H.M.S. Invincible at the Battle of the Falkland Islands

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Main article: Battle of the Falkland Islands

Captain's Report

H.M.S. "INVINCIBLE",[1]

18 December 1914.


No. A1/4.


Sir,

I have the honour to make the following report on the engagement which took place on the 8th December 1914 in so far as it concerns H. M. Ship under my command. -

At 8.0 a.m. while at anchor in Port William, ship's head W by S, coaling the port side from the collier "Trelawney" a report was received on board from the signal station at Sapper Hill behind the settlement at Port Stanley to the effect that two men o'war (one four funnelled, one two funnelled) were in sight approaching from the southward, and shortly after that more smoke was in sight beyond these vessels.

Steam was at 2 hour's notice for 12 knots and orders were at once given to light up in all boilers, and coaling operations ceased.

At 8.30 a.m. "Action" was sounded, and at 8.45 a.m. the collier left the ship and made it possible to open fire if the enemy came within range and could be seen over the low land to the south of Port William. At about 9.20 a.m. the "Canopus" fired her 12" guns, at which time the masts and smoke of two of the enemy could be seen from the upper bridge at a range of approximately 17,000 yards.

At 9.45 a.m. steam was available and the "Invincible" weighed, and having turned proceeded out of the harbour astern of the "Inflexible".

After passing Cape Pembroke Light the enemy appeared clearly in sight very nearly hull down to the S.E. There was a smooth sea with a light N.W. breeze and clear blue sky, so that visibility was excellent.

The signal "Chase" was received at 10.20 a.m. During this period the "Inflexible" was about 4 cables away on the starboard quarter. Speed was eased to 19 knots at 11.10 a.m. and increased to 20 knots at 11.40 a.m.

At 11.30 a.m. the hands went to dinner, one watch at a time.

From 12.20 p.m. to 12.50 p.m. the speed was increased from 22 knots up to about 26 knots, and at 12.55 p.m. "Inflexible" opened fire from her fore turret at the right hand light cruiser ; a few minutes later "Invincible" opened fire at the right hand light cruiser, the range being about 16,000 yards : the fire took no effect but the shots gradually got nearer to her until a shot from "A" turret fell just beyond her, when she turned to starboard and ran to the S.W. with the other two light cruisers.

At 1.20 p.m. therefore, "Invincible's" fire was directed on "Scharnhorst" who was then the third ship from the left, and at a range of about 15,000 yards.

"Scharnhorst" shortly after steered over to port and became the left hand ship, and then turned about 7 points to port leading the "Gneisenau" into line ahead, and a few minutes later - at 1.30 p.m. - fire was opened by both ships.

The enemy's shots at first fell 1,000 yards short of "Invincible" and "Inflexible", who at 1.28 p.m. turned 6 points to port together, and thus formed line ahead. The range on turning was about 14,000 yards, and at 1.44 p.m. the enemy's salvoes commenced falling very close and at 1.45 p.m. the "Invincible" was hit, a fact that was forced to my notice by the severe jar experienced , and it was subsequently noticed that hits on armour caused a severe tremor all over the ship.

The range now increased somewhat rapidly until it was found by fall of shot that the limit of "Invincible's" guns had been reached, and that the fire from both sides had become ineffective. As a consequence, at 2.0 p.m. "Invincible" turned 4 points to starboard, and then with "Inflexible" a turn of 4 points was made to together to starboard and speed increased to full speed to again catch up with the enemy, who at 2.10 p.m. had turned away about 10 points to starboard.

During this first phase of the action the enemy were certainly hit, perhaps two or three times each.

Proceeding at full speed, the enemy were quickly brought within range again, and "Invincible" opened fire on the "Scharnhorst" at 15,000 yards at 2.48 p.m.; neither of the enemy replied, but at 2.53 p.m. "Scharnhorst" led round to port and, with her consort, at once opened fire.

For the next 20 minutes the fire on both sides was rapid and accurate, and the "Invincible" was struck a number of times, while the enemy certainly suffered severely and the "Scharnhorst's" fire became noticeably reduced, and she was seen to catch fire at least once.

Between 3.15 p.m. and 3.25 p.m. several turns to port together were made amounting to 20 points and during these turns "Invincible's" fire was directed on "Gneisenau".

