Several years ago at an auction in Devon, England, I bought a suitcase full of vintage photographic equipment. The purchase was impulsive; I had not had the opportunity to view the contents of the case when the gavel fell, and I secured the lot from an otherwise disinterested room.
The equipment, jumbled together among shriveled pill bugs, dated from the 1950s. It included a Russian Zorki complete with a telescopic brass tripod, an 8-mm home-movie camera with ruined film in the spools, a flash housing with blown bulbs, and furred Eveready batteries fossilized in their housing.
The suitcase’s soiled cotton lining had elasticized side pockets. In one there was a carefully folded document. The auctioneer had made no mention of this, so it was with some surprise, reading it through, that I realized I had acquired an eyewitness account of the 1914 Battle of the Falklands.
Although lacking an addressee, the document is a letter. The blue ink with which it’s typed gives it the appearance of being a carbon copy, perhaps the author’s personal duplicate. As one might expect of a copy, there is no signature, but the name “Lionel H. Shore” is printed at the end. A little digging led to the discovery that Lieutenant Commander Lionel Henry Shore was the navigator of the famous battlecruiser HMS Invincible.
Shore was born in 1882, the second son of Henry Noel Shore, fifth Baron of Teignmouth, and Mary Aglionby Porteus. Lionel followed his father, a retired commander, into a career with the Royal Navy, taking a commission as a midshipman soon after his 17th birthday.
In June 1900 he saw active service during the Boxer Rebellion in China. Shore’s account of the engagement at Taku Forts, taken from a letter to his father, was published in The Times later that year. His accomplished prose style may have been the result of his father’s influence; Baron Teignmouth was a celebrated author of works on smuggling, European travel, and the Pacific voyages of HMS Lapwing, in which he had served.
The Taku Forts letter, much like the later Falklands letter, is a creditable firsthand account that displays its author’s zeal in the service of his country, as well as his stoicism and good humor, even when relating that he had fallen victim to friendly fire: “I got shot by an idiot of a stoker, carelessly handling a loaded rifle. He was only about ten yards off, the bullet went through the inside of my right thigh, high up, luckily missing the bone and other dangerous parts.”1 The Taku Forts letter probably helps identify Shore’s father as the intended recipient of the missive from the Falklands. Tellingly, perhaps, the Falklands letter has “not for publication” handwritten across the top left-hand corner of the first page.
Shore distinguished himself at Taku Forts, earning a very favorable mention in dispatches and a recommendation for early promotion from his commanding officer, Commander Christopher Cradock.2 Shore was duly promoted to lieutenant in 1903, and during the subsequent years his ability as a navigator and pilot singled him out for praise and advancement. He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander in 1911, and commander in 1915.
Shore was posted on board HMS Invincible as navigator a few days before the outbreak of World War I, in July 1914. It was his second tour of service in the ship.
Completed in 1909, the eighth HMS Invincible was the prototype large armored cruiser. Her designed purpose was to keep the sea-lanes open and protect British mercantile shipping from marauding enemy cruisers. She was fast and heavily armed, capable of dogging, hunting down, and destroying enemy cruisers. She was to be a “greyhound of the seas,” as First Sea Lord Admiral John “Jacky” Fisher put it. In 1912 the Invincible and her class were reclassified as battlecruisers, taking up a support role as part of the battle fleet and forgoing their more swashbuckling, predatory purpose.
The British declaration of war on Germany found the Invincible in the final throes of a major refit. Declared seaworthy eight days later, she played a small part in the Battle of Heligoland Bight, the first naval engagement of the war. But the 18 salvoes she fired all missed their mark. British victory at the Bight served as a timely boost to morale; however, any high spirits were short-lived. At the beginning of November news reached the Admiralty of defeat at the Battle of Coronel.
Under the command of Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee, the German East Asia Squadron—comprising two powerful armored cruisers, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and three light cruisers, the Leipzig, Dresden, and Nürnberg—outmaneuvered and outclassed a British squadron commanded by now–Rear Admiral Cradock, off Valparaiso, Chile. HMS Monmouth and Good Hope were lost with all hands, including Cradock.
