The Battle of Beagle Channel, 1914 : Fugue and Onset;
A Fuegan Marine torpedoman stood ready beside a mine-trigger, as his commanding Lieutenant phoned the control room at Ushuaia.
This stage describes the battle and its initial course. Both sides face surprises.
The 'Penguin' had been expected to be late, or never to arrive at all, so the watchers on the Fuegan island coast had not expected her to be on time. There was some relief when she was sighted off the Pasteur Peninsula of Hoste, but also concern; 'Penguin' normally went in with a pilot through the Cook Bay entrance between Hoste and Gordon Islands, or the narrow and dangerous Murray Channel between Hoste and Navarino. Instead, she plodded onwards towards the Picton Passage, merchant Red Ensign with Fuegan fire symbol at her stern, apparently unconcerned, but with her course revealing the truth; the artistically stained, salt-marked and pencil-marked charts prepared for Captain Brown by the Academy cadets, had been designed to lead Von Spee astray.
Even before she reached Picton, the Land Guard reservists manning the defences had gone to action stations, whilst the Fuegan Marine was raising steam in its vessels. 'Canopus', steam raised in its working boilers, headed across to hide beside one of the islands, lying ready to ambush and to provide fire-support to either Wulaia or Ushuaia. The Penguin' steamed steadily onwards past Bull Landing and Picton Island, entering the Beagle Channel and turning to port to head down the Beagle Channel towards Harbourtown Narrows.
The approach to the Beagle Channel apparently clear, the 'Leipzig' headed inshore from where she had been loitering in the murk of a Cape Horn rainstorm, being sighted from Navarino and Picton as she headed at full speed in the wake of the ridiculous little collier, now miles ahead as she plodded on towards her target. In Navarino, a troubled Fuegan Marine Reserve lieutenant picked up his binoculars and studied the cruiser, well aware of what she was and the dangers ahead.
"Do we blast that Hun to heaven?" A Fuegan Marine torpedoman stood ready beside a mine-trigger, as his commanding Lieutenant phoned the control room at Ushuaia. "No - to let them into the trap, the Guv'nor says." The Lieutenant frowned. "More here than meets the eye, Peter... 'Penguin' isn't flying the right recognition signal..." He rang the control room again. "Aye, aye, sir... More of them on their way, you say? Aye, sir, all mines green on the board. Ready."
A gun fired abruptly from Bull Landing, opposite Picton, an ancient Dahlgren firing its first shot in anger for many years. The APDS shell hit the forward hull of the 'Leipzig' with a resounding 'clang' and actually pierced the Krupp armour belt, even at a range of two miles. But it did little damage, although it made the cruiser discharge a salvo from its side quickfirers at Bull Landing, demolishing buildings along the waterfront. The Dahlgren had a companion on Picton heights that sent an APDS round high into the air, to fall like a lethal dart amidships, the cruiser actually shaking, but she carried on at a slightly reduced speed. Below decks in the engine-room, the APDS penetrator had scored a lucky hit on a boiler, the rupture causing a nasty explosion that killed a dozen stokers. The main turrets turned to blast the heights and silence the impudent Dahlgren, which appeared to have literally shot its bolt.
Lost Boats— USS S-4 (SS-109)
Sailors Rest Your Oars