Royal Navy 1914

 

WWI : Yateley’s Story

 Yateley Men Who Fought in the Naval Battles of  1914.

The Battle of Coronel

and

The Battle of the Falkland Islands

 

The Royal Navy in 1914 mirrored Britain’s global dominance with an Empire that embraced a quarter of the worlds land mass. To protect this Empire and its sea trading routes Parliament passed the Naval Defence Act in 1889. This adopted the “two power standard” which stipulated that Britain should maintain a number of battleships at least equal to the next two largest navies. By the outbreak of war in 1914 the cost of maintaining this dominance was unsustainable, however, Britain’s navy was still significantly larger than Germany’s. Yateley men became embroiled in the midst of the 1914 sea battles.

Mark Hammond of Brandy Bottom, Cricket Hill and Lloyd Wheeler of Marsh Lane, Eversley, both born in 1882, joined the services when they were 18 and 19 years old respectively. Both men were married, Mark to wife Ellen with two daughters Ellen and Ella, and Lloyd to wife Alice and four children Laura, Clara, Charles and Jane. Mark Hammond was a ‘bakers boy’ when he first joined the Royal Navy on the 21st September 1900 on his 18th birthday. He is described as 5ft 3 inches tall, dark hair, grey eyes, has an anchor tattoo on his forearm and a scar on his groin! During his training at Portsmouth he served for short periods on many ships, some while they were being refitted.  In 1905 he purchased himself out of the Royal Navy, which may have been due to his meeting Ellen Davis, who he married in 1907. However, in 1911 he re-enrolled for a further 6 year period in the Royal Navy at Portsmouth. He worked aboard Good Hope in July 1914 while she was being refitted and sailed with her on the 2nd August.  Although war had not been officially declared the Royal Navy was put on high alert as many thought war was inevitable and Britain had to protect its trade routes across the world.

Lloyd Wheeler, who lived with his parents in Vigo Lane Yateley, joined the Royal Marines Artillery in 1901 at the age of 19. He is described as 5ft 11 inches tall, brown hair and blue eyes. After initial training he served aboard the Good Hope between 1902 and 1904 before being transferred to a number of other ships and carrying out a period of duty at Chatham. In 1905 he purchased himself out of the RMA and presumably returned home to Yateley where he married Alice Townsend in 1907. He rejoined the RMA at some point and was transferred to the Good Hope in July 1914 at the same time as Mark Hammond and sailed on her when she left Portsmouth on the 2nd August. Lloyd Wheeler would have been with one of the ships gunnery teams. It is quite likely that both men knew each other as they attended Yateley School at the same time as boys.

Reginald Legg was born at Portsmouth in 1892 the son of George and Alice Legg who moved to Mill Lane, Yateley. He is described as 5ft 6inches in height, brown hair, grey eyes, a butcher and of Wesleyan religion. He joined the Royal Marines at Southampton in 1909 at the age of 17; which was underage. At the age of 18 he was made a private in the Royal Marines Light Infantry and served at Deal, Portsmouth and aboard a number of ships. In August 1914 he was stationed at Portsmouth and on the 16th August embarked on HMS Invincible which sailed to join Vice Admiral Beatty’s Battle Cruiser fleet based at Rosyth on the Firth of Forth. It was not a straight forward journey as on route the Invincible joined the battle cruiser squadron in support of the 1st Battle of Heligoland Bight.

HMS_Good_Hope

HMS Good Hope

The Battle of Coronel

The Good Hope was a Drake class armoured cruiser launched at Govan shipyard in 1901 and completed at Portsmouth in 1902. She became the flagship of the 1st cruiser squadron, Atlantic Fleet in 1906 and flagship of the 2nd cruiser squadron in 1908. In 1913 she was reduced to reserve status because although only halfway through her expected active life she was now considered obsolete following the naval arms race with Germany which brought about the introduction of Dreadnaught class battleships and battle cruisers. The Good Hope was equipped with two steam turbines giving her a top speed of 23 knots; she was armed with two 9.2 inch guns mounted in turrets either end of the superstructure and 16 x 6 inch guns mounted transversely which was a basic design fault because they could not be used effectively as most of the time they would be flooded. She also carried other armaments such as 12 quick firing 12 pounder guns for defence against torpedo boats and two underwater torpedo tubes.

