Historyguy.com:

World War Two

 
Naval Warfare:

The Battle of the River Plate

Bookmark and Share

Graf Spee

Naval Warfare:
The Battle of the River Plate

 

The Battle of the River Plate (Rio de Plata), was the first major naval battle of World War Two.

 

In the early morning of December 13, 1939 the German pocket battleship, the Admiral Graf Spee, was cruising toward South America's Rio de la Plata (River Plate) in search of enemy merchant ships, where, it spotted ship masts in the distance. The Graf Spee had been operating in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean since the beginning of the war three months earlier on a successful campaign of disrupting allied shipping and to tie up British and French Naval forces. Twenty-three major Allied warships actively huntied for the Graf Spee. The long hunt for the German raider was nearly over, because the masts sighted by the Graff Spee on the morning of December 13 belonged not to defenseless merchant ships, but to three British cruisers, H.M.S. Exeter, Ajax and Achilles (the Achilles was actually part of the Royal New Zealand Navy). Mistakenly believing these ships were merchant vessels, Admiral Graf Spee's Captain Hans Langsdorf steamed for them. Langsdorf headed onward toward his enemy, even after properly identifying them as Allied warships.

 

British Commodore Henry Harwood, on board H.M.S.Ajax, also steamed toward the German ship. The four ships approached each other rapidly and entered into gunfire range. The shooting beginning at just under 20,000 yards. Harwood split his force, making things complicated for the German gunners aboard the Graf Spee, but the guns from both sides quickly began scoring hits. Exeter was hit and seriously damaged by the pocket battleship's eleven-inch guns. both of Exeter's forward eight-inch gun turrets were knocked out, most of the bridge crew was killed or wounded and fires ravaged the Exeter amidships. The wounded British ship remained in action against the German Raider until the remaining turret would no longer function. Exeter's guns had also scored hits on the Admiral Graf Spee, and by the six-inch guns from the other two Allied cruisers. The Admiral Graf Spee laid down a smoke screen and turned away, firing on the Ajax and the Achilles, disabling two of the Ajax's gun turrets.

 

After an hour and twenty minutes of intense combat between the four ships, a long pursuit played out, as Admiral Graf Spee headed for Montevideo, the capital and major port of the South American nation of Uruguay. With Ajax and Achilles in hot pusuit of the German pocket battleship, the Graf Spee arrived in port just after midnight on December 14, requesting time to make repairs, and reporting to the Uruguayans that she had been hit by enemy shells nearly seventy times. Upon docking in Montevideo, Captain Langsdorf released the British sailors he had captured from the merchant ships he had sunk on his battle tour. The British, now with two ships outside Montevideo, wanted to keep the German warship bottled up in port as long as possible and buy time, so that more Allied reinforcements could arrive on the scene. While the Graf Spee was in port, the HMS Cumberland did manage to join Ajax and Achilles. To this end they resorted to diplomatic tactics misinformation; broadcasting fake reports that the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the battle cruiser Renown were nearby.The Uruguayan government, under pressure from the Allied nations, as well as the Americans, announced that the Graf Spee must leave Uruguayan waters withing 72 hours, whether needed repairs were completed or not. Captain Langsdorf, with much of his ammunition expended and his ship badly damaged, decided that escape was impossible. Langsdorf consulted with the German Government, and decided the only course of action was to scuttle his own ship, rather than let it fall into enemy hands. Early in the evening of December 17, Captain Langsdorf and a skeleton crew steamed out into the broad river, abandoned ship and blew up the Graf Spee.

 The majority of the Graf Spee's crew had embarked onto a German merchant ship, the Tacoma, and then steamed to nearby Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Langdorff and his small demolition crew joined them. Then, on the night of December 19 and 20, 1939, Captain Langsdorf killed himself with his service revolver, wrapped in the German national flag, not the flag of the Nazi government.

The Battle of the River Plate, the first of World War II's many naval battles, greatly boosted British prestige and morale, but at considerable cost. The badly injured Exeter, initially thought not worth repairing, was out of the war for fifteen months. Repairs to Ajax lasted until mid-1940.  

