The Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Inflexible standing by to pick up survivors from the German cruiser SMS Gneisenau after the Battle of the Falkland Islands.
The three pursuing British ships now followed two Germans: Glasgow and Cornwall pursued Leipzig to the south, while Kent went after Nürnberg to the east. Cornwall began hitting Leipzig with her fourteen 6-inch guns, while Leipzig gamely hit back at Cornwall with her ten 4.1-inch guns. Cornwall, shielded by her armor, thrust on without hesitation to give and take punishment. Using Sturdee’s tactics, she closed the enemy at full speed, firing her forward guns, then, as soon as Leipzig began to hit back, turned sharply to starboard to bring her broadside to bear. And while Cornwall was drawing Leipzig’s fire, Glasgow closed in from a different direction to hammer the enemy with her own 6-inch and 4-inch batteries. For nearly an hour, these tactics continued. Leipzig, hit time after time, was doomed, but her gunfire remained expert. She fired rapidly, hitting Glasgow three times and Cornwall ten.
At 6:00 p.m., with the range down to 7,000 yards, Cornwall began firing special high-explosive shells. The effect was immediate. A large fire broke out forward on Leipzig and her gunfire became sporadic. Nevertheless, the German light cruiser continued to fire back until 7:05 p.m., by which point her mainmast and two of her funnels were gone and she had become an inferno of flashes and dark smoke. At this point, Cornwall ceased fire, expecting the enemy to strike her colors. Leipzig did not strike. Accordingly, Cornwall closed to 5,000 yards and fired more salvos. When the two British cruisers drew in to see whether she had struck, she was seen to be a wreck, but her flag was still flying on the remains of her foremast. Luce waited. He was about to signal, “Am anxious to save life. Do you surrender?” when Leipzig fired another—and as it turned out, final—shot.
What happened next was the result of a grim misunderstanding. Leipzig had fired her last shot. Captain Haun was ready to abandon and scuttle his ship; her seacocks had been opened and Haun had ordered all hands on deck with their lifesaving gear. A hundred and fifty men gathered amidships, hoping to be saved. But the German ensign was flying. Luce, for his part, was ready to accept Leipzig’s surrender, but with the flag still flying she was considered an active enemy. The difficulty was that the fires burning around the base of the mast where the flag was flying prevented anyone from lowering it. Haun already had told his men, “If anyone can reach the ensign, they can haul it down, for we shall sink now”; one sailor had made a dash through the inferno and collapsed, burning, before he reached the mast. The British waited for a reply that did not come, and at 7:25 p.m., Luce ordered both Glasgow and Cornwall to resume firing. The effect on the groups of men gathered on Leipzig’s open deck was appalling. The shells burst in the middle of the groups; a few minutes earlier, when the light cruiser had fired its last shot, there had been 150 men left. Now fifty remained.
At 8:12 p.m., Leipzig, listing and seeming about to capsize, fired two green distress lights. Luce took these as a signal of surrender, ordered another cease-fire, and cautiously approached within 500 yards. At 8:45 p.m., Luce ordered boats put in the water. Glasgow and Cornwall each lowered two boats as fast as they could be made seaworthy. Among those still alive on Leipzig was Captain Haun, who, when the British again stopped firing, sat calmly sharing his cigarettes. When he saw the rescue boats approaching, Haun ordered the survivors into the water. Then, still smoking, he walked forward and disappeared. The boats were within forty yards of the stricken ship and the boat crews saw German seamen jumping into the water when Leipzig sank. Heeling over to port, a mass of flames and smoke, she disappeared at 9:23 p.m., eighty miles from the point where Gneisenau had gone down. Glasgow’s boats picked up seven officers and ten men; Cornwall, one man. The high proportion of officers saved was due to the whistles they carried for use in the water.
Leipzig had hit Cornwall eighteen times, but because of her armor plate, the British cruiser had not lost a single gun or man. Glasgow was hit twice; one man was killed and four wounded. Because Glasgow’s magazines were empty of 6-inch shells, the two British ships returned to Port Stanley.
At 4:15 that afternoon, Kent had just begun firing at Leipzig when Nürnberg left her sisters and steamed away to the east. Kent followed Nürnberg. The two ships were different in almost every way. Kent was an armored cruiser with heavier guns, but she was old and had been recommissioned only sixty-seven days before. Three-fifths of her crew were from the naval reserve. When she left Portsmouth for the South Atlantic on October 12, half her crew became seasick in the Bay of Biscay. By November 13, the ship’s doctor was writing in his diary, “We are a crippled old ship, rushed out before our engine room was really efficient. We are now unable to condense water quickly enough and cannot steam more than ten knots. So we crawl south.” Kent joined Stoddart’s squadron at the Abrolhos Rocks before Sturdee’s arrival and went out to fire her 6-inch guns at a target 5,000 yards away. “Our shooting was rotten,” her doctor summarized. Nürnberg, on the other hand, was a modern light cruiser with a professional crew. Her armament was inferior but her shooting was excellent. On paper, both ships were listed as capable of 23 knots, but Kent, having repaired her old engines and by some nautical miracle, would actually exceed that. By 11:00 on the morning of the Falklands battle, she reached 23 knots; by 4:00 p.m. she was moving at 24, partly because she was light, having loaded no coal since Abrolhos. Kent’s speed also owed something to the frenzied efforts of the crew, who, to make up for the shortage of coal, fed everything made of wood aboard the ship into the furnaces: gunnery targets, ship’s ladders and doors, the officers’ wardroom furniture, the crew’s mess tables, benches, the chaplain’s lectern and the paymaster’s desk; at the end, timbers were being ripped from the decks.
As the afternoon wore on, the weather turned to mist and drizzle. Nevertheless, the race went on and Kent began to catch up. At 5:00 p.m., when Kent was 11,000 yards astern, Nürnberg opened fire. Nine minutes later, Kent fired back with her bow 6-inch gun. For some time no apparent damage was done to either ship. Then, at 5:35, just as Kent had begun to despair of a decisive action before dark, Nürnberg abruptly slowed to 19 knots. Two of her careworn, salt-contaminated boilers had burst and, although outwardly she still appeared undamaged, she was unable to flee. With the range reduced to 4,000 yards, Captain von Schönberg took his ship around for her last fight, broadside to broadside. Kent, willing to accept hits on her armor, bored in, using her heavier guns. Most of Nürnberg’s 4.1-inch shells failed to penetrate, exploding against the armored sides of Kent. One shell, however, burst in a gun position, killing or wounding most of its crew. Shortly before 6:00 p.m., another hit wrecked Kent’s wireless room; thereafter, the ship could receive wireless messages, but could not transmit.
Meanwhile, Nürnberg was on fire, her funnels were torn and twisted, her mainmast was gone, and only two guns on the port side were firing. Still, she refused to surrender. By 6:25 p.m., she was dead in the water; after 6:35, she fired no more shots. Kent then ceased fire and stood off awaiting surrender, but the German colors remained flying. The British fired again and at 6:57 p.m., the colors were hauled down. Nürnberg, now a burning wreck, lowered wounded men into her one surviving boat, which promptly sank. Kent closed in through the mist and saw the flames dancing above the light cruiser’s deck and shooting out from portholes and jagged holes in the hull. The rain pattering on the decks and hissing into the fires had little effect because it was accompanied by gusts of wind that fanned the flames more than the rain quenched them. As Kent launched two hurriedly patched boats, Nürnberg’s captain gathered the survivors, thanked them, called for three cheers for the fatherland, then marched to his conning tower to await the end. With Nürnberg settling by the bow, Kent’s searchlight picked up a German seaman, standing high in the air on her upraised stern, waving a German ensign lashed to a pole. At 7:27 p.m., Nürnberg turned on her side and sank. Those on Kent’s deck heard faint cries from the water and the British ship steamed slowly toward them, throwing ropes over the side and using searchlights to assist the searching boat crews. The sea was growing rougher, the water was intensely cold, and albatrosses arrived to attack the living and dead floating in their life jackets. Nevertheless, until 9:00 p.m. Kent’s boats continued to search. Of 400 men in Nürnberg’s crew, twelve were picked up alive; five of these later died. Otto von Spee was never found and became the third member of his family to die that day.
Kent had been hit thirty-seven times by 4.1-inch shells, but her armor had not been pierced. Her casualties were four killed and twelve wounded. That night, Kent’s officers ate boiled ham and went to bed. Next morning, they found their ship surrounded by deep fog and their captain uncertain as to where he was. The ship was critically short of coal and with her radio out of action, they could hear other ships calling “ ‘Kent! Kent!’ . . . but we could not transmit”; the result was that for twenty-four hours, Admiral Sturdee and the rest of the British squadron remained ignorant of her fate. The following afternoon, Kent limped into Port Stanley.
Sturdee, hearing nothing from Kent and fearing the worst, had taken Invincible, Inflexible, and Bristol to the southwest at 18 knots, making for Kent’s last known position. She might be sunk; her men still might be alive in the sea. He found nothing; the following afternoon a message from Macedonia announced that Kent was making for Port Stanley and that she had sunk Nürnberg. Sturdee still wanted Dresden, but by 10:30 a.m. on December 10, when he was within fifty miles of Staten Island at the eastern end of Tierra del Fuego, the fog was so thick that continuing the search was useless. With his battle cruisers short of coal, Sturdee abandoned the hunt and returned to the Falklands, arriving in Port William at 6:30 a.m. on the eleventh. There, with a strong west wind chopping the waters of the bay, he found the other ships of his squadron anchored and coaling. As soon as her anchor was dropped, Invincible’s divers went down and found a hole in her hull six feet by seven feet.
That night, Commander Pochhammer of Gneisenau was invited by Sturdee to a dinner party aboard the flagship. As the guest of honor, he was placed at the British admiral’s right hand and, during the meal, responded to questions about the battle. At the end of the dinner, glasses of port were passed around and Sturdee informed his guest that he was about to propose the traditional toast of “The King” but that he would understand if Pochhammer preferred not to drink. The German commander replied that, having accepted Sturdee’s invitation to dinner, he would conform to the Royal Navy’s established custom, which he knew well from prewar days. Back in Germany after the war, however, Pochhammer gave a different version of the incident. When Sturdee proposed the toast, he said later, he considered it “outrageous” and had “an overwhelming desire to throw my glass of port on the deck. My glass almost shivered in my hand, so angry did I feel. For a moment, I meditated throwing the contents in the face of this high personage [Sturdee].” Eventually, in fact, Pochhammer placed the glass back on the table without raising it. An awkward silence followed until Phillimore of Inflexible resumed conversation. In general, British hospitality was extended to all German officers. What particularly impressed Verner was the German officers’ “emphatic and unanimous statement that when they received the news that Great Britain had allied herself with France, they could hardly believe their senses. In their own words it was to them ‘absolutely incredible’ that Englishmen could ever become the Allies of so degenerate a race as the French.” From Macedonia, which left Port William with the German pris-oners on board on December 14, a German lieutenant wrote home, “There is nothing at all to show that we are prisoners of war.”
At 3:00 a.m. on the thirteenth, Sturdee was awakened and handed a report from the Admiralty: the British consul in Punta Arenas had reported that Dresden had arrived in that harbor on the afternoon of the twelfth and was coaling. The original message had been sent thirty-six hours before and only Bristol was ready for sea, but at 4:00 a.m. she sailed. At 8:30 a.m., Inflexible and Glasgow followed. Bristol arrived at Punta Arenas on the afternoon of the fourteenth to find that Dresden had departed at 10:00 the night before. Invincible remained at Port William for three days, making temporary repairs. She had been hit twenty-two times; twelve of these hits were by 8.2-inch shells. Two bow compartments were flooded. Most serious was the nasty hole on the waterline, which flooded a coal bunker alongside P turret, giving the ship a 15-degree list to port. This hole was beyond the capacity of the ship’s company to repair so the bunker was left flooded and all surrounding bulkheads were shored up. Remarkably, despite the physical damage to the ship, not one of Invincible’s crew of 950 had been killed and only two were slightly wounded. Inflexible, obscured so long by the flagship’s smoke, had received only three hits. Splinters had killed one man and wounded three others.