Good Hope steamed from Portsmouth on the 2nd August 1914, commanded by Captain Franklyn, and arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia where she became the new flagship of Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock’s 4th cruiser squadron, Atlantic Fleet. For the first few months of the war Good Hope patrolled the Western Atlantic protecting British shipping against marauding German cruisers as far south as the Falkland Islands. The Falklands and the Pacific Ocean were a long way from the European theatre of war where all the navy’s modern capital ships were stationed either at Scapa Flow or Rosyth. During this period the Good Hope carried out just one gunnery practice with its mainly reservist crew; not the ideal preparation for any oncoming battle.

The main German High Seas Fleet was in port due to the presence of the British Grand Fleet station at Scapa Flow. The German fleet in the east presented an immediate problem. The German East Asiatic Squadron comprised six major warships; the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and light cruisers Dresden, Emden, Leipzig and Nurnberg. The German base was at Tsingtao in China but at the outbreak of war Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee found himself outnumbered and out gunned by the allied navies. He was especially wary of Britain’s allies namely the Japanese Imperial Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. He could not reach Germany and had no safe harbour in the area so he took his ships on a long journey across the Pacific Ocean to Chile where he would find coal in neutral (and sometimes sympathetic) ports. The exception was the cruiser Emden which was sent marauding in the Indian Ocean where she gained a great deal of success in sinking allied shipping.

In October 1914, the Admiralty intercepted a radio transmission confirming the presence of Spee’s squadron in the Pacific heading towards Chile. Cradock was ordered to locate and engage the German ships. Cradock’s squadron comprised the armoured cruisers Good Hope and Monmouth, light cruiser Glasgow, armed liner Otranto and pre-Dreadnaught battleship Canopus. On the 29th October, Glasgow, which had been sent ahead to reconnoiter the coast of Chile and go into Coronel to send and receive signals, intercepted a number of wireless messages in cipher which were identified as coming from a German transmitter no more than 150 miles away. This was the first positive evidence that a German warship was near, so on the 30th October Cradock sailed into the Pacific, with Good Hope and Monmouth, keeping out of site of the Chilean coast. The next day the Good Hope was joined by the Otranto which had been gathering intelligence. Canopus, which had reported engine trouble earlier was proceeding slowly a long way behind Cradock’s other ships with the colliers.

Battle Map Coronel

Battle Map of Coronel

The same morning Glasgow intercepted further wireless transmissions closer than before and identified the Leipzig’s call sign. Cradock ordered Glasgow to rendezvous with him 50 miles west of Coronel the following day, the 31st October. On the 1st November Cradock set a course NE by E in line expecting to come across the lone Leipzig. However, late in the afternoon Glasgow spotted smoke off her starboard bow and turned to investigate with Otranto and Monmouth proceeding to support her. Hugging the coast and steaming south towards Cape Horn and the Atlantic were Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Leipzig of Spee’s squadron. Cradock had a decision to make; attack or turn south towards the protection of the slow Canopus. Although Canopus was pre Dreadnaught she was the only battleship in the area and the only ship with 12 inch guns, therefore, Cradock surmised that Spee would not want to take on the old battleship and would try and escape south. With the weather in his favour Cradock decided to attack. With the setting sun in the west Spee’s ships would be lit up against a dark background making targeting easier for the British gunnery teams. Spee also saw this danger and turned his ships away. By the time Good Hope came into range of her 9 inch guns the sun had more or less disappeared below the horizon which had the effect of lighting up the British ships and throwing the Germans into darkness. In 1914 gunnery teams did not have radar to assist with aiming, sights were optical, and if the enemy could not be seen, hitting the target was extremely fortuitous. The time table for the ensuing Battle of Coronel is as follows based on records and observations from the surviving ships:- 1st November 1914.

  • 18.04      British squadron turned towards the enemy to force them into action.
  • 18.18      Cradock radioed the Canopus “I am now going to attack the enemy”. Canopus gave her position 250 miles away.
  • Scharnhorst and Gneisenau opened fire on Good Hope and Monmouth…
  • Dresden (which had rushed to rejoin Spee) opened fire on Otranto.
  • Gneisenau fired on Otranto
  • Leipzig opened fire on Glasgow
  • Good Hope’s forward turret put out of action.
  • Good Hope returned fire on the Scharnhorst
  • Monmouth returned fire on the Gneisenau.
  • Glasgow returned fire on the Leipzig.
  • Dresden joined in firing at Glasgow.
  • 19.35      Good Hope closed to 5,500 yards.
  • 19.45      Good Hope and Monmouth in considerable distress. Many hits by high explosive shells and fires. Monmouth badly listing.
  • 19.50      Terrible explosion aboard Good Hope.
  • 20.00    Good Hope listing and on fire. Other ships did not see her go down.
  • Spee had lost contact with the British ships.
  • 20.15      Monmouth listing badly to port and making water forward.  Glasgow could not defend Monmouth against superior enemy guns so she turned south to escape.
  • 20.50      Glasgow last saw Monmouth facing oncoming enemy.
  • 21.05    Spee thought two British cruisers were badly damaged so he ordered his ships to chase the enemy and finish them with torpedoes.
  • Leipzig steamed towards a dull glare to the North West. It was thought to be Good Hope burning but by the time she reached the position there was nothing left to be seen from the bridge. Some members of the crew did see a mass of floating debris that must have come from a sunken ship but they did not report it to the bridge, a failure that had two results, (1) no chance to search for survivors and (2) for several days Spee remained in ignorance of the Good Hope’s fate.
  • 21.25      Glasgow saw seventy five gun flashes against Monmouth; then silence. Nurnberg had finished Monmouth off at close quarters. Monmouth’s engines and steering was still in tact and she turned to fight until the end with her battle ensign still flying.
  • 21.28      Monmouth capsized and slowly sank. Nurnberg could not lower her boats in the rough sea as they had become full of water. There were no survivors.
  •  22.20      Spee ordered his light cruisers to form a patrol line with his armoured cruisers following astern until the next morning as he did not want to chance running into Good Hope and Glasgow. Although he knew they were badly damaged, Spee did not know of their whereabouts and still considered them a threat.

Spee was not to know that Canopus was still 200 miles away or that her speed was reduced or that the range of her 12 inch guns were severely limited by the weather conditions. Likewise Canopus decided the best course of action was to protect the damaged Glasgow and Otranto and make back to the base on the Falkland Islands.

The 1st November 1914 was a black day for the Royal Navy this being their first defeat for over 100 years. Over 1600 sailors lost their lives that day and was a wake up call to the Admiralty. This was the first major sea battle of World War 1 and it was quite unique that a small rural parish such as Yateley would have two men serving aboard the British flagship. Both Mark Hammond and Lloyd Wheeler were killed in action and were among the first Yateley casualties of the war. It was, however, three months before the Admiralty sent out telegrams informing relatives of the men lost.

The Battle of the Falkland Islands

A few days after the Battle of Coronel, on the 3rd November, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nurnberg were anchored in Valparaiso Sound, Chile. This gave the crews some shore leave in a neutral country. This also gave Spee the opportunity to send a message to Berlin advising them of his victory.  Leipzig and Dresden were anchored at Mas a Fuera because protocol dictated that no more than three ships of any belligerent side could be in port at the same time. There were in fact 33 German merchant ships in Valparaiso but they were more or less confined to port because of Britain’s dominance of the sea lanes.

