Centenary of the Battle of Coronel: Loss of at least 26 Ulstermen.

HMS Monmouth

HMS Monmouth

Centenary of the Battle of Coronel:

Loss of at least 26 Ulstermen, 91 Irishmen, Armoured Cruisers HMS MONMOUTH, HMS GOOD HOPE and Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock

The destruction of Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock’s squadron by German Admiral von Spee at The Battle of Coronel occurred on 1st November 1914 resulting in the loss of 1,654 souls, 91 known to be Irishmen, 26 of them Ulstermen.

Ulster losses include:

-15 year old Midshipman Gervase Ronald Bruce from Downhill, Derry, one of ten cadets lost on MONMOUTH.
-Armagh man Gunner James McVey who was underage on enlistment and was likely the first Ulsterman from the Royal Marine Artillery to die in the Great War.
-Antrim man Private Adam Morrow who was likely the first Ulsterman from the Royal Marine Light Infantry to die in the Great War.
-Five more Ulster teenagers were lost; Belfast boys Stoker (2nd) John McAteer, Boy (1st) William Connell, Able Seaman William A. J. Wilson and Ordinary Seaman Herbert Kelly as well as Ordinary Seaman Henry McNally who was from Draperstown.

The Royal Navy, had spent months looking for the German East Asiatic commerce-raiding squadron known to be operating under Admiral von Spee in the Pacific without success. An intercepted radio communication, in early October revealed details of a plan devised by von Spee to prey upon shipping in the crucial trading routes along the west coast of South America. Patrolling South America at that time was Admiral Cradock’s West Indies Squadron, which consisted of two armoured cruisers, HMS GOOD HOPE and HMS MONMOUTH, the light cruiser GLASGOW, and a converted ex-liner, OTRANTO. Cradock was ordered to deal with von Spee even though his fleet was ill-matched when set against von Spee’s formidable force of five vessels, led by the armoured cruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU plus three modern light cruisers.

HMS Good Hope

HMS Good Hope

On 18 October von Spee, having heard of the solo existence of the GLASGOW, set off with his squadron from Valparaiso with the intention of destroying it. Cradock, who was aware that he was outgunned had been waiting in the hope of naval reinforcements. The Admiralty dispatched an armoured cruiser DEFENCE and an elderly battleship CANOPUS but neither reached Cradock before battle unexpectedly commenced on 1 November 1914. Deciding that he could wait no longer for reinforcements, Cradock determined to sail from the Falkland Islands to rendezvous with GLASGOW at Coronel, where she was gathering intelligence.

The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, issued orders to Cradock on 28 October instructing him to halt, pending possible reinforcement from the Japanese Navy. However Cradock had intercepted a radio signal on 31 October that LEIPZIG, the slowest of von Spee’s light cruisers, was in the area. He promptly ordered his squadron north to cut it off and found himself confronting von Spee’s entire force the following day at around 4.30pm. At this stage it is probable that Cradock’s force could have escaped by sailing towards CANOPUS as with the failing light, von Spee would most likely have lost contact with the British squadron. Instead Cradock chose to stay and fight; however he ordered OTRANTO to break formation and flee. In difficult seas, von Spee moved his faster vessels out of Cradock’s firing range; at sunset with the moon clearly silhouetting Cradock’s fleet, he began to shell the British force, with SCHARNHORST’s third salvo crippling the flagship GOOD HOPE and both GOOD HOPE and MONMOUTH were destroyed shortly afterwards, MONMOUTH under repeated battering.

Newspaper reports at the time were confused and it was not confirmed until many days later what had actually happened to Cradock and his fleet. In fact on 4th November it was reported that HMS GOOD HOPE had not been damaged at all and on the 7th November it was reported that ‘The Admiralty have now received trustworthy information’ and that HMS MONMOUTH was ashore in Chile.

Eyewitness reports state:

“Monmouth continued to battle until her hull was riddled. She toppled over in the water and lay for a moment with her keel lapped by the waters, then plunged to the bottom.”

