The WW1 HMS KENT in December 1914 – A true boy’s own story !


I read recently a website which told the story of the HMS Kent which was heavily involved in what was to become known as “The battle of the Falkland Islands” during WW1,  which stated that it quoted from the Commanding Officers diary for its story.   Some time ago I had written an account of all the “fights” of the British versus the Germans navies  in the South Atlantic and in the Pacific Ocean in WW1 [excluding single ship altercations], and simply wanted to see what competition I had on the Internet.  My story can be found here The first RN battle of the Falklands.

 The CO’s story was told [or quoted]  in isolation to other stories and official reports from this fight, so I decided to look for more independent data published from other sources which covered this extremely important naval action and specifically the part played in it by the Kent, and that, for just one engagement, namely that against the German cruiser SMS Nuernberg. If nothing else, the CO states that some artefact made of wood was broken up and burned as fuel as a replacement for a shortfall of coal.  Those relatively few pieces would by themselves, not have fed the fires adequately to produce the power needed to overhaul Nuernberg.  Thus, notwithstanding the quoted CO’s diary, the story from the source below sounds much more realistic and plausible.

 What I found, read as an exciting boy’s own type of story, worthy of being told and retold over and over again.

 After WW1, in the 1920’s, many books were written about the war years of 1914 to 1918 and some were acknowledged as being authoritative, subsequently to be universally used as books of reference.  One such publisher, Caxton Publishing Company of London, produced a series of  large Volumes [1-10] called the “the History of the Great European War – Its causes and effects” which was compiled by W. Stanley Macbean Knight, assisted by eminent naval and military experts.  In Volume 4 Chapter XXV, the story of this fight is told.

 To understand this verbatim quote, one must first know about the Battle of Coronel [on the Pacific side of South America {on the Chilean coast}] and how the German Navy defeated the British Navy.  This can be read on the above mentioned website – it will not take one long to read the salient parts of the story !

 I begin. QUOTE……

 While Glasgow and Cornwall were pursuing Leipzig, Kent had been ordered as from half-past three to engage Nuernberg, which was the nearest to her. Nuernberg evidently hoped to get away like the Dresden, and, as a matter of fact, had a very good chance of doing so, for Kent, was woefully short of fuel.  The  captain however ordered the boats to be broken up and fed into the furnaces.

 “The order was obeyed, the boats were broken up, smeared with oil, and passed into the furnaces.  After them went the wooden ladders, the doors, and the chests of drawers from the officers’ cabins.”

 In this way Kent was able to get up a speed of 24 knots.  Kent’s pursuit of Nuernberg and their running fight lasted about four hours.   It was at 7.27 that, blazing fore and aft, the German cruiser went down with her guns still firing.  The Kent sailors were able to rescue seven of her brave crew.  To this bravery one of the officers on the Kent bears striking testimony.

 “They were a brave lot” he writes; “one man stood aft and held the ensign flying in his hands until the ship went under.”

 Kent lost four men killed and twelve wounded, and but for the heroism of Sergeant Charles Mayes might have been entirely lost  with every man onboard her.  His action is thus recorded:

 “A shell burst and ignited cordite charges in the casement, and a flash of flame went down the hoist into the ammunition passage.  Sergeant Mayes picked up a charge of cordite and threw it away.  He then got hold of a fire hose and flooded the compartment, extinguishing the fire in some empty shell-bags which were burning”

 For this brave act he was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

 It was one single shell which caused most of the casualties on Kent, which did not get within range of Nuernberg until an hour and a half after the chase began.  Firing went on from Nuernberg until half-past six, and then Kent ceased firing also, but as Nuernberg would not haul down her colours Kent opened fire again at a range of 3300 yards.

 “Fire was finally stopped five minutes later on, the colours being hauled down, and every preparation was made to save life.”

 This was not much , for it will be remembered  that Kent had burned her boats after her coal had run short.

 “We do what we can with life-buoys and lumps of wood paid astern, but it’s mighty little; it’s loppy sea and dreadful cold.  The ‘mollyhawks’  are swooping around, and the vultures of the sea, the Albatrosses, are attacking the drowning German sailors seeking to peck out their eyes.”


 This concludes the specific QUOTE on Kent’s engagement.  However, and in context, a new QUOTE starts below.


 Von Spee’s [the German admiral] delay cost him his entire squadron with the exception of one unit [Dresden,  although she was later destroyed], the loss of his life and that of his two sons and over 2000 Germans, against seven or eight British killed and four wounded.

 The outburst of fury in Germany when the news became generally well known, which was not for a considerable time after the event, was unparalleled.  Some of the comments in the German papers read like the ravings of paranoiac. And the fact is that the Battle of the Falkland Islands dealt a terrible blow to Germany’s position as a naval Power.  It wiped out the only Squadron she had left, outside the fleet buried in the Kiel Canal, and removed all danger to British trade routes.  The work was complete when Bremen disappeared, and Dresden and Karlsruhe amongst cruisers, and Kronprinz Wilhelm and Prince Eitel Friedrich, were successively disposed of.

 So great was the German fury that even the cool and cautious heads of the German Admiralty seemed temporarily to have lost all self-control.  There can be no doubt that the attack on our East Coast on December 16 was by way of retaliation , a foolish act dictated by spite rather than by policy.

 This morning a German cruiser force made a demonstration  upon the Yorkshire coast, in the course of which they shelled Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough.  A number of their fastest ships were employed for this purpose, and they remained for about an hour on the coast.  They were engaged by patrol vessel on the spot.  As soon as the presence of the enemy was reported a British patrolling squadron endeavoured to cut them off.  On being sighted by British vessels the Germans retired at full speed, and favoured by the mist, succeeded in making good their escape.

A number of civilians, mainly women and children, were killed on this occasion by the German squadron.  It was a pitiful revenge for the defeat off the Falklands. 

Much of Germany's latest naval activity, which has been limited to submarine work, has been even more pitiful.