Battle of the River Plate and the sinking of the Admiral Graf Spee, took place in Montevideo, Uruguay-a neutral port, with HMS Ajax & Achilles at her heels. Allowed to remain for only 72 hours due to neutrality agreements, and not long enough to manage the repairs, Captain Hans Langsdorff found his choices limited.
If the captain would have tried to escape at first, he would have only had to deal with the two damaged British ships, Ajax and Achilles. Despite some British diplomats insistence that the Graf Spee leave Montevideo immediately, London invoked a rather interesting trick to keep the ship in port, until reinforcements could arrive.
Article 16, of the neutrality treaty also stated;
“A belligerent war-ship may not leave a neutral port or roadstead until twenty-four hours after the departure of a merchant ship flying the flag of its adversary.“
Thus, the British secretly arranged for British and French merchant ships to steam from Montevideo at intervals of 24 hours, invoking Article 16. This kept Graf Spee in port. The purpose of the ruse, was to allow the British to back up the two original pursuers-Ajax and Achilles and the severally damaged Exeter. In addition, the British sent out fake intelligence reports, stating that Force H-including HMS Ark Royal, an aircraft carrier, and the cruiser, HMS Renown were already in the area. In fact, only the battlecruiser HMS Cumberland, only slightly more powerful than the Exeter was nearby. In order to enhance the ruse, the British ships were ordered to “make smoke,” which could clearly be seen from port, and gave the appearance of a much larger force.
Admiral Graf Spee, had little ammunition left, and the damaged fuel system was a hindrance. The Germans were afraid to inter the ship in Uruguay, as the the country was more favorable to the allies than Germany. In the end, Captain Langsdrof, decided to scuttle his ship, rather than have it fall into the allies hands. Afterwords, the crew was sent to Argentina, where Captain Langsdorf, committed suicide on the 19 of December.
The Graf Spee, was scuttled in shallow water and after sinking, most of her superstructure was still exposed. This enabled British Intelligence to obtain a wealth of information-the major find of which, was the advanced German Seetakt radar.
Director James Cameron, is filming a salvage operation of the ship. After she has been raised, it it will be restored and put on display at the National Marine Museum, in Uruguay. (Gallery)
Wikipedia Image File: Bundesarchiv DVM 10 Bild-23-63-06, Panzerschiff “Admiral Graf Spee”.jpg Attribution: Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-63-06 / License: (CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Battle of the River Platte License WP: CC-BY-SA
Churchill, Winston (1948). The Second World War: The Gathering Storm. I (1st ed.).
Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 519
Commerce Raiding-License WP: CC-BY-SA
This is photograph No. HU 205 from the Imperial War Museum collection No. 4007-03.
English: IWM caption : The German battleship Admiral Graf Spee in flames after being scuttled in the River Plate Estuary off Montevideo, Uruguay.
Source: This is photograph No. A 3 from the Imperial War Museum collection
File:Graf Spee letzte Ruhe.jpg WP
U.S. Navy Historical Center Photograph-Public Domain
Funeral procession of the 36 sailors who were killed during the Battle of the La Plate. Captain Hans Langsdorff had shot himself on 20 December, after scuttling his ship on 17 December.
WP File:Graf Spee Wreck USNphoto 1.jpg
Photo # NH 51997-A Scuttled German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee