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Name:  Admiral Graf Spee

Namesake:  Maximilian von Spee

Builder:  Reichsmarinewerft, Wilhelmshaven

Laid down:         1 October 1932        Launched:          30 June 1934

Commissioned:     6 January 1936                  Fate:     Scuttled, 17 December 1939

Class and type: Deutschland-class cruiser

Displacement:   14,890 t (14,650 long tons; 16,410 short tons) (design)      16,020 long tons (16,280 t) (full load)

Length:  186 m (610 ft 3 in)    Beam:   21.65 m (71 ft 0 in)    Draft:    7.34 m (24 ft 1 in)

Installed power:  52,050 bhp (38,810 kW)       Propulsion:     2 propellers; 8 × diesel engines

Speed: 28.5 knots (52.8 km/h; 32.8 mph)

Range:  16,300 nautical miles (30,200 km; 18,800 mi) at 18.69 knots (34.61 km/h; 21.51 mph)

Complement:   As built:  33 officers   586 enlisted

After 1935: 30 officers  921–1,040 enlisted

Sensors and   processing systems:  1939: FMG 39 G(gO)

Armament:         As built:

6 × 28 cm (11 in) in triple turrets   8 × 15 cm (5.9 in) in single turrets     8 × 53.3 cm (21.0 in) torpedo tubes


Main turrets: 140 mm (5.5 in)     Belt: 80 mm (3.1 in)    Main deck: 17–45 mm (0.67–1.77 in)

Aircraft carried:                2 × Arado Ar 196 floatplanes         Aviation facilities:            1 × catapult

When the war broke out in Europe, the British admiralty  had been warned  on the  bold actions  of the raider Graf Spee pocket battleship in southern Atlantic, and to tackle this intruder the British Admiralty assembled a task force based at port Stanley at Falklands. And in South Africa. An ensuing  cat and mouse pursuit led to  the first naval engagement involving surface vessels of two nations in south Atlantic in December 13th .   

A British fleet  composed by cruisers Exeter, Ajax and Achilles,  under Adm Harwood caught the enemy in the early morning off  the mouth of River Plate. Graf Spee  remained 72 hours as stipulated by the Hague convention of 1907, when  urgent repairs were made , as well as attention and medical care to the 60 wounded and burial for those 36 killed in action.    

When the deadline finally came on the afternoon of December 17th , captain Langsdorff  suspended anchor and at 6 miles off the harbor  under the eyes of thousands of Uruguayans who swarmed  the docks the air was shaken  by  the explosions of the demolition charges.  Flames and smoke soon billowed the hull and debris hauled out in the air. This scene sadly marked the end of the doomed vessel, the first great loss of the Kriegsmarine.

The map shows the active movement of German merchants and blockade runners in the South Atlantic during the first years of the war. The British Navy decided to counter this menace to the shipping lanes guaranteeing the vital traffic of the badly needed raw materials and edibles to the British people already strained by the constant harassment of German Luftwaffe and Uboats against her Merchantmen. Royal Navy fought against all odds and gave no truce to DKM wherever it was.   

Once they were spotted in the vast expanses of the south Atlantic or Indian Ocean they had no escape and scuttled themselves. From the beginning of the hostilities in September 1st  1939  to the end of 1941, when the United States  were dragged to the broaden conflict thus configuring a worldwide conflagration, the task of surveillance and patrolling  the South Atlantic were primary task of the Royal Navy. In this initial period, there were a few incidents of small account in which some of the European belligerents were involved.  

The sinking of the German merchant Olinda by the British cruiser Ajax off Uruguayan coast  at September  4th just three days  after Germany invaded Poland.  Second was the torpedoing  and sinking of the British merchant Clement  at sep. 30th . When part of its crew was found  in a lifeboat 15 miles off Maceió and rescued by Brazilian  merchant Itatinga. Another incident involved the Wakama a German merchant scuttled by his crew 12 miles  of Cabo Frio Lighthouse in view of the presence of a British  auxiliary ship.

Adm. Graf Spee suply ship Altmark seen at Jossingfjord Norway. There the ship with 299 British sailors taken from merchant sunk, was boarded by one Royal Navy commando that released all prisoners in February 1940. Photo Wikipedia

The map shows the position of every British merchant sunk by Adm Graf Spee in  the South Atlantic.

Above sister ship Eastlea. Photo 

Photo. Fraser Darrah collection  


Picture by Joe MacMillan







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