Admiral Fisher, who had been recalled from retirement at the outbreak of war and reinstated as First Sea Lord, made the decision to send the Invincible and her sister ship Inflexible to lead the search for the German squadron. The mission would see the vessels revert to the purpose for which he had originally intended them.
Admiral Cradock had, of course, been highly influential in Lieutenant Commander Shore’s advancement after the Boxer Rebellion. Shore had also served in the Monmouth, so it is unsurprising that he commences his account by expressing his satisfaction at being part of the force avenging Cradock’s death and the British ship’s loss.
Shore’s account of the Falklands engagement confirms a number of facts about the action, but he is sufficiently security-conscious not to go into details or highlight many of the challenges the Invincible faced. For example, there’s no mention of the problems with funnel smoke flooding the gun turrets, necessitating a change in course to relieve the asphyxiating gun crews.
Even so, what we have, though somewhat sanitized, has authority (despite Shore getting the date of the battle wrong; it took place on 8, not 9, December). Shore, as the navigator of the flagship, served virtually directly under squadron commander Vice Admiral Frederick Doveton Sturdee; the lieutenant commander was on the bridge while the ship journeyed south to Port Stanley and in the conning tower during the battle itself.
The ultimate endorsement of Shore as a faithful witness is found in the officer’s Royal Navy service record: “Admiral Sturdee reports that he was greatly assisted in compiling report of action with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau by careful records taken during the action by Lt Commander Shore.”3 Also, the official “Scale Plan of Action” carries Shore’s signature.4
Port Stanley, Falkland Islands
You will probably have read some details of our fight off these islands on Dec. 9. It was great luck to be able personally to avenge the death of Admiral Cradock who did so much for me, and also the loss of my old ship the Monmouth.5
The whole business was the most wonderful piece of luck in its way, and a great feat for our admiral. On Nov. 11th, less than a month before it came off, we sailed from Plymouth after a few busy days, docking, taking stores, etc. We had previously left Cromarty on the day that the news of the disastrous action off Valparaiso arrived.
Vice Admiral Sir Dovetone Sturdee hoisted his flag on board, and we sailed from Plymouth with Inflexible, our sister ship and late flagship in the Mediterranean. Our orders were to seek out and destroy the German cruiser squadron which were so effectually holding up our trade in the S. Pacific & Atlantic, which combined with our defeat off Valparaiso being very damaging to our prestige in those waters. The chief of these cruisers were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, two powerful armoured cruisers, but of course not equal to us.
Admiral Sturdee was appointed commander in chief of the S. Atlantic and S. Pacific, and I had charts for almost every part of the world, as we were prepared for a very prolonged search for the Germans.
Within one day of our arrival at our main base in the Falklands the Germans absolutely delivered themselves into our hands, and with the exception of a small cruiser the Dresden, whom we shall soon catch, were absolutely destroyed. If we had been a day later the positions would have been very much reversed, and we should have found them at the end of our long voyage, in possession of our base. You will doubtless have realised my great luck in finding myself navigator of a flagship for the war, which besides being a commander’s job, means another £90 a year now that I am navigator to a commander in chief.
We arrived in St. Vincent, Cape Verde Is. on the 17th, where we coaled the whole night and left next morning. I did not get ashore. A barren looking spot like Aden. We then sailed for the Abrolhos Rocks, which are a group of rocks with a lighthouse 30 miles off the Brazil coast just S. of Bahia. This was one of our secret coaling places, as a matter of fact there was a wireless station there in German pay, which reported our every movement. On our way to Abrolhos we made a descent at dawn on the Rocas Reef off the N.E. corner of Brazil in hope of catching the Karlsruhe, a small but very troublesome G. cruiser who has captured any number of our merchant ships and has defied all attempts at capture. She is very fast and has secret bases, probably on the N. coast of Brazil. She has yet to be accounted for.