At 3.30 p.m. "Scharnhorst" turned 6 points or more to starboard followed by "Gneisenau", and "Invincible's" fire was again directed on the former who showed clear signs that she was receiving serious injuries, with one funnel shot away and much smoke from shell and fires, until at a few minutes after 4.0 p.m. she listed heavily to port and sank almost immediately. The fire was at once directed at "Gneisenau", and she quickly showed signs of receiving many hits.

The "Invincible" had been struck a number of times before the "Scharnhorst" sank, and one 8" shell having burst in the starboard strut of the foremast, showered the Conning Tower with dust and splinters and cut away two important voice pipes, one to Director Tower from Signal Tower, and one to Fore Top from Conning Tower. There remained still however, a voice pipe from Conning Tower to Director Tower. The voice pipes from Control Top to Transmitting Station had also been injured.

The funnel smoke which throughout had caused great inconvenience to the control of fire was now specially bad and at 4.20 p.m. a turn of 16 points to starboard together made the "Inflexible" leader on the opposite course to "Gneisenau".

At 4.30 p.m. "Invincible" led round to starboard 16 points, and a signal was made to form single line ahead with "Invincible" leading ; this brought the ship on a course which opened the range of "Gneisenau" fast, and this, with the funnel smoke, and the fact that "Gneisenau" appeared to now be steering a deliberately irregular course, saved her from being seriously hit for some time ; her own fire continued fairly steady and "Invincible" was hit several times.

From 4.45 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. the "Gneisenau" continued to be hit many times. At 5.30 p.m. she turned to starboard until she was nearly end on, and stopped with a big list to starboard. "Invincible" closed her with "Inflexible" and "Carnarvon" on the port beam. The "Gneisenau" occasionally fired a gun, but at 6.0 p.m. she heeled over and sank, when "Invincible", with the other two ships, at once lowered boats to pick up survivors.

A total of 108 officers and men were picked up, of which 14 died and were buried the next day.

There was very little wreckage except some small spars, gratings, and hammocks.

A torpedo with a smashed afterbody was floating among the wreckage.

By 7.30 p.m. nothing more could be done, and "Invincible" proceeded in accordance with signals.

In accordance with the traditions of H. M. Service the behaviour of the officers and ship's company was admirable. I can only describe the cheerful confidence displayed by all as being similar to that observed at Battle Firing in peace times. It is a special satisfaction to report there was not a casualty of any kind, and I put down this immunity to the fact that no officer or man was outside armour except those in the Fore Control Top and Director Tower. The fire brigade had necessarily to run considerable risks during their duties, risks not lessened by an insatiable desire not to return to shelter after dealing with a fire without a memento in the form of a piece of the enemy's shell.

It is perhaps a noteworthy fact that a total of 41 officers and men were all out of 993 who saw the action; (from the turret, conning towers, and top)

The 4" guns' crews were below throughout the action, and no ammunition was placed at the guns.

The Engine Room complement instantly met every demand for alteration in speed, and the ship can hardly ever have steamed better in the past. At one period the engines were making 308 revolutions or 27 knots, and as the ship was some 1,600 tones of coal short she was in good trim for speed. Her draught forward was 28' forward, 30' aft.

The only defect developed which concerns the machinery was the result of a shell which badly buckled and holed the forward funnel, and it is submitted that the approved lengthening of this funnel may be taken in hand at the same time as the repairs thereto.

The officers and crews of the four turrets worked indefatigably, and a considerable number of minor delays occurred to guns and machinery in these recently converted turrets, which needed much effort to quickly overcome.

The left gun of "A" turret fired 109 rounds without a hitch.

In accordance with your orders I have already forwarded a report of meritorious services performed by officers and men.

Two diaries belonging to German prisoners are enclosed.


I have the honour to be,

Sir,

Your obedient Servant

P. T. H. Beamish

CAPTAIN.


The Commander-in-Chief,

H. M. Ships & Vessels,

S. Atlantic & S. Pacific.

Damage

Enclosure C to Letter No.A1/4 of 19th December 1914.[2]

DAMAGE CAUSED TO H.M.S. "INVINCIBLE" BY GUN FIRE, IN THE ACTION OF 8th DECEMBER 1914, WITH REMARKS AS TO GERMAN PROJECTILES.