Spee and the German embassy staff made the necessary arrangements for Spee’s ships to get coal. But Spee received a shock when he learnt that the Japanese Imperial Navy was closing in on the North American coast blocking his access to the Panama Canal. This left Spee with only one option on how to get home and that was to round Cape Horn and head out into the Atlantic. He was not optimistic; he knew that the British would want revenge for their losses at Coronel and they would be sending a new force to find him. In the meantime Canopus, unaware that Spee was at anchor, was making her way south via islands off the coast of Chile safely reaching the Magellan Straights. Expecting to meet the enemy she was ready for action but the German ships were not there. Soon afterwards she heard from Glasgow which had also made the Magellan Straights, and then Otranto which was safely rounding Cape Horn. The Admiralty had been previously told of the disaster at Coronel by the embassy at Valparaiso who leant of it from the German crews on shore leave. There was initially great blame heaped onto Cradock when it was learned he had engaged the enemy without Canopus. However, anger quickly switched against the Admiralty when it was known of the make up of the British force sent into battle against a well equipped German squadron.

HMS Invincible

HMS Invincible

The First lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, and the 1st Sea Lord Fisher were in agreement as to the response and secured two of the latest battle cruisers, Invincible and Inflexible, from Jellico’s Grand Fleet based at Scapa Flow. They were ordered to immediately coal up and head for the South Atlantic stopping for refitting and fuel at Devonport. Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee, who was to command the operation, raised his flag on Invincible and they sailed from Devonport on the 11th November for the coast of South America. He was ordered to destroy the German squadron which had inflicted the defeat on the Royal Navy at Coronel. The Glasgow and Canopus were ordered to Montevideo and avoid the Falklands at all costs. However, both ships were in need of coal and urgent repairs so they had to make for Port Stanley as quickly as possible. Glasgow then sailed immediately for the South American coast and Montevideo, eventually having her repairs carried out at Rio de Janeiro. Canopus was ordered to remain at Port Stanley, if necessary beached, and positioned so that her guns covered the harbour entrance.

By the 7th December Sturdee with his battle cruisers had joined up with Vice Admiral Stoddart’s cruiser squadron of Carnavon, Bristol, Kent, Cornwall and ever present Glasgow and arrived at the Falklands base for refueling. They were also supported by the armed liner Macedonia. In the meantime Spee had been making his way south and round Cape Horn without being in much of a hurry. He had the problem of ensuring his coal supply could get the ships to Montevideo. On the 6th December Spee called a meeting of his captains and informed them that he had received intelligence that all British warships had left the Falklands. He would, therefore, attack the island and destroy the wireless station and coal stocks. Not all Spee’s captains were in favour of attacking the Falklands and felt they should make for the River Plate as quickly as possible. Spee, however, had the bit between his teeth and ordered Gneisenau and Nurnberg to lead the operation, supported by the other ships. On the 7th December all the British ships entered Port Stanley and Port William to refuel.

SMS_Scharnhorst

SMS Scharnhorst

The island looked well prepared for the expected coming assault by Spee with Canopus firmly in position with her 12 inch guns trained seawards, look out points connected by wireless and a detachment of Royal Marines in position. Early on the 8th December Spee’s ships were approaching the Falklands and about 08.30 Gneisenau sighted the wireless station masts and nothing more than thick black smoke which was thought to be the British setting fire to the coal stocks. However, the German ships had a big surprise about 30 minutes later when they saw funnels and masts that told them warships were present. And a little later an even bigger surprise when the lookout reported tripod masts which were synonymous with the Dreadnaughts. The Germans had no idea that any of this type of ship was in the area. On the Falklands the British ships were hardly in a state of readiness; only Carnavon and Glasgow had completed coaling; Invincible and Inflexible had only taken on 400 tons while Kent, Cornwall and Bristol still had to replenish their bunkers. In addition Cornwall and Bristol each had an engine open for repairs. Only Kent was in a position to raise steam in less than 2 hours. Sturdee was warned of the approaching German cruisers when at 08.00 the look out crew from Canopus signaled “Enemy in sight”. Immediately Kent was to weigh anchor and proceed out of harbour, Invincible and Inflexible were to cast off their colliers and for all ships to raise steam and report when ready to steam at 12 knots. The time table for the ensuing action, as recorded by the surviving British ships, was as follows:- 8th December 1914.

