Cruiser Squadron of Admiral Graf Spee
|SMS Dresden. Captain Haun was originally captain of Karlsruhe which he delivered to relieve her of duty, he was then supposed to have swapped ships with Dresden's captain and return her home but the war changed this.|
In the start of August 1914 Germany had only one squadron overseas, the East Asia Squadron based at Tsingtao under the command of Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee. The squadron consisted of the armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst (flag) and Gneisenau and the light cruisers Emden, Leipzig and Nürnberg. The only other German cruisers outside Europe at that time were the Königsberg in East Africa and the Dresden and Karlsruhe in the Caribbean. All these ships were modern with officers hand picked by Tirpitz himself and hand picked crews, it was the best cruiser squadron in the German navy and possibly the world.
Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nürnberg sailed for the German base at Pagan, arriving on August 11 to find several German merchant ships there. Emden arrived a day later. The German captains held a conference to decide tactics. Karl von Muller of the Emden asked that his ship be sent to the Indian Ocean as a lone raider, the other cruisers remaining together.
On August 13 they left Pagan and the following morning Emden and her collier Markomannia
left for the Indian Ocean.
August 19 they coaled at Eniwetok, several of the supply ships being detached to buy more supplies. Nürnberg was sent to Hawaii to send messages and arrange supplies.
On September 6 the squadron arrived at Christmas Island to find that Nürnberg had already arrived. The following day Nürnberg destroyed the wireless station at Fanning Island.
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau raided the harbour at Western Samoa a week later but found no targets. They then raided Papeete on Tahiti, the French Fort there opened fire but was quickly silenced as well as sinking the gunboat Zelee and the merchant ship Walkure. The French set fire to the islands coal supplies to prevent their capture.
They rejoined with the Nürnberg on September 26 and after supplying from the Marquesas Isles set sail for Easter Island, arriving on October 12. It had been decided to head east as there were too many Allied warships looking for them in the Western Pacific, including British, French and Russian cruisers, the Australian Navy including the battlecruiser HMAS Australia and the powerful Japanese Navy when they entered the war on August 23.
|SMS Scharnhorst and her sister SMS Gneisenau were modern and powerful armoured cruisers. They proved a serious threat to the Allied cruisers used to protect shipping, the Allied fleets tended to use older ships for these tasks, keeping their most modern units for fleet work.|
Leipzig (Captain Haun) started the war off the west coast of Mexico. From there she headed for the Galapagos Islands with here two colliers. They arrived there on September 18 having sunk Elsinore on the way. They were met there by another supply ship and then set sale for the Peruvian coast, sinking Bank Fields in the process. Finding no shipping in the area they set sail for Easter Island, arriving on October 14
Dresden (Captain Ludecke) was on Caribbean station, due to return to Germany and be replaced by Karlsruhe. The orders were changed when war appeared imminent. Once war started Dresden met up with three supply ships off the northern coast of Brazil. From August 6 to 8 she stopped several British ships, but they were released as they didn't carry war materials even though under the Hague Convention she was entitled to sink them.
On August 15 she sank her first ship, Hyades and on August 26 Holmwood was sunk. The prisoners were sent to port in another British ship they stopped.
On September 18 Dresden entered the Pacific via the Magellan Straights. The British freighter Ortega was sighted but escaped amongst the uncharted rocky seas and reported that Dresden had entered the Pacific. She then sailed up the Chilean coast before heading for Easter Island, arriving on October 10 with her one remaining collier.
Now all five cruisers were together they coaled and purchased supplies before leaving Easter Island on October 18, sailing for the Juan Fernandez Islands. They coaled there on October 26. The Armed Merchant Cruiser Prinz Eithel Friedrich, which arrived whilst they were there, was sent with the collier Gottingen and escorted by Nürnberg to the Chilean port of Valparaiso for coal. Two days later the squadron set sail for the Chilean coast which they reached two days later. Intelligence reports from German merchant ships indicated that HMS Good Hope and Monmouth were in the area and that HMS Glasgow had just coaled at Coronel and so the German squadron headed for Coronel in the hope of finding Glasgow alone.
|SMS Leipzig was the oldest of the German cruisers based overseas. She had a main armament of 10 x 4.1 inch guns, the same calibre as later light cruisers which were a series of evolutionary improvements on each other and generally regarded as successful.|