Rocas Reef has a lighthouse and is about 3 miles in extent. We arrived there at dawn, ourselves on one side & the Inflexible on the other. We lay off the breakers, which we could just see in the moonlight and hoped to catch the Karlsruhe coaling when daylight came, but nothing was there. We crossed the equator with full ceremonial, Father Neptune coming on board and initiating those who had never crossed the line. On Nov. 26 we coaled at Abrolhos Rocks and met there our previous Atlantic cruisers, not one of which had been capable of taking on the Scharnhorst or Gneisenau, but to this I will refer later in an account of the defeat of Good Hope and Monmouth. We found them all rather down and shaken by recent events, everyone seemed to regard the S. and G. as invincible, that is if they were ever to be found. However our arrival and that of our admiral revived them very considerably.
We proceeded to organize our Fleet, which now consisted of
Invincible and Inflexible, first fleet ships
Carnarvon, Kent, and Cornwall, badly manned & insufficient armoured cruisers
Glasgow & Bristol, light cruisers, condition good
Otranto, Orama, & Macedonia, armed merchantmen; also colliers and supply ships. It must be remembered that we had to carry all our coal and supplies with us. When we got to Abrolhos we found all these ships (which had been out here since the war started) absolutely out of all stores & comforts & living on salt grub, with no wines, cigarettes, &c.
Admiral Sturdee decided that the German cruisers must be searched for round the Horn, and to use the Falklands as base. We sailed from Abrolhos (hot, damp, and muggy climate) on the 28th and swept down to Falklands covering a front of 55 miles. We had to go only 11 knots in order to save coal. We took 9 days, arriving on Dec. 7 after a beautiful passage, getting colder & colder as we drew south. There are practically no seasons in the Falklands, temperature ranges between 40 & 50 all the year round, and with snow at any time. There is no vegetation on the islands but vast pasture for the numerous sheep, beautiful colouring, and the finest air that I ever breathed, just like champagne. On our arrival in the vicinity we were saluted by albatross, seals, sea lions, penguins, and numerous strange birds and whales everywhere. The inhabitants of the islands are chiefly Scotch farmers; the population is I think about 3,000.
We arrived at Port Stanley on Dec. 7 with the intention of waiting there for a couple of days and then sweeping round the Horn, examining all the straits & harbours, and then up the Chilean coast to Valparaiso, where the Germans were last heard of. They had managed to keep their movements wonderfully secret, and also were reported to get constant information of our movements. They had no doubt bribed most of the S. American officials pretty freely and the whole of the S. American wireless chain appeared to be staffed by Germans, but as usual we gave them credit for knowing considerably more than they really did.
On the Falklands they had been expecting a raid as likely to happen and had taken some precautions. A force of local volunteers had been raised, the entrance to Port Stanley mined, and the battleship Canopus grounded in the harbour and used as a fort. By observation on shore she was able to fire over the hills to seaward.
We started coaling at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 8th Dec. with the intention of taking in about 1,300 tons and leaving in the evening. It was a beautifully calm & warm day. I was just having breakfast preparatory to landing & taking sights when a signal came from the lookout station on shore that two cruisers were in sight. At first we thought it a false alarm, but as a precautionary measure the coaling was stopped, the collier cast off, and steam raised. But it was soon apparent that the news was true, and the whole German fleet consisting of the Scharnhorst (flagship of Admiral von Spee), Gneisenau, both armoured cruisers; Nurnberg, Leipzig, Dresden, light cruisers; with colliers, transports, and the Seydlitz armed liner with troops were approaching at full speed to capture Port Stanley, quite oblivious to the presence of Invincible and Inflexible. By this time, 9.15 a.m., we could see their smoke over the land; the ships were visible from our tops. It was a terribly anxious time waiting for steam. Things were rather to bits below as we were overhauling after our long passage out from home.
The Germans were now about 7 miles off, and the Canopus opened fire on their two leading ships, which were some way in advance. It evidently surprised them to find 12-inch shot falling alongside them from an invisible ship, and they, the leading ships, hauled off and waited for the others. At 9.15 the enemy had evidently discovered that they had walked into the lion’s mouth and were reported making off at full speed.