  • 08.45     Kent raised steam and left harbour
  • 9.00       Remainder of Spee’s squadron sighted.
  • 09.30    Canopus opened fire on Gneisenau and Nurnberg. Direct hit on Gneisenau caused her to take avoiding action.
  • 09.30    Spee ordered his ships to turn east and head for open sea. He thought there were two battleships in harbour but he could outrun them.
  • 09.45      Invincible, Inflexible, Carnavon and Glasgow weighed anchor and proceeded out of harbour.
  • 11.00    All German ships steering south east to escape. Spee then realized that the two Dreadnaughts were battle cruisers which could easily overhaul him. It was too late to remedy the mistake.
  • 11.00    Sturdee hoisted the signal “Chase” when he saw the five German ships trying to escape. He knew he had them at his mercy.
  • 11.30      Bristol reported sighting the German colliers and was ordered to destroy them
  • 12.20      Sturdee decided to attack with the two battle cruisers Invincible,Inflexible and Glasgow(the faster ships.).
  • 12.47      The order came “Open fire and engage the enemy”.
  • 13.20      Spee ordered his light cruisers Leipzig, Dresden and Nurnberg to break formation and try to escape. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau would remain to fight and try to protect their escape.
  • 16.04      Following heavy shelling between the ships Scharnhorst with third funnel shot out and fire burning listed heavily to port. Sturdee ordered cease fire on her.
  • 16.17      Scharnhorst disappeared. Sturdee could not give the order to lower boats for survivors because they were in the middle of a battle with Gneisenau who was putting up strong resistance.
  • 17.40      Gneisenau on fire and listing badly. Sturdee ordered cease fire.
  • 18.00    Gneisenau quietly disappeared from view. Boats were lowered and survivors picked up. In all 190 men were saved despite the severe temperatures of the water and air.

Gneisenau Survivors

Inflexible picking up survivors from SMS Gneisenau

While this action with the battle cruisers was going on the British light cruisers Glasgow, Cornwall and Kent were chasing the retreating German light cruisers. Glasgow was chasing Dresden but gave up as she was not gaining so she joined Cornwall in attacking Leipzig. Kent was up against Nurnberg. By 19.30 the Leipzig had used all her ammunition and fired her remaining torpedoes. All missed. She was on fire and defenceless so the crew knocked out the sea cocks to scuttle her. With crew standing at attention on deck the Leipzig slowly heeled over and sank with her battle ensign still flying. Glasgow and Cornwall lowered boats but only 18 men were saved. Kent was engaged in doing battle against Nurnberg and at about 19.30 she had caused enough damage to stop Nurnberg which was on fire and badly listing. Nurnberg hauled her colours down so Kent ceased fire. Kent’s boats were damaged by the shell fire and had to be patched up by carpenters and it took about 20 minutes before they were lowered. Only 7 of the Nurnberg crew survived. Dresden was the only German ship to escape being able to make faster speed than her pursuers. It took the British ships 3 months to track her down following a hide and seek chase along the coast and islands of Chile. Kent and Glasgow caught her at anchor at Mas a Fuera. Glasgow ignored the niceties of being in a neutral country’s waters and opened fire. Dresden was damaged and helpless and the white flag of surrender was hoisted. After the German crew had vacated the ship and went ashore an explosion of the ships magazine scuttled the ship thus preventing her from being taken. The outcome of the battle was a complete revenge for the Royal Navy’s defeat at Coronel the previous month. Reginald Legg, serving aboard Invincible,probably did not know of the Yateley men killed at Coronel. Following the battle Invincible returned to Scapa Flow via Gibraltar. For his victory over von Spee, Doveton Sturdee was created a baronet. After the war he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet and appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. He died in 1921 and is buried in St Peters Cemetery, Frimley.

(Although this was a great triumph for Invincible, she was sunk at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 where Reginald Legg perished with most of the ships crew.)

 

Dresden Surrender

Dresden flying the white flag at Mas a Fuera

Written by Barry Moody – Yateley Society

Acknowledgements:-

  • Geoffrey Bennetts  book  “Coronel and the Falklands”
  • National Archives
  • Coronel memorial Web Site
  • Yateley Archives