Spee entered the navy in 1878 and served in a variety of roles and locations, including on a colonial gunboat in German West Africa in the 1880s, the East Africa Squadron in the late 1890s, and as commander of several warships in the main German fleet in the early 1900s. During his time in Germany in the late 1880s and early 1890s, he married his wife, Margareta, and had three children, his sons Heinrich and Otto and his daughter Huberta. By 1912, he had returned to the East Asia Squadron as its commander, and was promoted to the rank of Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) the following year.
After the outbreak of World War I in July 1914, Spee led his squadron across the Pacific Ocean to the coast of South America. Here on 1 November, he defeated the British 4th Cruiser Squadron at the Battle of Coronel, sinking two cruisers and forcing his other two ships to retreat. A month later, Spee decided to attack the British naval base in the Falkland Islands, but a superior British force surprised him. In the ensuing Battle of the Falkland Islands, Vice Admiral Doveton Sturdee's squadron, which included two powerful battlecruisers, destroyed the East Asia Squadron. Spee and his two sons, who happened to be serving on two of his ships, were killed, along with about 2,200 other men.
Maximilian von Spee in "Last Flight of the Swan of the East"
Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee commanded the Far East Squadron of the German Kaiserliche Luftmarine. Upon the outbreak of the Great War, Spee ordered Karl von Müller, skipper of the SMS Emden, to proceed to Pagan and begin raiding enemy commerce in the Pacific. Spee was careful to warn Müller not to violate the neutrality of the United Kingdom; French, Russian and American commerce were fair game, as they'd already declared war on Germany.
The various commanders of the Far East Squadron met with Spee aboard the Gneisenau . Spee informed the captains that he'd initially thought about ordering the Far East Squadron to patrol the Indian Ocean, but discarded the idea for fear of antagonizing neutral Britain. Instead, he decided the bulk of the Squadron would head towards the Western Hemisphere, using neutral Chile as a coaling station. Spee ordered Karl von Müller to take Emden to raid commerce in the Indian Ocean, reasoning that lone leviathan could make a nuisance of itself and evade capture for a long time. Privately, Müller realized that the Emden was comparatively expendable, and even Spee admitted he didn't expect the Emden to last long 
In September, Spee's fleet shelled French positions in Tahiti.
- Leviathans: Armored Skies, pg. 300-301, loc. 4290-4309, ebook.
- Ibid, pgs. 308-310, loc. 4427-4448.
- Ibid., pg. 328, loc. 4727.