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Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Discussions on all aspects of the First World War not covered in the other sections.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Atrevida on 21 Dec 2011 19:51

On this current visit the system logged me out five times before this post.

I have to put Terry Duncan right about his post of 18 December. It is well established that at 1500 on the afternoon of 3rd November 1914, Admiral Spee went to the German Consulate at Valparaiso where he cabled to Berlin via Washington his preliminary report on the Battle of Coronel before spending the rest of the afternoon with the head of the German Legation, Baron von Erckert and the Consul Dr Gumprecht. He will have received any secret Government orders from the diplomats.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Terry Duncan on 21 Dec 2011 20:38

I have to put Terry Duncan right about his post of 18 December. It is well established that at 1500 on the afternoon of 3rd November 1914, Admiral Spee went to the German Consulate at Valparaiso where he cabled to Berlin via Washington his preliminary report on the Battle of Coronel before spending the rest of the afternoon with the head of the German Legation, Baron von Erckert and the Consul Dr Gumprecht.


I can only refer you to my post of 18th Dec;

There would appear to be no record of any such signal being made from Germany, and as Spee was at sea, he would not have been able to receive it anyhow - he had been out of communication during the crossing of the Pacific and had needed to use the Chilean facilities at Valparaiso to make contact. Records of these communications exist, and there is no order to invade the Falklands.


For this 'secret' instruction idea to have weight, this would mean that not only did Berlin fail to record sending such an order, for Tirpitz and Muller to know nothing at all about it, for the German embassy in Washington to never record such an order, and for the Chilean authorities to have decided to remove ther records of what had been received. The telegraph system was very reliable because both the sending office and receiving office had a copy of what had been sent. This makes any idea of a secret order to be an extremely remote possibility. Berlin did tell Spee they would arrange the HSF to sortie when Spee was ready to run into the North Sea, and that their suggestion was for him to run for home. Those things are on record.

There would also need to be some accounting for why Britain knew nothing about it, after all the Admiralty had possession of the Naval code in October 1914 - it was the only code Spee would have had access to - and would have been deciphered fairly quickly. The idea the Diplomatic code was used also doesnt have any real support, there is no record of such a crossover, and the embassy in Washington would have received gibberish. Even then, the British had that code in March 1915 and an entire back catalogue of messages to decipher, yet this never surfaced! Remember Britain tapped the trans-Atlantic cable almost from the outset too, so these messages would have been received.

This now comes back to what record of a secret order or signal exists? All manner of rumours abound, and no matter who is the source of such a rumour supposedly, it does not make it any more reliable. After all, if somebody says they saw details of a signal that nobody else can find, has seen, nor has the slightest memory of sending, the chances are the man making the claims is wrong for any number of reasons.


With regards you logging in issues, is this to access the forum or only when you try to post text? I have had to use the cut and paste from Word in the past, here and elsewhere, always due to a Windows Explorer issue. Another problem that does come to mind is if you are posting from a library and not from home, as there have been problems with people I know being unable to post from a public server due to an unknow problem connected to the anti-virus programs used.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Atrevida on 24 Dec 2011 15:03

According to the source I provided, the Argentine Consul Adolfo Blanc stated in 1953 that he had seen a copy of the order in Foreign Office archives both in England and Argentina during his consular service. In the same book, Ambassador Candioti is quoted as saying that during his consular service in Imperial Germany he saw material indicating that it was Imperial policy to return all British colonies "to their rightful owners". This included the Falklands but was not specifically designed for them. The policy resulted from the British capture of Togoland and Samoa in August 1914. Do you not have these quotes? Remarks continued in following post.

Logging in- sometimes I have difficulty logging-in, usually I can log in and write a couple of paragraphs, but nothing long. I use a public server in Argentina, but this is the only forum giving this continuing problem. Happy Xmas.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Atrevida on 24 Dec 2011 16:04

You speak of "whether or not a signal exists".

I assure you as a published author who has twice been forced by the authorities to delete WWII material from a book (2001 by the Germans, 2011 much closer to home, leaving two nice blank pages where the printed word should be), that if the authorities do not wish to disclose to historians or the public in general a signal or any other material they will conceal it. A historian cannot therefore use its absence as evidence.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Terry Duncan on 24 Dec 2011 19:27

According to the source I provided, the Argentine Consul Adolfo Blanc stated in 1953 that he had seen a copy of the order in Foreign Office archives both in England and Argentina during his consular service. In the same book, Ambassador Candioti is quoted as saying that during his consular service in Imperial Germany he saw material indicating that it was Imperial policy to return all British colonies "to their rightful owners".


