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Geoffrey Brooks

    PART TWO – The Preparations for the Attack on the Falklands Islands

    On 3 November 1914, the German cruisers Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nürnberg entered the roadstead at Valparaiso to receive the adulation of the large Chilean-German colony following the victory at the Battle of Coronel two days previously. That afternoon Admiral von Spee was closeted in the German consulate with the Minister, von Erckert, and the Consul-General Dr Gumprecht, and to judge by his lugubrious demeanour subsequently it must have been then that von Spee had been given his secret orders.

    No archived document has ever come to light anywhere as to what these orders were. The Kaiser knew less than anyone, for in a Note he appended to the official report furnished by KKpt Hans Pochhammer, First Officer of Gneisenau and the senior surviving German officer:

    “It remains a mystery what made Spee attack the Falkland Islands. See Mahan’s Naval Strategy”.(footnote 1)

    Churchill at least knew that von Spee’s intention had been to invade and occupy the Falklands, but wrote that he could not understand what the Germans wanted it for. (footnote 2)

    The Argentines knew nothing about it whatsoever, for nowhere in the Historical Record of the Argentine Ministry for Foreign Affairs, nor in its declassified archives, is there ever a mention of the Battle of the Falklands, despite this being a zone to which the Argentines could not be indifferent. The only contemporary report to have evaded total censorship appeared in the 17 December 1914 edition of the daily newspaper La Prensa, whose correspondent at Punta Arenas, Chile, reported thaqt he had interviewed members of the crew of SMS Dresden, whose declarations coincided with those from other sources:

    “It would appear that the purpose of the German warships was to take possession (apoderarse) of the Malvinas Islands, destroying the radio-telegraphy station beforehand.” (footnote 3)

    According to KKpt Hans Pochhammer, while being entertained to dinner in the wardroom of HMS Invincible on 11 December 1914, Vice-Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee “made the extraordinary statement that we had had the intention to occupy the Falkands. How we were going to do that without occupation troops he kept to himself.” (footnote 4)

    It is therefore certain that the British at least knew that the German intention was not a “hit and run raid”, but an invasion and occupation.

    At five in the morning of 3 December 1914 the German squadron anchored at the eastern end of Chile’s Picton Island in the Beagle Channel. The German armada was made up of the following ships:
    – The armoured cruisers Scharnhorst (flagship) and Gneisenau
    – The small cruisers Nürnberg, Leipzig and Dresden
    – The 1913-built HAPAG collier Baden, 7676 tons
    – The 1914-built Hamburg-Amerika collier Santa Isabel, 5199 tons
    – The 1903-built Norddeutscher-Lloyd passenger ship Seydlitz, 7942 tons. This ship had left Sydney, Australia on 3 August 1914 and arrived at Bahia Blanca, the major Argentine naval base. From there she made the long voyage around the Horn to Valparaiso to ship Gemran volunteers and reservists who had sought to join the German cruisers there but were surplus to requirements.(footnote 5) She was 440 feet x 55 feet in dimension, one funnel two masts, reported speed 14 knots. She had accommodation for 2,500 persons, this being equivalent to the population of the Falklands at that time.
    – It has puzzled naval historians why Admiral von Spee allowed his crews four days to go hunting and exploring Picton Island, thus delaying his attack until 8 Deecmber. The reason is that he was forced to await the arrival north of the Falklands of two auxiliaries loaded with cement, rolls of barbed wire, trench-making machinery, provisions and a labour force. German naval intelligence despatched the Mera from Montevideo on 4 December 1914, and the Elinore Woermann from La Plata the same day, their expected arrival on the Patagonian side of the Falklands being late on 7 December.(footnote 6)

    The ten-ship armada to invade and occupy the Falkland Ilands was ready to converge on them on the late evening of 7 December 1914. The secret orders, as one might expect, had been drawn up by diplomats, which explains all the secrecy to this day.

    It was German policy of the time to close down British colonies in the same way as British Empire naval forces had done to German colonies in the Pacific. For his book Historia Completa de las Malvinas, the retired diplomat Jose Luiz Muñoz Aspiri had been granted restricted access to the Ministry archives. He mentioned two documents he copied there:

    (i) Former ambassador Candioti ratified the truth of the information regarding German policy. “It was communicated to me that in Germany, where I had consular duties at that time, they had drawn up a special map indicating the British colonial territories which were to be returned to their rightful owners, and it included the Malvinas.”

    And author Aspiri also quoted a letter dated 4 July 1953 from Consul Adolfo Blanc to the effect that:

    (ii) “According to statements received at that time, here and in England, von Spee had received instructions from the Chancellery and German Admiralty to proclaim Argentine sovereignty over the archipelago as soon as he anchored at Port Stanley.”

    In the Third and final Part, the role and fate of the five support ships.

    Footnotes to Part Two
    (1) Capt.von Rintelen: The Dark Invader – Wartime Reminiscences of a German Naval Intelligence Officer, Penguin Books, 1937.
    (2) Churchill, Winston, The World Crisis 1911-1918, London 1923-1931
    (3) Ernesto de la Guardia: La primera batalla de las Malvinas in Todo es Historia, edition 335, Buenos Aires, June 1995.
    (4) Pochhammer, KKpt Hans, El último viaje del Conde Spee, Argentine Navy Office translation, Buenos Aires, 1924 p.221
    (5) ibid, p.174 and 181
    (6) Hirst, Lloyd: Coronel and After, publ. Peter Davies, London 1934.