and 24th August respectively) before learning that the Royal Navy was forming up on the Eastern end of the straits of Magellan. Kapitän von Ludecke put in to Hoste island to overhaul his engines on the 5th September and isolated his vessel laying low in case the British were sweeping the straits. After eleven days the repairs had been completed and von Ludecke had to make a decision as to what to do now. It would be too dangerous to return north to try and meet up with Karlsruhe would be met with British warships looking for him and sewing up German trade. Ahead of him was friendly but neutral Chile with a lack of British warships. There was also the promise of SMS Leipzig operating off the west coast of the Americas and the possibility of von Spees squadron. His decision was clear, even with out the orders from Berlin advising him to join Leipzig. He put to sea and headed around the straits.
On the 14th September Craddock received fresh instructions from London outlining what was expected of his squadron.

Leave sufficient force to deal with Dresden and Karlsruhe. Concentrate a squadron strong enough to meet Scharnhorst and Gneisnau, making Falkland Islands your coaling base. Canopus is on route to Abrolhos; Defence joins, keep at least Canopus and one 'County' class cruiser with your flagship. As soon as you have superior force, search Magellan Straits, being ready to return and cover Plate, or search north as far as Valparaiso. Break up German trade and destroy German cruisers.

His force now consisted of the armoured cruisers Monmouth, Good Hope, light cruiser Glasgow, the AMC Otranto, with the battleship Canopus inbound and the modern Armoured cruiser Defence which would prove invaluable against the von Spee's vessels and could keep pace with them should the German decide to run.

Then von Spee threw the British a curve ball. Despite Captain Maerker, the Commander of Gneisnau's consul not to, the Admiral had led his two Armoured Cruisers to Apia in Samoa and feinted North North West. The Admiralty reassessed this move and thought that the Germans weren't heading for South America but were disappearing into the Pacific again. They believed that Craddock would only be sweeping away German trade and merchant ships with perhaps a chance encounter with Leipzig or Dresden which should be caught in a pincer of Craddock and Newcastle, Rainbow, Idzumo and the IJN battleship Hizen coming down from the north. The Admiralty signalled Craddock to that effect on the 14th September requesting the Admiral's intentions.
HMS Canopus

The Admiral agreed with his superiors in London, the four vessels he had available were sufficient enough to police the German trade he did however have severe misgivings with
Canopus. The aging battleship had been due to be scrapped and was held under care with a reserve crew that had been augmented with reservists. There were also serious problems with the engines that were significantly reducing their speed. There was also a problem with the acting engineering officer who maintained that the engines could not produce a speed greater than 12 knots. Craddock believed that this millstone would only slow him down and would be of little benefit especially if von Spee's squadron wasn't present and even if they were there the lumbering leviathan would be left in the German's wake. His appraisal was to take Good Hope, Monmouth, Otranto and Glasgow on a sweep around the straits and leave Canopus to escort the colliers trailing along behind the rest of the fleet at her best speed. He made a full sweep of the Straits looking for Dresden in rough weather. Although there was evidence that the German vessel had been there, the British liner Ortega reported being chased by Dresden in early September to Craddock, von Ludecke however was nowhere to be seen. He divided his forces and took his cruisers back to recoal at the Falklands and sent Otranto on to Punta Arenas to interdict German trade. Once ready he ordered Glasgow and Monmouth back around the straits to sweep Orange bay whilst he waited at the Falklands in case von Ludecke doubled back around.

The Admiralty signalled Craddock on the 7th October with fresh intelligence;

It appears that Scharnhorst and Gneisnau are working across to South America. You must be prepared to meet them in company, possibly with a 'Dresden' (Either SMS Emden or Dresden) scouting for them. Canopus should accompany Glasgow, Monmouth and Otranto, to search and protect trade in combination. If you propose Good Hope to go, leave Monmouth on east coast.

Craddock responded that he was going to concentrate his forces with Canopus at the Falklands and that he was not going to allow his vessels currently on the west coast to travel north above Valparaiso. He also expressed concern that von Spee now had five vessels with (his two Armoured and three light cruisers) and also that Karlsruhe was operating again in the north and suggested to their Lordships that Essex be sent up north to relieve Cornwall which could then be sent to him. He also asked for an update on Defence.

Events began to overtake Craddock. The main thing was Karlsruhe. The German cruiser, after a hiatus to carry out engine and boiler repairs, was operating with success similar to Emden's of the coast of Brazil capturing 15 British and 1 Norweigan merchant vessel. The Admiralty were getting nervous about it and rediverted HMS Defence away from Craddock to sit with Admiral Stoddart's squadron which was patrolling the River Plate. The Admiralty were concerned that should Craddock have concentrate all the British ships and proceed around the straits then von Spee could out manoeuvre him, get behind him and shell the Falklands and Abrolhos coaling bases leaving the Royal Navy nowhere to coal below the Caribbean. Spee could then disappear. Battenberg and Churchill were shore that Craddock was going to only send Glasgow up to Valparaiso but concentrate the rest of his ships at the Falklands whilst Defence and Carnarvon formed a squadron off Rio.

They also signalled Stoddart to order him across from the African coast to head for Montevideo with his force of five vessels and the Defence trailing from Gibraltar.