(1) Armour plating on starboard bow from stem to No. 10 station at water line fractured and distorted ; framing and plating behind armour fractured and bent inwards ; stem casting fractured ; No. 10 bulkhead buckled, compartment above lower deck flooded - Caused by 8.2 inch shell bursting on armour at No. 4 station.

(2) Port bow at station No. 17 armour plate dented, rivets and margin angle of No. 17 bulkhead shorn off and bulkhead buckled girder rivets shorn off, by shell bursting on armour belt.

(3) Top plate of armour struck by (?) shell at 68 station, starboard, tearing off part of covering plate.

(4) Bulkhead margin angle rivets shorn off at station No. 81, starboard, above lower deck in wake of side armour, due to shell bursting on armour belt.

(5) Starboard side plating at middle of Ward Room holed by 8.2 inch shell which burst, completely wrecking and destroying everything in Ward Room, bursting up deck above, and holing deck under, also all bulkheads, coal shoots, stanchions, and funnel casings near, and bulging ship's side.

Shell burst two feet inside skin plating, no fire caused, but devastation extraordinary.

(6) Side plating and frame blown in at station 89 - 90 main deck, starboard side, starboard side, by 8.2 inch shell burst, which also wrecked mess gear in stokers' messes, and holed casing to boiler room.

(7) Side plating immediately below armour belt holed, about 4 feet by 2 feet at top streak, having fracture extending through adjacent plate under. Frame behind blown away at station 115 to 117 port side. Bulkhead No. 115 buckled and dented ; caused by 8.2 inch shell exploding just inside plating, flooding no. 5 lower bunker.

The fragments of shell are large, and rather present the aspect of a partial rather than a complete burst or detonation. The coal was washed out of the hole by the sea, until its level came well below the hole.

(8) Forecastle deck holed by 5.9 inch shell bursting at Fore Dynamo Hatch, destroying hatch coaming, deck plating, and girder under, also splintering mushroom top and tearing away ventilating trunk beneath.

(9) "A" turret apron holed by blast from detonating 5.9 inch shell which struck turret armour between guns.

(10) No. 1 boiler room ash hoist holed by 5.9 inch shell which entered through forecastle deck starboard side and on bursting in Admiral's lobby holed mast, strut, spiral ladder, and upper deck, plating, and all adjacent bulkheads.

(11) Ward room pantry, No. 8 cabin, and adjacent screen bulkheads wrecked by 5.9 inch shell which burst on entering through forecastle deck. Upper deck plating under also holed.

(12) Forecastle deck and ship's side holed by 5.9 inch projectile which entered through deck before "P" turret, port side, in No. 7 cabin and passed out without bursting.

(13) Forecastle deck and ship's side holed by 5.9 inch projectile which entered deck above Chaplain's cabin, going through Paymaster's cabin - wrecking furniture and money chest - and passing out without bursting.

(14) Forecastle deck at port side at station 85 to 87 badly torn and holed by 8.2. inch shell which burst on entering deck, tearing away girder and beams and holing extensively upper deck under ; holing watertight bulkhead and door, funnel casings, drinking tank, and damaging money chest, also smashing port fore coaling derrick and riddling superstructure side plating. Some splinters holed the top of forward funnel, and boat on booms.

(15) Starboard bower anchor grazed by projectile, which cut out piece of anchor crown.

(16) Starboard strut to foremast at No. 1 4-inch gun house struck by 8.2 inch shell which entered strut from starboard side, bursting inside strut, tearing away 10 feet of port side of strut, and also after end and side of gun house, riddled and distorted fore funnel extensively, and shattered ladder to bridge deck.

(17) No. 2 4-inch gun starboard, struck by capped armour piercing 8.2 inch shell which broke gun at middle, destroyed gun shield and holed deck under, distorted gun support, passed through forecastle deck wrecking painted cancas [sic] room, passed through upper deck and screen bulkhead to Admiral's storeroom, port side, in which it was found unexploded in a cupboard. The cap was knocked off at No. 2 4-inch gun, and point of shell slightly damaged. Shell has been opened and closely examined on board and will be sent to Woolwich.

(18) After Conning Tower Support partly blown away, fresh water gravity tank holed and helm signal gear damaged by 8.2 inch shell which burst on entering conning tower support from starboard.

