On 23 August 1914 Japan declared war on Germany. Japan had long been friendly to Britain, and wanted to gain possession of German-owned islands in the Pacific.
The Japanese fleet greatly outnumbered the German Far East Fleet at Tsingtao. German Admiral Graf von Spee decided to take his ships to raid widely across the Pacific.
The German cruiser Emden was sent to track down merchant ships. With his other ships, von Spee shelled French bases on Tahiti and cut the trans-Pacific telegraph cable, then headed for Chile to attack merchant shipping.
On 1 November von Spee met a British fleet commanded by Sir Christopher Craddock off Coronel. Spee had two heavy cruisers and three light cruisers.
Craddock had two heavy cruisers and one light cruiser plus a converted merchant ship carrying light guns, but a British battleship lay just to the south.
At first Craddock sighted only one German ship, so he moved to attack. By the time he realised his mistake the fleets were within range of each other.
The German ships opened fire at a range of 11,200 metres, the British replied. It soon became obvious that the German ships were more stable in the rough seas, so their gunners could aim more accurately.
The two British heavy cruisers were targeted by von Spee and were quickly sunk. Admiral Craddock went down with his ship.
The British light cruiser Glasgow and converted merchant ship Otranto, turned south at high speed. They hoped to lure von Spee toward the waiting battleship Canopus.
Von Spee did not pursue the British ships, but instead turned away. The first fleet action between Britain and Germany had ended with a decisive German victory.
This is an extract from 1000 Facts on World War I by Rupert Matthews