By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Once Brazil had bought dreadnought battleships
and Argentina followed suit, it seemed inevitable
that Chile would have to “answer”
the Argentine purchase. In July 1910 the Chilean
parliament authorized a large spending program
for a “first class warship” and
supporting vessels; when it became clear that
Argentina would buy two battleships, the program
was expanded to add a second big ship of at
least 28,000 tons.
Like their Argentine rivals, the Chileans
shopped around for price and capability. Armstrong’s,
the British conglomerate that had built Brazil’s
dreadnoughts, dispatched its “Special
Envoy for South America,” the naval
engineer Eustace Tennyson d’Eyncourt,
to Valparaiso to make sure the Chileans kept
their long relationship with the British yard.
D’Eyncourt had convinced the Brazilians
to follow through on their order for a third
dreadnought, a nearly impossible task,
and his employers now asked him to bring this
big contract home despite the price advantages
of American yards.
The Americans put together a united front behind
a Navy officer assigned to make sure the work
went to yards in the United States, Lt. Commander
R.W. McNeely. Argentina’s 27,940-ton American-built
battleships carried a dozen 12-inch guns; the
Chileans wanted a more powerful ship —
at least 28,000 tons and carrying 14-inch guns.
McNeely apparently showed plans of the New York
class that had been approved in March and would
be laid down in 1911. The United States had
much lower labor costs than European yards,
and offered much lower prices than Armstrong’s
could match. D’Eyncourt would have to
apply some special tactics to win this contract.
Almirante Latorre in the Panama Canal,
The Englishman was a superb naval architect
in his own right — he would later go
on to design the R-class battleships and Hood-class
battle cruisers for the Royal Navy, among
many other famous warships. But this time
he apparently used much less elegant tactics.
Overnight detailed critiques of American shipbuilding
techniques appeared in the Chilean press;
and while Chile had just welcomed a British
naval mission that might have been responsible
for planting the stories, they carry such
detail that D’Eyncourt had to have at
least supplied technical advice.
“There was being carried out in Chilean
newspapers,” McNeely reported to the
State Department, “systematic propaganda
against American naval materials while the
battleship proposals were under consideration.
In frequent editions of these newspapers,
an attack on our powder, guns or other material
was given prominent place.”
Thanks largely to the propaganda campaign,
D’Eyncourt was able to convince the
Chileans to go with his own design for a 28,000-ton
battleship bearing ten 14-inch guns. She was
an enlarged version of the new Iron Duke-class
dreadnoughts of the 1911 program, about 40
feet longer but with substantially less armor
protection. Where Iron Duke had a 12-inch
armored belt, the maximum thickness of the
Chilean ships’ belt would be 9 inches,
but varying quite a lot and leaving large
segments at either end of the ship totally
unprotected. But the Chilean ship would be
a full knot faster than her English near-sisters.
Capt. Tomlin poses with his ship’s new
owners; 1 August 1920.
The Chileans named the first ship Libertad,
but when the second was authorized the pair
became Valparaiso and Santiago. They received
new names again in July 1912: Almirante
Latorre and Almirante Cochrane.
Almirante Latorre was laid down in
December 1911 in Armstrong’s Newcastle
yard on the slip vacated by the Royal Navy’s
dreadnought Monarch. Her sister could
not begin construction while the Brazilians
fretted about the final characteristics of
de Janeiro. When the Brazilian battleship,
since purchased by Turkey, slid into the water
in January 1913, Almirante Cochrane was
laid down on her slip a week later. Within
a few months the Imperial Russian Navy made
an offer to buy the pair of battleships, but
the Chileans declined despite the substantial
When the First World War broke out, Almirante
Latorre was well advanced. The Royal Navy
formally purchased her in September 1914 —
while she was not seized like the Turkish
battleships just completing at Armstrong’s,
there was little doubt that she would not
have been allowed to leave British waters.
The British commissioned her in October 1915
as HMS Canada, and she fought at the
Battle of Jutland in the Fourth Battle Squadron.
Almirante Cochrane had not been launched
when the war began. Construction stopped as
shipyard personnel shifted to more vital tasks,
and finally in February 1918 the Royal Navy
bought her as well. She had been slated for
purchase and completion as the battleship
HMS India, but work had never resumed
and now she would become the aircraft carrier
Eagle in answer to Admiral John Jellicoe’s
demands for a “battle worthy”
D’Eyncourt, appointed Director of Naval
Construction in 1912, drafted the plans himself
during the second half of 1917. Armstrong’s
claimed it could deliver the carrier by March,
1919, but work went slowly and strike plagued
the shipyard in the immediate aftermath of
the November 1918 Armistice that ended the
war. She would be turned over for trials in
April 1920 and finally competed in August
With the war over, the Chileans wanted their
battleships back. Both of them. Almirante
Latorre finally raised the Chilean ensign
in August 1920 and entered Chilean waters in
November. The Chileans paid 1 million sterling,
less than half her original purchase price.
Her commander in Royal Navy service, Capt. George
N. Tomlin, came to Chile as well to take the
post of commandant of the naval war college.
Almirante Latorre joins the Chilean
fleet, November 1920.
Eager to economize, the Royal Navy was perfectly
willing to sell her sister back to the original
owners as well. A number of Chilean naval
leaders wanted the aircraft carrier: It would
give Chile the most advanced warship in the
world in their eyes. Other eyes saw her as
an oddity, one totally unsuited to Chilean
needs. The battleship advocates won out and
the Chilean Navy agreed to take Almirante
Cochrane back — if she were converted
to battleship form.
The Royal Navy balked, citing the futility
of rebuilding a battleship when so many other
warships had been declared surplus. Instead,
they offered the two surviving I-class battlecruisers,
Indomitable and Inflexible.
While the Chilean officers pondered the offer
— two battlecruisers would give them
three capital ships to Argentina’s two,
even if each was really no more than an over-armed
cruiser — the Chilean economy made the
decision for them. The post-war economic crash
caught up with Chile’s export economy
and the government could fund neither the
aircraft carrier nor the pair of battlecruisers.
Chile kept her lone battleship but added no
other big ships to the fleet.
She went to Panama in 1922 for minor repairs,
and spent most of the 1920s making goodwill
cruises up and down the lengthy Chilean coast.
In 1929 she went to Britain for a three-year
refit, where she received a new suite of anti-aircraft
weapons and was rebuilt with oil-fired boilers
in place of her coal-burning power plant.
She returned to Chile in March 1931 and was
initially assigned to the Training Squadron.
In September she hosted a fleet-wide boxing
tournament, and during the matches word spread
that sailors’ pay was to receive a drastic
Latorre’s sailors rose in mutiny,
which quickly spread to other ships when their
boxers returned. In addition to a restoration
of full pay and a larger sugar ration, the
mutineers demanded that Chile’s unemployed
receive jobs and land at government expense.
After loyalist air force squadrons bombed
the fleet, the ships surrendered to government
control and seven ringleaders were sentenced
to death (these fates being commuted later).
The navy never regained its prestige after
the mutiny, and would not be given funding
again to purchase first-class warships. Ever
since, the Chilean navy has relied on warships
handed down from their previous owners: the
United States, Britain and Sweden.
Almirante Latorre did receive constant
maintenance, and in late December 1941 the
United States Navy offered to purchase her
in the post-Pearl Harbor panic. The Chileans
declined to part with her, and she served
under Chilean colors for another decade and
a half. In 1958 she was finally decommissioned
and sold for scrap to Mitsubishi Heavy. Towed
to Japan, a number of her fittings were removed
for use in restoring the old pre-dreadnought
Mikasa as a museum ship. Part of Almirante
Latorre therefore still lives on in the
Both Almirante Cochrane and Almirante
Latorre appear in Cone
of Fire. They appear as India and
Canada in Great
War at Sea: Jutland, and were also
included in Russian colors in Dreadnoughts.
here to order Cone of Fire!