When people think of WW1 naval battles, Jutland is the one that jumps out but the Royal Navy was in action as early as November 1914. This was the first naval battle of WW1 and was a shocking loss for Great Britain. This battle took place just off the coast of Chile.
At the start of WW1, the Royal Navy worked quickly by blockading the German Grand Fleet into its own naval bases in the Baltic. Germany though, had always had a significant presence in the Pacific Ocean. this was their German East Asiatic Squadron, commanded by Vice Admiral Reichsgraf Maximilian Von Spee. This was a well drilled squadron and had won many prizes for their gunnery accuracy.
Vice Admiral Reichsgraf Von Spee
The British had Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock in command of the West Indies Station at this time. He had received intelligence that Von Spee had intended to attack shipping in the trade routes along the coast of South America so he intended to patrol these waters.
Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock
On the 31st October, HMS Glasgow had entered the harbour in Coronel to collect messages from the British Consul. Unfortunately for her, a German ship was also in harbour and reported the arrival to Von Spee. The next day, HMS Glasgow met up at sea with Craddock and was here that the German fleet spotted the British ships. Craddock had a critical decision to make, turn and run but leave his slower ships to the mercy of the Germans or turn and fight. He chose to fight even though his ships were were older, more out dated and lighter armoured than the Germans. They were at a disadvantage from the start. During the ensuing battle, Craddocks flag ship, HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth were both lost with over 1600 hands including Craddock himself when HMS Good Hope received no less than 35 direct hits.
HMS Good Hope
This was the biggest British naval defeat in over 100 years sinc the Battle of Lake Champlain in the war of 1812.