Admiral Sturdee's Despatch

This is a contribution from Cliff McMullen (

From " The Navy League Annual 1915/16"


On Tuesday, December 8th, 1914.


NO. 29087, OF MARCH 3RD, 1915.


March 3rd, 1915.

The following despatch has been received from Vice-Admiral Sir F.C. Doveton Sturdee, K.C.B., C.V.O., C.M.G., reporting the action off the Falkland Islands on Tuesday, December 8th, 1914.


December 19th, 1914.


I have the honour to forward a report on the action which took place on December 8th, 1914, against a German Squadron off the Falkland Islands.

I have the honour to be,


Your obediant Servant,


Vice-Admiral, Commander-in-Chief.

The Secretary,


(a) Preliminary Movements.

(b) Action with the Armoured Cruisers.

(c) Action with the Light Cruisers.

(d) Action with the Enemy's Transports.

(a) Preliminary Movements

The squadron - consisting of H.M. ships Invincible, flying my flag, Flag Captain Percy T.H. Beamish ; Inflexible, Captain Richard F. Phillimore ; Carnarvon, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Archibald P. Stoddart, Flag Captain Harry L. d'E. Skipwith ; Cornwall, Captain Walter M. Ellerton ; Kent, Captain John D. Allen ; Glasgow, Captain John Luce ; Bristol, Captain Basil H. Fanshawe ; and Macedonia, Captain Bertram S. Evans - arrived at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, December 7th, 1914. Coaling was commenced at once, in order that the ships should be ready to resume the search for the enemy's squadron the next evening, December 8th. At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, December 8th, a signal was received from the signal station on shore :

" A four-funnel and two-funnel man-of-war in sight from Sapper Hill, steering northwards."

At this time, the positions of the various ships of the squadron were as follows :

Macedonia : At anchor as look-out ship.

Kent (guard ship) : At anchor in Port William.

Invincible and Inflexible : In Port William.

Carnarvon : In Port William.

Cornwall : In Port William.

Glasgow : In Port Stanley.

Bristol : In Port Stanley.

The Kent was at once ordered to weigh, and a general signal was made to raise steam for full speed.

At 8:20 a.m. the signal station reported another column of smoke in sight to the southward, and at 8:45 a.m. the Kent passed down the harbour and took up a station at the entrance.

The Canopus, Captain Heathcoat S. Grant, reported at 8:47 a.m. that the first two ships were eight miles off, and that the smoke reported at 8:20 a.m. appeared to be the smoke of two ships about twenty miles off.

At 8:50 a.m. the signal station reported a further column of smoke in sight to the southward.

The Macedonia was ordered to weigh anchor on the inner side of the other ships, and await orders.

At 9:20 a.m. the two leading ships of the enemy (Gneisenau and Nurnberg), with guns trained on the wireless station, came within range of the Canopus, who opened fire at them across the low land at a range of 11,000 yards. The enemy at once hoisted their colours and turned away. At this time the masts and smoke of the enemy were visible from the upper bridge of the Invincible at a range of approximately 17,000 yards across the low lands to the south of Port William.

A few minutes later the two cruisers altered course to port, as though to close the Kent at the entrance to the harbour, but about this time it seems that the Invincible and Inflexible were seen over the land, as the enemy at once altered course and increased speed to join their consorts.

The Glasgow weighed and proceeded at 9:40 a.m. with orders to join the Kent and observe the enemy's movements.

At 9:45 a.m. the squadron - less the Bristol - weighed, and proceeded out of harbour in the following order : Carnarvon, Inflexible, Invincible, and Cornwall. On passing Cape Pembroke Light, the five ships of the enemy appeared clearly in sight to the south-east, hull down. The visibility was at its maximum, the sea was calm, with a bright sun, a clear sky, and a light breeze from the north-west.

At 10:20 a.m. the signal for a general chase was made. The battle-cruisers quickly passed down ahead of the Carnarvon and overtook the Kent. The Glasgow was ordered to keep two miles from the Invincible, and the Inflexible was stationed on the starboard quarter of the flagship. Speed

was eased to 20 knots at 11:15 a.m. to enable the other cruisers to get into station.

