One of the reasons for the outbreak of war in 1914 was the petty jealousies for the colonies of the British Empire throughout the world. Protection was required when Germany, along with other European nations, acquired their own colonies globally.


The war of 1914 was largely fought out in Europe. However, the conflict encompassed the whole world. The British Empire countries of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India were committed to the declaration of war against Germany. Their citizens willingly volunteered to join the fight.


Japan had entered the war as Great Britain’s loyal ally. America eventually entered the war on the side of the allies, effectively completing the nations involved in the Great War.




The continent of Africa had been colonised over the years by the British Empire, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Portugal.


The African Theatre was part of the Great War. Should war break out in Europe, the European colonies in Africa would remain neutral, under the Berlin Conference 1884. An editorial by the “East African Standard” on the 22nd August 1914 argued that Europeans in Africa should not fight each other. Instead, they should collaborate to dominate over the native African population. The British army attacked German held coaling and radio stations in S.W Africa, together with wireless stations elsewhere in Africa. By having control of the radio stations Britain would help clear the seas of German commerce raiders. In S.W, Africa German fusiliers defeated British troops, who retreated to British Territory. The South African army, having put down a rebellion by the Boers, conquered German South-west Africa. British and French forces invaded the German colony of Togoland in West Africa on the 7th August 1914 and Germany finally surrendered on the 26th August 1914. British forces attacked German troops at the Battle of Tere near Garva on the 25th August, eventually resulting in a German withdrawal. Fighting in Africa continues into 1918.




Naval warfare was to form a part of the war. Admiral Graf Maximillian von Spee of the German East Asiatic squadron was operating in the Pacific Oceon. Spee had devised a plan to prey upon all shipping in the crucial trading routes off the west coast of South America. In early October 1914, the British had intercepted a radio communication giving details of the plan. The British West Indies Squadron, under the command of Admiral Cradock, patrolling South America, was ordered to deal with the problem.


Admiral Spee’s naval force consisted of five modern efficient armoured and light cruisers, whereas Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock had four not so modern cruisers. Hoping for reinforcements from Britain, Cradock waited in the Falkland Islands. When the reinforcements failed to appear, Cradock proceeded to meet up with the light cruiser “Glasgow” at Coronel. “Glasgow” had been despatched there to gather intelligence reports. Spee, with all his war ships, set out to destroy “Glasgow” after having heard she was patrolling alone. In the meantime, Cradock had ordered his squadron to adopt an attacking formation.


One message, sent by Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, ordered Cradock to halt any confrontation, pending any possible reinforcements from the Japanese navy. Whether Cradock received this message, no one actually knows.


Cradock had received an intercepted   radio signal, on the 31st October 1914, to say the German light cruiser “Leipzig” was in Cradock’s area. Promptly he ordered his squadron to intercept, and on the 1st November 1914, he encountered Spee’s entire force. Instead of retreating against superior opposition, Cradock decided to engage the Germans. However, he did order his converted ex liner “Ortanto” to break away and retreat. Spee’s reaction to this confrontation with the British was to move his squadron out of Cradock’s firing range. Spee proceeded to shell Cradock’s force and crippling the flagship “Good Hope”. Both armoured cruisers “Monmouth“and “Good Hope” were destroyed. Cradock drowned when he his ship went down and there were not any survivors of the two warships. Spee’s own fleet had suffered little damage and sailed for the German naval base in Chile. Two British ships “Glasgow” and “Ortanto” escaped.


Once the news had been received, the British Admiralty despatched a huge naval force under the command of Admiral Sir Frederick Sturdee. This fleet was designated to destroy Spee’s force when the two sides engaged at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.





Speeding toward Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, Admiral Graf Maximillian von Spee was keen to raid the British radio station and coaling depot. Spee was keen to add the Falkland Islands to his credit after his East Adriatic Squadron success at defeating the British at the Battle of Coronel.


Britain’s First Sea Lord, Sir John Fisher, had ordered a squadron to the Falklands in order to reverse the defeat at Coronel.


Admiral Sir Frederick Sturdee was the commander of the British Fleet. The fleet was moored up, and re-coaling in Port Stanley. Spee commenced his attack on the 8th December 1914 and missed the opportunity strike the British fleet whilst still at dock. Realising the danger to his squadron Spee made a dash for the open sea but the British soon pursued.  Spee brought about an engagement, in the early afternoon, knowing he could not out-run the more powerful British cruisers. The cruiser “Invincible”, commanded by Edward Bingham had damage inflicted by the German cruisers “Scharnhorst”and “Geneienau”, who resumed a hasty escape. Sturdee was able to bring his cruisers within extreme firing range. Four of the five German cruisers were sunk, “Scharnhorst”, “Geneienau”, “Nurmburg” and “Leipzig”. Only one German cruiser, “Dresden” escaped but by March 1915 it’s captain surrendered and scuttled her off the Juan Fernandez Islands.


The British lost 10 sailors killed and minimal damage to “Invincible”. However, 2200 German sailors lost their lives together with the loss of four warships.


The success, by Sturdee, was a morale booster and complete reversal for the set-back at Coronel. As a result, German commerce raiding ceased until the introduction of the submarine at a later stage of the war.






Taylor, A.J.P., The First World War, George Rainbird Limited, London.

Wikipedia, African Theatre of World War 1, the free encyclopaedia.

Wikipedia, The Battle of Coronel 1914.

Wikipedia, The battle of the Falkland Islands, 1914.

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