When Canopus arrived on the 18th October Captain Grant reported to Cradock that his engines needed a refit and her boilers cleaned which would take five days, there was no guarantee that this would indeed would increase the speed. Craddock decided he had to go to the aid of Monmouth and Glasgow and set sail leaving orders for the Canopus to follow when able with the colliers. Before leaving he wrote a letter for Admiral Meux in England with instructions to send it should he be lost, he also buried his medals and decorations in the Governor's garden. Although the letter has been lost to the mists of time, it has been speculated that he wrote a defence of his actions so that he wouldn't face the same disgrace Trowbridge had or be made a scapegoat. He felt the Admiralty had stitched him into a corner and that should he fail to stop Spee he would be disgraced.

Indeed the Admiralty still believed that the situation on the west coast "seemed safe." They were full of faith that the Newcastle with the Japanese cruiser and battleship were heading south with all due haste and that Glasgow and Otranto would lead von Spee onto Craddock's cruisers and Canopus. Of course the ocean is a big place and there was every possibility they would miss one another which is where Stoddart's force was to form a second line. That is why they still withheld Defence which Craddock again requested and denied him on 28th October. Further to this, the IJN Hizen was still at Honolulu trying to capture the SMS Geier and nowhere near HMS Newcastle let alone chasing down von Spee from the north.

On the 13th October von Spee departed Easter Island with his force; Scharnhorst, Gneisnau, Nurnberg, Leipzig and Dresden with their flotilla of colliers. Spee was more than aware through reports from the German consul and agents throughout South America, that the British force was in the area. This would be his first test.

With Canopus some three hundred miles behind him (now moving at a faster speed when the Captain found the truth out about his engines capability.) with the colliers, Craddock ordered Glasgow to Coronel to send a message to the Admiralty whilst he spread his other ships into a search pattern of twenty miles apart to search for the Germans.

Spee received word that Glasgow had left Coronel and decided that he should give his men a taste of action and set sail to catch the light cruiser whilst she was alone. At the same time Craddock's men picked up a radio signature coming through clear as day.

"Le, Le, Le"

It was the Leipzig. Craddock, like his opposite number, decided to catch the light cruiser on her own. Obviously she hadn't met up with Spee's squadron and was still operating on her own. He ordered his vessels to find and engage her.

At 16:30 in rough seas and clear weather with interspersed squalls of rain Good Hope sighted smoke on the horizon. It wasn't Leipzig. It was Scharnhorst and Gneisnau supported by Dresden and Leipzig whilst the Nurnberg carried out a stop and search of a merchant vessel. He quickly brought his squadron into formation and using his speed to out pace the British kept them from closing knowing that he had the disadvantage of being on the shoreline side of Craddock. He kept up the dance until the sunset around 19:00. Then with his British force was silhouetted against the sunset.

At 12,000 yards the German armoured cruisers fired their first salvo first firing over their target and then short to judge the range. The third salvo struck Good Hope taking out the front gun turret killing the reservist officers and men who were trying to prepare for fire. The Good Hope caught fire. Moments later Monmouth was on fire as Gneisnau's shells struck home. Otranto had already fled the scene and Glasgow which was the only vessel crewed by regular Crews and gunners was opening fire on the Germans but her shells were falling short. She was also under fire from Leipzig and Dresden who were scoring hits. The gunners on Monmouth and Good Hope were also unable to return fire from the majority of their guns as they were too close to the waterline and in the rough seas they could not see the Germans. Further to that the German vessels were hard to spot against the coastline.

Craddock ordered his ships to close the range so that he could try and use his smaller guns and Good Hope and Monmouth charged forward, both aflame, Good Hope ploughed forward trying to fire and fearing that Craddock meant to launch torpedoes Spee ordered his vessels to scatter away from her and concentrate fire. Good Hope was struck by thirty five shells, the final one striking her forward magazine which sent a massive explosion through the ship and broke her apart sending 919 men, including Admiral Craddock, his dog Nelson and four Canadian midshipman (who were the first Canadian sailors killed) to the depths. The time was 19:50.

Monmouth was also aflame and taking on water. A shell from Gneisnau had struck the fore turret starting a fire that caused an ammunition explosion so violent that it blew the gun into the air and off the ship. She fell away and out of line with Good Hope at 19:35. Glasgow managed to close with her at 20:05 but could do very little to assist her. Captain Luce tried to encourage the vessel to turn North west but he received a reply that the she was so badly holed that should she turn she would sink even more quickly. With the moonlight behind them Luce made the decision to leave her behind and save his own vessel and protect Otranto.

Nurnberg closed with the stricken vessel and ordered her to surrender. Monmouth wouldn't or couldn't lower her flags and the German light cruiser fired a warning shot, the only response was Monmouth turning towards her so she fired her guns into the British vessel which promptly capsized at 21:58. In the rough seas and lack of light Leipzig tried to locate survivors but couldn't find any and the German squadron moved on leaving another 800 men dead in the cold seas.

Admiral von Spee was only certain that he had sunk Monmouth and was certain that Good Hope had eluded him at first but after searching the area was satisfied he had succeeded in turning back the British squadron.

I am well and almost beside myself with happiness one German sailor, Hans Stutterheim wrote in a
Scharnhorst coaling in Valparaiso showing signs of damage
letter home.

It was great news that was celebrated through Germany when von Spee reported it to the German consul in Valparaiso.

HMS Glasgow collected up Otranto and met up with Canopus and warned her of the German squadron and their ability. Luce took the stragglers back around the cape to the Falklands and safety. The Germans did not follow, they went to Valparaiso to repair and recoal. Letting the Glasgow escape would have deadly consequences for the Leipzig six weeks later...