“After the Monmouth disappeared, the Germans closed in on the Good Hope, the big guns of the two battle cruisers firing with marvellous accuracy. With flames bursting from her in a dozen places, her superstructure carried away and her guns out of commission, the Good Hope finally turned and ran ashore with water pouring into her hull.”

A German report expresses that:

“German officers bear testimony to the great gallantry of the crew of the Monmouth, which while in a sinking condition, attempted to ram one of the German vessels.”

Although GLASGOW and OTRANTO both escaped, 1,654 men were drowned on GOOD HOPE and MONMOUTH. No survivors were found and Cradock himself was lost with his ship.Von Spee’s own fleet had suffered little damage, and sailed thereafter to Valparaiso to a rapturous welcome from the local German population.

Once news of the scale of the British defeat, and its consequent humiliation, reached the British Admiralty in London a decision was quickly taken to assemble a huge naval force under Admiral Sir Frederick Sturdee. This was promptly dispatched to destroy von Spee’s force, which it subsequently did, at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

The loss of these men will be marked within the introduction to QFT’s screening of ‘The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands’. This new restoration from the British Film Institute National Archive is one of the finest films of the British silent era – a thrilling reconstruction of two decisive naval battles of 1914, recreated and filmed 13 years later, in peacetime. With a new score performed by the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines.

Queen’s Film Theatre; 11 November at 6.30pm and 16 November at 3pm. Book online: http://www.queensfilmtheatre.com/
Ulster men lost:

Gunner James McVey, born Armagh, lived Belfast
Able Seaman David Boyd, born Dromore, lived Belfast
Stoker (1st) Hugh Brough, lived Belfast
Stoker (2nd) John McAteer, born Belfast
Leading Stoker Joseph Wood, lived Belfast
Leading Seaman John Weir Hanna, born Belfast, lived Aghalee
Able Seaman James McGregor Reed, born Turmore, Donegal
Able Seaman George Todd, lived Newcastle
Stoker (1st) John Bleakley, born Belfast
Boy (1st) William Connell, lived Belfast
Able Seaman Samuel James Dickson, born Edenderry, lived Belfast
Able Seaman Albert Henry O’Hea, born Londonderry
Leading Seaman Herbert Campbell, born Belfast
Private Adam Morrow, born Antrim
Able Seaman George Henry Patton, born Belfast
Able Seaman Alexander Rodgers, born Belfast
Able Seaman William A J Wilson, born Belfast
Seaman Samuel Johnston, born Newtownards, lived Donaghadee
Seaman John McMullan, born Downpatrick
Ship’s Corporal (1st) William McAllister, born Portrush
Leading Seaman John Bernard, born Belfast
Ordinary Seaman Herbert Kelly, born Belfast
Ordinary Seaman Henry McNally, born Draperstown
Leading Seaman Michael Molloy, born Ardglass
Able Seaman David Prentice, born Belfast, lived Dromore
Midshipman Gervase Ronald Bruce, born Downhill

Research by Karen O’Rawe, Chair History Hub Ulster.

History Hub Ulster is a research group based in Belfast, but working on projects across Ulster.


The Livebait Squadron: One of the largest Naval disasters in history with 31 of Ulster’s men lost to just one U-boat

Exactly seven weeks into the First World War, the action of 22nd September 1914 saw three large but old British Royal Navy cruisers, manned mainly by reservists and referred to as the Livebait Squadron, sunk by just one German submarine while on patrol in the North Sea.  In all 1,459 men were lost off the Dutch Coast, on the three ships HMS Aboukir, HMS Cressy and HMS Hogue.  Of these, at least 31 men had connections to Ulster, most of them Stokers and three quarters of them part time reservists. Their average age was only 27 years old. 30 Ulstermen are buried at sea, with only 1 Ulsterman with a known grave.

