The Battle of Coronel was fought on 1st November, 1914. Some 1,418 men were lost in HMS Monmouth and HMS Good Hope, the flagship of Admiral Sir Christoper Craddock. They included 24 from NI remembered at St George’s Cathedral, Falkland Islands
15-year-old son of famous Castlerock family lost
The War Memorial in Castlerock Parish Church provides a Northern Ireland link with other memorials to this battle which are in Stanley Cathedral in the Falkland Islands, in the Anglican Church of St John in the Chilean city of Conception and in the 21st May Plaza Coronel.
The Castlerock link is a young Midshipman, Gervase Bruce, who was the grandson of Major Sir Harvey and Lady Bruce of Downhill, whose well-known estate is now owned by the National Trust and includes the Mussenden Temple. Gervase Bruce was only 15 years of age when he died for his King and Country. Sadly his mother, Lady Paget, had died when he was 10 years of age.
The Bruce family were descendants of Frederick Hervey, the 4th Earl of Bristol, and the C of I Bishop of Derry (1768 – 1803) who built Downhill.
Gervase’s great-uncle, Hugh Bruce, served with the navy at the Battle of Trafalgar. Hugh Bruce’s home was the second stately house to be built by the Earl Bishop. It was at Ballyscullion near Belllaghy. Admiral Hugh Bruce was one of the key figures in the planning and delivery of the Dreadnought programme in the early 1900’s. There is a memorial to him in St Tida’s Parish Church in Bellaghy.
Wrong ships, wrong place, wrong time
The Battle of Coronel was a classic case of the wrong ships being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Germany had created a powerful East Asiatic Squadron under the command of Von Spee, to project its influence. However, when Japan entered the war on Britain’s side, the balance of power as originally envisaged by Germany was altered significantly.
The German Squadron was ordered to close on the Pacific coast of South America to disrupt existing trading routes. Several ports in Chile were significant for vital supplies of coal and saltpetre. Having disrupted these the German plan was for the Squadron to enter the Atlantic and thus be close to the European theatre of war.
From the naval base in the Falkland Islands, Britain patrolled from the River Plate southwards along the Atlantic coast and northward on the Pacific coast at least as far as Valparaiso.
The battle in terms of ships and crews was uneven. Von Spee’s ships were modern and crewed by well-trained personnel. Von Spee had personally selected the officers and crews. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were armed with 8.2-inch guns and were renowned for their crack gunnery.
Craddock’s ships were old, ill-equipped, and staffed mainly by cadets and reservists. Ninety per cent of the crew of HMS Good Hope were reservists. Craddock’s force was also badly outgunned.
Monmouth was a classic case of a ship built on the cheap. She was the first of ten cruisers (The County class), laid down in the closing months of the Victorian era, and designed to protect British merchant shipping in far-flung corners of the globe. Some 9,800 tons, it had been launched in1901. It was armed with fourteen 6 inch, nine 12 pounders, and two 18inch. When it joined Cradock’s force it was under command of Capt Frank Brandt.
The First Sea Lord, Jacky Fisher, wryly commented, “Sir. William White designed the County class but forgot the guns”. Not only were the guns less potent than the earlier Drake class, but they were sited so close to the waterline that they were of little use, if any, in heavy seas.
The demands of war pressed obsolescent and unfit ships into service in a European war which was expanding speedily into a global conflagration.
The Monmouth had long been replaced by more modern classes of cruiser. She had languished in reserve after being on the China Station for seven years. She was hurriedly reactivated and on the same day, as Britain declared war against Germany, she and her hurried crew were despatched to join the 4th. Cruiser Squadron in the West Indies.
Lloyd Hirst, an officer in the light cruiser Glasgow, wrote in his diary, “She would have been practically condemned as unfit for further service, but was hauled off the dockyard wall, commissioned with a scratch crew of coastguard men and boys.
“She is only half – equipped and is not in condition to come 6,000 miles from any dockyard as she is only kept going by superhuman efforts”.
It was late in the afternoon of November 1st. when Craddock’s force sighted Von Spee’s more numerous and faster ships. Craddock in his flagship – even older than Monmouth – offered battle. The British ships were outlined against the setting sun and presented inviting targets. Even with nightfall, the burning superstructures of Good Hope and Monmouth guided the German gunners.
Good Hope was engaged by Scharnhorst. Eight 8.2 inch guns versus two 9.2 inch. The third salvo put the forward 9.2-inch gun out of action and was followed by serious hits to the forepart, upper bridge, and foretop. An internal explosion tore Good Hope. After less than an hour of battle, she was gone.
