Falklands | 08 Dec 1914

Quiet period of the war, my arse. There’s far too many treatments of it that would have you believe that the only thing of any interest between the end of First Ypres and the start of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle was the Christmas truce. Let’s sweep up some matters arising from previous days, and then head down to the Falklands, once again important for something other than strategic sheep purposes.

Battle of Kolubara

The Austro-Hungarians should, by rights, have been able to turn and make a stand at Valjevo, the cause for so much celebration in Vienna when it was captured in November. However, their overconfidence bites them firmly on the bum once more. Very few defensive positions of any kind have been prepared around the town for emergencies such as this. It’s a highly defensible location if defended properly; but its defence is far from proper.

What Austrian defences there are are concentrated directly outside the town, on the lowlands. The hills around the town have nothing. No trenches, and no gun-emplacements. The Austro-Hungarians had drawn up a plan for artillery support in a defence of the town, but without firing positions, the plans are useless. This is the day that the retreat becomes a rout. The Serbians, operating in familiar terrain, march through the hills, brush aside the opposition, and encircle a large portion of the remaining Austrian forces, guns, supplies, and even one very confused and embarrassed general.

Valjevo itself is recaptured after an attack from the direction of Mount Suvobor. Those invaders as are left in western Serbia are now heading as fast as possible for the border. The poor state of communications has left their high command completely unable to react to the rapidly changing situation. As Serbian troops begin advancing to re-take their capital city, the scale of the military disaster is becoming apparent.

Our Advertising Feature

Daily Telegraph advert for pile cream, December 1914
They’re still making it, you know.

Battle of the Falklands

Right then. Hopefully we all still remember the Battle of Coronel at the start of November. This prompted a heavy response from the Admiralty, sending a large force of ships, detached from fleets across the world, to the South Atlantic to hunt the Germans down. It’s commanded by a Vice-Admiral with the arresting name of Doveton Sturdee. They’ve just finished concentrating at the Falklands, and not a moment too soon.

Admiral von Spee has been port-hopping along the Chilean coast. He’s had the news of the sinking of Emden and the fall of Tsingtao, and received intelligence that Port Stanley (in the Falklands) is currently undefended. So he’s decided to raid it for coal and supplies. His ships have used up to half their ammunition in their exploits so far.

The British fleet is at anchor this morning, coaling and preparing for operations, and they’re extremely suprised to see a large number of suspiciously Teutonic funnels appearing over the horizon. Apparently, there is a Matter of Some Debate concerning whether it would have been possible in the time available for von Spee’s fleet to charge in and do serious damage to the British fleet before they could have got themselves shit straight and Bristol fashion.

In the event, the Germans were suprised by our old, not-so-useless-any-more friend HMS Canopus. She had been sent to the Falklands to join the fleet, but had then been deemed so slow and useless that she was grounded inside Stanley as a guard-ship. Her position is completely hidden by the hills, and when she opens fire von Spee orders his attack broken off, losing his chance for suprise in the process.

It soon becomes obvious that the British fleet, with two battlecruisers and three modern cruisers, has the Germans significantly outmatched, and Admiral von Spee bravely runs away at 10am. By mid-afternoon, he’s forced to fight by the faster battlecruisers, hoping for a lucky shot, or at least to buy time for his smaller cruisers and auxiliary ships to escape. By 6pm, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau have been sunk, von Spee himself going down with his ship. Of the remainder, only the light cruiser Dresden is able to escape.

The Battle of the Falklands is an overwhelming victory for the Royal Navy, and is more than just revenge for Coronel. They’ve completely broken the last major German surface threat to merchant shipping. Damage to their own ships is minor, with casualties of 10 dead and 19 wounded. The Germans have taken two thousand casualties, most of them dead.

An Amusing Reminiscence

Summary executions are hilarious!
Summary executions are hilarious!

Battle of Qurna

After another day of heavy shelling, the Ottoman commanders call a parley and attempt to negotiate terms. After some talking, they agree to surrender Qurna tomorrow.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Kolubara
Battle of Limanowa
Battle of Qurna

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: Flat refusal to believe that the Germans will be wintering in Lodz this year. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the tone of recent reports that seemingly had the Russians at the gates of Berlin and Budapest.

Page 3 carries an intriguingly pessimistic (or “racy”, as the paper would have it) view of life in the trenches from a wounded Territorial. Page 5 carries an advert for the ongoing press feud between Lord Northcliffe and his organs (chiefly the Daily Mail) and everyone else. Page 7 has a report on an air raid at Hazebrouck railway-station, and Page 8 preens about yesterday’s Kipling article.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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