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On this day in history – 8th December 1914: ‘Battle of the Falklands’

Ever since a WWI Royal Navy task force, commanded by Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee, defeated an Imperial German Navy squadron, led by Vice-Admiral Maximilian von Spee, less than 100 nautical miles from Port Stanley, December 8th has been one of the most important days of the year in the Falklands.  Marked by military parades, the laying of wreaths and a public holiday. Over the years, it has become an occasion when Britain and Germany come together in Stanley to remember the losses on both sides.

The story of the famous  Royal Navy victory has been passed from generation to generation of Falklanders: in just a few hours HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible, and five other British warships, sank two German armoured cruisers and two light cruisers, including Admiral von Spee’s flagship, SMS Scharnhorst.  Almost 1,900 of the Kaiser’s sailors died, including von Spee and his two sons.  British casualties amount to 10 killed and less than 20 wounded. The German squadron had been attempting to raid the supply base at Stanley and seize the radio station.

A month earlier, on November 1st 1914, at the Battle of Coronel – Von Spee’s ships sink two British cruisers with 1,600 sailors losing their lives

The victory was revenge for the heavy defeat inflicted by Vice-Admiral von Spee on another Royal Navy fleet off the coast of Chile, at the Battle of Coronel, a month before.  In that action Vice-Admiral von Spee’s fleet sank two British cruisers, killing around 1,600 Royal Navy sailors, including the commander, Admiral Christopher Craddock. It’s said that only three German sailors were wounded in that action.

Photo of British sailors during WW1 | Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust (FMHT)

“Coronel was The Royal Navy’s worst defeat in a hundred years.”

On April 7th 2019 an FMHT funded expedition, led by Trustee Mensun Bound, located the wreck of von Spee’s SMS Scharnhorst in 800 metres of water about 80 nautical miles from Stanley, where it had lain undisturbed for more than 104 years (Read about the expedition).  The three other German warships sunk in the action, SMS Gneisenau, SMS Dresden and SMS Nurnberg are yet to be found.