The ship was left silent and dead in the water. Von Spee lost contact around 2000 and ordered his light cruisers to search for the two large British ships that were presumably damaged and to finish them with torpedoes, Good Hope was not found but went down around this time. Her end was not seen in the darkness and the driving rain; 926 lives were lost – 52 officers, 871 ratings and 3 canteen staff. There were no survivors. Onboard were at least 3 from Northern Ireland.
Gneisenau engaged Monmouth and stayed out of range of Monmouth’s 6-inch guns and with devastating results. Monmouth’s foremost 6-inch turret was blown off and the forecastle was set on fire. Monmouth was hit by between 30 and 40 shells, many amidships. The after part of the ship went on fire and Monmouth tried to break away to the west. It was found around 2100 by the light cruiser Nürnberg which had just reached the area of battle. By then Monmouth was flooded, down by the bows and listing so far to port the port guns could not bear. Nürnberg stayed on that side and opened fire, then stopped to allow Monmouth to strike, she did not.
Nurnberg closed on her and lit her up with searchlights. From a range of less than 2,000 yards, Von Schonberg, captain of Nurnberg, opened fire once more. Monmouth turned over, her Ensign still flying. She fought to the last. But it was indeed “a Black Day for the Black Prince”.
Monouth’s green crew of recruits and reservists had fought valiantly though ineffectively. With his ship burning and disabled, Monmouth’s captain had ordered Glasgow to flee and warn Canopus, rather than attempt to tow his ship to safety.
When Monmouth capsized around 2120, 734 lives were lost – 42 officers and 692 ratings. There were no survivors except 4 men previously landed on Albrohos Rocks as lookouts who escaped the action. The seas were too rough for Nürnberg to lower boats. There were at least 14 on board Monmouth known to be from Northern Ireland.
The citizens of the region of Chile where the Battle of Coronel took place participated in one way or another in this event. The Battle was so close to the coast, that the flashes of the guns could clearly be seen from the beach and from the nearby hillsides. The citizens of Coronel had a really astonishing view of the whole event.
A few of the casualties were washed up on the beaches, most of them without any means of identification, except of course the known fact that they were British seamen. A number of them were buried in a specific corner of the cemetery at Coronel, and there is a version that states that some more were buried in a private Anglican cemetery at Quidico, further south from Coronel, where a British family owned a rural property.
At some time during the 1960s, British officials initiated negotiations for the repatriation of the remains of these casualties.
The strategic outcome of the battle
The Battle of Coronel was a tragic defeat for the British Squadron. Good Hope and Monmouth were lost with all hands. Glasgow and Otranto escaped with minor damage.
The German Squadron was barely touched. Casualties at Coronel were one-sided. Cradock lost 1,654 killed and both of his armoured cruisers. The Germans escaped with only three wounded.
On the plus side, the German ships expended a serious amount of shells. Scharnhorst used up 422 of her 8-inch shells, leaving her with about 350, and Gneisenau expended 244 leaving about 500. There was no way of replacement.
The most positive result was the reaction in Britain to this defeat. The defeat off Coronel was the first suffered by a British fleet at sea in a century and unleashed a wave of outrage across Britain. In order to deal with the threat posed by von Spee, the Admiralty quickly assembled a large task force under Vice-Admiral Sturdee centred on the battlecruisers HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible.
It was this force that finally faced Von Spee in the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8th December 1914.
This time the British fleet had the advantage. Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were sunk. Vice Admiral Maximilian Von Spee, his two sons, and 1,800 fellow Germans were dead. Leipzig and Nurnberg were captured and only Dresden got away. It was eventually caught and scuttled by her crew. This was the end of the East Asia German Squadron.
There has been a long controversy over the reasons for Admiral Cradock engaging the superior German force that outgunned and out-manned his own squadron. The official communications of the time show some messages in which the wording is rather vague, and at times just plain confusing. Different historians have interpreted this information in different ways.
However, some points were quite clear:
• Any weakening or damage sustained by the German squadron, would be a point in favour of Britain’s interests.
• It was understood that the protection of the commercial shipping routes was vital to the war effort.
• If it were at all possible to increase the vulnerability of the German fleet, this was a goal worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.
Ballymena officer’s brave retribution
Lieutenant Charles Gage Stuart of Ballymena was in HMS Glasgow during the Battle of Coronel. He had served on the China Station during the Russo – Japanese War 1904 – 05. HMS Glasgow got away damaged from Coronel and joined Surdee’s fleet at the Battle of the Falklands, December 1914. Following this, Glasgow went in pursuit of Dresden which had made its presence felt after Coronel.