By 10.15 we were under weigh and leaving harbour at full speed all the other cruisers under weigh also. Invincible & Inflexible were by far the fastest ships of our fleet, and we went straight ahead to take on the Scharnhorst & Gneisenau. . . . We soon brought their hulls above the horizon, and then it became evident that we had the situation in hand. We eased down so as not to close any more and sent the hands to clean (they were still in coaling rig) and get their dinners. The time now was noon. When all had fed we (the Invincible & Inflexible) went to action stations and increased to our utmost speed. It was now a beautiful summer’s day with dark blue sea and absolutely clear, and the sight of those two fine ships in chase at 26 knots with their great bow & stern waves and their battle flags flying was inspiring to a degree. We had left our other cruisers far behind by now, and soon got within range of the nearest ships. We opened fire at the Scharnhorst at 15,000 yards and the Inflexible at their nearest cruiser, the Leipzig.
We fired very slowly and deliberately as the range was very large, and I don’t think made any hits. When the German admiral saw that an action was inevitable he dispersed his light cruisers to starboard and turned himself to port across our bows and immediately came into action. We replied with a turn to port, and then the real action began (1.30 p.m.) and lasted till 6 p.m. The first German salvoes fell short, but they soon got the range and “straddled” us (kept us within the area of their fall of shot) during the remainder of the fight. I was by this time in the conning tower with the captain.
We were repeatedly hit, and occasionally set on fire, but as our guns outranged theirs, and also being faster, we were able to keep outside their most effective distance. The action was fought at an average range of about 11,000 yards (5½ miles). We had a bad hit near the conning tower, carrying away one of the tripods of the mast and holing the foremost funnel, it filled the conning tower with sparks, but I am forbidden giving full details of our hits. Our wardroom was completely wrecked by an 8-inch shell, and all the furniture absolutely pulverized. No trace whatever can be found of our big iron stove, which had stood near the point of entry of the shell. There was a large gaping hole through to the next deck and nearly every square of the bulkheads was pierced by splinters. They also wrecked our pantry & most of our cabins; mine has a hole in it and was half full of water after the action, but as it was only a splinter, my gear was not very much damaged. Our sickbay & canteen were absolutely demolished.
All this time we were pounding away at them without apparently making much impression. It is very hard to spot hits unless a mast or funnel is shot away. About 4 o’clock one of the Scharnhorst’s foremost funnels went, and at 4.15 to our great relief she appeared to stop and haul out of line, taking a list to starboard. Within a few minutes she was lying on her side and immediately afterwards had completely disappeared with her admiral and crew of 800 men. What survivors there were had to be left to their fate, as we had no time to stop and look for them with the Gneisenau still in action against us.
The wind had now risen, and the weather was becoming misty, but it was not until 6 o’clock that she ceased firing and listed over. She then lay flat on her side and through my glass I could see the survivors climbing on to the side from her deck. Almost immediately afterwards only her bows were visible, and then nothing at all except a swirl on the water. We all then went at full speed for the spot where we saw the last of her, and when we arrived there we found about 300 men still afloat & clinging to hammocks, wreckage, etc. It was a dreadful scene, the temperature of the water was about 35 degrees, and although they had only been about 20 minutes in the water, they were all in the last stages of exhaustion and uttering despairing cries for help. These cries made a continuous droning noise, which could be heard several hundred yards away. They were dying all around us, and the water being glass clear we could see their bodies sinking down and the bubbles coming out of their mouths. We had our boats in the water at once and picked up 98 men and 7 officers, but 14 died the same evening, in fact many of them were dead when we got them on board.
In the meantime the other cruisers had sunk the Nurnberg & Leipzig, but the Dresden escaped. We swept round the islands for her unsuccessfully and arrived in here (Falkland Islands) on 11th, where we are having a well earned rest.
It was a long action, and one got very tired of watching the German guns, and then the long wait till the projectiles arrived, but still it has all ended very successfully, and the Admiralty should be very pleased with us. Beyond our commander getting a bruised heel, we had no casualties at all, which was really rather extraordinary, but they could not pierce our armour, and in these modern ships everyone is under armour. We buried all the dead prisoners at sea next morning with military honours, but I’m afraid the compliment was not appreciated by the other prisoners quite as much as it might have been for they told after that when they saw the firing party they thought they were all going to be shot.
