Stoker 1st Class Herbert Allcorn had already served five years in the Royal Navy and was on Reserve when he was called back to duty in 13 July 1914 as there was a possibility of England going to war and drafted to the armoured cruiser HMS Good Hope. His ship carried a complement of 900 crew and was powered by 43 coal fired Belleville boilers capable of producing a maximum of 23 knots. Her armament of two 9.2 inch guns in single turrets, sixteen 6inch guns in casements along the hull, twelve 12 pounder guns, three 3 pounder guns and two 18 inch submerged torpedo tubes. HMS Good Hope was a formidable old fighting machine and had only recently been taken out of retirement. The crew at the time were mostly reservists like Stoker Allcorn. When war was declared on 4 August, Good Hope left Plymouth on the 6th to do battle with Admiral Graf von Spee‘s German East Asia Squadron which was successfully disrupting trade with Australia, New Zealand and India. This was causing great problems for the British Admiralty. The British force sent to engage the enemy fleet consisted of the armoured cruisers, Good Hope and Monmouth, the light cruiser, Glasgow and the armed merchant cruiser Otranto and the worn out old pre dreadnought Canopus .The fleet was under the command of Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock whose flag was aboard Good Hope.
Graf Maximilian von Spee’s squadron consisted of two light cruisers, Leipzig and Dresden and two modern armoured cruisers, the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau which were better armed, better armoured and better equipped than anything the British fleet had. The German crews already had an advantage over the opposing force looking for them. They were expert in naval gunnery and trained regularly whereas the British were predominantly reservist crews who hadn’t had much time to practice or even get to know their ship.
At 1620 on 1 November, the two fleets caught their first glimpses of each other off the coast of central Chile near the city of Coronel. Rear Admiral Cradock frantically radioed Canopus to catch up but it was a hopeless task as she was approximately 250 miles behind and was to take no part in the looming battle. Each squadron commander attempted to size up the situation and manoeuvre for the best position to engage the enemy. The British tried to open the engagement early with the sun behind them in the hope of a swift victory. The Germans would have had to look into the sun so Spee avoided battle by manoeuvring his faster vessels out of Cradock’s range. However, as the day wore on; the sun began to set and presented the British fleet in sharp silhouette against the horizon. The German ships were by now, almost invisible in the gathering gloom and finally from a tactical advantage, commenced firing at about 1900.
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