Many of us, when teaching our students about the Coriolis effect, will relay the story of the 1914 British–German naval battle in the south Atlantic at the Falkland Islands. The British were surprised and hindered (so the story goes) by the inaccuracy of their guns, having neglected to account for the Coriolis effect’s reversal in the Southern Hemisphere. This story, long repeated by many physics sources,1–5 and even by the broader media,6,7 is false—a myth.

I have investigated discussions of the battle from its time, especially the detailed discussion by Commander Henry Spencer-Cooper in his 1919 book The Battle of the Falkland Islands: Before and After. These mention no Coriolis-induced surprises. Meanwhile, they show the inherent inaccuracy of the guns to have significantly exceeded the magnitude of any Coriolis deflection. Finally, they tell us that, even had that deflection been a consideration in the battle, the British would...

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