On December 15, Invincible, with Sturdee on board, steamed out of Port Stanley. On the twentieth, she anchored in the river Plate to coal, then coaled again at Abrolhos on December 26. On January 11, the battle cruiser reached Gibraltar and went into dry dock. Sturdee and his staff departed from there for England on January 28 on board the liner India. Leaving Invincible, the admiral shook hands with all the officers while the crew, lining the rails, gave him three cheers. Sturdee was enormously pleased with himself. The night after the battle, he had turned to Invincible’s captain and said, “Well, Beamish, we were sacked from the Admiralty, but we’ve done pretty well.”
How well, in fact, had he done? Sturdee’s assignment had been to destroy a far weaker enemy, one who had neither the strength to defeat him nor the speed to escape. Why had it taken so long—three and a half hours to sink Scharnhorst and five to sink Gneisenau? The two battle cruisers had fired as many as 600 shells apiece, the greater part of their 12-inch ammunition, to sink the two armored cruisers. There were many reasons for what at first sight seemed inefficient ship handling and inept gunnery in the British squadron. Before the war, few British naval officers had appreciated the inherent inaccuracy of naval guns at long range. The only time that Lieutenant Commander Dannreuther, the gunnery officer of Invincible, had been allowed to fire at ranges in excess of 6,000 yards was during the practice authorized by Sturdee on the way south to the Falklands—and he had been gunnery officer of the battle cruiser since 1912. Nor had peacetime practice disclosed the difficulties of shooting accurately from a rapidly moving platform at a rapidly moving target. Further, no one had considered that when ships were traveling at high speed, the intense vibration created by engines and propellers might rattle and blur the gun layers’ and trainers’ telescopes. Nor had prewar maneuvers revealed the obscuring effects of billowing funnel smoke at high speed. As the war went on, the expected rate of shells fired to hits achieved became 5 percent. That was approximately the ratio in the Falklands, but at this early time in the war, everyone expected better and therefore it seemed a failure.
Nevertheless, Sturdee had in large part fulfilled the task entrusted to him. His achievement, within four weeks of leaving the Admiralty, was hailed, not least by the inhabitants of the Falklands. “It really is a spanking victory,” wrote the governor’s aide-de-camp. “Last night His Excellency had all the Volunteers and most of the so-called leading people of Port Stanley up to Government House for a drink to the King and the Royal Navy.” The king himself sent congratulations and, on December 11, Sturdee received signals from Jellicoe on behalf of the Grand Fleet and from the French and Russian admiralties. Beatty, tired of constant criticism of the navy, said, “It has done us all a tremendous amount of good. . . . I hope it will put a stop to a lot of the unpleasant remarks . . . that the British Navy has been an expensive luxury and is not doing its job.” Beresford sent his “warm congratulations on the splendid achievement of my old friend and chief of staff . . . how clever of him to find out the enemy so quickly.”
[On the matter of promptitude, Sturdee subsequently gave no credit to Luce for the timely arrival of the British squadron at Port Stanley. Indeed, when Luce reminded him of their discussion at Abrolhos Rocks, Sturdee reacted coldly. Yet if Luce had not persuaded the admiral to leave Abrolhos a day before he meant to, Spee would have reached the Falklands first. What might have happened then, no one can say.]