A contemporary report states that Lieutenant Stuart ”was presented on Wednesday, by the King at Buckingham Palace, with the Distinguished Service Cross for meritorious service in connection with the sinking of the German Cruiser Dresden on March 14th, 1915”
His brother Captain WBG Stuart MC was killed in action on 22/11/1917 aged 24. Another brother Lt Leslie Ian Stuart was in the army. They were the sons of William and Barbara Frances Stuart, Mount Earl, Ballymena, and nephews of Rear Admiral Leslie Stuart, CMG.
A memorial donated by the people of the Falklands was dedicated at a service on 28/11/1914.
A memorial service for the 1,148 men lost was held on board HMS Australia in February 1915 at the site of the sinkings.
Ever since the defeat of Van Spee’s Squadron, Falklanders have remembered December 8 as Battle Day and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines when possible have participated. The event was re-invested with esteem after the recovery of the islands which commenced in May 1982.
Sir Christoper Craddock – Craddock joined the navy aged 13. He fought ashore in Egypt, was involved in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion in China, and served on the Royal Yacht. The author of three books, he was an experienced and brave officer, popular with his crews and fellow officers, and held in high esteem by his superiors. He could have avoided the battle which cost him his life.
Vice Admiral Maximilian Von Spee – Born in Copenhagen to a German family. Entered the Imperial German Navy in 1878. He was a gunnery specialist. At Coronel he inflicted on the Royal Navy its first defeat in over a hundred years. After Coronel he took the risky decision to raid the British naval base at the Falklands Islands. The consequent battle lost Spee his life and that of his two sons who were serving in other warships of the East Asiatic Squadron.
HMS GOOD HOPE ROLL OF HONOUR
RN. AB. 229233. HMS Good Hope. Battle of Coronel. Died 01/11/1914. Age 28. Enrolled 25/12/1904 for 12 years. War service in Victory and Good Hope (31/07/1914 – 01/11/1914). Born Dromore, County Down 25/12/1886. Tailor before enlisting. Son of David and Mary Boyd, Jerusalem St., Belfast. Plymouth Naval Memorial. IMR. ADM 188/405/229233
RN. Stoker 1st Cl. SS/104209. HMS Good Hope. Died 01/11/1914 in action off the Chilean coast. Served 07/12/1906 – 03/11/1911. Joined RFR 04/11/1911. War service in Victory and Good Hope (31/07/1914 – 01/11/1914). Born Edinburgh 24/09/1888. Luke St., Belfast. Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Panel 4
+HANNA, John Weir Hanna
RN. Leading Seaman. SS2626. HMS Good Hope. Died 01/11/1914 in action off Chilean coast. Enrolled 31/08/1908 for 5 and 7 years. War service in Excellent and Good Hope (17/08/1914 – 01/11/1914). Born Belfast 14/09/1889. ADM 188/1096/2626
RN. Stoker I. 30253. HMS Good Hope. Coronel. Died 01/11/1914. Age 31. Son of John and Ellen Kane, of Upper Merion, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Panel 4
RN. Stoker II. K21873. HMS Good Hope. Died 01/11/1914. Age 17. Battle of Coronel. Enrolled 25/02/1914 for 12 years, Victory and Good Hope (01/08/1914 – 01/11/1914). Born Belfast 14/01/1896. Brother of Mrs. Rachel Gillen, Irwin St., Belfast. Portsmouth Naval Memorial. ADM 188/910/21973
RM Artillery. Gunner. RMA/11428. HMS Good Hope. Died 1/11/1914 . Age 25. Born Belfast 1896. Son of Robert and Elizabeth McVey, Burmah Street, Belfast. Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Panel 5. Crescent – Presbyterian Church RH. IMR. ADM 159/83/11425
RN. AB. SS/186. HMS Good Hope. Died 01/11/1914. Age 27. Worked at Bangor Gas Works. A Naval Reservist he was called up on outbreak of war. Born Middleton, Lancashire. Husband to Annie Schofield (nee Lightbody), Ballymagee St., Bangor. Bangor Grammar School archives. Bangor Purple Star LOL 677. Bangor WM. Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Panel 2. Bangor – Trinity Presbyterian Church WM
HMS MONMOUTH ROLL OF HONOUR
RN. Stoker 1st Class. 213143. HMS Monmouth. Died 1/11/1914. Age 33. Born Belfast. Son of Robert Bleakely, Ballynure St., Belfast. Plymouth Naval Memorial.
