Less than an, hour after Lord Hastings and the two lads had returned aboard the Sylph, the British battleship Canopus got under way, and steaming away from her sister ships, made for the entrance to the little harbor, going slowly.
Here she took up her position, steaming slowly back and forth. As yet, however, there was no sign of the enemy. Meantime, other vessels in the fleet continued to coal swiftly. Steam was gotten up and every ship prepared for action.
Against the German fleet of five ships — the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the protected cruisers Leipzig, Dresden and Nurnberg, accompanied by two colliers — the British admiral, besides the Sylph, would go into battle with eight ships of war — the battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible, the former Admiral Sturdee's flagship, the cruisers Kent, Cornwall, Carnarvon, Bristol and Glasgow, and the battleship Canopus.
At Sir Frederick's command, every sailor in the English fleet was given a light meal, and then each man took a cold bath. Following this, those who were not on watch, turned in for a brief rest. And to show the hardihood and bravery of the British tar, there was not a man who showed signs of nervousness or fear.
There was a signal from the Canopus — a signal by flags, for the British did not wish to betray their presence by the use of the wireless, which could be as easily picked up by the enemy.
"Enemy approaching," read the signal.
Admiral Sturdee signaled back.
"Engage him when he has approached so close that he believes you are unable to get away."
The commander of the Canopus signified his understanding of this command, and continued steaming to and fro, ostensibly guarding the harbor.
At last the first gray form of a German cruiser came within sight of those on the Sylph. It was steaming slowly forward, apparently in no hurry and secure in its belief that there was no enemy near to be feared.
The Sylph had been stripped for action with the rest of the British fleet, for Lord Hastings had no mind to keep out of the battle.
"We've come a long ways to see an engagement," he told the lads, "and I think we are entitled to a hand in the affair."
"Hurrah!" shouted Frank.
"Good!" said Jack, quietly. "I was afraid we would have to stand off and look on."
"That's what I was afraid of, too," declared Frank.
"Well, we won't," said Lord Hastings. "Not this time, at any rate. I guess you will see all the fighting you wish presently."
Still the German squadron came on, apparently unconscious of the presence of the British battleship Canopus, the only English vessel that could be seen from the open sea. All seven ships — five vessels of war and the two colliers — could be plainly discerned now.
"What's the matter with 'em?" demanded Frank. "Surely they can see the Canopus."
"I guess they are figuring she hasn't spotted them yet," said Jack. "Believing he has only one enemy to contend with, Admiral von Spee evidently is trying to get as close as possible without being seen."
Indeed, this seemed a plausible explanation. At any rate, in lieu of a more reasonable one, it answered. Men on the Canopus now rushed hurriedly to and fro, officers darted hither and thither. The Canopus was ready for instant battle.
All the other ships of the British fleet also had come to life. Men who had been sleeping hurried to their posts. The gun crews stood at their places, the range finders were at their posts, and the officers stood ready to repeat the signal for advance as soon as Admiral Sturdee should give it.
Stripped to the waists, in spite of the chilly atmosphere outside, the crew of the Sylph also was ready. There was grim determination written plainly on the face of every man. In spite of the apparent superiority of the British fleet, each man realized that the battle would be to the death.
They knew that, although surprised, the Germans would not give up without a struggle — that they would battle desperately for supremacy although outnumbered. Confident of their own prowess and marksmanship, they nevertheless did not discount the ability of the foe.
"It will be a furious battle," said Lord Hastings to the lads, who stood beside him.
"I have an idea," said Frank, "that when the enemy finds he is outnumbered, he will not engage all his ships, but will try to protect the flight of most of them with one or two."
"By love!" said Lord Hastings. "I hadn't considered such a contingency. I wouldn't be surprised if you have hit it."
"I believe he has," said Jack.
"Well," said Lord Hastings grimly, "we will make that our business. Admiral Sturdee can take care of the fighting part of the fleet, and we will try to intercept any vessel that tries to escape."
"But do you suppose we can?" asked Frank.
"We can try," replied the commander of the Sylph, with slightly compressed lips. "As soon as the Germans engage the Canopus, we will try to get out ahead of the rest of the fleet and, keeping out of the thick of battle, steam to sea. Then if any of the enemy try to get away, with our superior speed we can at least head them off and engage them until help arrives."
"A first-class plan," Jack agreed. "However, I shouldn't be surprised if Admiral Sturdee had anticipated such a maneuver by the enemy."
"Even if he has," said Lord Hastings, "we probably wouldn't be selected to accomplish the work, and that's what we want to do. Therefore, we will act without being ordered."
"Good," said Jack.
In the meantime the German fleet had been approaching steadily. It was apparent that the presence of the British battleship Canopus, in the entrance to the harbor, had at last been discovered. A wireless message flashed through the air.
"Surrender or I shall sink you!" it read.
"An Englishman never surrenders!" was the reply flashed back by the commander of the Canopus.
The German admiral tried again.
"I would avoid all unnecessary loss of life," he signaled.
"Thanks," was the laconic response of the Canopus. "We are able to take care of ourselves."
To this there was no reply, and still the German squadron came on without firing a shot.
"Wonder why they don't shoot?" asked Jack.
"Guess they want to get as close as possible first," replied Frank. "Remember, they believe they have only one to deal with."
"True," said Jack. "But why doesn't the Canopus fire?"
"I suppose," replied Frank, "it's because the commander wishes to draw the enemy so close that escape will be impossible."
And the lad had hit upon the exact reason. Mindful of his instructions to draw the enemy in as close as possible before engaging him, the commander of the Canopus had no mind to open the battle.
And ever the German squadron was steaming closer and closer to destruction. But there is an end to everything, and so there finally came an end to this inaction.
A single German gun had opened the battle.
There was no reply from the Canopus.
"Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!"
Two of the enemy's ships cut loose at the Canopus.
Still the British battleship did not reply.
But the Germans had not yet found the range, and the Canopus was untouched, although several shells struck near her.
Then: "Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!"
The Canopus had at last opened fire on her foes. And, even as the first British shell sped across the water, the Canopus turned and began to retreat.
Fearful of losing their prey, the German vessels increased their speed and steamed rapidly after her, their big guns continuing to hurl shells across the water.
The Canopus was replying gun for gun, now, and with each moment the roar of battle increased.
And then, suddenly, in perfect battle formation, imposing and majestic in their advance, out of the little harbor steamed proudly the battle fleet of Great Britain, moving swiftly forward to engage the enemy!
The enemy perceived the advance of this formidable squadron in an instant, and there was a lull in the fire of the German ships. Then the guns opened with redoubled vigor, and the entire German fleet turned to flee.
Not unwilling to take advantage of the apparent fact that they had but one enemy to encounter — the Canopus — now that the odds were somewhat against them there was a different story. Evidently the German admiral held five German ships against one British vessel fair odds, but he was not minded to have the odds eight to five against him.
But the German fleet, secure in the belief that it had but one enemy to contend with, had advanced too far. Escape now was impossible. The greater speed of the British ships became apparent as the chase continued, the English ever gaining.
At last, realizing that there was no hope of escape, Admiral von Spee turned to give battle. The Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Leipzig immediately formed in battle line.
Immediately the British ships slowed up. The Nurnberg and Dresden, the two smaller German cruisers, did not join the other three German ships in battle formation, but continued their flight.
This was what those on board the Sylph had expected, and the little scout cruiser, making a slight detour, to avoid, as far as possible, shells from the three German cruisers, started in pursuit, full speed ahead. The German vessels, however, had considerable of a start, and it was plain that the Sylph would not overhaul them for hours.
In the meantime the battle was raging fiercely. From the first the British concentrated their fire on the German flagship. The huge thirty-four centimeter guns of the British fleet, as against the twenty-one centimeter guns of the enemy, made the outcome of the engagement certain from the first. All that remained was to see how well the Germans could fight, and what damage they could inflict on Admiral Sturdee's fleet before being sent to the bottom.
A huge shell from the British flagship dropped squarely aboard the Scharnhorst and exploded with a deafening detonation. Metal and bodies flew high in the air, shattered, and dropped into the sea for yards around. But the Scharnhorst had not been hit in a vital spot, and she continued to fight back desperately.
Now a shell from the Canopus struck the Scharnhorst amidships; a second from the Inflexible and a third from the Invincible followed in quick succession, and every one went home. The marksmanship of the British gunners was remarkable.
But the British were not escaping unscathed. A shell from the Leipzig struck the Cornwall just below the waterline and pierced her armor, and then exploded. Two men were killed by flying pieces of steel, and several others were wounded. So far this was the only loss sustained by the English.
As the battle progressed the fire of the British became more and more deadly. Hardly a shot was wasted now. The Scharnhorst, wounded unto death, fought back with the courage born of desperation.
A well-directed shell burst aboard the Invincible, killing three men outright and maiming practically every member of a gun crew near which it struck. But new men were in their places in a second, and the gun did not even pause in its fire.
Gradually the fire of the Scharnhorst became slower and slower, as one after another her guns were silenced by the accurate fire of the British gunners.
Then came the sound of a terrific explosion aboard the German flagship, and she staggered perceptibly. There was a lull in the British fire, as a demand was made for the Scharnhorst to surrender.
The German admiral hurled back a message of defiance to his foes, and the few remaining guns on his flagship continued to spout fire and smoke. He had determined to fight to the last, and go down with his ship, if need be.
The fire from the British ships, the demand for surrender having been refused, broke out afresh, and finally, struck in a vital part, the Scharnhorst burst into flames, at the same time beginning to settle in the water.
Admiral Sturdee could not but admire the way in which the German sailors stuck to their posts in the face of certain death, and he ordered the fire against the Scharnhorst to cease, that those on board might have a chance for life.
But of this chance neither the German admiral nor his men would take advantage. There were still several guns fit for action, and these continued to rain shells at the British. And, as the ship burned like a raging furnace, at the same time settling lower and lower in the water, these brave men continued to fire their guns.
Now the last gun had either been silenced or had disappeared below the water. Admiral von Spee appeared upon deck, in full view of his enemies. His officers and surviving members of the crew gathered about him. The sweet music of a band carried across the water. The Germans stood erect about their commander, as the flames crept close and the ship settled.
Suddenly it was all over. With a startling movement the Scharnhorst disappeared beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Her commander and crew had stood with bared heads to the last, and had gone to death, standing as though drawn up for inspection. There was a faint cheer from them as the ship disappeared beneath the waves.
The sinking of the German flagship Scharnhorst had required just a few minutes less than an hour.
Now the entire British fleet concentrated its fire upon the Gneisenau. In spite of the loss of the flagship and their admiral, the Germans would not give up; in fact, they seemed determined to rejoin their companions in the world beyond a watery grave.
The fire from both German cruisers became fiercer. Shells played a merry tattoo on the armored sides of the Canopus, upon which the two German cruisers were concentrating their fire, but the shells rattled harmlessly off the well-protected sides, and the Canopus was not damaged.
Gradually now the British squadron closed in on the Gneisenau and Leipzig, spreading out in a half circle as they advanced. Both German ships had been vitally wounded, but they continued to fight back gamely. Shell after shell burst on their decks, pierced them below the waterline, or carried away their fighting tops or superstructure.
Battered almost to pieces, and their decks strewn with dead and dying, they nevertheless fought on.
There would be no surrender. This fact was apparent to the British, and they directed their fire so as to end the battle as quickly as possible.
The Gneisenau staggered, and seemed about to go under. She recovered her equilibrium in an instant, however, and renewed the battle with even greater vigor than before.
Now the two German cruisers, crippled and battered as they were, steamed as rapidly they could right toward the British fleet, making a final effort to inflict a serious blow upon the British before themselves going to the bottom.
Closer and closer they came, their guns hurling shells at all the British vessels without favor. A shell struck squarely upon the bridge of the Canopus, killing an officer; and the splintering wood that flew about accounted for two more, making the British death list now eight.
And still the German cruisers came on; and then the Gneisenau wavered, halted and staggered back. A shell had pierced through to her boilers. There was an explosion, followed by a great hissing sound.
Without steam the Gneisenau could steam neither forward nor backward. Stationary, rising and falling on the swell of the waves, she continued to pour in her fire, even as the Leipzig continued on alone.
A British shell struck the Leipzig's steering gear, rendering it useless, and the German cruiser staggered about at the mercy of the sea. Still the gunners continued to hurl shells at the British whenever the guns could be brought to bear.
But this was not often, for the fact that she could not be steered properly rendered the work of the British much easier.
Admiral Sturdee, greatly impressed with the bravery of the Germans, decided to give them one more chance for life. He ordered a cessation of firing and called upon the two cruisers to surrender.
The merciful offer was met with a cry of defiance, and a shell burst over the admiral's flagship, dropping half a score of men, two of whom never arose.
Now the British ships closed in on the two German cruisers, and poured broadside after broadside into the almost defenseless hulls.
Suddenly the Gneisenau disappeared beneath the waves, with all on board, the last that was heard of her being a cheer from her crew.
The Leipzig lasted but a moment longer. She was listing badly, and now, suddenly rising on her beam's end, she dived beneath the water.
The battle of the Falkland Islands, the greatest British sea victory since the battle off Heligoland, was over.
Boats were quickly lowered from the British ships to rescue, if possible, survivors of the German ships. A few were picked up, but not many. Of the more than 1,800 men aboard the three German cruisers, at least 1,700 had gone to the bottom.
The Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau were the largest cruisers of the German fleet. They were sister ships, of 11,600 tons' displacement, 450 feet on the waterline, and were rated at a speed of 22 1/2 knots. Each carried a complement of 765 men, and was armed with eight 8.2-inch guns, six 6-inch guns, twenty 24-Pounders, four machine-guns and four torpedo tubes.
The Leipzig had a displacement of 3,250 tons and carried 286 men. She was 341 feet long on the waterline, had a beam of 43 1/2 feet, and was rated at 23 knots. Her largest guns, of which she carried ten, were 4-inch. She had also ten 1-pounders, four machine-guns and two torpedo tubes.
And these were the three mighty vessels of the battle fleet of the Emperor of Germany which, after having preyed for months upon British shipping, had finally been sent to the bottom of the Atlantic by Admiral Sir Frederick Sturdee, chief of the British War Staff.
Meanwhile, what of the Sylph?
When the German cruisers Dresden and Nurnberg had fallen back in an attempt to escape, the Sylph dashed after them at full speed.
"'Will you engage both of them?" asked Frank of Lord Hastings.
"If necessary,"' replied the Sylph's commander. "We at least may be able to hold them off until help arrives."
The Sylph sped on; but it became apparent that the Dresden was gradually drawing ahead of the Nurnberg. Jack noticed this, and spoke to Lord Hastings.
"If we stay well behind, and give them the impression that we are not fast enough to overtake either of them," he said, "the Dresden may leave the Nurnberg to take care of herself. Then we can get them one at a time."
"A good idea," said Lord Hastings.
The speed of the Sylph was reduced somewhat. Still the Dresden continued to draw away from her consort, and, after hours of tireless pursuit, finally was almost out of sight.
All that night the pursuit of the Nurnberg continued, and it was early morning, and the sun was streaming over the sea, when the Sylph, having increased her speed during the darkness, finally drew within range of the Nurnberg.
A shot from the Sylph's forward gun brought the Nurnberg to a sudden halt, and she turned immediately to give battle. This was what Lord Hastings had hoped for.
The first shell from the Nurnberg kicked up the water a good half mile in front of the Sylph.
"We have the range of her," said Lord Hastings calmly.
The Sylph slowed down, and continued to plump shells and solid shot upon her opponent at long range. Some of these struck home, and it was plain to the two lads, who stood on the bridge, that some of them had done considerable damage.
Realizing that he was outranged, the commander of the Nurnberg ordered full speed ahead and dashed toward the Sylph, that he might get within range before the Sylph had crippled him with her long-distance fire.
Before she managed to get within range, however, her fighting top had been shot away, she had been pierced in vital spots several times and was otherwise very badly crippled.
But now a shell came screaming over the bridge. Involuntarily both lads ducked, so close had the shell passed to their heads. It sped on over the Sylph and plowed up the water over the stern.
"Close call," said Jack briefly.
"It was, indeed," agreed Frank.
So close were the two vessels now that the machine-guns on both vessels were brought into play, and a perfect hail of shot fell upon both ships.
So far the Sylph had not been hit, but suddenly the little cruiser staggered back. A shot had struck her squarely in the bow. The damage was not serious, and she again leaped forward.
For two hours the battle continued, with advantage to neither side. Both vessels were badly battered by this time, and one of the Sylph's smokestacks had been shot away. Now, glancing suddenly astern, Frank uttered a joyous cry.
"British cruiser coming up, sir," he informed Lord Hastings.
The commander of the Nurnberg had noticed the approach of the British cruiser at the same instant, and, realizing that he could not successfully battle with another enemy, he ordered the Nurnberg put about, and made off as fast as his crippled condition would permit, his stern guns still playing upon the Sylph.
Evidently the Nurnberg's commander figured that the Sylph, being as badly crippled as he was, could not successfully pursue. The British cruiser was still some distance off, and he hoped to be able to outrun her also.
But he was doomed to disappointment. No sooner had the Nurnberg turned to flee, than the Sylph made rapidly after her. At the same moment there came a wireless from the British cruiser, which proved to be the Glasgow.
"Stick to her close," the message read, "we'll be with you in a jiffy."
So, at Lord Hastings' command, the Sylph stuck closely. For perhaps an hour the commander of the Nurnberg tried to shake off the pursuer; and then, realizing that this could not be done, and that the Glasgow was also rapidly gaining on him, he once, more turned to give battle.
The Nurnberg came about suddenly and dashed straight at the Sylph. In fact, so sudden was this maneuver that the Sylph was caught unprepared, and for a moment was at a disadvantage. However, this disadvantage did not last long.
Lord Hastings ordered the Sylph put about, and turned to flee.
"What on earth are we running for?" demanded Jack.
"Why," replied Lord Hastings, "if the Nurnberg will chase us, we'll run her right up to the Glasgow. And, if she puts about and makes off again, we have gained just that much time."
"I see," said Jack.
The Nurnberg refused to chase the Sylph. Instead, she put about and continued her flight. Immediately the Sylph was after her again. Once more the Nurnberg came about and made a dash at the Sylph, and again the Sylph turned and ran.
But this time the Nurnberg did not turn to run again. Lord Hastings' maneuver had succeeded so well that the Glasgow was now within striking distance, and a shell fired at long range dropped close to the Nurnberg. The Sylph came about again and dashed forward, hurling her instruments of death at her opponent as rapidly as her crippled condition would permit.
From the Glasgow came a command for the Nurnberg to surrender, but the commander of the German ship did not even take the trouble to reply to this message. The Sylph and her enemy came close together rapidly.
Shells were dropping aboard both vessels, and it seemed miraculous that both did not go to the bottom. The blood of both commanders was up and neither would give an inch. It all depended now upon which ship was struck in a vital spot first.
Fortunately for those aboard the Sylph it was the German who suffered. A shell pierced the Nurnberg's side and penetrated the engine-room, where it exploded the Nurnberg's boilers with, a thundering roar. On the instant the Nurnberg seemed to turn into a sheet of flame.
Another explosion followed, and still another, and almost quicker than it takes to tell it, the German cruiser Nurnberg, the fourth of Admiral von Spee's fleet, disappeared beneath the waves.
While the Sylph lay waiting for the Glasgow to come up a hasty examination was made. One man had been killed and two injured That was, the extent of the damage to the Sylph. Every man of the German crew of 300 men had gone to the bottom.
"Nothing serious the matter with us, sir," Jack reported, after an investigation.
"Good!" replied Lord Hasting.
"Nothing broken that cannot be fixed in two hours, sir," Frank reported.
"Good!" exclaimed Lord Hastings again.
Half an hour later the commander of the Glasgow came aboard the Sylph, and was speedily closeted with Lord Hastings in the latter's cabin. Soon, however, the two emerged on deck, and approached where Frank and Jack were standing.
"I understand," said the commander of the Glasgow to the two lads, "that it was your plan Admiral Sturdee acted upon when he lured the German fleet to give battle. Also that it was your idea that has resulted in the sinking of the Nurnberg. I am glad to know you."
He extended a hand to each, and the boys grasped them heartily.
"Now," continued the commander of the Glasgow, "it is up to us to follow and sink the Dresden. Besides her there is but one German ship in these waters — the Karlsruhe, and we'll get her before we are through."
"Have you any idea where she is?" asked Frank.
"I imagine she has gone around the Horn into the Pacific."
"In that case," said Jack, "the Dresden has probably gone to join her."
"By Jove!" exclaimed the commander of the Glasgow. "I believe you are right. What do you think, Lord Hastings?"
"I believe Mr. Templeton has hit the nail on the head, as usual," replied the commander of the Sylph. "Therefore, I should say that we had better head in that direction."
"Agreed!" returned the commander of the Glasgow, and, after some further talk, he put over the side and returned to his own vessel.
Several hours were now spent on board the Sylph repairing the damage caused by the German shells and getting the little vessel in shipshape again. Then, at last, the Sylph was once more under way, beading for the Pacific.
A mile to the stern followed the British cruiser Glasgow. For two days and nights, after rounding the Horn, the two British vessels sought some trace of the Karlsruhe and the Dresden. They put into port after port, but could get no trace of her.
But at last they came upon the German cruiser. It was the fourth day after rounding the Horn, and the German ship was just putting out of a little Chilean port. The commander was not unaware of the presence of the British ships outside, for it had been reported to him; but he had already been in the port for twenty-four hours, and the laws of neutrality demanded that he either put to sea again or that his ship be interned.
Captain Koehler, of the Dresden, was a man of action. Therefore, he spurned the suggestion of having his ship interned. And his last words to the German consul, as he stepped aboard his ship and ordered that she be put to sea were:
"We are going to join our comrades!"
Well out of neutral waters, the Sylph and the Glasgow lay in wait for the enemy. Outside the port the Dresden attempted to flee; but, after an hour's chase, Captain Koehler realized the futility of this, and, at last brought to bay, turned to fight.
In the action that followed, an action that lasted for more than two hours, the Dresden put up a terrific battle. But there could be but one end. Outnumbered, she fought well, but at length the waters of the calm Pacific closed over her.
"Only one left," said Frank to Jack, as they stood upon the bridge after the sinking of the Dresden.
"Only one — the Karlsruhe."
"And we'll get her, too!" said Jack quietly.
Slowly the two British cruisers, the Sylph and the Glasgow, their damages having been repaired, turned their noses north, and set out on their search for the only German vessel remaining in American waters.
As they sail away over the mysterious Pacific we shall for a brief period take our leave of Frank Chadwick and Jack Templeton, than whom no more courageous lads (nor men, either, for that matter) engaged in the greatest war of all history.
But we shall meet them again; and, if the readers of this volume are interested in their further adventures and exploits, as well as in the personal side of the great war, they will find it all in the third volume of The Boy Allies with, the Battleships Series, entitled, "The Boy Allies with the Flying Squadron; or The Naval Raiders of the Great War."