Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock was the British officer commanding at the battle of Coronel, the first British naval defeat for a century. Like many British naval officers most of his pre-war experience of battle had come on land. He had served with the naval brigade on garrison duties in Upper Egypt in 1884. In 1891 he had taken part in the eastern Sudan field force, serving as an aide-de-camp. In that role he was present at the battle of Tokar.
By the start of the First World War he was a Rear-Admiral (1910) and commander of the North American and West Indies Station (February 1913). His main task there was to deal with the German cruisers Dresden and Karlsruhe. He came close to the Karlsruhe, but none of his ships were fast enough to catch her, but the Dresden escaped down the coast of South America. Cradock followed her with HMS Good Hope (his flagship) and HMS Monmouth.
On 3 September Cradock was ordered to stay in the south and take command of the South-East Coast of America station. The biggest threat to his new station was provided by Admiral von Spee’s East Asian squadron, based around the powerful modern cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
The battle of Coronel came about because of poor intelligence. On 14 September Cradock was told to prepare to fight the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and was promised the Defence, a powerful cruiser, as well as the Canopus, an older but still powerful battleship. The Admiralty then received false information placing von Spee in Australian waters. Cradock was informed of this, and believing that the Leipzigwas the only German ship off the west coast of Chile. Accordingly he led his weak squadron into the Pacific.
At the end of October Cradock’s squadron of four ships (the cruisers Good Hope, Monmouth and Glasgow and the Armed Merchant Ship Otranto) were sailed up the west coast of Chile. Cradock dispatched the Glasgow to the port of Coronel to see if there was any news of the Leipzig. Instead she found von Spee’s entire squadron.
At this point Cradock could have attempted to escape south and meet up with the battleship Canopus. Instead he decided to stand and fight. His reasons for this decision were the subject of intense speculation at the time. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau outgunned him – only the two 9.2in guns on the Good Hope had the range to compete with von Spee’s 8in guns. Cradock was blamed by many for the defeat, but others saw his actions as being honourable and unselfish. He is normally said to have acted either out of a sense of honour, because of ambiguous orders or in the hope of damaging the German cruisers while they were so far from safety.
The battle started at around 7.00pm and within 15 minutes one of the 9.2in guns was out of action. The Good Hope took heavy damage, and at around 8.00pm exploded. There were no survivors. The Monmouth was also lost with heavy losses, while the Glasgow and Otranto escaped. Cradock’s defeat was soon avenged, at the battle of the Falklands.