At this time the enemy's funnels and bridges showed just above the horizon.

Information was received from the Bristol at 11:27 a.m. that three enemy ships had appeared off Port Pleasant, probably colliers or transports. The Bristol was therefore directed to take the Macedonia under his orders and destroy transports.

The enemy was still maintaining their distance, and I decided, at 12:20 p.m., to attack with the two battle-cruisers and the Glasgow.

At 12:47 p.m. the signal to " Open fire and engage the enemy " was made.

The Inflexible opened fire at 12:55 p.m. from her fore turret at the right-hand ship of the enemy, a light cruiser ; a few minutes later the Invincible opened fire at the same ship.

The deliberate fire from a range of 16,500 to 15,000 yards at the right-hand light cruiser, who was dropping astern, became too threatening, and when a shell fell close alongside her at 1:20 p.m. she (the Leipzig) turned away, with the Nurnberg and Dresden to the south-west. These light cruisers were at once followed by the Kent, Glasgow, and Cornwall, in accordance with my instructions.

The action finally developed into three separate encounters besides the subsidiary one dealing with the threatened landing.

(b) Action with the Armoured Cruisers.

The fire of the battle-cruisers was directed on the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The effect of this was quickly seen, when at 1:25 p.m., with the Scharnhorst leading, they turned about seven points to port in succession into line ahead and opened fire at 1:30 p.m. Shortly afterwards speed was eased to 24 knots, and the battle-cruisers were ordered to turn together, bringing them into line ahead, with the Invincible leading.

The range was about 13,500 yards at the final turn, and increased until, at 2 p.m., it had reached 16,450 yards.

The enemy then (2:10 p.m.) turned away about 10 points to starboard and a second chase ensued, until, at 2:45 p.m., the battle-cruisers again opened fire ; this caused the enemy, at 2:53 p.m., to turn into line ahead to port and open fire at 2:55 p.m.

The Scharnhorst caught fire forward, but not seriously, and her fire slackened perceptibly ; the Gneisenau was badly hit by the Inflexible.

At 3:30 p.m. the Scharnhorst led round about 10 points tp starboard ; just previously her fire had slackened perceptibly, and one shell had shot away her third funnel ; some guns were not firing, and it would appear that the turn was dictated by a desire to bring her starboard guns into action. The effect of the fire on the Scharnhorst became more and more apparent in consequence of smoke from fires, and also escaping steam ; at times a shell would cause a large hole to appear in her side, through which could be seen a dull red glow of flame. At 4:40 p.m. the Scharnhorst, whose flag remained flying to the last, suddenly listed heavily to port, and within a minute it became clear that she was a doomed ship ; for the list increased very rapidly until she lay on her beam ends, and at 4:17 p.m. she disappeared.

The Gneisenau passed on the far side of her late flagship, and continued a determined but ineffectual effort to fight the two battle-cruisers.

At 5:08 p.m. the forward funnel was knocked over and remained resting against the second funnel. She was evidently in serious straits, and her fire slackened very much.

At 5:15 p.m. one of the Gneisenau's shells struck the Invincible ; this was her last effective effort.

At 5:30 p.m. she turned towards the flagship with a heavy list to starboard, and appeared stopped, with steam pouring from her escape-pipes, and smoke from shell and fires rising everywhere. About this time I ordered the signal " Cease fire," but before it was hoisted the Gneisenau opened fire again, and continued to fire from time to time with a single gun.

At 5:40 p.m. the three ships closed in on the Gneisenau, and, at this time, the flag flying at her fore truck was apparently hauled down, but at the peak continued flying.

At 5:50 p.m., " Cease fire " was made.

At 6 p.m. the Gneisenau heeled over very suddenly, showing the men gathered on her decks and then walking on her side as she lay a minute on her beam ends before sinking.

The prisoners of war from the Gneisenau report that, by the time the ammunition was expended, some 600 men had been killed or wounded.

The surviving officers and men were all ordered on deck and told to provide for themselves with hammocks and any articles that could support them in the water.

When the ship capsized and sank there was probably some 200 unwounded survivors in the water, but owing to the shock of the cold water, many were drowned within sight of the boats and ship.

