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Revenge at the Falklands

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 157th installment in the series. NEW: Would you like to be notified via email when each installment of this series is posted? Just email RSVP@mentalfloss.com.

December 8, 1914: Revenge at the Falklands

For over a century, ever since Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Britain’s Royal Navy had been mistress of the seas, unchallenged in seamanship, shipbuilding, and sheer firepower. So when war broke out in August 1914, most observers expected the British to quickly secure the global maritime trade network. But conventional wisdom failed to appreciate the unusual asymmetrical nature of the threat posed by the German Imperial Navy.

Ironically the German High Seas Fleet, the principal cause of pre-war tension between Germany and Britain, played a mostly passive role once hostilities began, sticking close to its homeports on the North Sea in order to avoid an encounter with the Royal Navy’s superior Grand Fleet, guarding the “home waters” around the British Isles. Meanwhile further afield a handful of German “commerce raiders” inflicted damage out of all proportion to their numbers, roaming the high seas, striking civilian merchant vessels and undefended land installations out of the blue, then disappearing again into the vast empty spaces of the world’s oceans. These “hit and run” campaigns forced the British to divert precious resources to carry out a global dragnet for the elusive raiders. And even with vastly superior forces, the huge distances involved, combined with limited information about the enemy’s position in an age before radar or spy satellites, made it difficult to exploit the Royal Navy’s numerical advantage: by the time one ship spotted the Germans and alerted the nearest vessels (perhaps hundreds of miles away) the battle might well be over.

That’s exactly what happened at the disastrous Battle of Coronel, where Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee’s German East Asia Squadron destroyed two British cruisers, HMS Monmouth and Good Hope, with the loss of 1,570 officers and men, off the coast of Chile on November 1, 1914. At Coronel the British commander, Admiral Christopher Cradock, made the fatal mistake of engaging the Germans before his strongest ship – the older, slower, but better-armed HMS Canopus – had arrived. Following the failure to prevent the Goeben and Breslau from escaping to Constantinople in August, the sinking of HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue by the U-boat U-9 on September 22, and the sinking of HMS Audacious, a brand-new “super-dreadnought,” by a German mine off northern Ireland on October 27, Coronel was another embarrassing defeat for the British Admiralty, prompting First Lord Winston Churchill and First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher to focus all their efforts on finding and destroying Spee’s squadron.

In this case retribution was swift. After his victory at Coronel Spee sailed south around Cape Horn into the Atlantic Ocean, probably intending to raid British shipping and disrupt South African operations against German Southwest Africa; before doing that, however, he sailed north to bombard the defenseless Falkland Islands. Meanwhile unbeknownst to Spee, Churchill and Fisher had dispatched two fast, powerful battle cruisers, HMS Invincible and Inflexible, to form a new battle group under Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdee in the South Atlantic; Sturdee was sailing south intending to round the cape and hunt Spee in the Pacific, but first stopped at Port Stanley in the Falklands to refuel on December 7.

On the morning of December 8, Spee approached the Falklands cautiously from the south, sending two of his ships, Gneisenau and Nürnberg, ahead to destroy the wireless station at Port Stanley and so prevent the British garrison from raising the alarm. As they drew near the harbor around 7:50am, the German commanders were surprised to find a powerful British flotilla taking on coal; Sturdee, equally surprised to see the Germans on this side of South America, scrambled to get up steam to pursue them (it could take several hours of continuous stoking to get the warships’ huge steam engines to top speed). One British crewmember, Signalman Welch aboard the light cruiser HMS Kent, recalled:

Things were now getting exciting & I think all the men were jolly delighted at the chance of a scrap. The thoughts came crowding in – home, wife, child & all that a man has dear to him. The possibilities of the day occurred to me, but there was no time to think of the danger – all that seemed to trouble me was that the other ships in the harbour were taking so long to get under way.

As Sturdee’s ships prepared for battle the Gneisenau and Nürnberg reversed course and sailed southeast to rejoin the rest of the German squadron, sending wireless messages ahead to warn Spee about the British force. At 10am the British ships left the harbor in pursuit of the Germans, about 15 miles to the southeast. By 11am Sturdee had closed the gap to around 12 miles, but heavy smoke from the British ships’ own funnels was obscuring the view, forcing him to rely on signal messages from his lead ship, HMS Glasgow, to stay on course. With a comfortable advantage in speed, around 11:30am Sturdee ordered the Invincible and Inflexible to slow from 24 knots to 20 knots, in order to lessen the smoke and allow some of his slower ships to keep pace (below, the Invincible and Inflexible at the Battle of the Falklands).

Spee now adjusted his heading to a more southerly course and ordered all his ships to proceed at their own top speeds, with the result that the German squadron began to drift apart. Concerned that the faster German ships might escape, Sturdee ordered the Invincible and Inflexible to increase their speed to 25 knots around 12:20pm. Still hoping to save some of his ships, Spee then ordered his weaker light cruisers, Leipzig, Nürnberg, and Dresden, to scatter while his armored cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, turned to fight the British in a desperately uneven battle; however Sturdee sent some of his own light cruisers to pursue their German counterparts as the rest of the squadron closed with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

At 1:20pm the Invincible and Inflexible opened fire on the approaching armored cruisers at a range of around eight miles (below, the Inflexible fires), still beyond the range of the German guns, but the heavy black smoke from their funnels made accurate targeting all but impossible. The Germans quickly closed the gap and returned fire, with one shell hitting the Invincible, prompting Sturdee to maneuver out of range again by around 2 pm. As the German ships turned to flee again Sturdee resumed his pursuit, and by 2:45pm he was on course to cut the Germans off. Spee responded by turning to bring his short-range guns to bear on the British, opening fire at 2:59pm, but the British heavy guns firing at relatively close range inflicted far more damage, and by 3:20pm the Gneisenau was burning and the Scharnhorst was taking on water, preventing it from using half of its short range guns.

With the Germans ships losing momentum, Sturdee ordered his own ships to reduce steam to clear the smoke, giving them clear lines of sight for targeting; now it was only a matter of time. Pounded relentlessly by the British heavy guns, by 4pm the Scharnhorst was dead in the water and listing heavily to one side, and at 4:17 she rolled over and sank with the loss of all hands (by the time the British ships returned to pick up survivors, they had all drowned in the rough, frigid waters of the South Atlantic).

As the German flagship went down the British turned their guns on the Gneisenau, which valiantly continued firing as rain and fog completed the gloomy scene. At 5:45pm the German captain, seeing the end was near, ordered the remaining crewmembers to scuttle and abandon ship. The German sailors swam frantically to escape the resulting vortex, but once again many drowned before the British could rescue them, as one British crewmember, Assistant Paymaster Duckworth, later admitted (top, survivors from the Gneisenau await rescue by boats from the Inflexible):

Away ahead of us on the dull leaden sea appeared a small pale green patch of water containing a clustering mass of humanity, while the wind brought dismal cries to our ears from the only survivors of the sunken ship… All round the ships there were floating bodies, some on hammocks, some on spars. Some struggling, others drowning slowly before ones eyes before any boat could reach them. Most were so numbed they could not hold on to anything, and were helpless… On all sides one saw all our men hauling half frozen bodies up the side and carrying them down to the Admiral’s cabin. It was a truly terrible sight and one I hope never to see again.

To the northwest the British cruisers chased down the fleeing German light cruisers, sinking two of the three by nightfall; only the Dresden managed to escape, eventually heading back into the Pacific, where it was interned by Chilean authorities and finally scuttled by its own crew to prevent it from falling into British hands in March 1915.

A German officer on the Leipzig recounted the horrible scenes as the ship went through its death throes:

Under the forecastle on the starboard side there was wild disorder. Dead men lay near the No 2 gun starboard and the ship’s side was torn away. Everybody was busy searching for objects that would float, such as hammocks and balks of timber… Dead bodies and wounded and maimed men lay around everywhere, and fragments of bodies were to be seen on all sides. I did not look too closely, it was such a dreadful sight.

Like their counterparts from the Gneisenau, after jumping overboard the sailors spent hours floating in very cold water, often with fatal effects, according to the same officer, who narrowly avoided the same fate when the British almost failed to spot him:

Towards the end I did not see many men in the water. Those who still survived were clinging to all kinds of objects, and they dropped off as their hands became numb… The two boats now approached, and I saw men being pulled out of the water. We began to shout and wave our hands in the gathering darkness. I lost sight of one boat, and the other turned away. We each shouted in turn, but nobody seemed to notice us, then they came straight toward us. I was seized by the hands and dragged in… I lay down in the bows of the boat, and closed my eyes; nothing mattered now.

He was one of the lucky ones, as 1,871 German sailors were killed in battle or drowned, leaving just 215 survivors to be taken prisoner by the British.

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Pop Culture
The Muppets are Getting a Reboot (Again)
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

The Muppets have entertained audiences from television sets and movie screens. Now, The Hollywood Reporter reports the beloved characters are coming to your computer. Jim Henson's classic characters are being rebooted for Disney's new streaming service.

This isn't the first time Disney has attempted to repackage The Muppets for TV since acquiring the property in 2004. In 2015, a mockumentary-style show, simply titled The Muppets, premiered on ABC, but it was canceled after one season in light of underwhelming reviews. Disney is also producing a CGI update of the animated series Muppet Babies this March. Unlike that show, this upcoming series will star the original adult characters.

Disney has yet to announce a premiere date or even a premise for the new streaming show. Audiences can expect to see it sometime after the Netflix competitor launches in fall of 2019.

The Muppets will be accompanied by streaming versions of other classic Disney properties. Series based on Monsters Inc. (2001) and The Mighty Ducks (1992) as well as film reboots of The Parent Trap (1998) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) are all expected to appear exclusively on the streaming service.

[h/t The Hollywood Reporter]

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entertainment
15 Educational Facts About Old School
DreamWorks
DreamWorks

Old School starred Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin, an attorney who—after catching his girlfriend cheating, and through some real estate and bitter dean-related circumstances—becomes the leader of a not-quite-official college fraternity. Along with his fellow thirtysomething friends Bernard (Vince Vaughn) and newlywed Frank (Will Ferrell), they end up having to fight for their right to maintain their status as a party-loving frat on campus.

The film, which was released 15 years ago today, marked Vaughn’s return to major comedies and Ferrell’s first major starring role after seven years on Saturday Night Live. Here are some facts about the movie for everyone, but particularly for my boy, Blue.

1. THE IDEA ORIGINATED WITH AN AD GUY.

Writer-director Todd Phillips was talking to a friend of his from the advertising industry named Court Crandall one day. Crandall had seen and enjoyed Phillips's movie Frat House (1998) and told his director buddy, “You know what would be funny is a movie about older guys who start a fraternity of their own.” After being told by Phillips to write it, he presented Phillips with a “loose version” of the finished product.

2. SOME OF THE FRAT SHENANIGANS WERE REAL.

While Crandall received the story credit for Old School, Phillips and Scot Armstrong received the credit for writing the script. Armstrong put his own college fraternity experiences into the script. “We were in Peoria, Illinois, so it was up to us to entertain ourselves," Armstrong shared in the movie's official production notes. "A lot of ideas for Old School came from things that really happened. When it was cold, everyone would go stir crazy and it inspired some moments of brilliance. Of course, my definition of ‘brilliance' might be different from other people's.”

3. IVAN REITMAN HELPED OUT.

Ivan Reitman, director of Stripes and Ghostbusters, was an executive producer on the film. Phillips and Armstrong wrote and rewrote every day for two months at Reitman’s house, an experience Phillips described as comedy writing “boot camp.”

4. THE STUDIO DIDN’T WANT VINCE VAUGHN.

Vince Vaughn in 'Old School' (2003)
DreamWorks

It didn’t seem to make a difference to DreamWorks that Phillips and Armstrong had written the role of Bernard with Vince Vaughn in mind—the studio didn't want him. After his breakout success in Swingers, Vaughn had taken roles in dramas like the 1998 remake of Psycho. “So when Todd Phillips wanted me for Old School, the studio didn’t want me,” Vaughn told Variety in 2015. “They didn’t think I could do comedy! They said, ‘He’s a dramatic actor from smaller films.’ Todd really had to push for me.”

5. RECYCLED SHOTS OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY WERE USED.

The film was mainly shot on the Westwood campus of UCLA. The aerial shots of the fictitious Harrison University, however, were of Harvard; they had been shot for Road Trip (2000).

6. VINCE VAUGHN FANS MIGHT RECOGNIZE THE CHURCH.

In the film, Frank gets married at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena, California. Vaughn and Owen Wilson were in that same church two years later for Wedding Crashers (2005).

7. WILL FERRELL SCARED MEMBERS OF A 24-HOUR GYM.

Frank’s streaking scene was shot on a city street. As Ferrell remembered it, one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with Stairmasters and treadmills in the window. “I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, ‘Shouldn’t we tell them I’m going to be naked?’ Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody was at the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.”

8. FERRELL REALLY WAS NAKED.

Ferrell justified it by saying it showed his character falling off the wagon. “The fact that it made sense was the reason I was really into doing it, and why I was able to commit on that level," Ferrell told the BBC. "If it was just for the sake of doing a crazy shot, then I don't think it makes sense.” Still, Ferrell needed some liquid courage, and was intimidated by the presence of Snoop Dogg.

9. ROB CORDDRY WAS NOT NAKED, BUT HE STILL HAD TO SIGN AWAY HIS NUDITY RIGHTS.

Old School marked the first major film role for Rob Corddry, who at the time was best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He had a jewel bag around his private parts for his nude scene, but his butt made it into the final cut. He had to sign a nudity clause, which gave the film the right to use his naked image “in any part of the universe, in any form, even that which is not devised.”

10. SNOOP DOGG AGREED TO CAMEO SO HE COULD PLAY HUGGY BEAR IN STARSKY & HUTCH.

Phillips admitted to essentially bribing the hip-hop artist/actor, using Snoop Dogg’s desire to play the street informant in the modern movie adaptation of the classic TV show (which Phillips was also directing) to his advantage. “So when I went to him I said, 'I want you to do Huggy Bear,' he was really excited. And I said, 'Oh yeah, also will you do this little thing for me in Old School a little cameo?' So he kind of had to do it I think."

11. SNOOP WANTED TO HANG OUT WITH VINCE VAUGHN ON SET, BUT NOT LUKE WILSON.

Snoop Dogg in 'Old School' (2003)
Richard Foreman, Dreamworks

Vaughn and his friends accepted an invitation to hang out in Snoop Dogg’s trailer to play video games on the last day of shooting. Vaughn recalled seeing Luke Wilson later watching the news alone in his trailer; he had not been informed of the get-together.

12. WILSON WAS TEASED BY HIS CO-STARS.

Vaughn, Wilson, and Ferrell dubbed themselves “The Wolfpack”—years before Phillips directed The Hangover—because they would always make fun of each other. A particularly stinging exchange had Ferrell refer to Legally Blonde (which Wilson had starred in) as Legally Bland. Wilson said it didn’t make him feel great. Wilson retorted by telling Ferrell that "the transition from TV to the movies isn't a very easy one, so you might just want to keep one foot back in TV just in case this whole movie thing falls through!"

13. TERRY O’QUINN SCARED HIS SONS INTO THINKING THEY WERE TRIPPING.

Terry O’Quinn (who went on to play John Locke on Lost the following year) agreed to play Goldberg, uncredited, in what was a two-day job for him. He neglected to inform his sons he was in the movie, and when they saw it, one of them called their father. “I got a call from my sons one night, and they said, ‘What were you doing in Old School? We didn’t even know you were in it!’ They said, ‘We’re sitting there, and the first time we see you, it’s, like, in a reflection in a window. And when we saw it, and we both thought we were, like, tripping or something!’”

14. THE EARMUFFS WERE IMPROVISED.

Before filming, Vaughn worked with Ferrell to figure out their characters' backstories and how they knew each other; he credited that with helping him figure out who Bernard was, which led to several ad-libbed moments. “The earmuff scene where he swears in front of the kids, and then I tell the kid to earmuff, that all is off the cuff. But that stuff is a lot easier to do when you know who you are and your circumstances, and who your characters are,” Vaughn explained.

15. FERRELL AND VAUGHN DIDN’T LOVE A SCRIPT FOR A SEQUEL.

Armstrong had written Old School Dos in 2006, which saw the frat going to Spring Break. Ferrell said that he and Vaughn read the script but felt like they would just be “kind of doing the same thing again.” Wilson, on the other hand, was excited over the new script.

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