The Battle of Más a Tierra
was a First World War battle fought on 14 March 1915, near the Chilean island of Más a Tierra, between a British squadron and a German light cruiser. The battle saw the last remnant of the German East Asia Squadron
The German East Asia Squadron was a German Navy cruiser squadron which operated mainly in the Pacific Ocean between the 1870s and 1914...
destroyed, after was cornered and sunk in Cumberland Bay.
After escaping the Battle of the Falkland Islands
The Battle of the Falkland Islands was a British naval victory over the Imperial German Navy on 8 December 1914 during the First World War in the South Atlantic...
, and several auxiliaries
An auxiliary force is a group affiliated with, but not part of, a military or police organization. In some cases, auxiliaries are armed forces operating in the same manner as regular soldiers...
retreated into the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to commence commerce raiding operations against Allied
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...
shipping. These operations did little to stop shipping in the area, but still proved a menace to the British, who had to expend resources to counter the cruiser. On 8 March, low on supplies and in need of repairs, the captain of the Dresden
decided to hide his vessel and attempt to coal in Cumberland Bay near the neutral island of Más a Tierra. By coaling in a neutral port rather than at sea, Dresden
s Captain Lüdecke gained the advantage of being able to intern the ship if caught by enemy vessels.
British naval forces had been actively searching for the German cruiser and had intercepted coded wireless message between German ships. Although they possessed copies of captured German code books, these also required a "key" which was changed from time to time. However, Charles Stuart, the signals officer, managed to decode a message from Dresden
for a collier to meet her at Juan Fernandez on 9 March. A squadron made up of , , and cornered the Dresden
in the bay on 14 March, challenging it to battle.
opened fire on Dresden
, damaging the vessel and setting it afire. After returning fire for a short period of time, the captain of Dresden
decided the situation was hopeless as his vessel was vastly outgunned and outnumbered, while stranded in the bay with empty coal bunkers and worn out engines. Captain Lüdecke gave the order to abandon and scuttle
Scuttling is the act of deliberately sinking a ship by allowing water to flow into the hull.This can be achieved in several ways—valves or hatches can be opened to the sea, or holes may be ripped into the hull with brute force or with explosives...
his vessel. The German crew fled the cruiser in open boat
A lifeboat is a small, rigid or inflatable watercraft carried for emergency evacuation in the event of a disaster aboard ship. In the military, a lifeboat may be referred to as a whaleboat, dinghy, or gig. The ship's tenders of cruise ships often double as lifeboats. Recreational sailors sometimes...
s to reach the safety of the island, which was neutral
A neutral territory is a territory that is not an integral part of any state , and yet is not terra nullius, but is the object of an agreement under international law between at least two parties...
territory. The British cruisers kept up their fire on Dresden
and the fleeing boats until the light cruiser eventually exploded, but it is unclear whether the explosion was caused by the firing from the British ships or from scuttling charges set off by the Germans. After the ship exploded, the British commander ordered his ships to rescue any survivors from Dresden
. Three Germans were killed in action
Killed in action is a casualty classification generally used by militaries to describe the deaths of their own forces at the hands of hostile forces. The United States Department of Defense, for example, says that those declared KIA need not have fired their weapons but have been killed due to...
and 15 wounded. The British suffered no casualties.
With the destruction of Dresden
, the last remnant of the German East Asian Squadron was destroyed, as all the other ships of the squadron had been sunk or interned. The only German presence left in the Pacific Ocean was a few isolated commerce raiders, such as SMS Seeadler
SMS Wolf was an armed merchant raider or auxiliary cruiser of the German Imperial Navy in World War I...
. Because the island of Más a Tierra was a possession of Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...
, a neutral country, the German Consulate in Chile protested that the British had broken international law by attacking an enemy combatant in neutral waters. The wounded German sailors were taken to Valparaíso, Chile for treatment, where one later died of wounds received during the action. The 315 of Dresden
s crew who remained were interned by Chile until the end of the war, when those who did not wish to remain in Chile were repatriated to Germany. One of the crew—Lieutenant Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Franz Canaris was a German admiral, head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944 and member of the German Resistance.- Early life and World War I :...
—escaped interment in August 1915 and made it back to Germany, where he returned to active duty in the Imperial Navy.