HMS Aboukir

HMS Aboukir

The cruisers were part of the 7th Cruiser Squadron, which was assigned patrol duties in the North Sea.  Although concerns had been expressed about the vulnerability of these old ships, no changes had been made. There was less concern about submarine attacks at this point in the war than later, despite the previous sinking of HMS Pathfinder.

The morning of 22 September found a single U-boat, U-9 passing through the Broad Fourteens on her way back to base.  Surfacing after taking shelter from a storm, U-9 spotted the unprotected British ships and moved to attack.

She fired one torpedo from a range of 500m, which struck Aboukir, flooding the engine room and causing the ship to stop immediately.  Aboukir capsized and sank within 30 minutes. It was assumed that the ship had hit a mine, and the other two cruisers closed in to help.

U-9 resurfaced to observe Hogue and Cressy trying to rescue men in the water, and fired two torpedoes at Hogue from a range of 270m. Despite the ship opening fire on U-9, the two torpedoes struck Hogue and within 15 minutes she capsized.

HMS Hogue

HMS Hogue

The last remaining cruiser Cressy was left to face U-9 alone but failed.  Hit by two torpedoes, she capsized and floated upside down for 40 minutes before sinking.

One survivor explained how the men were;

‘much bruised and the skin was knocked off their bodies by the buffeting of the waves and contact with the wreckage’

Another man writing to his mother told of his experiences;

‘the sea was literally alive with men struggling and grasping for anything to save themselves. To add to the horror of the scene the Germans kept firing their torpedoes at us.’ 

He goes on to explain how he lost both of his brothers, all three of them serving on HMS Cressy;

‘I was just going to jump when I saw dear brother Alfred coming along the deck which was then all awash. Together we lingered for a moment, shook hands and told each other that whoever was saved to tell dear mother that our last thoughts were of her. We then kissed, wished each other goodbye, and plunged into the sea together, and we never saw each other again. Nor did we see any sign of brother Louis’ 

Witness reports of the time are inconsistent with survivors saying that anything up to 20 submarines where involved and that at least 2 were destroyed.  In fact the only submarine involved, U-9 returned home the next day to a hero’s welcome with Commander Weddigen and his crew all receiving the Iron Cross. U-9 and Commander Weddigan would go on to sink HMS Hawke three weeks later with the loss of 524 men, over 40 of them from Ulster.

HMS Cressy

HMS Cressy

Despite rescue attempts by Dutch merchant vessels, of the combined crew of 2296 men there were only 837 survivors.  1459 men, mostly part-time men from the Royal Naval Reserve rather than regular sailors, had died.  For weeks after this catastrophe bodies of British sailors were washed ashore on the Dutch coast, a few men buried at cemeteries in Holland.

The disaster shook British public opinion and the reputation of the Royal Navy. There were reprimands and criticisms for those in charge.  The reputation of the U-boat as a weapon of war was established. Sceptics in Germany fell silent and the Royal Navy never underestimated the U-boat threat again. In later years, it is estimated that 15,000 seamen fell victim to torpedo attacks. In this first major incident alone one tenth of that number perished.

There were at least 31 casualties related to Ulster on board HMS Aboukir, HMS Cressy & HMS Hogue:



Stoker (1st) Norman Sidney Burrard, born Monaghan, died aged 20

Stoker (1st) Matthew Cleland, born Belfast, died aged 26

Stoker (1st) Hugh Donnelly, born Belfast, died aged 26

Stoker (1st) John Foster, born Dromore, lived Belfast, died aged27

Stoker (1st) William James Gordon, born Downpatrick, died aged 27

Stoker (1st) William Johnston Kerr, born Belfast, died aged 25

Stoker (1st) William Martin, born Belfast, died aged 22

Stoker (1st) Gilbert McBride, born Belfast, died aged 26

Stoker (1st) Francis Leonard McLoughlin, lived Ballycashon, died aged 21

Stoker (1st) Edward Thomas Quinn, lived Belfast, died aged 29

Stoker (1st) Hugh Sands, lived Belfast, died aged 24

Able Seaman Edward Henry Everall, born Annalong, died aged 26

Sick Berth Steward Reuben John Johnston, born Belfast, died aged 37

Able Seaman Frederick Charles Hamilton, born Lisburn, died aged 35


Stoker (1st) Peter Breslin, born Ardara, Donegal, died aged 27

Stoker (1st) Samuel Chancellor, born Belfast, died aged 22

Stoker (1st) Joseph McBride Hilland, born Belfast, died aged 24

Stoker (1st) Thomas Joseph Hughes, born Belfast, died aged 29

Stoker (1st) Alexander Jamison, born Doagh, lived Belfast, died aged 28

Stoker (1st) David Lewis, lived Belfast, died aged 25

Stoker (1st) John Logan, born Belfast, died aged 23

Stoker (1st) Isaiah Marshall, born Belfast, died aged 23

Stoker (1st) Henry McMurran, born Whitehead, lived Carrickfergus, died aged 27

Stoker (1st) Thomas Murphy, born Newry, died aged 31

Stoker (1st) Charles Neill, born Belfast, died aged 26

Stoker (1st) William Joseph Redmond, lived Belfast, died aged 29

Leading Carpenter’s Crew Joshua Singleton, born Hillsborough, died aged 37

Engine Room Artificer William Wright, born Belfast, died aged 31

Lieutenant Philip Arthur Graham Kell, linked to Portrush, died aged 37


Stoker William Clair, born Belfast, died aged 41

Stoker (1st) David Graham, born Whiteabbey, lived Whitehouse, died aged 36

Only one of these men’s bodies was recovered for burial, most remaining where they drowned.  They are remembered at either Chatham or Portsmouth Naval Memorials.  The wrecks of the three cruisers still rest on the seabed, the mass graves of so many men, although these are not protected and it is alleged that the wrecks are being salvaged for metal.  The anniversary on 22nd September will be marked at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham with a Drumhead service and fall of 1,459 poppy petals, one for each life lost.


Research by Karen O’Rawe, Chair of History Hub Ulster.

Servicemen images courtesy of History Hub Ulster Member, Nigel Henderson at http://www.greatwarbelfastclippings.com


Ulster links to HMS Pathfinder: The first ship sunk using a powered torpedo from a submarine

HMS Pathfinder

HMS Pathfinder

The first ship ever to be sunk by a locomotive torpedo fired by a submarine was HMS Pathfinder, a Pathfinder-class scout cruiser, on 5th September 1914.  She was sunk off St Abbs Head in the Scottish Borders while on patrol, by U-21 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Hersing, taking with her 6 men from Ulster.  Despite the event having been easily visible from shore the authorities attempted to cover up the sinking and HMS Pathfinder was reported to have been mined.

Captain Francis Martin Leake, Royal Navy HMS Pathfinder

Captain Francis Martin Leake

The majority of crew below decks had neither the time nor opportunity to escape and went down with the ship.  There was some confusion at the time over the exact number of crew on board, but research indicates that there were 261 deaths and only 18 survivors. 

One of these survivors of HMS Pathfinder was Captain Francis Martin Leake who had started his career as a young Lieutenant on HMS Caroline.  Captain Leake stayed with his ship as she went down by the nose but was lucky to be picked up and saved.  

He writes in a letter to his mother; “The torpedo got us in our forward magazine and evidently sent this up, thereby killing everyone forward”.  He says of Pathfinder; “She then fell over and disappeared leaving a mass of wreckage all around, but I regret very few men amongst it, for at the time they were all asleep on the mess decks and the full explosion must have caught them, for no survivors came from forward.”

Another survivor was County Down man, Staff Surgeon Thomas Aubrey Smyth who gave an account of his experiences in a letter to his mother who lived at Bedeque House, Dromore.

Staff Surgeon Thomas Aubrey Smyth, Royal Navy HMS Pathfinder

Staff Surgeon Thomas Aubrey Smyth

“The explosion blew a great hole in the side of the ship.  I was at the time in the wardroom, but ran up on deck immediately, and it was then evident by the way the bow was down in the water that she would sink rapidly.  I should say the whole thing occurred in about ten minutes which time was spent in throwing overboard the few articles which would float (the reason there was not more of these was that in preparation for war all unnecessary woodwork is got rid of to prevent fire).  I was then thrown forward by the slope of the deck and got jammed beneath a gun (which I expect is the cause of my bruising) and while in this position was carried down some way by the sinking ship, but fortunately after a time I became released and after what seemed like interminable ages I came to the surface, and after swimming a short time I was able to get an oar and some other floating material with the help of which I was just able to keep on the surface. After holding on for a long time – I believe it was an hour and a half – I must have become unconscious for I have no recollection of being picked out of the water. You see we were alone when it happened, so it took a long time for the reserve torpedo boats to come out and it was too quick to get any of our own boats out, besides most of the few we had were splintered into pieces.” 

There were at least 6 Ulster casualties on board HMS Pathfinder:

These Ulster men were:

Ordinary Seaman HERBERT DALEY born in Lurgan, died aged 20

Stoker (1st class) CHARLES JOHN GORMAN born in Belfast, died aged 24

Leading Stoker JAMES HERBERT HILLIS born in Banbridge, died aged 26

Stoker (1st class) WILLIAM SWANN born Glasgow, lived in Belfast, died aged 23

Stoker (1st class) ANDREW WEST born Belfast, died aged 23

Stoker (1st class) GEORGE SINCLAIR BELL born Belfast, died aged 28    

None of these men’s bodies were recovered for burial and as such they still remain were they died.  All six men are remembered at Chatham Naval Memorial.  The wreck site of HMS Pathfinder is designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.  The anniversary on 5th September will be marked by the British Sub-Aqua Club who will lay a wreath for the centenary of her sinking.

On the Centenary of HMS Pathfinder’s sinking on 5th September, HMS Bangor will arrive in Bangor, County Down. She will be open to the general public on the afternoons of Sat 6th and Sun 7th. HMS Bangor is a 600 tonne Sandown Class Minehunter, commissioned by the Royal Navy and launched by Lady Lisa Spencer in 1999 at Southampton Docks. She is named after Bangor and is the second Royal Navy vessel to bear the name. She is 52.5m in length and has a max speed of 13 knots.

Research by Karen O’Rawe Chair of History Hub Ulster.

Pictures courtesy of History Hub Ulster Member, Nigel Henderson at http://www.greatwarbelfastclippings.com

HMS Amphion – First Ulster deaths of World War One

HMS Amphion Lost 06 August 1914

The first Ulster casualties of the Great War were sailors on the HMS Amphion, the first ship of the Royal Navy to be lost in the First World War on 6th August 1914.  HMS Amphion was an Active-class scout cruiser and the wreck site is designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

Amphion, Newsletter, 8 August 1914

Newsletter, 8 Aug 1914

These Ulster men were:

Engine Room Artificer (1st Class) HENRY JOHN BENNETT born at Tor Head in County Antrim, died aged 36.

Able Seaman WILLIAM CLARKE born in Moville, County Donegal, died aged 26.

Petty Officer (2nd Class) JOSEPH LYNCH born in Bright, County Down, died aged 39.

Able Seaman CHARLES GEORGE McCONACHY born in Belfast, died aged 25.

On August 4th 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. In anticipation of war, Germany had converted the Konigin Luisea former holiday ferry into a minelayer.  On the night of 4th August she left her home port of Emden and steamed south through the North Sea to lay mines off the Thames Estuary.

