This film is held by the BFI (ID: 124586).


DRAMA. Historical/Documentary. The reconstruction of two sea engagements of the First World War - the Battles of the Coronel of 1st November 1914 and the Battles of the Falkland Islands of 8th December 1914.

RL.1 The British Navy is shown mounting guard over the outposts of the Empire. In the South Pacific, Admiral Sir Charles Cradock is in command of the 5th Light Cruiser Squadron consisting of HMS `Good Hope', `Monmouth' and `Glasgow' (206-211; 217-223). The German Fleet is sighted under the command of Admiral Graf von Spee with the vessels SMS `Leipzig', `Nurnberg', `Dresden', `Gneisnau' and the Flagship `Scharnhorst' (558-562; 559-576). Cradock decides to attack the vastly superior force. Preparations are made for action on board the `Good Hope' and `Monmouth' (664-674) (674).

RL.2 The third ship `Glasgow', a few miles away conveys by morse communication to `Good Hope', the position of the enemy (792-804). Final preparations are made on both sides (1058-1134); the battles (1143-1350; 1352-1377). During fighting, signals are relayed from ship to ship (1317-1329), `Monmouth' is destroyed and eventually sinks (1459-1568) (1568).

RL.3 `Good Hope' is also shattered by the enemy force and slowly sinks (1609-1718). In London, Lord Fisher, the 1st Sea Lord, hearing of the defeat orders a counter-attack to be carried out by the battles cruisers `Inflexible' and `Invincible' under the command of Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee. The ships are made seaworthy at Plymouth (2114-2448); and proceed to sea (2489-2577) (2577).

RL.4 Meanwhile, Admiral von Spee is feted by the German colony at Valparaiso. He afterwards decides to proceed to the Falkland Islands in order to seize coal supplies and destroy the wireless station (Falkland Islands and Port Stanley) (2934-2950; 3421-3435; 3747-3752; 2670-2977). The Island army volunteers are inspected by their governor, Sir William Allardyce (2123-3059). von Spee orders two of his ships, the `Gneisnau' and `Leipzig' to approach the Islands to make a landing party (3610).

RL.5 From the Islands, the enemy ships are sighted on the horizon and feverish prearations ensue. Sturdee's vessels joined by five light cruisers are anchored in the harbour of Port Stanley unknown to the enemy. They weigh anchor and prepare to do battle with the enemy ships (3931-4623). The vessels `Invincible' and `Inflexible' together with HMS `Kent', `Cornwall', `Glasgow' and `Carnarvon' set out in pursuit of the enemy. `Dresden', `Nurnberg' and `Leipzig' are ordered to retire (5191-5216). Before gaining neutral ports, they are attacked by Sturdee's fleet, resulting in the sinking of `Leipzig' and `Nurnberg' (5615 ft).

RL.6 The remaining German vessels, `Scharnhorst' and `Gneisnau' fight desperately but are slowly overpowered. `Scharnhorst' catches fire and prior to sinking her crew abandon ship (6176-6236 ft).

RL.7 The `Gneisnau' is scuttled; her survivors with those of the `Scharnhorst' are saved by the men of Sturdee's flagship. (Sea Rescue- 6490-6652). The film ends with a shot of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (6986-6999). The End (6999ft).

Note: The ships which took part in the two actions are represented as:- HMS Invincible....HMS Barham HMS Inflexible....HMS Malaya HMS Good Hope.....HMS Cardiff HMS Monmouth......HMS Concord HMS Glasgow.......HMS Conquest SMS Scharnhorst...HMS Coventry SMS Gneisnau......HMS Ceres

Note: Made "with the co-operation of the British Admiralty, The Navy League and an Advisory Committee".



The Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands was part of a series of World War One reconstructions made by Walter Summers for Bruce Woolfe at British Instructional. Whilst these were not direct government propaganda they were certainly patriotic and this film in particular was made "with the co-operation of the British Admiralty, The Navy League and an Advisory Committee". British Instructional Films had filmed the Navy’s 10-month Empire tour of 1923-24 after a last minute appeal from the Admiralty and had then been awarded the rights to film the Prince of Wales’ 1925 tour of Africa. BIF’s close links with the Admiralty ensured that it benefited from naval cooperation on a number of its historical films, including Zeebrugge (1924), Nelson (1925) and finally, The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927).

The film had mass appeal to the navy and armed forces and their friends and families as well as to the general population who would have been familiar with the events of the major sea battles of the war.  Thirteen years was a respectable period to wait before the telling of the tale, allowing families of the dead to grieve and safeguarding strategic secrets during the actual conflict. The films were made moreover with an attention to detail that was in the spirit of other memorials – the fact that the ships are named in the credits but the actors in the drama are not, shows the proper respect for the real-life participants.

There was a wider context however, in the world of film. The Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands was partly made in response to a German production of the previous year, Unsere Emden (1926) which portrayed another famous naval engagement  of World War One with a similar treatment – made with the support of the German navy, a detached, detailed relating of the events with no complicating dramatic sub-plots and scrupulous fairness in dealing with the British enemy. Walter Summers was as fair in his depiction of the Germans and their actions during the two engagements. After the Second World War, Powell and Pressburger followed in this tradition of extreme fairness and detachment with their Battle of the River Plate (1956) which describes an almost identical sequence of naval conflicts in the South Atlantic and features appropriately the German battleship, the ‘Graf von Spee’



The Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands doesn’t fit the usual genres. It is a painstaking reconstruction with necessarily dramatised sections, in particular the sections in which the First Sea Lord Admiral Fisher makes the strategic response to the German action at Coronel and the scenes featuring Admiral Sturdee’s tactical decisions. It was a monumental production nearly all shot on location on the battleships supplied by the Admiralty. Even the few scenes filmed in the studio have been carefully done, even to the point in one instance, of creating the effect of light reflected off  water coming through a porthole and playing on the opposite wall.  St Mary’s in the Scilly Isles convincingly stood in for the Falklands. Naval and military detail was meticulous, supplied by a bevy of expert advisors and the scripting by a small group headed by the celebrated writer John Buchan is pared down and well structured to build dramatic tension in what is essentially a documentary. Summers was an enthusiast for all the latest cinematic techniques and some of the film’s most striking moments are the montage sequences of the mechanical workings of the ships and shipyards - the inferno of the engine rooms, pumping pistons and dramatically mounting pressure gauges. The sequences may have been influenced by Abel Gance’s La Roue, but Summers probably hadn’t yet seen Battleship Potemkin or Metropolis – either way he clearly revelled in the beauty of the shapes, the scale and movement of the machines and they are as good as anything in any of these better known films.

In general the film expressed a confidence in both the Navy, its leadership and well trained crews. The new and hugely expensive battleships were fully justified and the fitting of the ships in the Portsmouth dockyards is told as a superhuman effort on the part of the British worker in response to the orders of their much loved leader Admiral Fisher. The Falkland Islands are presented as an important strategic territory, and the Islanders are seen as independent but loyal subjects of the Empire.

The ships are credited as:

HMS Invincible played by HMS Barham

HMS Inflexible....HMS Malaya

HMS Good Hope.....HMS Cardiff

HMS Monmouth......HMS Concord

HMS Glasgow.......HMS Conquest

SMS Scharnhorst...HMS Coventry

SMS Gneisnau......HMS Ceres

Bryony Dixon 




Technical Data

Running Time:
117 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
8300 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
WOOLFE, H. Bruce
BOWEN, Frank C.
A.E. Bundy
British Projects
Assistant Director
Assistant Producer
COCHRAN, Charles B.
Assistant Producer
Assistant Producer
NASH, Percy
RODWELL, Stanley
Production Company
Production Company
British Instructional Films







Production Organisations