The Battle of the Beagle Channel : Aftermath :
The Battle had been won, but its effects were to rumble on for years, influencing events long afterwards...
- When Captain Heathcoat Grant reported that the Fuegan colonials had trapped and forced a surrender out of the German Vice-Admiral, there was shocked disbelief in the Admiralty and a degree of rather ironic anger from Admiral Sturdee; whilst 'Canopus' had hammered 'Dresden', the real victors were the Fuegan Marine and its mines and toerpedoes. It took Winston Churchill to remind the squabbling Admirals that the Fuegans had most economically removed a major threat to Britain's Merchant Navy - and apparently come up with some important new weapons. "We can always use the Fleet in other areas." Churchill reminded them. "After all, there's the Turks to consider." But there was some bad feeling that the neglected Colonials had stolen the Royal Navy's thunder, although Churchill's influence was ample to prevent Heathcoat Grant from having his career penalised. In fact, Grant made Rear-Admiral rather earlier in his career than he expected and got a gong out of the affair, so he was not dis-satisfied; he had also made friends in Fuego that he would keep to the end of his life.
- The Colonial Office, by contrast, was delighted that their 'Awkward Allardyce' had 'made good' and astonished that the 'Fuegan Marine' had more than defended itself; a full report was demanded from the over-worked Governor and he was being considered for the Birthday Honours list, if not the New Year Honours. The report laid stress on the Colony's own efforts in designing, producing and deploying the mines and torpedoes, but the modest Allardyce praised Morgan and his men, leaving out much of his own crucial role in the tactics and diplomacy, to the great irritation of the Colonial Assembly. They sent their own report to the Colonial Office, warning that Allardyce had not mentioned his own valuable role as commander of the Colonial forces and then detailing what he had done. In conclusion, they demanded that Allardyce both stay in post and that some suitable honour be given to him.
- Rather to Allardyce's shock, he was actually called before the Colonial Assembly, where Captain Morgan - at the direction of the Assembly's Speaker, Ivor Hughes - made his report on the Battle. "Mr. Allardyce, it is clear that we owe you thanks for this success." There was general approval, so the Speaker continued. "You are hereby appointed as Commodore of the Fuegan Marine, this honour and duty only to cease on death or unfitness for command. Naturally, this makes you a naturalised citizen of Fuego Colony, and so our first native Governor." That startled Allardyce, but he took it in good part as Captain Morgan also wanted it. Mrs. Allardyce wondered what the point of it was, with her husband being the Governor, but he explained that it was as close as the Colony could go to giving him a medal, so it pleased her. More importantly, it made her husband into a social lion; the press took pictures of the battered German Squadron - mostly on the beach with battle-damage - and it was all very impressive. She also had to entertain Captain Heathcoat Grant, the Admiral and his senior officers, to tea and to visit the wounded of both sides in the Naval Hospital, so that was as good as anything a Governor-General's Lady might do.
- With a supportive and pugnacious Colonial Assembly behind him and the achievement of the Battle of the Beagle Channel, Allardyce found that he could have been transferred to somewhere like Newfoundland or the Bahamas, but the Navy and the Colonial Office decided to leave him where he was for at least the next five years. Britain needed colonial support in the fight against Germany and her allies, so instead - and to his shock - Allardyce was awarded the dignity of Knight of the Victorian Order, rather than the Knight of Michael and St. George awarded to many diplomats. King George V had the KVO in his gift, making it as the reward for the Squadron's destruction. But Allardyce - to the dismay of Constance, his wife - suggested that it be awarded to the Colony as it had been their lives and sacrifices that had made it possible. King George was astonished at the humility of Allardyce, but he found a solution that cemented the loyalty of Fuego to the Crown.
- "By order of the King and Emperor in Council, the Colony of Fuego is to be recognised as the Royal Colony of Fuego in reward for their services to the Crown. The Colonial forces are to be the Royal Fuegan Guards and the Royal Fuegan Marine. At some time it is proposed that a Royal Visit be made to Fuego. Sir William Lamond Allardyce and his Lady Constance have duties during this war, but His Majesty would thereafter hope to meet them at Buckingham Palace. Captain Heathcote Grant, Royal Navy, is to be awarded the DSO as is Captain Henry Morgan of the Royal Fuegan Marine." Allardyce later remarked that it was worth being a KVO to have seen the shock on 'Pirate' Morgan's face when he read the 'Gazette' notice. There were also awards to the dead crew of the 'FTB-2' and the men who had been wounded or had died on the 'Ardent' and in the shore batteries; they had held back from using their most powerful weapons and so had lured in the Squadron to its doom.
