Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, December 20, 2021

After Victory at the Falklands: the Fates of Battlecruisers Inflexible and Invincible

Invincible and Inflexible Leaving Port Stanley
in Pursuit of Von Spee

Three Invincible-class battlecruisers were built for the Royal Navy and entered service in 1908 as the world's first battlecruisers. They were the brainchild of Admiral Sir John ("Jacky") Fisher. Eight classes of battlecruisers, a total of 15 ships, were eventually built for the Royal Navy.

After the disastrous 1 November 1914 defeat at the Battle of Coronel off the Chilean coast, the British Admiralty included  two of the class, Invincible and Inflexible, in the force sent  to hunt down and destroy Admiral von Spee's fleet in the South Atlantic. Unaware of the force sent to intercept him,  Admiral von Spee planned to destroy the British coaling station at Port Stanley on East Falkland in the South Atlantic. Spee found a much superior British force in port as he approached—Invincible and Inflexible—vastly more powerful and considerably faster than Spee’s principal ships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Within hours he was dead.

Inflexible Gathering German Survivors

The Invincibles, fresh out of dry dock, had a 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) advantage over Spee's ships which all had fouled bottoms that limited their speeds to 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) at best. Only one man was killed and five wounded aboard the battlecruisers during the battle. The British gunnery was poor due to smoke, and the Germans maneuvered skillfully so that it took much of the afternoon before the British made telling hits. Eventually, however, the big British shells struck home. Both German armored cruisers were sunk before about 1800 hrs. with few survivors. 

The defeat at Coronel had been avenged—even the German escapee from the battle, Dresden, was caught and destroyed while hiding in Chilean waters three months later.  The victory led by the battlecruisers seemed to vindicate Admiral Fisher's championing of the new class of ship.  However, post-Falklands records of the  Invincible and Inflexible reinforce some of the early doubts about the usefulness of a fast big-gun ship but with lighter armor than a battleship.

Inflexible Visiting New York in 1909

At the outbreak of the war, HMS Inflexible had participated in the unsuccessful pursuit of the German  battlecruiser SMS Goeben and the light cruiser SMS Breslau.  After minor repairs for damage suffered in the Battle of the Falklands, Inflexible was returned to the Mediterranean. During the Gallipoli campaign, she  bombarded Turkish forts in the Dardanelles in 1915 but was damaged by return fire and struck a mine while maneuvering. She had to be beached to prevent her from sinking, but she was patched up and sent to Malta and then Gibraltar for more permanent repairs. 

Transferred to the Grand Fleet afterward, she damaged the German battlecruiser L├╝tzow during the Battle of Jutland in 1916 but watched her sister ship, Invincible, explode. After the Battle of Jutland revealed her vulnerability to plunging shellfire, additional armor was added in the area of the magazines and to the turret roofs. However, after Jutland there was little significant naval activity for the Invincibles, other than routine patrolling, thanks to the Kaiser's order that his ships should not be allowed to go to sea unless assured of victory. Inflexible was sold for scrap on 1 December 1921, and scrapped in Germany the following year. 

Invincible Before the War

HMS Invincible was the flagship of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The squadron had been detached from Admiral Beatty's Battlecruiser Fleet a few days before the battle for gunnery practice with the Grand Fleet and acted as its heavy scouting force during the battle. She was destroyed by a magazine explosion during the battle after the armor of one of her gun turrets was penetrated. Of her complement, 1026 officers and men were killed, including Rear-Admiral Hood.

Invincible's Magazine Detonating

Wreck Settling

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica

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