Battle of Coronel remembered as HMS Dragon visits Chile

Under brilliant Pacific skies within sight of the coast of Chile the heads of the Royal, Canadian, German and Chilean Navies saluted the fallen of the Great War.

Nearly 1,600 British and Commonwealth sailors who were killed when their ships went down at the Battle of Coronel in 1914 – the Royal Navy’s first major defeat in more than a century.

One hundred years on Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon and Chilean frigate CNS Almirante Cochrane paused over the wrecks of HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth for a service of remembrance. 

On board the CNS Almirante Cochrane was the head of the Chilean Navy Almirante Enrique Larrañaga Martin, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas, the Commander of the Canadian Navy, Vice Admiral Mark Norman, and German Flotilla Admiral Karl-Wilhelm Ohlms. Each cast a wreath into the Pacific to remember those who were lost.

Defeat at Coronel in November 1914 at the hands of a German cruiser squadron under Admiral Graf Spee costs the lives of 1,570 Allied sailors, among them the British commander Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock and four Canadian junior officers – the first Canadians killed in the Great War and the first Royal Canadian Navy sailors killed in action.

As well as the Coronel commemorations, the Portsmouth-based warship spent 3 days in the port of Valparaíso to take part in the Exponaval exhibition – South America’s largest showcase for warships and naval systems – where she was berthed next to another former Royal Navy frigate, CNS Almirante Williams (previously HMS Sheffield).

we were especially proud to be part of the commemoration to remember the Battle of Coronel, alongside representatives of Germany, Canada and Chile

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas

“The Royal Navy’s connections with Chile reach back centuries. Our ties remain close today – as HMS Dragon’s support to Exponaval demonstrates – and we were especially proud to be part of the commemoration to remember the Battle of Coronel, alongside representatives of Germany, Canada and Chile,” said Admiral Zambellas.

“As our navies modernise, we are exploring new and exciting opportunities in partnership. By sharing ambition, knowledge and technology, we can deepen and strengthen our multinational maritime partnership further still.”

Throughout the exposition, HMS Dragon flew the flag both for her Navy and her nation, allowing UK firms to show off the best of British industry. They also laid on a demonstration to the Chilean Navy and VIPs, including the UK’s Ambassador to Santiago Fiona Clouder, of what the UK’s most advanced warship and her 200 sailors can do.

Ms Clouder was full of praise for Dragon calling her “a beautiful ship, sleek in design, advanced in its technology”.

She added: “What struck me are also the values of her crew - commitment, courage, discipline, respect, integrity and loyalty – qualities also of the Chilean Navy.”

As well as commemorations for Coronel, HMS Dragon’s sailors formed a guard of honour at the monument to the Battle of Iquique – which is to the Chilean Navy what Trafalgar is to the Royal Navy – as their Commanding Officer Captain Rex Cox laid a wreath in the form of a Union Flag.

And there was a wreath laying for HMS Dragon’s own family: the captain of the previous Dragon, a World War 1-era cruiser, died while leading the ship on a tour of South America in 1930. Captain Louis Horatio Beckford Bevan is one of several British sailors whose grave in Valparaíso is now crowned with a decoration from today’s HMS Dragon.

“It’s been an honour and privilege to be invited to Valparaíso by the Chilean Navy, to commemorate the Battle of Coronel and remember the almost 1,600 sailors who lost their lives 100 years ago, and to be centre-stage at Latin America’s largest naval exhibition,” said Capt Cox.

Pictures taken by LA(Phot) Rhys O'Leary