- The reaction in Germany had been a mixture of shock and rage; the pictures of Spee's mauled ships made it clear that no vessels but the auxiliary cruiser and the remaining collier had escaped damage, whilst the listing 'Canopus' and the battered 'Ardent' had not got off lightly and there had been damage to Picton Island, Bull Town and Harbourtown. Vice-Admiral Spee came in for immediate criticism, even after Allardyce had noted that the assault on the Harbourtown Narrows fort had very nearly succeeded; he did not elaborate to the press, pleading 'operational matters', but the Kaiserliche Marine officers would have preferred it if Spee and his men had been killed with their ships. The Kaiser was restrained by his admirals from cashiering the Vice-Admiral and from removing his name from the Almanach de Gotha, but in fact he was furious; what helped was that Spee's plan would have torn the military heart out of the Colony and might have destroyed 'Canopus', which grossly outmatched the German Squadron. Then, a fortnight later, a letter containing a report was handed by the Argentine Ambassador to Germany to the Foreign Minister; the astute Spee had handed it to the Consul in Ushuaia and sent it to Germany.
- Spee had taken full responsibility for the failure and the defeat, offering to return his medals and submit his resignation, but also reported that the 'controlled mines' were of a new and very powerful type and might cause trouble to the Kaiserliche Marine elsewhere. His assault force he had spoken to and they had nearly captured four massive howitzer-scale mortars at the Narrows, devices able to sink a ship with plunging fire. A mine control-room had been over-run, with a display of at least a hundred mines in that area alone. It was the most sophisticated mine system the Admiral had ever encountered and made all others look very primitive. As the mines had been laid over some forty years, according to unguarded remarks by the Fuegans, they had been developed into an extensive network. Judging from the ship-damage, key areas of the Beagle Channel concealed enough explosive to annihilate a fleet. Spee warned that if the Colonials could do that in the Beagle Channel, there was a risk that the Royal Navy might do the same in the English Channel between Dover and Calais. The APDS rounds that had damaged several of his ships he considered less serious, but wondered if they might be dangerous to casement-mounted shore artillery, so he described some of them.
- "...the Colony cannot afford large artillery pieces. If these penetrators were fired from battleship guns, they might have high velocity and break through most armour plating..." That one line was to save Spee's rank, honours and medals, for the Admirals had enough sense to be horrified by it.
- "The Squadron was written off at the start of the war." Admiral Tirpitz pointed out to the Kaiser. "Spee had no chance to get home through the British naval blockade. He has done damage and has revealed some British naval secrets. I advise, Your Imperial Majesty, that he be allowed to retain all his dignities. His men and their families respect him. Who knows? He may even discover more." The sage Admiral sighed. "Maybe we could arrange for a prisoner exchange?"
- "Nein. He went to Fuego. He can stay there. We have other Admirals." The Kaiser was still fuming at the defeat.
- The unhappy sailors and Seebattalione marines of Von Spee's Squadron were a considerable problem to securely house and feed, confinement to a tented camp behind barbed wire being the first solution. Then the Admiral and his officers asked to see 'Der Kommodore', to discuss better quarters for their men and found Allardyce discussing that very problem with his advisers from both the Guards and the Marine. It was as involved as designing a small town - sanitation, water supply, roads, housing, stores, guard barracks - so the Governor and Commodore told Spee that the Germans would be needed to help design and build it. "...For the weather in Fuego is as cold as a Poland Winter." The Admiral was delighted that his men would have employment and asked if it could be a town, not a camp.
- "Good idea - we'll need to encourage settlers." The Governor was delighted. "Tell every man that a tot of Fuegan Brandy will be issued to all hands every Friday night." Hilarity from the Fuegans and grins from the Germans. "I think," The Admiral answered. "Fuegan Brandy might be too strong - lager, perhaps?"
- Beagle beer was not as harsh as Fuegan Brandy, so it was, indeed, preferred, but the Fuegan brewsters were intrigued to learn that the Germans did have some brewsters in their ranks and petitioned to be allowed to employ them. The 2,000 Germans held a variety of trades and backgrounds - doctors, medical orderlies, dentists, pharmacists, plumbers, carpenters, machinists, sheet metal workers, instrument-makers, musicians, tailors, bootmakers, professional seamen, fishermen, clerks, radio operators, engineers, cooks, leatherworkers and electricians. There would have been others, but the East Asia Squadron were mostly long-service seamen with navy-oriented disciplines. Fuego's 80,000 population always needed more technical trades, so the Germans were a potential source of useful workers. The snag was that the War prevented general assimilation, so instead Allardyce and Morgan hit upon the idea of the Germans using workshops in the new town to do non-military piecework on contract to the Colonial Government.
- "But, this is the oddest idea for a camp of Kriegsgefangener that I ever heard of!" Spee was astonished at the proposal. "Are you not afraid that we will build weapons and attack you?"
- "Admiral, this is Fuego." Allardyce leant forwards in his chair. "We can't afford useless hands. It's this, or imprisonment by the Royal Navy. Will you make your men understand this? The Kaiser has written you off as expendable. We won't. At least your men will have a profitable occupation until the war is over. Then we will be able to arrange the re-patriation of those wishing to return to Germany."
- "Gruss Gott..." The Vice-Admiral stroked his moustache thughtfully. "...I will discuss it with my men and see what their feelings are. Are these prison wages?"
- "Standard Fuegan wages for a job carried out for existing companies. Paid into accounts at the Fuegan Colonial Bank." That did startle the Germans. "But it will be up to yourselves to decide any taxes or levy needed to maintain public services. In effect, you'll be running a municipality. Understood?"
- "Understood. And what is the name of the - ah - camp?" Spee was already rather impressed by Allardyce.
- "Anything you wish, as long as it's not foolishly cotroversiaL" The Governor was not too concerned. "No 'Kaiserstadt' or 'Deutschland', if you please."
- In memory of their dead comrades, the German sailors chose 'New Leipzig', a name that did not cause too much upset; the Land Guard companies guarding the perimeter were content to watch as the town south-east of Rio del Fuego was gradually set up, the Germans being allowed to erect what amounted to a military town under Spee's authority. They had local stone, sand, gravel, lime cement, some timber from the Maoriland sawmills, piping from the beached ships and other furnishings. Warned of the dangers of a Fuego winter, the Germans installed Russian-style brick stoves that could be fuelled by peat and which one could sleep on. The buildings themselves were mostly barrack-blocks, each with a senior officer's quarters adjacent, a bit like a Roman Army fortress. The central square had what was the Kommandantur on one side, the hospital on the other, the church facing it, and a range of small service shops - pharmacy, dentist, savings-bank and library. Workshops for bootmakers and tailors were followed by a blacksmith's and a carpenter's, a small police station and a fire station. Because alcohol could be a calming influence, Spee obtained permission to set up a small Bierkeller where officers and men could enjoy their modest ration. He also managed - after two months' negotiation - to set up a branch of the Misses Lloyds' teashop. The Fuegan women chosen for the work were mostly elderly and rather plain, wearing a Military Prison Service badge pinned to their maids' uniforms. However, they were a humanising influence - 'Engeln', the sailors called them - for the sailors soon discovered them to be motherly and kind.
- During the war, the German sailors routinely attended Divine Service in their Church Hall and held Church Parade in neatly turned out naval uniform. They also kept the streets and buildings scrupulously neat, attended training schools run in the Church Hall during weekdays and evenings, proved self-regulating and saw little reason to try to escape. Five did try, managing to reach Port Jones and crossing to Argentine Patagonia, but discovered to their dismay that hundreds of miles of rough country lay between them and Buenos Aires. Two were shot by gauchos for horse theft, two others were arrested by Argentino Police and returned to Fuego, deported for petty theft. One man - Leutnant Gerhard Stuckel - achieved fame by walking the distance to Buenos Aires by 1916, to reach the residence of the German Ambassador and ask to be repatriated. A U-boat collected him and took him to Germany, but poor Stuckel was not given much credit, as other German seamen wanted to know why more of his fellows had not escaped from Fuego. It was only when he described the hazards of his walk up through Patagonia and the Pampas that they realised what an epic adventure the poor man had experienced.
- On arrival at Hamburg, Stuckel was taken to Berlin for de-briefing by no less than Admiral Tirpitz; the gruff old Secretary of State asked enough questions, but Stuckel had memorised a report Spee had shown to each would-be escaper. The 'New Leipzig' camp was effectively a German Naval settlement run by Admiral Spee. The monument in the middle of the town square to the dead of the Squadron was beside a flagmast on which the Kaiserliche Marine flag was hoisted at dawn and lowered at nightfall. "The Viceadmiral knew I was trying to return to my family and assisted me to do so." Stuckel explained. "The Fuegans guard us, but treat us more like neighbours than enemies. They are a strange people. We are employed by their companies at peacetime wages to make civil things for them. Otherwise they leave us alone. I hear it is better than being in a Royal Navy prison camp."
- "That is so..." Tirpitz knew that Allardyce and his colleagues had controlled the Germans by giving them a very pleasant captivity. "...These tea-house women - are they whores?" That drew a flash of anger from Stuckel as he hotly denied it.
- "Nein, your Excellency, they are kind women of great honour and respectability. We speak to them of our mothers, sisters and daughters - not of the Marine!"
- "Sehr gut..." Tirpitz hid his disappointment. "...And the Battle? What do you know of it?" Stuckel told him the basics and his own minor part as a gun-captain of a secondary battery on 'Scharnhost'. Stuckel dwelt upon the bravery of the light cruiser 'Leipzig' and the horror of the collier's sudden destruction. The shock of the mine under 'Scharnhorst' had damaged the mounting of his gun, killed one of his gun-crew and wounded three others. He and the survivors had felt the shock of 'Canopus''s shell hitting the engine-room, by a freak mostly being vented upwards rather than ripping out the keel. Dead in the water, her magazines flooding and the ship developing a list, the cruiser had been pushed onto the beach by a pair of old tugs.
- "The Fuegans, they thought we would not surrender." Stuckel was still amused by the amazement on the faces of the Land Guards. "They were ready to kill us in our ships. But the Governor, Commodore Allardyce, he stopped it. We were put into churches, schools and barns for the night. Later we went into a tented camp and later still we were marched to where we built New Leipzig."
- As Tirpitz reported to the Kaiser, Von Spee's report through the Consul was borne out by Stuckel's words; the Squadron had fought until no longer able to do so and had then surrendered with the honours of war. In fact, if the escaper's account was to be believed, Spee had engineered remarkable freedom for his men and had started a proto-colony in Fuego. With the Western Front still in the balance, Tirpitz wondered whether Fuego should pass to Germany as a replacement for the ill-fated base at Tsingtao, in any peace negotiations; a strong German squadron in Fuego would dominate the nitrate trade with Chile and the meat trade with Argentina, as well as the whaling industry in the Antarctic.
- Fuego was not too concerned at the bar to his Iron Cross achieved by Stuckel for his epic escape, for it merely showed how efficient a Siberian isolation could be achieved by its position. For form's sake, Allardyce insisted that German POWs carry Internee Identity Cards at all times and prodece them if challenged by any Fuegan. The Germans were also forbidden to cross a line from the mouth of the Afon Fawr to Long Lake and Ushuaia, under pain of a month's solitary confinement. As he told Spee, this had to be done or the Colonial Office and the Royal Navy would take over, a hazard neither man wanted to see made real.
That ends the aftermath. The WW 1 experiences of Fuego are a separate matter and rather sad. The Germans' future after the end of the war can be guessed at from earlier accounts - some go home, most stay, the disaster of the Weimar Republic bringing dependents and immigrants from Germany and Austria-Hungary to New Leipzig and other German Enclave settlements. The rise of Nazi Germany turns this enclave into a violently anti-Hitler group that takes in Jews and other political refugees. Spee never returns to Germany and with some of his family settles in Fuego. German Fuegans become a powerful element of the Land Guard and distinguish themselves in WWII, 1963 and 1982. They intermarry with the Welsh and Argentino Enclaves.
Last edited by corditeman; October 13th, 2010 at 12:00 PM..