+BRUCE, Gervase Ronald
RN. Midshipman. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Age 15. Son of Major Percy R. Bruce and of Lady Paget, Eaton Square, London and Grandson of Sir Harvey & Lady Bruce, Downhill, WM St John’s Parish Church, Castlerock where the family worshipped. Plymouth Naval Memorial.
RN. Leading Seaman. 213144. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Age 28. Born Ballymacarrett. Son of John and Marguerite Campbell (nee Peters), Belfast. Plymouth Naval Memorial.
RN. Boy 1st Class. J23481. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Age 17. Born Schull, County Cork. Son of John Connell (ex C.O.C.G.) and Mary Jane Connell, Fitzroy Avenue, Belfast. Plymouth Naval Memorial.
+DICKSON, Samuel James
J8265 Able Seaman HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Age 20. Born Belfast. Son of Matilda Dickson, Rosebank St., Belfast, and the late Robert Dickson. Plymouth Naval Memorial.
RN. AB. 192792. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Aged 32. Enrolled in RN when he was 15 years old. He had 17 years service when he died at the Battle of Coronel. Born Newtownards. Husband to Maria Brown Davidson, Victoria Terr., Donaghadee. They married in Donaghadee Methodist Church 05/01/1913. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 1. Donaghadee Methodist Church WM. IMR
RN. Seaman. J16674. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914 in action off Chilean coast. Boy service from 12/04/1912. Enrolled 23/05/1914 for 12 years. War service in Cornwallis, Highflier and Monmouth (01/08/1914 – 01/11/1914). Born Belfast 23/05/1896. ADM 188/680/16674
Ship’s Corporal 1st Class. 187783. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Age 32. Born Portrush 24/09/1880. Enlisted 24/09/1898. Husband to Eliza Prout (formerly McAllister of Portrush), King St., Plymouth. Plymouth Naval Memorial
RN. AB. 214958. HMS Monmouth. Coronel. Died 01/11/1914. Age 30. Born Downpatrick. Son of George and Rose McMullan, Downpatrick. Brother of Alex McMullan, Albert V. McMullan, Petty Officer HMS Watchman; Frank M. McMullan, P.C. Re-mount Depot (late R.E.,) Alex McMullan, jun., Re-mount Depot, Ormskirk, Liverpool (late Royal Irish Rifles); Wm. G. McMullan, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 1. Downpatrick WM. IMR. ADM 188/376/214958
RN. Signalman. SS/4781. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Born Draperstown 01/02/1896. Son of James and Katherine McNally, Baneran, Draperstown, Co. Londonderry. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 2. ADM 188/1098/4781
RN. LS. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Ardglass. Plymouth Naval Memorial
RMLI . Private. 13542. Plymouth Division. HMS Monmouth. Battle of Coronel. Died 01/11/1914. Age 28. Enlisted 14/09/1905. War service in Doris, Challenger and Monmouth. Born Parkmore, Co. Antrim 31/08/1887. Son of James and Margaret Morrow, Issbawn, Cushendall. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 5. Cushendall Parish Church. ADM 159/153/13542
+O’HEA, Albert Henry
RN. AB. Seaman Gunner. 213773. HMS Monmouth. Coronel. Died 01/11/1914. Born Londonderry 18/08/1885. Son of Albert O’Hea, Bishop Street, Londonderry. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 2. Londonderry, The Diamond WM. ADM 188/374/213773
+PATTON, George Henry
RN. Able Seaman. J6183. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Born Belfast. Son of George H. and Christina Patton, Everton St., Belfast. Plymouth Naval Memorial. IMR
Able Seaman. 231155. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Age 29. Boy service from 01/06/1904. Enrolled 03/10/1905 for 12 years. War service in Blake, Vivid I and Monmouth (03/08/1914 – 01/11/1914). Born Belfast 03/10/1887. Son of William Prentice, Gallows St., Dromore, Co. Down. Plymouth Naval Memorial. Dromore WM. ADM 188/409/231155
RN. Able Seaman. 232035. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Age 26. Born Belfast 29/02/1888. Son of Nathaniel Grant Rodgers and Ellen Jane Rodgers, Bentinck St., Belfast. Plymouth Naval Memorial. Macrory Memorial – PCI RH. IMR
+WILSON, William A J
RN. AB. J4776. HMS Monmouth. Died 01/11/1914. Age 19. B Belfast. Son of William Robert and Mary Wilson, Plumas, Manitoba, Canada. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 2
The present HMS Monmouth