World War I: Naval War--Pacific Engagements

Figure 1.--Germany after unification (1871) began building an overseas empire. This included Pacifiic possessions. They acquired the Chiunese treaty port of Tsintao as well as northeastern New Guinea andca nbumber of Pavigfic islands including the Carolines, Gilberts, Marianas, Marshals, Solomons, and others. As a result, the Germans as they aldo built a hifgseas fleet, deployed a small naval squadron to the Pacific. The German sqadron was based in Tsingtao / Qingdao.

World War I was primarily fought in Europe and the important naval engagements were fought in European waters (the North Sea, North Atlantic, and Mrediterranean). Despite all the attention given to U-boats, the principal naval action was the Allied blockade of Germany and Austria-Hungary. And it was in the Northsea that the powerful British Home Fleet faced the Kaiser's Highseas Fleet. It was the greatest challenge to Britain since Trafalgur (1805). There was, however some naval actions in the Pacific. The British and Germans were unwilling to launch major attacks at the beginning of the War, but the Pacific actions came immediately after the declaration of war. The German East Asia Squadron sailed from its its base at Tsingtao so as not to be hemmed in by the Allied forces. Admiral Maximilian von Spee's goal was to get his ships home to Germany and he chose a Pacific route. He concentrated his squadron of two armored and three light cruisers at Pagan Island, part of the Marianas chain which were at the time a German possesion. Spee's squadron raided Allied islands as it made its east way southest across the Pacific. At the time Spee and many islands did not have wireless connections with the outside world. This complicated British efforts to engage the Germans. Spee detached cruisers to raid the cable station at Fanning Atol (near Tarawa in the Gilberts, now Kirabati). The next victim was Papeete on Tahiti (Fench Polynesia). Here they sank a French gunboat and a freighter before bombarding Papeete's shore batteries. There was no doubt here they were headed and the first engsgement between the Royal Navy abnd Adm. Spee's squadron occured oiff Chile--the Battle of Coronel (November 1, 1914). Admiral Spee's reltively modern ships defeated the British squadron of basically obsolete ships. The British lost two armored cruisers. A light cruiser and auxiliary cruiser had to withdraw. Some 1,500 British sailors (all hands aboard both cruisers) were lost. Only three German sailor were wounded. Superior German use of radio intercepts was a major factor in the German victory. The Admiral's Spee's odessy ended a month later at the Battle of the Falklands (December 1914). The Royal Navy destoyed Spee's squadron. Sppe went down with his flagship SMS Scharnhorst, a name that would reappear in World War II. As off Coronel, there were no survivoirs iun the frigid waters. Only the light cruiser SMS Dresden and the auxiliary SMS Seydlitz surviuved the engagement, neither of which would make it back to Germany. The crew of SMS Dresden survived, among them the future Adm. Canaris. Britain had forged a naval alliance with Japan in the years before World War I, primarily as an ally against the expanding Tsarist Empire. Assistance provided by the British was an important factor in the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05). When World War I broke out the Japanese oportunistically joined with the British to attack German possessions in China and the Pacific. This gained Japan strategic islands in the south Pacific. Actually the Japanese had more in common with the authoritarian Germans than the democratic British, but it was the German possessions they coveted and they did not feel ready to challenge the powerful Royal Navy. After the German squadron in the Pacific was destroyed and the German possessions seized, the Japanese would eventually dispstch a destroyer force to aid the Allies in the Mediterranean. The Japanese obtained German concessions in China as well as German South Seas posseessions which were turned into naval bases that beacame major World War II battlefields. The ideological proclivities toward Germany would come into play in World War II and the opportunity to taken on not only the British and Dutch, but the Royal Navy as well. All three possessed valuable colonial possessions in the Southern Resource Zone {SRZ)


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Created: 8:38 AM 11/30/2018
Last updated: 8:38 AM 11/30/2018