(19) Sick Bay wrecked, and ship's side, main deck, watertight bulkhead and door holed by burst of 8.2 inch shell which entered Sick Bay through Upper Deck from starboard at ventilating trunk before "X" turret port side.

(20) Canteen wrecked, deck under and above holed, scupper pipe and vent. trunk blown away by 8.2 inch shell which burst on entering through upper deck abreast "X" turret starboard side, and splinters of which holed sailing launch extensively.

The canteen was nearly full of groceries at the time.

(21) Prisons wrecked, decks above and under, and watertight bulkhead and door holed, fire main pipe holed, which caused electric store to be flooded also fresh water stowage tank, port, caused by 8.2 inch shell bursting on entering from upper deck.

(22) Seamen's heads partly wrecked by 8.2 inch shell which destroyed girder and beams to deck on entering from upper deck aft, also holed deck over paint shop which was flooded from damaged fire main pipe.

Damage to deck was also caused from blast of "P" and "Q" turrets ; deck beams being distorted and planking broken across extensively.


The capped 8.2 inch shell that was recovered complete has been carefully opened and examined ; it appears to be filled with T.N.T., and as its design, and the method of filling and fusing may present new features, everything will be sent to Woolwich for inspection. The angle of descent of this shell as measured by the line of holes made in the various decks is 48°.

Several different types of projectile were fired, and portions of at least one nose fuzed shell were recovered.

Most of the effective shell which penetrated No. 5 bunker appears to have broken up, and not burst, after passing through the bottom plating, as the pieces recovered are large and all show crystalline fractures.

The caps of two 8.2 inch shell and one 5.9 inch shell have been found.

The incendiary effect of the shells was small, this was particularly noticeable in the Ward Room where all the furniture such as sideboards, sofas, chairs and tables, was split to fragments. There was however no trace of fire other than a deposite [sic] of black smoke on everything. In no case did paintwork catch fire.

The shell which hit the starboard strut of the foremast caused severe blast to be felt in the control top. The blast appeared to pass up the inside of the strut and into the mast, for it blew upon the door leading into the control top, knocked the control officer down, unshipped the Mk. VI Dumaresq which was well fastened down, and also rendered the Rate Transmitter useless.

A considerable number of shell, generally 5.9 inch did not burst at all.

The fumes from the shell were black, choking, and of a sweet taste.

Gunnery

On 2 January, 1915, the Admiralty received Sturdee's gunnery report of the battle by telegram:[3]

Your 31. As Director installation was not complete 'Invincible used primary control from fore top throughout action, except for 2 or 3 short periods when primary control from 'A' turret and local control from all turrets was reverted to on account of funnels smoking: Neither ships aloft control position struck 'Inflexible' much hindered by 'Invincible' funnels smoke, and control over fire in both ships was seriously hampered by smoke from Battle Cruisers necessitating alteration of course: In 'Invincible' fore conning tower and 'A' turret never lost sight of enemy throughout action but fore control and P, Q and X turrets seriously obstructed by smoke. Rate keeping extremely difficult owing to great range and continual zigzag movements of enemy. Range finders found little use due to long range, spray from enemy, short shote [shots], and funnel smoke. Wind N.W. force 2 to 4, sea smooth very light swell, visibility extreme until last hour when it fell to 15,000 yards. Bright sun N.N.W. to W. by South; bearing of enemy varied between S.S.W. and E; speed of ships from 15 to 25 knots of enemy at 21 at start.
Your 32. 'Invincible' 126 lyddite 128 armour piercing projectiles, 259 common shells: A turret 179, P turret 83, Q turret 92 X turret 160.

She had 257 rounds of 12-inch shell left at the end of the battle.[4]

Footnotes

  1. The National Archives. ADM 137/304. ff. 56-59.
  2. The National Archives. ADM 137/304. ff. 127-130.
  3. Copy of telegram 39. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, CHAR 13/72/2.
  4. Atlantic I. & II. p. 261.

Bibliography

  • Naval Staff, Training and Staff Duties Division (1923). Naval Staff Monographs (Historical): Fleet Issue. Volume IX. The Atlantic Ocean, 1914-1915, Including the Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands. O.U. 5413G (late C.B. 917(G)). Copy No. 213 at The National Archives. ADM 186/617.