Meanwhile, HMS Amphion and the destroyers of the 3rd Flotilla were preparing to sail from Harwick.  By daylight on the 5th August they were in the North Sea where they received reports of an unknown vessel ‘throwing things over the side’.  At 10.25 Amphion sighted the unknown steamer and sent the destroyers Lance and Landrail to investigate. The Konigin Luise alteredher course and disappeared into a squall where she began laying mines.  HMS Lance signalled she was engaging the enemy and is credited with firing the first shot of World War I. The destroyers were soon joined by Amphion (which had won the fleetgunnery prize for 1914). The Konigin Luise was only lightly armed and offered little resistance. Commander Biermann changed course hoping to draw the British ships into her minefield. However, after receiving numerous hits, the ship was sunk.

HMS Amphion

HMS Amphion

The British destroyers sighted another ship flying a German flag and began an attack.  Amphion recognised her as the St.Petersburg which was carrying the German Ambassador back to Germany from England.  Amphion signaled the destroyers to cease fire but the signal was ignored. Captain Fox then put the Amphion between the destroyers and the St. Petersburg to deliberately foul the range and allow the ship safe passage.  That evening Amphion and the destroyers set course to return to Harwick but due to reported problems with mines and submarines, the allocated course ran very close to where the Konigin Luise had laid her mines.HMS Amphion

At 06.45 on 6th August, the Amphion struck a mine which exploded and broke the ship’s back.Abandon Ship was ordered. As most of Amphion’s boats were destroyed, the destroyers sent their boats to rescue the crew.  However, although Amphions’s engines were stopped, she continued turning in a circle and she struck the same row of mines.  Her magazine detonated and the destroyers were showered with debris.  Amphion sank at 07.05 and 151 men were lost.

With the war only 32 hours old, HMS Amphion, which had primarily assisted in inflicting the first German Naval loss of the war, became the first British Naval war loss.

Known Irishmen on the Amphion were:

First Name Surname Rank Area
OWEN CALLAGHAN Stoker 1st Class Waterford
GEORGE CHRISTIE Shipwright 2nd Class Cork
ANDREW COLLINS Leading Stoker Cork
MARTIN MUNNELLY Chief Stoker Sligo
SAMUEL PARSLOW Stoker 1st Class Wexford
HENRY JOHN BENNETT Engine Room Artificer 1st Class Antrim
WILLIAM CLARKE Able Seaman Donegal
JOSEPH LYNCH Petty Officer 2nd Class Down

Ballymena Observer 21st August 1914

The official press bureau on Wednesday afternoon issued the following:-

“3.30pm – at 9am on August 5th, HMS Amphion with the 3rd flotilla proceeded to carry out a certain pre-arranged plan of search and about an hour later a trawler informed them that she had seen a suspicious ship ‘throwing things overboard’ in an indicated position. Shortly afterwards the mine layer Konigen Luise was sighted steering east. Four destroyers gave chase and in about an hour’s time she was rounded up and sunk. After picking up survivors the search continued without incident till 3.30am when the Amphion was on the return course.

At 6.30 am Amphion struck a mine. A sheet of flame instantly enveloped the bridge which rendered the Captain insensible and he fell on the fore and aft bridge. As soon as he recovered consciouness he ran to the engine room to stop the engines, which were still going at revolutions for 20 knots. As all the forepart was on fire, it proved impossible to reach the bridge or to flood the fore magazine. The ship’s back appeared to be broken and she was already settling by the bows.

All efforts were therefore directed to placing the wounded in a place of safety in case of explosion and towards getting her a tow by the stern. By the time destroyers closed in it was clearly time to abandon ship. The men fell in with composure and 20 minutes after the mine struck, the men, officers and captain left their ship.

Three minutes later it exploded. Debris falling from a great height struck the rescue boats, destroyers and one of the Amphion’s shells burst on the deck of one of the latter killing two of the men and a German prisoner rescured from the cruiser. After 15 minutes the Amphion had disappeared.Captain Fox speaks in the highest terms of the behaviour of the men throughout.”

Amphion, Newsletter 7 Aug 1914

Newsletter 7 Aug 1914

HMS Amphion Newsletter 7 Aug 1914

Newsletter 7 Aug 1914