Graf Spee Scuttled

German Pocket Battleship <em>Admiral Graf Spee</em>

This is a modern postcard published by WW2cards.com, which seems to be defunct. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Graf Spee and her final battle:

From September through December 1939 Admiral Graf Spee, under the command of Hans Langsdorff, sank nine British merchant ships in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Britain formed eight hunting groups in the Atlantic and one in the Indian Ocean to look for her, totalling three battleships, two battlecruisers, four aircraft carriers, and 16 cruisers (including several French ships).

On 13 December 1939, she was located by the British Hunting Group G, consisting of the 8-inch gunned cruiser HMS Exeter and the 6-inch gunned light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles, and the Battle of the River Plate ensued. During the battle, the Graf Spee inflicted heavy damage upon the Exeter, forcing the latter to break off the engagement. Later in the exchange, one of Graf Spee‘s shells caused some casualties on the Achilles. In return, the Graf Spee was hit repeatedly by the 6-inch shells of the light cruisers, which could not penetrate her armour but nonetheless inflicted significant topside damage.

On the other hand, Exeter’s 8-inch hits ran through the armour easily. About 06:38 an 8-inch shell penetrated two decks and exploded in Graf Spee’s funnel area, causing crippling internal damage.

Exeter’s early 8-inch hit wrecked the boiler room, shutting down the fuel-separating system. Chief Engineer Commander Klepp advised the captain they could not repair the damage at sea. Klepp estimated the ship had about sixteen hours of running time, using pre-cleaned fuel from the day tanks. They could not replace the rapidly depleting fuel, so the ship was denied the possibility of outrunning her pursuers on the open sea.

US Naval Intelligence Photo of <em>Graf Spee</em>

Admiral Graf Spee entered the neutral port of Montevideo, Uruguay for repairs. The damage was surveyed by a British observer on 14 December 1939, who reported that the port midship 6-inch gun was unserviceable, the starboard anti-aircraft guns appeared out of action, rangefinders were out of action, the aircraft was wrecked, there were shell holes in the control tower and two holes below the waterline.

Under the Hague Convention of 1907, the Graf Spee was not entitled to remain in the port for more than 24 hours without risking internment. In addition, under the same convention, the Graf Spee had to give British merchant ships 24 hours start if they left port, and the British Consul organised for the merchant ships in port to sail at 24 hour intervals, effectively locking the Spee in the port while, at the same time, spreading propaganda about the vast fleet of British warships converging on the area. On 14 December, British Minister Millington-Drake officially requested that the Uruguayan government intern the ship if she stayed in port longer than 24 hours, on grounds that she was still seaworthy. The Uruguayan government obliged, announcing that if the Graf Spee did not sail within 72 hours of its arrival, it would be interned.

Captain Langsdorff had been in discussion with the Kriegsmarine over the various options available to him, which included fighting on, internment at Montevideo or scuttling the ship. Adolf Hitler responded personally, writing: “Attempt by all means to extend time in neutral waters in order to guarantee freedom of action as long as possible. Fight your way through to Buenos Aires, using remaining ammunition. No internment at Uruguay. Attempt effective destruction of ship if scuttled.”

On 17 December 1939, the German warship left Montevideo harbor, with Ajax, Achilles, and the 8-inch gunned Cumberland waiting nearby in international waters. However, instead of trying to fight through the blockade, she sailed just outside the harbor and was scuttled in the estuary by her crew. Captain Langsdorff committed suicide three days later by shooting himself, in order to prove he had not acted out of fear for his own life.

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