The Battle At The Falkland Islands – The Death of Maximilian von Spee I THE GREAT WAR Week 20


The 50 years prior to the War had seen military
medicine advance more slowly than other branches of science, and without antibiotics, gangrene
was a massive killer, but only one among many. Bullets, disease, drowning, murders of civilians,
and more, and as winter began and the carnage continued, scenes of the worst horror imaginable
were now not only very much real, they were every day happenings. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week we saw the Austrians, with German
help, pushing back the Russian colossus. Further south in the Balkans, other Austrians had
taken Belgrade but were now on the run, the British Indian troops were nearing Qurna in
the Middle East, and on the western front it was unusually quiet after the interminable
battles of the autumn. The Western Front wasn’t especially quiet
this week, though, as the British and French made attacks that didn’t have any specific
physical goal, but were intended to tie down German forces and prevent them from being
transferred to the Eastern Front to fight the Russians. German Chief of Staff Falkenhayn had committed
to sending three divisions from west to east, but refused to send more, even though General
Ludendorff in the east repeatedly asked for them. In November, Ludendorff had launched a pre-emptive
offensive against the Russians that had resulted in the Battle of Lodz, a truly colossal engagement,
with over half a million troops involved. This attack had ruined Russian plans for an
invasion of Germany, but the Germans had been unable to take the city itself, which was
a well-supplied strategic railway center. This week they tried again, and after a series
of frontal assaults using those three transferred divisions managed to capture Lodz on December
6th. The Germans advanced another 50 kilometers
before they came up against Russian troops that had dug themselves in to trenches. The
Germans dug in as well and as winter came on in force we see the whole center section
of the eastern front frozen, physically and militarily. It would remain so until the summer
of 1915. But if things seemed stalled in the west and
the east, they were anything but that in the south. The Austrians seemed to have the Serbs beaten
only a week ago when they took the Serbian capital, but incredibly, only a few days later
the Serbs had the Austrian army on the run. The Austrians had fallen back to Valjevo,
but the Serbs managed to surround them there and in just a few days of fighting had taken
over 20,000 Austrian prisoners. By December 10th, most of the remaining Austrian soldiers
had left the country. Belgrade held out for a few more days, but on December 15th the
Serbian High Command issued a proclamation that stated “Not one enemy soldier remains
at liberty on the soil of the Serbian kingdom”. This was an enormous defeat for the Austrians
and an equally enormous victory for Serbia. It was a huge blow to Austrian pride and confidence-
I mean, if they couldn’t beat Serbia, what would happen against Russia? And for Serbia
it meant being in the news headlines all over the world. The result was political and humanitarian
aid, and people from around the world even coming to fight for the underdog. But there was a cost- the Serbs had suffered
over 100,000 casualties in just a few weeks, and the Austrian defeat certainly wasn’t
irreversible. Serbia had drained her forces down to the last dreg to beat the Austrians,
and the country was devastated. Whole towns were emptied, and refugees roamed the blasted
countryside. One other thing often overlooked – Serbia was now linked to the world by only
a single-track railway to Salonika in neutral Greece, through which all supplies had to
be transported painfully slowly. Disease was rampant throughout the country
– cholera, typhus, and dysentery killed thousands, and the poverty and misery would only get
worse. In the First World War, over 60 percent of Serbian men between the ages of 15 and
55 would die. As for the Austrians, General Oskar Potiorek
was finally relieved of his command for incompetence since by the end of the year his army had
suffered close to 300,000 casualties out of a total deployment of 450,000. But Conrad
von Hotzendorf was still chief of staff, in spite of the fact that against both Russian
and Serb, his operations had pretty much uniformly ended in disaster. Another, far more successful commander did
meet his end this week, though, on December 8th at the battle of the Falklands. A few weeks ago at the Battle of Coronel,
German Admiral von Spee had given the British their first defeat at sea for 100 years, sinking
two cruisers and taking 1,600 lives. The outraged British had subsequently redeployed their
forces to try to intercept Spee wherever he went, the Japanese navy had repositioned units
to help, and two British battle cruisers, the Invincible and the Inflexible had been
sent to the South Atlantic. Spee was being hunted in the Indian, the Pacific,
and the Atlantic Oceans, and this week he made the mistake of attacking the Falkland
Islands, arriving at Port Stanley December 8th, which the battle cruiser squadron had
also decided to visit. The battle cruisers were stronger and faster
than any of Spee’s ships and though Spee tried to run and eventually turned to fight,
his ships were destroyed, with 2,200 German sailors, including Spee himself, dying against
ten British. Only the Dresden got away and she would spend the next three months hiding
in the sub Antarctic waters around Cape Horn until cornered and forced to scuttle. This battle marked the end of the High Seas
activity of the German navy. After this, surface fighting was limited to landlocked waters
like the Black Sea, the Baltic, or the Adriatic. One area of the world that was really just
heating up though was the Middle East, where the British Indian Army won the Battle of
Qurna[ad], where the Ottomans had retreated after losses at Fao and Basra. Thing is, the British had pretty much secured
their coastal oil production with those battles, but the Ottoman defenses had been quite weak
so they’d moved further in land. Qurna, though, which is supposed to be a possible
site of the Garden of Eden, was anything but good as a base. Endless winds stirred up clouds
of dust and the flood plain meant that when you dug trenches, they just filled with water.
Bad water, bad sanitation, the total lack of communication except along the Tigris and
Euphrates, and endless small raids by the local Arab population further complicated
things, and you could really see that this campaign was going to be no picnic for anybody.
The British also now began to wonder how strong the enemy was actually going to be and just
how big was the threat to the oil fields. In other foreshadowing news, we see that the
mobilization of Russian students began December 1st. This provided many more soldiers, but
also gave Bolshevik student activists access to the army. Of course, when hundreds of thousands of your
men are dying, eventually you need to recruit more, whether too old or too young to traditionally
serve. And one thing to consider too- though so many troops of all ages died, even more
were taken as prisoners of war. The ICRC- the Red Cross- arranged visits to
POW camps in all of the warring nations, and they determined that the Germans, French,
and British were following humanitarian guidelines for military POWs, but not the Russians or
Austrians. Now, we’ve already mentioned before that many Austrian officers took pride
in the atrocities committed in the Serbian campaign, but John Reed, an American war correspondent,
was at this point traveling through the Balkans getting material for his soon to be published
book, which would confirm for Allied readers the barbarism of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,
such as a photograph Reed was shown from Leknica, showing over 100 women and children chained
together, whose heads had been cut off. But as awful and shocking as scenes like that
may be, they really were just a drop in the bucket. Think of life on the front lines in
the west, for example. First off the destruction from artillery fire from miles away: a huge
belt of land littered with corpses; farms and villages now just blackened masonry, the
fields and trees destroyed, and the bodies of horses, cattle, and sheep scattered throughout,
dismembered, abandoned, or starving, while the wounded men and animals cried out endlessly
in pain. Thousands more die of disease or rot in the mud and rain. The conditions would
only worsen as the winter came on. And winter was coming on all over Europe,
and at the end of the week we still see sporadic fighting in Flanders, the Germans being stopped
by the Russians and settling in, the Austrians being expelled from underdog Serbia, the German
Pacific navy destroyed, and the British again victorious in the Middle East. It’s two
weeks to Christmas. With all the battle talk and maps and strategy,
it’s very easy to overlook what was going on on an individual level in the war, and
I’d like to end this week with a quote, a scene of horror from 1914 recounted by Alois
Lowenstein, “among a bunch of corpses lay three wounded Frenchmen. One man had both
legs shattered; the second’s stomach was torn open; the third had tried to shoot himself
until one of our chaps took away his revolver. He fired twice at his own head to escape pain,
but aimed clumsily, a little too high. The skullcap was uplifted and he moaned in a fashion
to melt the heart. Another man lay apparently dead, but with one leg still twitching like
that of a partridge that is unable to die.” This was modern war. Now, if you’ve recently started watching our series and you’re wandering how this whole war began, you should check out our three-part prelude-to-war series of specials. Right here. And don’t forget to subscribe. We’ll see you next week.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. It's amazing how people are shoved to the throat with heroics and melodrama but the real horrors are forgotten until they repeat as they always do.