Fisher was overjoyed at the victory, but not at all pleased with Sturdee. The triumph was, in fact, Fisher’s greatest of the entire war and praise was heaped on the First Sea Lord, because of the victory and because it vindicated his conception of the battle cruiser. This was what battle cruisers had been designed to do: to hunt down enemy armored cruisers “like an armadillo and lap them up.” Gleefully, he called the battle “the only substantial victory of ours in the war (and as Nelson wished, it was not a victory, it was annihilation). . . . And the above accomplished under the sole direction of a septuagenarian First Sea Lord who was thought mad for denuding the Grand Fleet of our fastest battle cruisers to send them 14,000 miles on a supposed wild goose chase . . . and how I was execrated for inventing the battle cruisers.” On December 10, Fisher wrote to Churchill, “We cannot but be overjoyed at the Monmouth and Good Hope being avenged! But let us be self-restrained—not too exultant—till we know details! Perhaps their guns never reached us! (We had so few casualties!) We know THEIR gunnery was excellent! Their THIRD salvo murdered Cradock! So it may have been like shooting pheasants: the pheasants not shooting back! Not too much glory for us, only great satisfaction. . . . Let us wait and hear before we crow! Then again, it may be a wonder why the cruisers escaped—if they have escaped—I hope not. . . . How Glasgow must have enjoyed it!” Churchill wrote back: “This was your show and your luck. I should have only sent one greyhound [battle cruiser] and Defence. This would have done the trick. But it was a niggling coup. Your flair was quite true. Let us have some more victories together and confound all our foes abroad—and (don’t forget) at home.” Delighted, Fisher replied, “Your letter pleasant. . . . It is all too sweet for words. . . . It is palpably transparent.”
Despite these glowing words, the First Lord and the First Sea Lord soon found themselves in acute disagreement. The subject was Sturdee. Fisher was furious that Dresden had not been destroyed and, in a vindictive spasm, declared that Sturdee should not leave South American waters until the fugitive light cruiser had been hunted down. As Invincible and Inflexible had to come home, this would have meant transferring Sturdee to Carnarvon, an inferior command for a vice admiral and a public slap on the heels of his recent triumph. When Churchill vetoed this proposal, Fisher went into a sulk. Dresden’s escape, the First Sea Lord said, was “criminal ineptitude.” After the battle, Fisher complained, Sturdee had swept a limited area for only a single day, then abandoned the search. Fisher felt that it must have been obvious where Dresden was headed and that immediately after the action, Sturdee should have sent at least one ship to Punta Arenas. On December 13, when Sturdee was informed that Dresden was back at Punta Arenas intending to coal, the Admiralty ordered him to destroy her before she could be interned by the Chilean government. Once again, Dresden escaped before Sturdee’s cruisers could arrive. On all these counts, Fisher’s wrath boiled high. In three blunt messages, he asked Sturdee to “report fully reason for course you have followed since action.” Highly irritated, Sturdee retorted, “Their Lordships selected me as Commander-in-Chief to destroy the two hostile armored cruisers and I endeavoured to the best of my ability to carry out their orders. I submit that my being called upon in three separate telegrams to give reasons for my subsequent action was unexpected.” Fisher would have none of this. “Last paragraph of . . . your signal . . . is improper and such observations must not be repeated,” he thundered, adding, “Their Lordships await your written report and dispatches before coming to any conclusion.”
In Fisher’s view, he himself was primarily responsible for the Falklands victory and Sturdee was simply lucky. Fisher, as First Sea Lord, had designed the ships and had sent them out on time. Now here was Sturdee, praised in every newspaper, returning to London to receive public acclaim for an easy victory won with Fisher’s greyhounds. Here, too, was Sturdee, offered command of the eight dreadnoughts of the 4th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet. And eventually, in the 1916 honors list, Sturdee was to be named a baronet, the first promotion to an hereditary knighthood for a naval officer since Trafalgar. Jealous and infuriated, Fisher continued to characterize Sturdee’s tactics as “dilatory and theatrical.” After the battle, when Sturdee passed through London and reported to the Admiralty on his way to Scapa Flow, he was kept waiting for several hours before the First Sea Lord would see him. The interview lasted five minutes, during which, according to Sturdee, Fisher displayed no interest in the battle except to criticize his failure to sink Dresden.
Captain Herbert Richmond, a staff officer who disliked Sturdee, agreed wholeheartedly with Fisher. It was “an irony,” he said, “that Sturdee, the man who more than anyone else is responsible for the loss of Cradock’s squadron, should be . . . made a national hero. . . . The enemy . . . [ran] into his arms and [saved] him the trouble of searching for them. He puts to sea with his . . . greatly superior force and has only to steer after them and sink them which he not unnaturally does. If he didn’t he would indeed be a duffer. Yet for this simple piece of service, he is acclaimed as a marvelous strategist and tactician. So are reputations made!” Fisher, whose hates were inscribed on granite, never forgave. “No one in history was ever kicked on to a pedestal like Sturdee,” he wrote in 1919. “If he had been allowed to pack all the shirts he wanted to take, and if Edgerton . . . [the port admiral at] Plymouth had not been given that peremptory order, Sturdee would have been looking for von Spee still.”
