The War Begins 20/08/1939

 

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The Battle of the Straits of Magellan 20th August 1939

 

Chile (Coquimbo) -v- Argentina (Belgrano)

 

The morning mist was lifting as the Captain banged his hands together to get the feeling back into them.

"Any sign of her yet?" he asks his Commander.

"Not yet sir" comes the reply.

Just then the starboard lookout shouts "Unknown vessel 8,000 meters, 1 o’clock, just rounding the island sir."

A stir runs through the bridge personnel as all the officers raise there glasses and peer ahead through the mist trying to identify the ship.

"Is it her?" asks the Captain. No positive response is received and everyone continues to stare.

The mist lifts a bit more and the visibility improves to a bevy of reports chorusing that it is indeed the ship they were seeking.

"Excellent" the captain responds, "Ring down for 15 knots."

"15 knots, Aye Aye sir" comes the response, and the ship seems to bound closer to the oncoming merchantman.

Captain Delgado reflects on the orders that brought him and his ship, the cruiser Belgrano, to this point in the Magellan Straits. The Argentinian Admiralty again wanted to play hardball on their side of the Straits and push the boundaries against the Chilean merchantmen using the Straits. By his charted position, Captain Delgado knew he was just inside Chilean waters, he was about to intercept the Chilean freighter ahead, and board her, to make life difficuilt for the Chilean crew under the pretext of searching for contraband that Argentinian propaganda was saying that Chilean ships were dropping off to rebel forces.

"Is the boarding party ready Commander?" queries Captain Delgado.

"Yes sir" comes the reply, "I selected them myself. Good volunteers all." The Commander smiles.

According to their spies there were no Chilean warships within 50 kilometers of their position. But it never hurt to be ready.

"Sound Action Stations Commander and ready the boat to launch. The sooner we get this done the sooner we can return to home waters."

The cruiser Belgrano continued to run down on the freighter, a light flicked on and off from the bridge ordering the freighter to heave-to, standby for boarding and not to transmit any messages, one of the ships boats is launched and powers over the swells to haul alongside the freighter the men throwing up grappling lines and swarming up to take control of the ship, a task they had carried out many times before.

Today unfortunately was not their lucky day, the Chileans had set a trap which the Argentinians had fallen into. With concentration held by the events on the freighter nobody noticed the darkening in the mist behind the freighter as the Chilean battlecruiser Coquimbo started to appear as if by magic. First her bow followed by the forward guns and bridge from where the ships Captain ordered the Argentinian cruiser to heave-to and surrender as she was in Chilean waters illegally commiting an act of piracy.

Captain Delgado was well and truly caught. Knowing he could not fight the Coquimbo his only choice was flight. His order to recall the boarding crew and close the merchantmen rang out and his officers started running to follow his bidding. Unfortunately for Captain Delgado the Coquimbo launched a ships boat of her own to intercept the Belgrano's boat and Captain Delgado could see that the Coquimbo's boat was faster and would get there first. Having any of his men caught in the act of boarding a Chilean ship in their own waters would be disastrous for Argentina. Captain Delgado's misfortune continued as he ordered a warning shot to be placed alongside Coquimbos boat. Whatever happened it was a shot to be heard round the world, for the shot hit the Coquimbo's boat and blew it to bits killing and wounding all aboard.

Captain Delgado’s shocked mind barely registered the orange light in the corner of his eye as the Coquimbo's main battery of 12" guns fired, his head had barely started to turn when the results arrived aboard his ship. Seven out of the eight semi-armour piercing shells hit his ship and turned it into a wreck. A wreck that few survivors were recovered from as the freezing waters killed them.

The only Argentinian officer to survive was the boarding officer, his boat and crew being taken prisoner by the Coquimbo. His interrogation and subsequent trial for piracy further incensed the Argentinian people.

The outcome of the trial had no other verdict but guilty as the Coquimbo had had a film crew on board recording all the events as they happened (Pathe News). Tensions from the world newspapers calling the Argentinians a nation of pirates that had deserved what they got when their cruiser was sunk just made things worse.

With the guilty verdict came the sentence, ‘Death by firing squad’, the Argentinian populace went mad and the Argentinian Government found itself at war.

A war they had spent the previous 14 days hurriedly preparing for with the reserves being called up to man the passes in the mountains between Argentina and Chile. The Navy had sent its Marine brigade to Puerto Santa Cruz (the nearest decent port to Las Malvinas). Once at Puerto Santa Cruz the brigade was loaded on to ships with an engineer regiment. For Argentina new that as soon as shots were fired, Treaty obligations would draw various countries into the conflict. Brazil would join Chile while Uruguay would ally itself with Argentina. The Germanic States would also join Argentina, which would also bring in France and the Commonwealth onto the Chile – Brazil Alliance. In one stroke half the world would be at war.

In an attempt to grab what it could as a distraction to the Commonwealth forces, the Argentine Navy and its Marine and engineer detachment were to land and hold the Falklands (Las Malvinas) Islands. The Germanic States Battleraiders Kaiserin and Kaiser were both in the South Atlantic on ‘show the flag’ duties and both were sent to join the main Argentinian naval force at Puerto Belgrano. The Argentinian forces with the Germanic States ships were to interdict the Allied ships trying to get to the Falklands / Las Malvinas, to aid this they would have aerial reconnaissance as the engineer unit improved the landing strip to better handle the bombers and fighters to be based there. The ships were also to escort replenishment ships to Las Malvinas and stop them being intercepted.

 

 

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