  2. Could you point me the source of this ending quote (author, book) – my language skills are to weak to properly write from listening the author name into google…

  3. what is that tiny nation in between France and Spain on the map in the back round and why is it no longer there today

  4. This video really highlighted the male privilege that existed in the past. Thank-you The Great War, men don't know how good they have it sometimes

  5. 5:50 'A possible site for the garden of Eden'
    What the hell does that even mean? It's a myth. It doesn't have an actual location.

  6. This is just the best channel for me, that I found on youtube. Great talking, great knowledge and great images. I caught myself watching this for more that 4 hours straight.. Wish there were more great history channels that I know about. ..and you sir, I could hear you talking about great war all day, I really like your voice. Thanks for doing this thing.

  7. HMS Inflexible is a brilliant name for a warship!
    Today's generation would have named it the HMS Flexy McFlexface…

  8. typhus was brought by the austrian soldiers , and yeah that was "Battle of Kolubara" that Serbia beat Austria , leaded by Zivoin Misic (great strategist, his tatctics are studied on some universities in world) and other leaders.

  9. +The Great War
    Great episode, love the detail you provide on so many aspects that are ignored by many.
    You said attacking the Falkland Islands was a mistake, but in their previously victorious battle, you said they had used up 1/2 their ammunition. Without the benefit of hindsight, would the plan to take a position with potential ammunition and resupplying other needs seem like a logical attack? Even more so if they were hunted everywhere? Not trying to be fresh, simply wondering with what the situation was at that time how many other options Maximilian von Spee felt were available. I would the German high command have been understanding of them hiding in Antarctica had Maximilian von Spee's defeat not happened? It seems like to many competing interests not listening to each other for anybody to want to listen to excuses; like we have no more ammunition, and no more fuel to be able to go anywhere. Am I reading to much into the disagreements within the German command structure?

  10. I know this is old episode, but I have looked thru your episodes, and I have not seen the Nitrate Crisis mentioned. If I missed it, ignore this.
    The battle of the Coronel Islands and the Falklands by Adm Von Spee directly relates to this. 80-90% of the world Nitrates for fertilizer and EXPLOSIVES can from South Chile before the war – millennia of bird dung there.
    This meant that Germany and A-H would all have nitrates shortages – until Germany built the Haber–Bosch plants to produce ammonia and nitrates for ammo. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process for more info.
    So it was no accident that Von Spee was off Chile and later the Falklands – he was trying to stop England and France from getting nitrates too, so all countries would be in the same situation. But he failed to interrupt the supply of nitrates long term.
    So the Central powers were rationing ammo – until the Haber-Bosch plants were built. However it turns out so were the allies – it took that long to ramp up the ammo. So it did not make much difference.
    But it is some explanation of why it happened the way it did. The battles fought for bird dung.
    Kudos for your work on the channel!

  11. it is not a gvien that Spee would have taken the Falklands even without the battle cruisers. Beached in Stanely harbor was HMS Canopus-a pre-dreadnought battleshipher big guns were far superior to anything the germans had and her fire halted the german assault. It was when the germans saw the tripod masts of modern british capital ships clearing the harbor did they know they were doomed.Canopus had beaten them off, but now, the empire strikes back.

  12. I find this a very – very interesting and well put together account of world war one and the peripheral events. You and your team are to be commended!!!

  13. lol, so funny story, my school's colors are green and white. Some people thought we needed a nickname to call our students, despite having several already (plainsmen, shenendehowians, etc.). They decided to call us "Gang Green", because we are a gang with the main school color being green. They didn't realise it sounded like a disease that killed thousands in ww1. It still hasn't changed xD

  14. This series is an excellent (and very well implemented) idea, and i wanna thank the whole team for going into detail on all fronts and mentioning (again in detail) the contributions of the smaller nations like Belgium and Serbia (which often get overlooked).

    On an unrelated note, someone in the comment section asked what happened to the Austrian POWs in Serbia (since its not mentioned in the video), you can read this in Charles J. Vopicka's memoirs "Secrets of the Balkans" (Chapter VI, page 51, the pdf is free to download). Vopicka was a USA diplomat that lead a commission, on Austro-Hungarian request, to check the state of their POWs in Serbia.

  15. I am wondering if you have done or are doing a video on the Portuguese involvement in world war 1 and how they entered the war

  16. almost done with the first season. have you guys considered trying to get a movie made for this. almost like a compilation of this essentially

  17. Rule 1 of Modern Warfare: Do not invade Russia.
    Rule 2 of Modern Warfare: Do not attack the Falkland Islands.

  18. I haven't watched all of your videos by any means so I don't know if you've already done this but the story of the hunt for the Dresden and the fate of it's crew is one worth telling in more detail.
    Even though at the point of of me writing this we're at June 1917 in the series :/ .

  19. That is a haunting end quote. The poor man can't even end his suffering. And that part about the leg twitching……yikes. Better to be dead than grievously wounded, i think.

  20. 7:13 the world didn't know yet that comrade Reed would become the leader of the Great American Syndicalist Revolution…
    #kaiserreich

  21. Was those 100 years of clean British Naval Victory perhaps stopped in 1814 by a certain Western superpower that starts with United and ends with America that also happened to be having a little thing called the War of 1812 at the time?

    Take that ya Brits

  22. Indy your face right after you say "well see you next week" at 9:32 is so sad like you immediately dropped character and thought about the quotes you just read, which shows you really care about this and teaching about it. Thanks dude

  23. I normally don’t comment on anything but I have to say that this show is truly amazing there is nothing bad to say about it and it’s absolutely brilliant

  24. That quote perfectly reflects what war is.
    Suffering for many, gains for a few.
    May all those who died and suffered in the Great War RIP😢.

  25. This series is fantastic and you explain many parts of WWI that is never really discussed. To know that this is just 1914 and how many young men have lost their lives is just astounding, and incredibly sad.

  26. I remember my Western Civilization Professor in college describing the western front during the Great War. He said, " A visitor to the front could determine the year just by the changes to allied uniforms on the corpses. He went further to say that you could also determine the current offense just their state of decomposition." The British I think use to have ditty about hanging them old barbed wire. The number of corpses truly presented a problem with each artillery barrage by churning the earth bring and break corpses while burying others and then there were the rats.

  27. The Great War
    THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR VIDEO (MILITARY MACHINES OF WAR)
    🇺🇸THANKS AGAIN 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

  28. Horribly mis-titled video. The Battle of the Falkland Islands is only mentioned for a few seconds out of more than nine minutes.

  29. Von Spee
    made capital mistake. Found HMS “Invincible and HMS “Inflexible” bunkering in
    Port Stanley. Both ships were trapped in port without pressurized boilers. Took
    some time before Steam pressure has been raised and adm. Sturdee could commence
    pursuit.

    If von Spee
    decided to shell immobilized British ships could have a some hope of success.
    Escape led him to the death. And to the death his two sons as well.

  30. Just found this , my Grand father was on the inflexible sitting in the fore control helping to direct guns he called the ships coffins , but made it through till the end of the war , died in the 1960’s of gangrene

  31. getting bored of hearing about "death bodies hundreds of thousands blaablaa the horrorr blaaaa" repetitive. like 1/3rd of each of these videos is about feelings. I get it. give me events.

  32. I've been wondering for a while: How do you get Luj out of Looz? Eastern European languages confuse me. If its a transliteration to Roman text issue, why not just spell the name Luj?

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