I don’t [know] when we get home, but I think a few days leave are certain when we do. I am very lucky to have been in the only two naval engagements of the war, and this one is the first big-ship affair and will be important on that account alone. Excuse a scrawl but everything is upside down, and we shall be rather uncomfortable for a bit.
Lionel H. Shore
The battle was a resounding British victory. The Invincible and Inflexible proved ruthlessly effective when operating to their designed purpose: swooping down on enemy raiders and armored cruisers, which were unable to outrun or outgun them. Six German ships were sunk, with a loss of 1,871 lives. Ten British lives were lost, but none of the British ships suffered serious damage.
After the Falklands conflict the Invincible returned to operational duties with the home fleet. Nearly 18 months later at the Battle of Jutland, she was blown to pieces when a German shell burst through her frail armor, laying bare sloppy procedural practices that saw flash fire reach the magazines through wide-open safety doors. Of a crew of 1,032, there were just six survivors. Commander Shore was not in their number.
Among papers deposited at Somerset County Records Office when the family line and their baronetcy had finally become extinct (ably assisted by two world conflicts), is Shore’s “last letter,” written at the beginning of World War I and held by his bank manager, who sent it to the officer’s parents upon Shore’s death in 1916.
Dear Daddy and Mother,
In case of my end you will receive this from Messrs Hoare. I would like to leave on record my gratitude for your devoted services as parents whom no son ever had better or kinder. Good bye and best love to you both and to Hugh and Noel and Caroline.
Yr loving son
I have nothing to leave, please keep or dispose of my effects as you think fit.6
1. The Times, 3 September 1900.
2. The National Archive, London, catalog reference ADM/196/47.
3. Ibid., ADM/196/47.
4. Ibid., ADM/137/901.
5. Commander Shore’s letters are published with minimal editing; misspellings have been corrected and ship names italicized.
6. Somerset County, England, Records Office, A/AOV94.
Battlecruisers: ‘Speed is Everything’
Battlecruisers are an enigma. The designation only became official five years after the Invincible, the first of the type authorized,* slid down the ways in 1907. She and her sisters originally were called armored cruisers, and until the official 1912 designation they occasionally were referred to as cruiser-battleships and dreadnought battleships.
First Sea Lord Admiral John “Jacky” Fisher, whose mantra was “speed is everything,” was the driving force behind the Dreadnought Design Committee’s directive for an advanced type of armored cruiser. Fisher wanted ships that were fast enough to escape any enemy able to sink them and powerful enough to sink any opponent able to catch them. They were to operate as protectors of Great Britain’s vital sea-lanes—specifically against the specter of fast, armed German ocean liners—and, when needed, as a scouting force and “fast wing” of the battle fleet.
When first built, the Invincible class’ obvious strengths were speed and armament. They were indeed the fastest armored cruisers in the world, and their 12-inch main battery outranged and outpowered the typical 5.9- to 9.4-inch weaponry of their intended targets. With battlecruisers’ speed and weaponry trumping all, weight of armor suffered. Typically, a combatant’s armor is designed to defeat the weaponry of a particular enemy. The battlecruisers’ armor was effective against that carried by armored cruisers—as demonstrated by the Invincible and her sister the Inflexible at the Battle of the Falklands. But it could not defeat shells carried by ships of a battle line, as witnessed nearly 18 months later in the North Sea.
Some historians point to the flash of bursting shells on volatile cordite charges as the primary cause of the loss of three battlecruisers at the Battle of Jutland. They highlight inadequate shell- and powder-handling procedures, magazine safety systems, and ammunition instability, particularly the powder. Ignored, however, is the fact that in each case the battlecruisers’ armor was penetrated.
Beyond his overconfidence in speed as protection, perhaps Fisher’s most glaring deficiency was his blindness to the possibility that an enemy might build similar warships. This Germany did, and its “large cruisers,” while slightly undergunned in comparison, were faster and significantly better armored and subdivided. That made all the difference at Jutland.
J. M. Caiella
* The Invincible-class was the first class of battlecruisers built. The Invincible was the first named but the last laid down, the second launched, and the last commissioned.
Sources: John Roberts, Battlecruisers (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997), and R. A. Burt, British Battleships of World War One (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1986)