So why would the Germans, including people like Tirpitz, have recorded nothing at all about such an order? Why would imperial Germany keep this one rather unimportant thing secret when there was no secret at all about the policy to try and stir rebellion in the Middle East and India? Why does Chile have no record of such a signal? Why can only a witness from one nation be found, and a nation at that with a vested interest in making such a claim too. As to the comment from Candotti, the German policy on foreign nations colonies is not a decision to give the Falklands to Argentina.

I assure you as a published author who has twice been forced by the authorities to delete WWII material from a book (2001 by the Germans, 2011 much closer to home, leaving two nice blank pages where the printed word should be), that if the authorities do not wish to disclose to historians or the public in general a signal or any other material they will conceal it.


They quite possibly could keep something secret, but it is difficult to see the Germans keeping such things secret when they were at war with Britain, or that the US and Chile would continue to keep such things secret today. Indeed the US has a time limitation on such secrets, oddly enough well under 75 years for details on non-US matters, so it would be simple to check the signals that we know Spee to have received and any that are supposedly hidden.

A historian cannot therefore use its absence as evidence.


A historian can use absense of information as exactly that. Rumour is not evidence, and nor is speculation. All we have here is two comments from Argentinians that they saw something that nobody else has ever even mentioned. What is perfectly clear is that Spee did not have any troops with him, nor any intention to invade the Falklands, unless all his surviving officers were liars.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Navy Vet on 25 Dec 2011 00:01

Atrevida wrote:I use a public server in Argentina, but this is the only forum giving this continuing problem.

This (public server) is most likely the culprit -or- that is a combination of the server and this board. The refresh rate setting to flush the DNS is quick on most public servers. There is really nothing you can do other than the aforementioned use of note pad or word document to type your message and then paste it in here.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Terry Duncan on 25 Dec 2011 00:35

I know somebody who tends to access from a public server and frequently updated systems and will get them to see if they experience any issues, but this cannot happen until just before New Year and of course may not be a similar system to the one experiencing problems. It was a system that did previously experience a problem allowing access to this site and made posting a real problem I am told.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Atrevida on 25 Dec 2011 22:17

Terry Duncan

Both Churchill ("World" in Crisis, postwar, with quote from Lord Fisher on why Admiral von Spee would want to have done that) and Admiral Sturdee (to KKpt Pochhammer, at dinner aboard HMS Invincible, 11 December 1914) stated that the German intention had been to invade and occupy the Falklands. Pochhammer the senior surviving German officer stated that there were no occupation troops aboard the German ships, and that seems to have been the case. We are therefore left with the third possibility, which is the reason for my posting here.

This strange paradox - were the surviving German officers lying, or was it Churchill and Admiral Sturdee - is what first drew my attention to the matter. Unfortunately there is a lengthy explanation to draft and I will see if it can be shortened. If not, I have to do the Word business again which failed the last time I tried it.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Terry Duncan on 25 Dec 2011 23:49

Both Churchill ("World" in Crisis, postwar, with quote from Lord Fisher on why Admiral von Spee would want to have done that) and Admiral Sturdee (to KKpt Pochhammer, at dinner aboard HMS Invincible, 11 December 1914) stated that the German intention had been to invade and occupy the Falklands.


From memory all Pochhammer said was that Spee had decided to raid the Falklands with the intent being to destroy the wireless and coal there, after taking as much coal as the ships could manage. Not a word about invading the islands with an intent to hand them out as some sort of prize, nor of it being orders from Berlin to do so, only Spee's own idea.

I have not seen Churchill to say for certainty what he said, though as he made up a lot of his work it matters far less than the lack of an order from Berlin, and the total lack of any reason for them to not publicise such an order by this point.

Pochhammer the senior surviving German officer stated that there were no occupation troops aboard the German ships, and that seems to have been the case.


That is correct. Nor were the ships equipped to supply a force for such a task.

We are therefore left with the third possibility, which is the reason for my posting here.