 

 

 Links and Resources:

 

Battle of the River Plate, December 1939--From the U.S. Navy Website

The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 B.C. to the Present--By Ernest and Trevor Dupuy

The Battle of the River Plate: A Grand Delusion (Campaign Chronicles)

Admiral Graf Spee

The Graf Spee in Montevideo

Langsdorff of the Graf Spee

Timeline 1939

 

 

 

 

ADDITIONAL INFO

 

Join the FREE Historyguy Update list. Receive regular updates delivered right to your inbox.

Email Marketing You Can Trust

Follow historyguycom on Twitter

 See also: World War Two Vocabulary

World War Two Biographies

Read the History Guy Weblog and the War and Conflict Journal--New

Iran War Scenario for April, 2008-posted April 9, 2008

Pakistan's Violent Political History Continues With Bhutto's Assassination--posted Dec. 27, 2007

Casualties in the Somali War--posted Dec. 2, 2007

Musharraf's Martial Law Endangers the War on Terror--posted on Nov. 4, 2007

Biography: Pervez Musharraf--posted on Nov.4, 2007

Kurds At War: Turkey, Iraq, and Iran--posted on October 22, 2007

Stormfront: The Consequences of September 11 and America's Wars Around the World--posted on Sept. 11, 2007

The Calm Before The Storm: The World of September 10, 2001--posted on Sept. 10, 2007

Mid-East War Fears: Israel Versus Syria Again?--posted on Aug. 14, 2007

France at War: French Victories and Defeats--posted May 11, 2007

America and France: A Long Relationship Spanning War and Peace--posted May 10, 2007

Cinco de Mayo, 1862: The Battle Of Puebla --posted May 5, 2007

The Long War on Terror: What is in a War's Name?--posted May 3, 2007

Turkey: To Coup, or not to Coup, that, is the question!--posted May 2, 2007

Canada's Afghan War--posted April 29, 2007.

New and Recent Conflicts of the World

Wars and Conflicts of Burma/Myanmar --The Wars and Conflicts of Burma/Myanmar from the Anglo-Burmese Wars to the pro-democracy Myanmar uprising of 2007.

Wars and Conflicts of Yemen (1914-Present)--NEW

Djibouti-Eritrea Border War (June, 2008)

Wars of Iran and Persia--Lists the wars and conflicts of Persia and Iran from the 18th Century to the present.

The 2007 Pro-Democracy Uprising in Myanmar--The current uprising in Myanmar.

North Lebanon Conflict (2007)--Fighting between the Lebanese government and a Jihadist Palestinian militia calling itself Fatah al-Islam.

bin Laden's Declaration of War Against the United States-- Long before 9/11, Osama bin Laden declared his hatred and his intent to harm America.

Current Wars of the World--A listing of current wars and conflicts around the world.

Military Coups in Turkey-A listing of military coups in modern Turkey (1960-1997).

Comparing America's Wars Duration in Months-A look at America's wars and comparing their length in months.

War in Afghanistan--Details on the origins of this ongoing war; part of the War on Terror

Ethiopia-Somalia War of 2006*New*--A brief description of the Ethiopia-Somalia War which began in 2006, and is a part of the larger Somali Civil War.

Ethiopia-Somali Wars and Conflicts*New*--Listing the wars and conflicts between Ethiopia and Somalia

Wars of Germany--The wars and conflicts of Germany from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 to the War in Afghanistan.

Iraq War: Links and Resources*New*--Links and resources on the Iraq War.

Iraq War: Prisoner Abuse and Abu Ghraib Links and Resources*New*--Links and resources on the Iraq War's biggest scandal.

Iraq War: Battles and Campaigns*New*--Links and resources on Iraq War battles and military operations.

Israel-Lebanon/Hezbollah War of 2006--*New*--Details and analysis on the warfare along the Lebanese border which began in July, 2006!

Israel-Lebanon Conflict--*New*--Background information on the decades-long warfare and conflict along the Israel/Lebanon border.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict--*New*--Background information on the long-running warfare between Israel and the Palestinians!

Israeli-Palestinian Battles and Campaigns--*New*--Specific information on the warfare raids, battles, terrorist attacks, and retaliations between Israel and the Palestinians!

Waziristan War----The War on Terror expands to Pakistan's Northwest Frontier!

Hamas----The terrorist/resistance group now ruling the Palestinian Authority!

War in the Western Sahara--

Iraq War

Afghan War

Nepal Civil War

Wars of 2006--*--Wars and conflicts of 2006!