In the run up to World War 1, the major powers of Europe were locked in a seemingly endless naval arms race. In 1904, work began on a new German cruiser at the AG Weser shipyard of Bremen - SMS Leipzig - which was launched on March 21st, 1905 and commissioned on April 20th, 1906. The vessel became the sixth ship of the seven-strong Bremen-class of light cruisers for the Imperial German Navy. SMS Leipzig carried the namesake of the German city of Leipzig - following the naming convention of the whole Bremen-class.
SMS Leipzig was given a conventional hull shape with pointed, raised bow and rounded, lower stern. Its superstructure was massed ahead of midships and trailed by three smoke funnels. Bookending this arrangement were a fore and aft mast. As a cruiser, Leipzig was a "multi-mission" warship outfitted with offensive measures meant to support larger fleet actions. She displaced at 3,815 metric tons and featured an overall length of 365 feet, a beam of 43.5 feet, and a draught of 18.3 feet. Her propulsion power came from a pair of triple-expansion steam engines which drove 2 x shafts. Maximum speed, under ideal conditions, could reach 22 knots with a voyage range of 4,700 nautical miles. Her full complement numbered 288 including 14 officers. Primary armament were 10 x 105mm SK L/40 deck guns. As was the practice with surface warships of the time, 2 x 450mm (18") torpedo tubes were also carried. Armor protection measured up to 80mm at its thickest.
With World War 1 officially beginning in late July of 1914, Leipzig found herself off of the western coast of Mexico the following month when the Call to Arms was heard across the German Empire. She joined up with the East Asia Squadron whose primary domain had been the Pacific Ocean due to German colonial interests. The squadron then patrolled off of the American west coast on the lookout for British merchant shipping. Near Peru, Leipzig managed her first sinking of the war when she successfully engaged a British merchant ship. She then restocked at a Mexican port in early September. The squadron then sailed from Easter Island to Valparaiso, Chile. Once there, the group was informed of HMS Glasgow's berthing at Coronel, Chile further south along the coast. The group then sailed hoping to catch the British warship in a vulnerable state.
On November 1st, 1914, the detachment of German warships found the British vessel though it was also joined by HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth, a pair of armored cruisers. The two groups met in a clash of steel and gunfire to mark the Battle of Coronel - Sir Christopher Cradock overseeing developments on the British Navy side and Graf Maximilian von Spee over the German Navy. Two British armored cruisers were joined by a single light cruiser and a single auxiliary cruiser against Two German armored cruisers and three light cruisers. The German shells disabled both of the armored cruisers in short order with Leipzig concentrating her fire on Glasgow but to no avail. As Leipzig then moved in to sink Good Hope, the enemy vessel disappeared under the waves on its own. HMS Glasgow recorded five direct hits on her various sections. In all, 1,570 Royal Navy personnel perished in the battle with two armored cruisers lost - this against just three German personnel wounded making for a decisive German victory at sea.
The loss stung the British Royal Navy to the point that a special detachment was arranged to hunt down and end von Spee's advantage in the region. The battlecruiser's HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible were both called for the action and this would begat the Battle of the Falklands Islands where the British fleet, under Doveton Sturdee, would meet von Spee. The forces included two British battlecruisers, three armored cruisers, and two light cruisers. This was against two German armored cruisers and three light cruisers. The battle took place on December 8th, 1914.
Spee had planned to assail the Falklands under an operation aimed at the coaling station of Port Stanley. The German ships were met by an alerted British contingency and the quick-reacting, inbound British naval force proved too hardy for Spee's tastes, forcing an order of withdrawal to be given. Unable to flee the advancing British ships under speed alone, the battle commenced. The Germans split their force and turned SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau against the attackers while the other vessels continued in their retreat action. British cruisers continued on the tail of the other vessels which included Leipzig.
HMS Glasgow then met with SMS Leipzig and the two warships exchanged fire while desperately maneuvering in the chaos. Joined by HMS Cornwall and HMS Kent, Leipzig took on considerable battle damage in the fighting though she forced Glasgow to pull away. Cornwall then took the brunt of Leipzig's guns and was severely damaged. However, SMS Leipzig herself was evolving into a total loss which forced a scuttle order. While in a state of evacuation, the vessel came under heavy fire from British guns which hastened her sinking - even her rescue boats were not immune as just eighteen Germans were rescued. The Leipzig expectedly sank.
The Battle of the Falkland Islands proved a decisive British victory that certainly avenged the previous loss at Coronel. 1,871 Germans were killed with some 215 taken prisoner in all. Two of the German armored cruisers were sunk, joining a pair of light cruisers. Comparatively the British lost none of her own ships and casualties totaled ten with a further nineteen wounded. Of particular note was the von Spee himself was killed in the battle as were two of his sons - SMS Scharnhorst serving as flagship of the German fleet.