As speculation goes its fine, but it seems based on little actual proof. I can tell you a German merchant ship docked in Buenos Aires on 30th of July with 8.8cm and 10.5cm guns to arm merchant ships as raiders, sadly I cannot tell you the book this is detailed in, though I did check the ship and dates and the claim is at least correct on those facts. It can also be used to show Germany expected a war against shipping to start at least by mid-July and was seeking to start commerce raiding - presumably not against Russia, so war with Britain and France expected by mid-July? - but as far as I can find, no ships were so fitted in Buenos Aires and no raiding by ships with unsourced weapons exists, so making too much of this supposed arming mission is going too far. The same is likely with your claim over an invasion.

Another point its that Spee would seem to have made no attempt to co-ordinate his ships with these others, signals were monitored for his location and intentions, and their best hope of landing a force to actually take the islands would have been to simply land the troops quietly whilst Spee staged a diversion elsewhere and didnt act as a warship magnate by heading near the islands.

This strange paradox - were the surviving German officers lying, or was it Churchill and Admiral Sturdee - is what first drew my attention to the matter.


Lets see, the people supposedly ordered with attempting the operation or two people who intended to make sensational claims to enhance their reputations? Remember Sturdee's wonderfully absurd claims about 'doubling the German line at Jutland' as being how he would have won the battle in very short order? Who would have had most to gain by making such a claim here? My money is on the known fantasists.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Atrevida on 26 Dec 2011 15:03

In this reply of about five parts I rely chiefly on the memoir of Hans Pochhammer. senior surviving German officer. The official German report is based on his account. The Spanish language version of his memoir "The Last Voyage of Graf Spee" was published by the Argentine Navy in 1928 under the title "El Último Viaje del Conde Spee", and I have a copy of this latter book.

I accept that both Churchill (The World in Crisis, Vol 1) and Admiral Sturdee (Pochhammer, p.221) were telling the truth when they claimed the German intention was to invade and occupy the Falklands.

I accept that the German officers including Pochhammer (p.221) were telling the truth when they stated that there were no occupation troops aboard the German ships.

How are we to resolve this paradox?
Last edited by Atrevida on 26 Dec 2011 15:24, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Atrevida on 26 Dec 2011 15:21

First must be established how many German ships were present in Falkland waters on the morning of 8 December 1914. All sources agree on five cruisers, but the British have only two support ships while the Germans have three.

Internet: "Admiral Sturdee's Despatch, 19 December 1914, (d) "Action with the Enemy's Transports".
"A report was received at 11.27 a.m. from HMS Bristol that three ships of the enemy, probably transports or colliers, had appeared off Point Pleasant. The Bristol was ordered to take HMS Macedonia under his orders and destroy the transports. HMS Macedonia reports that only two ships, steamships "Baden" and "Santa Isabel" were present, both were sunk...."

Thus two colliers "were present" while the third ship was not present. What ship was this, and where had she gone?

Note that Admiral Sturdee stated to Pochhammer on 11 December that the Germans had intended to invade and occupy the Falklands, and on 19 December he reduced the German support force by one ship. Was this the troopship or had she another purpose?
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Terry Duncan on 26 Dec 2011 17:11

I accept that both Churchill (The World in Crisis, Vol 1) and Admiral Sturdee (Pochhammer, p.221) were telling the truth when they claimed the German intention was to invade and occupy the Falklands.


Why would Sturdee or Churchill be able to say what the German intentions were better than the German admiralty, government or Tirpitz?

I accept that the German officers including Pochhammer (p.221) were telling the truth when they stated that there were no occupation troops aboard the German ships.


This is beyond all doubt. Spee did not embark troops with him when he left Tsingtao.

How are we to resolve this paradox?


With evidence and not speculation. Without evidence nothing is resolved, all that happens is that you give rise to more questions.

Note that Admiral Sturdee stated to Pochhammer on 11 December that the Germans had intended to invade and occupy the Falklands


Sturdee did not issue Spee with orders, nor did he have a clue where Spee was until the latter appeared off the Falklands, so it is amusing to consider he was telling Pochhammer what the Germans were intending. After all, if Sturdee seriously expected to find Spee turning up at the Falklands, his telling his captains he was intending to go out and look for Spee and even round Cape Horn to do so, makes no sense at all. It would seem more likely Sturdee speculated. and Pochhammer pointed out his specualtion was wrong - his comment about carrying no troops.

"Admiral Sturdee's Despatch, 19 December 1914, (d) "Action with the Enemy's Transports".
"A report was received at 11.27 a.m. from HMS Bristol that three ships of the enemy, probably transports or colliers, had appeared off Point Pleasant.