Meanwhile, Dresden had disappeared. After the battle, she had rounded Cape Horn, passed through the Cockburn Channel, and anchored at Scholl Bay in the wildest region of Tierra del Fuego. On December 11, with her coal bunkers empty, she made her way sixty miles north to Punta Arenas, where she was allowed to coal and from where her presence was reported to Sturdee at Port Stanley. Captain Lüdecke’s next refuge was in lonely Hewett Bay, 130 miles down the Barbara Channel, which offered many avenues of escape into the Pacific Ocean. Thereafter, the fugitive ship spent weeks hiding in the maze of channels and bays that divided the desolate islands on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego.
The British began a methodical search. There were dozens of possible hiding places and Glasgow and Bristol looked into most of them, searching the Magellan Straits and the islands and channels around Cape Horn, ferreting through uninhabited bays, sounds, and inlets. Inflexible steamed up the coast of Chile, into the Gulf of Penas and Bahía San Quintín, where Spee had coaled before rounding the Horn. Glasgow and Bristol passed through the Darwin Channel and into Puerto Montt, searching the Chilean coastal fjords along the way, then rendezvoused with Inflexible off Cape Tres Montes. On December 19, Inflexible, having gone up the coast as far as Coronel, was withdrawn from the search and ordered home to England. She returned, ultimately, not to the North Sea, but to the Dardanelles.
All summer—this was the southern hemisphere—Kent and Glasgow continued hunting Dresden through narrow channels lined by mountains, glaciers, and forests. “Occasionally,” wrote Glasgow’s Hirst, “at the head of some magnificent gorge, the lower slopes of a glacier show pale green shades against the snow. . . . The water has all the glassy calm of a Scottish loch, but a tide line of streaky bubbles shows on either side and occasionally we meet twisted tree trunks. . . . The majestic silence leaves a deep impression unrelieved by any cheering signs of human habitation. As night closes in and the vault darkens, the ship seems proceeding slowly up the aisle of a cathedral . . . deep bays become transepts and choir and a fringe of low islands ahead lining the channel draped in snow are the surpliced priests. Solitude reigns eternal in this abyss of waters.” But solitude did not mean peace for the British crews. Approaching an unknown headland, the men were at action stations, their guns training slowly, as the ship steamed cautiously around bare rock cliffs, the far side of which they could not see. They were playing hide-and-seek and the enemy might pounce on them from behind any headland with guns firing at point-blank range and torpedoes in the water. They found only uninhabited landscapes, flocks of aquatic birds, and myriads of fish and other sea creatures.
In mid-February, Dresden began moving north up the coast of Chile, keeping 200 miles out to sea to avoid detection. Her luck was waning, however, and on March 8, an afternoon fog burned off and Kent and Dresden suddenly sighted each other, 11,000 yards apart. For five hours, Kent struggled to get within range: at one point flames thirty feet high were coming out of her funnels; at another, most of the crew was ordered aft to sit over the propeller to make it “bite” harder. It was not enough: once again, Dresden drew off and disappeared. During the chase, however, Kent intercepted a signal from Dresden telling a collier to meet her at Más á Tierra in the Juan Fernández Islands. The following day, Dresden arrived in Cumberland Bay on Más á Tierra and anchored 500 yards from shore. Twenty-four hours passed and the Chilean government declared that, in accordance with international law, the German ship must consider herself interned. Captain Lüdecke argued that his engines were disabled and that international law permitted him to stay eight days for repairs. As the island had no wireless communication with the mainland, the governor could do nothing except to send a lobster boat to inform his government. Dresden, of course, down to forty tons of coal, was waiting for her collier.
On the basis of the intercepted message, Kent summoned Glasgow and together the two ships steamed toward Más á Tierra. At dawn on March 14, the two British cruisers rounded Cumberland Point. There at last, half hidden against the volcanic walls rising 3,000 feet behind her, they saw Dresden. She was at anchor, her flag flying, smoke wisping up from her funnels. As Glasgow approached, Dresden trained her guns. Luce, deciding that this was not the behavior of an interned ship and justifying his own action by Dresden’s repeated violations of Chilean neutrality, opened fire. The Germans fired back. At this point, the Chilean governor, who was in a small boat headed out to meet the British ships, found himself on a battlefield with shells falling near his boat. He hurried to safety. Within four minutes, the battle was over and Dresden, on fire and with a hole at her waterline, hoisted a white flag. A steamboat flying a parley flag from Dresden brought Lieutenant Wilhelm Canaris to complain that the German light cruiser was in Chilean territorial waters and therefore under Chilean protection.
[Canaris later became an admiral and chief of Hitler’s military intelligence. In 1944, he was involved in an anti-Hitler conspiracy, for which, in the final weeks of World War II, he was hanged by the Gestapo.]
Luce called out to him that the question of neutrality could be settled by diplomats and that meanwhile, unless Dresden surrendered, he would blow her out of the water. During this time, Captain Lüdecke had been busy with preparations to scuttle his ship and when the parley boat returned, Dresden’s company, many of them still half dressed, scrambled into their boats and made for the shore. The sea valves were opened and the German crew gathered on the beach to watch their ship sink. For twenty minutes, they were anxious as the vessel showed no signs of going down. Then, suddenly, she rolled over to port, water pouring down her funnels, and sank. On shore, the Germans sang their national anthem.
One midshipman and eight sailors from Dresden had been killed and three officers and twelve men were wounded. The ships’ doctors from Glasgow and Kent went ashore and amputated the right leg of Dresden’s second in command. One British doctor, feeling that Lüdecke, the captain, was rude, retaliated by writing in his journal that Lüdecke had a “villainous-looking face” and “a great pendulous nose.” Now that Dresden had disappeared, the Chilean governor switched his protest of violated neutrality to the British, who, he said, had caused property damage: two British shells had come ashore without exploding and other shell fragments had ricocheted. Luce resolved the matter by taking ashore a bag of gold sovereigns and asking the inhabitants to line up and make their claims. The wrecking of a lobster shed was settled for £60. A claim on behalf of a cow, said to be so frightened by a falling shell that she might never again produce milk, was liquidated for £15. The governor then gave Luce a certificate declaring that all claims against the British navy had been settled.
Dresden was the last survivor of the German overseas cruisers scattered around the world at the outbreak of war. She had traveled farthest—19,000 miles—and survived longest, yet she had done the least damage. Over seven and a half months, she sank only four British merchant ships, totaling 13,000 tons. From the time of her escape from the Falklands on December 8 until she was destroyed on March 15, Dresden sank two sailing ships. Of the five German captains who reached the Falklands with Admiral von Spee, only Lüdecke survived the battle and the war.
It was only a matter of weeks before the oceans were entirely clear. Early in March, the armed merchant cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich, which had captured ten vessels in the preceding two months, arrived at Newport News, Virginia, with a number of prisoners to put ashore. The ship claimed the right of refit and engine repairs, but while she was in port it became public knowledge that one of her victims had been an American vessel. The American government interned her. This left only the German armed merchant cruiser Kronprinz Wilhelm still at large. She gave up in April and voluntarily came in to Newport News to be interned.
During the search for Dresden, the British were also hunting for Karlsruhe, last reported in October off the coast of Brazil. In her raids along the South Atlantic trade route, Karlsruhe sank sixteen British ships before she met a sudden end off the coast of Barbados. Her fate was shrouded in mystery until March 1915. The first clue came when some of her wreckage washed ashore 500 miles away. Her survivors eventually found their way back to Germany and reported that on November 4, 1914, she had suffered an internal explosion and foundered with the loss of 261 officers and men. This German disaster occurred three days after Coronel, but for the next four months, the British Admiralty did not know.