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.

NEW: Would you like to be notified via email when each installment of this series is posted? Just email RSVP@mentalfloss.com.

See the previous installment or all entries.

7 Things You Might Not Know About Mario Lopez

Angela Weiss, Getty Images for Oakley
Angela Weiss, Getty Images for Oakley

While several of the actors featured in the 1990s young-adult series Saved by the Bell have fared well following the show’s end in 1994, Mario Lopez is in a class by himself. The versatile actor-emcee can be seen regularly on Extra, as host of innumerable beauty pageants, and as the author of several best-selling books on fitness. For more on Lopez, check out some of the more compelling facts we’ve rounded up on the multi-talented performer.

1. A WITCH DOCTOR SAVED HIS LIFE.

Born on October 10, 1973, in San Diego, California to parents Mario and Elvia Lopez, young Mario was initially the picture of health. But things quickly took a turn for the worse. In his 2014 autobiography, Just Between Us, Lopez wrote that he began having digestive problems immediately after birth, shrinking to just four pounds. Though doctors administered IV hydration, they told his parents nothing more could be done. Desperate, his father reached out to a witch doctor near Rosarito, Mexico who had cured his spinal ailments years earlier. The healer mixed a drink made of Pedialyte, Carnation evaporated milk, goat’s milk, and other unknown substances. It worked: Lopez kept it down and began growing, so much so that his mother declared him “the fattest baby you had ever seen in your life.”

2. HE STARTED ACTING AT 10.

A highly active kid who got involved in both tap and jazz dancing and amateur wrestling, Lopez was spotted by a talent scout during a dance competition at age 10 and was later cast in a sitcom, a.k.a. Pablo, in 1984. That led to a role in the variety show Kids Incorporated and in the 1988 Sean Penn feature film Colors. In 1989, at the age of 16, he won the role of Albert Clifford “A.C.” Slater in Saved by the Bell. By 1992, Lopez was making public appearances at malls, where female fans would regularly toss their underthings in his direction.

3. HE COULD PROBABLY BEAT YOU UP.

Lopez wrestled as an amateur throughout high school. According to the Chula Vista High School Foundation, Lopez was a state placewinner at 189 pounds in 1990. (On Saved by the Bell, Slater was also a wrestler.) He later complemented his grappling ability with boxing, often sparring professionals like Jimmy Lange and Oscar De La Hoya in bouts for charity. In 2018, Lopez posted on Instagram that he received his blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Gracie Barra Glendale instructor Robert Hill.

4. HE TURNED DOWN PLAYGIRL.

Lopez’s active lifestyle has made for a trim physique, but he’s apparently unwilling to take off more than his shirt. In 2008, Lopez said he was approached to pose for Playgirl but declined. The magazine reportedly offered him $200,000.

5. HE WAS MARRIED FOR TWO WEEKS.

Lopez had a well-publicized marriage to actress Ali Landry, but not for all the right reasons. The two were married in April 2004 and split just two weeks later, with Landry alleging Lopez had not been faithful. Lopez later disclosed he had made a miscalculation during his bachelor party in Mexico, cheating on Landry just days before the ceremony.

6. HE APPEARED ON BROADWAY.

Lopez joined the cast of Broadway’s A Chorus Line in 2008, portraying Zach, the director who coaches the cast of aspiring dancers. (It was his first stage appearance since he participated in a grade school play, where he played a tree.) His run, which lasted five months, was perceived to be part of a rash of casting choices on Broadway revolving around hunky performers to attract audiences. The role was thought to be the start of a resurgence for Lopez, who had previously appeared on Dancing with the Stars and has been a co-host of the pop culture newsmagazine show Extra since 2007.

7. HE BELIEVES HIS DOG SUFFERED FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION.

In 2010, Lopez and then-girlfriend (now wife) Courtney Mazza had their first child, Gia. According to Lopez, his French bulldog, Julio César Chavez Lopez, exhibited signs of depression following the new addition to the household. Lopez also said he used his extensive knowledge of dogs to better inform his voiceover work as a Labrador retriever in 2009’s The Dog Who Saved Christmas and 2010’s The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation.

The Legend of Cry Baby Lane: The Lost Nickelodeon Movie That Was Too Scary for TV

Nickelodeon, Viacom
Nickelodeon, Viacom

Several years ago, rumors about a lost Nickelodeon movie branded too disturbing for children’s television began popping up around the internet. They all referenced the same plot: A father of conjoined twins was so ashamed of his sons that he hid them away throughout their childhood. (This being a made-for-TV horror movie, naturally one of the twins was evil.)

After one twin got sick the other soon followed, with both boys eventually succumbing to the illness. To keep the town from discovering his secret, the father separated their bodies with a rusty saw and buried the good one at the local cemetery and the evil one at the end of a desolate dirt road called Cry Baby Lane, which also happened to be the title of the rumored film. According to the local undertaker, anyone who ventured down Cry Baby Lane after dark could hear the evil brother crying from beyond the grave.

Cry Baby Lane then jumps to present day (well, present day in 2000), where a group of teens sneaks into the local graveyard in an effort to contact the spirit of the good twin. After holding a seance, they learn that the boys' father had made a mistake and mixed up the bodies of his children—burying the good son at the end of Cry Baby Lane and the evil one in the cemetery. Meaning those ghostly wails were actually the good twin crying out for help. But the teens realized the error too late: The evil twin had already been summoned and quickly began possessing the local townspeople.

MOVIE OR MYTH?

Parents were appalled that such dark content ever made it onto the family-friendly network, or so the story goes, and after airing the film once the Saturday before Halloween in 2000, Nickelodeon promptly scrubbed it from existence. But with no video evidence of it online for years, some people questioned whether Cry Baby Lane had ever really existed in the first place.

“Okay, so this story sounds completely fake, Nick would NEVER air this on TV,” one Kongregate forum poster said in September 2011. “And why would this be made knowing it’s for kids? This story just sounds too fake …”

While the folklore surrounding the film may not be 100 percent factual, Nickelodeon quickly confirmed that the “lost” Halloween movie was very real, and that it did indeed contained all the rumored twisted elements that have made it into a legend.

Before Cry Baby Lane was a blip in Nick’s primetime schedule, it was nearly a $100 million theatrical release. Peter Lauer, who had previously directed episodes of the Nick shows The Secret World of Alex Mack and The Adventures of Pete & Pete, co-wrote the screenplay with KaBlam! co-creator Robert Mittenthal. Cry Baby Lane, which would eventually spawn urban legends of its own, was inspired by a local ghost story Lauer heard growing up in Ohio. “There was a haunted farmhouse, and if you went up there at midnight, you could hear a baby crying and it’d make your high school girlfriend scared,” he told The Daily.

BIG SCARES ON A SMALL BUDGET

Despite Nickelodeon’s well-meaning intentions, parent company Paramount wasn’t keen on the idea of turning the screenplay into a feature film. The script was forgotten for about a year, until Nick got in touch with Lauer about producing Cry Baby Lane—only this time as a $800,000 made-for-TV movie. The director gladly signed on.

Even with the now-meager budget, Cry Baby Lane maintained many of the same elements of a much larger picture. In a bid to generate more publicity around the project, Nickelodeon cast Oscar nominee Frank Langella as the local undertaker (a role Lauer had originally wanted Tom Waits to play). All the biggest set pieces from the screenplay were kept intact, and as a result, the crew had no money left to do any extra filming.

Only two scenes from the movie ended up getting cut—one that alluded to skinny dipping and another that depicted an old man’s head fused onto the body of a baby in a cemetery. The story of a father performing amateur surgery on the corpses of his sons, however, made it into the final film.

The truth of what happened after Cry Baby Lane premiered on October 28, 2000 has been muddied over the years. In most retellings, Nickelodeon received an "unprecedented number" of complaints about the film and responded by sealing it away in its vault and acting like the whole thing never happened. But if that version of events is true, Nick has never acknowledged it.

Even Lauer wasn’t aware of any backlash from parents concerned about the potentially scarring effects of the film until The Daily made him aware of the rumors years later. “All I know is that they aired it once,” he told the paper. “I just assumed they didn’t show it again because they didn’t like it! I did it, I thought it failed, and I moved on.”

But the idea that the movie was pulled from airwaves for being too scary for kids isn’t so far-fetched. Though Cry Baby Lane never shows the conjoined twins being sawed apart on screen, it does pair the already-unsettling story with creepy images of writhing worms, broken glass, and animal skulls. This opening sequence, combined with the spooky, empty-eyed victims of possession that appear later, and multiple scenes where a child gets swallowed by a grave, may have made the film slightly more intense than the average episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

IMPERFECT TIMING

Cry Baby Lane premiered at a strange time in internet history: Too early for pirated copies to immediately spring up online yet late enough for it to grow into a web-fueled folktale. The fervor surrounding the film peaked in 2011, when a viral Reddit thread about Cry Baby Lane caught the attention of one user claiming to have the so-called “lost” film recorded on VHS. He later uploaded the tape for the world to view and suddenly the lost movie was lost no longer.

News of the unearthed movie made waves across the web, and instead of staying quiet and waiting for the story to die down, Nickelodeon decided to get in on the hype. That Halloween, Nick aired Cry Baby Lane for the first time in over a decade. Regardless of whether the movie had previously been banned or merely forgotten, the network used the mystery surrounding its origins to their PR advantage.

“We tried to freak people out with it,” a Nick employee who worked at The 90s Are All That (now The Splat), the programming block that resurrected Cry Baby Lane (and who wished to remain anonymous) said of the promotional campaign for the event. “They were creepy and a little glitchy. We were like, ‘This never aired because it was too scary and we’re going to air it now.’”

Cry Baby Lane now makes regular appearances on Nickelodeon’s '90s block around Halloween, which likely means Nick hasn’t received enough complaints to warrant locking it back in the vault. And during less spooky times of the year, nostalgic horror fans can find the full movie on YouTube.

The mystery surrounding Cry Baby Lane’s existence may have been solved, but the urban legend of the movie that was “too scary for kids’ TV” persists—even at the network that produced it.

“People who were definitely working at Nickelodeon in 2000, but didn’t necessarily work on [Cry Baby Lane] were like, ‘Yeah I heard about it, I remember it being a thing,'" the Nick employee says. “It’s sort of like its own legend within the company.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER