Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock was the British admiral in command at the battle of Coronel, the first serious defeat for the Royal Navy since the War of 1812. He was the commander of a small squadron of outdated cruisers (and one even more antiquated battleship that was too slow to keep up with his squadrons) that was given the task of looking for Von Spee's far more powerful squadron of modern German cruisers. At Coronel two of Cradock's three cruisers were sunk with the loss of all hands, and Cradock went down with his ship. Unsurprisingly this defeat was hugely controversial in Britain, and Cradock's reputation came under attack (especially from Churchill, who had been First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of the battle).
Dunn's biography of Cradock follows him from his early childhood in Yorkshire and through a naval career that began when he was only 12 and continued for the next forty years. Cradock was very much a product of the late Victorian and Edwardian Navy, a powerful but very traditional force that had reigned supreme over the oceans since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, but without having to face a major challenge. The Navy had been involved in the Crimean War (operating in the Baltic and the Black Sea) and Naval parties fought on land in many Imperial wars (Cradock fought in the Sudan and China), but hadn't had to face a major naval challenge for many years. For many officers tradition ruled, and it was possible for an officer to reach flag rank with hardly any experience of commanding an up-to-date warship (Cradock only commanded a modern warship for five years during his career).
Although Dunn clearly sympathises with Cradock and is unimpressed with Churchill's performance at the Admiralty, he doesn't portray Cradock as blameless. Instead he looks at how Cradock's forty years of experience in the navy led him to make the fatal decision to attack Von Spee's superior squadron at Coronel. His orders from London were confused at best, but led him to believe that his task was to find and attack the German squadron.
Dunn does miss out one possible motivation for Cradock's decision to attack - in earlier naval conflicts outgunned and outnumbered squadrons had been able to inflict quite serious damage on their opponents before being defeated. By 1914 this was no longer the case - Von Spee's more powerful guns allowed him to sink two of Cradock's cruisers without suffered any serious damage, while at the Falklands the British battlecruisers were able to do the same to the Germans, sinking Von Spee's most powerful ships without suffering any serious damage themselves. Outclassed warships could no longer hope to inflict any significant damage on their more powerful opponents.
This is a fascinating biography of a figure who rarely gets much attention, helping to explain why he chose to attack Von Spee at Coronel, and also providing a fascinating view of the Victorian and Edwardian Navy, at a time Britain's domination of the seas was taken for granted, but was largely untested.
1 - Armageddon: HMS Glasgow, 1 November 1914, 1950 hrs
2 - Yorkshire, 1720-1874
3 - Cadet, Midshipman, Lieutenant, 1874-1883
4 - Egypt, the Sudan and Promotion, 1884-1893
5 - Following Orders, 1893
6 - Royalty and Back to School, 1894-1893
7 - Cradock in China, 1900-1901
8 - Bachelors
9 - Mistresses
10 - The Mediterranean, 1902-1905
11 - The Vicwardian Navy
12 - Royalty and Promotion, 1905-1910
13 - Cradock the Man
14 - The Great Schism, Fisher, Beresfort and Royals, 1904-1911
15 - Brothers in Arms and the Surtees Divorce
16 - Recalled to the Fleet and the Delhi Affair, 1911-1912
17 - 4th Cruiser Squadron and Mexico, 1913-1914
18 - War: Coronel in Context, June to October 1914
19 - The Admiralty in 1914
20 - Cradock versus Churchill, August to October 1914
21 - Arms and the Men
22 - On the Falkland Islands, October 1914
23 - The Battle of Coronel and its Aftermath, 22 October to 8 December 1914
24 - Gunnery and Coal
25 - Recrimination and Blame, 1914
26 - Memories, 1916
27 - In Memoriam, 1916 and Later
28 - Churchill's Attack on Kit's Reputation, 1923-1924
29 - Cradock the Movie, 1926-1927
30 - Envoi
31 - Postscript
Author: Steve R. Dunn
Publisher: Book Guild Publishing