On 20 June 1914 Europe was at peace. That day, when the armored cruiser Gneisenau sailed from the German Cruiser Squadron's base, Tsingtao on the Yellow Sea, no one had reason to suspect that it would be for the last time. Among her company was the squadron chaplain, 32-year-old Evangelischer Marinepfarrer (Protestant Naval Pastor) Hans Rost. Rost's letters home, never before quoted in an English-language publication, provide a unique perspective of the drama into which he and his shipmates were soon cast.
Plans called for the Gneisenau to join her sister ship, the Scharnhorst, the flagship of Vice Admiral Count Maximilian von Spee, on a summer cruise to the German possessions in the Central and South Pacific. The plans, however, did not survive the crisis ignited by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. On 7 July, the day the two vessels rendezvoused in the Caroline Islands, Berlin ordered Spee to await developments.