First note that this is a long time lafter Spee has been defeated. Given a merchant ship travelled at 8 kts, it would have been able to cover over 2,000 miles in the time since the battle, and if it were a faster ship and managed 12 kts, it would have covered over 3,000. This would constitute ample time for any ship in the South Atlantic to arrive at the Falklands even if it were only doing so from an independent decision to raid that locality. It would also represent the most abysmal co-ordination of forces by the German admiralty, to a degree hard to reconcile with any other operation they planned or ordered.

Second, the comment in the despatch is that a report of three ships was received, and the description of transports or colliers simply indicates the ships would have resembled standard merchant ships - troop transport ships as a speciallity did not exist as such at this time. However, as you note Macedonia states only two ships were present, what do you suppose happened to the other? No merchant ship, of whatever description, was capable of outrunning Bristol, so was the initial report mistaken? Another point would be to look at the log of Bristol, as any correction to the initial report would be there.

Of course, other questions do arise. Why would Britain turn down such a major propaganda coup as destroying or apprehending an invasion force? What happened to all the men of this supposed invasion force? After all, if they died somebody somewhere would miss them. If they were in prison they would return and tell of what happened to them in the war. We need to add those to all the other unanswered questions, such as why would the Germans keep such a mission secret - and secret from the Kaiser too, as he was confused as to why Spee even went near the Falklands.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Atrevida on 26 Dec 2011 20:44

)1) No, no, no. Sturdee's despatch is dated 19 December. It is his report on the battle fought on 8 December.

2) Admiral Spee left Tsingtau before the outbreak of war. Do you really think he would have embarked occupation troops there?

3) "Why would Sturdee or Churchill be able to say...": Have you seen the reports of the three German mercantile crews and the British captured crew released from one of the German merchant ships?

More text tomorrow.
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby Terry Duncan on 26 Dec 2011 21:20

)1) No, no, no. Sturdee's despatch is dated 19 December. It is his report on the battle fought on 8 December.


All three ships from the 8th are accounted for, Seydlitz interned in the Gulf of San Mathias, and as you noted Baden and Santa Isobel sunk - these were the only two Bristol had chased that day as Seydlitz appears to have left somewhat before the others.

Seydlitz is not exactly huge, having a GRT of 7,900 tons, although credited with the ability to cram in about 2,000 people in total. That is or course allowing for anything up to 1900 in steerage. There would be little room for cargo, and reservists called up in Chile would not come equipped with military gear, whilst we know Spee did not leave Tsingtao with such stores.

2) Admiral Spee left Tsingtau before the outbreak of war. Do you really think he would have embarked occupation troops there?


No, but I dont propose he embarked a large body of reservists in Chile and then rounded Cape Horn with them as some impromptu invasion force either.

3) "Why would Sturdee or Churchill be able to say...": Have you seen the reports of the three German mercantile crews and the British captured crew released from one of the German merchant ships?


I have seen many reports from the Falklands, it comes from spending many days sitting in the IWM, NMM, and PRO facilities in London in years gone past. Nothing I have seen there suggests any invasion force. As best Spee it supports that Spee decided to raid the islands for coal and to disable the wireless.

What we do know is that Captain Boy-Ed from the German embassy in Washington spent quite a long time trying to secure coal to get Spee to New York, but failed - maybe he wasnt in on the secret too? We also know that Spee sent to New York and Buenos Aires to request 10,000 tons of coal and three months supply for 1,000 men. And most important, we do know that Spee first asked his captains for their thoughts on a raid on the Falklands on 6th Dec. He would be unlikely to have done the latter if they were transporting invasion forces, or were ordered to invade the Falklands by Berlin.

How about any guesses to the answers to my questions, especially as to why Germany would keep it quiet or even why Britain would do so?
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Re: Why Admiral von Spee attacked the Falklands

Postby favedave on 27 Dec 2011 19:36

In no way were the German Admiralty in Berlin or Spee considering holding the Falklands for any long term.
"Occupy" as used by these various sources probably referred only to the port facilities for the duration of the coaling operations before embarking for Germany. Once away from the docks timed delayed fuses would have taken out the wireless station and any specific machinery for supporting the Royal Navy. It is likely these warships would have shelled the piers and warehouses, perserving as much ammo as needed for the home voyage.

But none of this happened because the Royal Navy got there first.
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