Every effort was made to save life as quickly as possible, both by boats and from the ships ; life-buoys were thrown and ropes lowered, but only a portion could be rescued. The Invincible alone rescued 108 men, fourteen of whom were found to be dead after being brought on board ; these men were buried at sea the following day with full military honours.

(c) Action with the Light Cruisers.

At about 1 p.m., when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau turned to port to engage the Invincible and Inflexible, the enemy's light cruisers turned to starboard to escape ; the Dresden was leading, and the Nurnberg and Leipzig followed on each quarter.

In accordance with my instructions, the Glasgow, Kent, and Cornwall at once went in chase of these ships ; the Carnarvon, whose speed was insufficient to overtake them, closed the battle-cruisers.

The Glasgow drew well ahead of the Cornwall and Kent and, at 3 p.m., shots were exchanged with the Leipzig at 12,000 yards. The Glasgow's object was to endeavour to out-range the Leipzig with her 6-inch guns and thus cause her to alter course and give the Cornwall and Kent a chance of coming into action.

At 4:17 p.m. the Cornwall opened fire, also on the Leipzig.

At 7:17 p.m. the Leipzig was on fire fore and aft, and the Cornwall and Glasgow ceased fire.

The Leipzig turned over on her port side and disappeared at 9 p.m. Seven officers and eleven men were saved.

At 3:36 p.m. the Cornwall ordered the Kent to engage the Nurnberg, the nearest cruiser to her.

Owing to the excellent and strenuous efforts of the engine-room department, the Kent was able to get within range of the Nurnberg at 5 p.m. At 6:35 p.m., the Nurnberg was on fire forward and ceased firing. The Kent also ceased firing and closed to 3,300 yards ; as the colours were still observed to be flying in the

Nurnberg, the Kent opened fire again. Fire was finally stopped five minutes later on the colours being hauled down, and every preparation was made to save life.

The Nurnberg sank at 7:27 p.m., and as she sank, a group of men were waving a German ensign attached to a staff. Twelve men were rescued, but only seven survived.

The Kent had four men killed and twelve wounded, mostly caused by one shell.

During the time the three cruisers were engaged with the Nurnberg and Leipzig, the Dresden, who was beyond her consorts, effected her escape owing to her superior speed. The Glasgow was the only cruiser with sufficient speed to have had any chance of success. However, she was fully employed in engaging the Leipzig for over an hour before either the Cornwall or Kent could come up and get within range. During this time the Dresden was able to increase her distance and get out of sight.

The weather changed after 4 p.m., and the visibility was much reduced ; further, the sky was overcast and cloudy, thus assisting the Dresden to get away unobserved.

(d) Action with the Enemy's Transports.

A report was received at 11:27 a.m. from H.M.S. Bristol that three ships of the enemy, probably transports or colliers, had appeared off Port Pleasant. The Bristol was ordered to take the Macedonia under his orders and destroy the transports.

H.M.S. Macedonia reports that only two ships, steamships Baden and Santa Isabel, were present ; both ships were sunk after the removal of the crew.

I have pleasure in reporting that the officers and men under my orders carried out their duties with admirable efficiency and coolness, and great credit is due to the Engineer Officers of all the ships, several of which exceeded their normal full speed.



March 3rd, 1915.

The King has been graciously pleased to give orders for the award of the Distinguished Service Cross to the undermentioned Officers, in recognition of their services mentioned in the foregoing despatch :

Carpenter Thomas Andrew Walls,

Carpenter William Henry Venning,

Carpenter George Henry Egford.

The following award has also been made :

To receive the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

Portsmouth R.F.R.B./3307 Sergeant Charles Mayes, H.M.S. Kent.

A shell burst and ignited some cordite charges in the casemate ; a flash of flame went down the hoist into the ammunition passage. Sergeant Mayes picked up a charge of cordite and threw it away. He then got hold of a fire hose and flooded the compartment, extinguishing the fire in some empty shell bags which were burning. The extinction of this fire saved a disaster which might have led to the loss of the ship.

Last Updated: 17 January, 2000.

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