70TH ANNIVERSARY DISCUSSION (4) THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE 1939



  • QUESTION: Did Captain Langsdorff of the Admiral Graf Spee do the right thing in scuttling his ship?  Was there any hope of escape? Could he have done a better job with Uruguay?

    Looking fwd to your answers…



  • Cmon guys…doesnt anyone have any opinions on the Admiral Graf Spee?  As far as i know about this battle…Capt Langsdorff could have tried to get back to Germany…but decided against it…

    here’s a link to the Wikipedia…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_River_Plate



  • He was ordered to scuttle his ship. Hitler did not want internment. He did not know the strength of the forces that were waiting for him. He probably could have tried to slip past the Brits (only 3 cruisers) in the dark of night but he would have likely taken some more damage. And as German naval officers were not in the habit of pretending they were Japanese Naval officers, suicide missions were not of the German liking.

    His mistake was heading for Montivedo in the first place. True he had some issues with the damage but it was not seaworthiness. His biggest problem was that his galley had been wrecked so feeding his men was a problem, but that could have been delt with perhaps by a supply ship.

    And in the inital battle, closing to close to the three cruisers thus not taking advantage of the range of his guns.

    All in all a Brit victory based more on bluff and luck than actual firepower or tactics.



  • I do respect Captain Langsdorff’s care for his men, but my thoughts are that Admiral Graf Spee should have tried to make a break for the home waters of the Baltic. The ship could have helped in the Battle of the Atlantic later in the water.

    The Graf Spee should have lived up to the Admiral which name she carried. Admiral Graf Spee agressively attacked with the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau the British battlecruisers Inflexible and HMS Invincible in a failed attempt to save his escorting light cruisers at the Falkland Islands in 1914. Graf Spee, with his two sons and 2200 German sailors went down with their ships, as the ships sank they sang a hyme of praise to the Kaiser.



  • The graff spee could have won the battle. 1 british cruiser could be destroyed outright if they would focus on it at the start of the battle. Leaving 2 light cruisers vs 1 battlecruiser. If they would have continiued the fight they would have destroyed the allied ships.

    He also closed to much to the british ships removing his range advantage.

    However it would not make a huge difference, the ship was doomed as it could not process any fuel and it could not get back to europe or japan. The 1 hit that destroyed the raw fuel processing plant basicaly doomed the ship, yes the battle could have gone to the germans but the ship would be lost.



  • I wonder how the battle of the atlantic might have turned out if the Graf Spee had survived to fight on a little longer…would one more ship have mad a difference?  Maybe not…



  • @RJL518:

    I wonder how the battle of the atlantic might have turned out if the Graf Spee had survived to fight on a little longer…would one more ship have mad a difference?  Maybe not…

    I don’t think one ship could have made a different. If the Germans could have got control of the French fleet or had the Italians been able to get into the Atlantic, the Battle of the Atlantic could have been changed.



  • I agree with u AB…the Graf Spee was a beautifull ship i will admit…



  • Do you think the German pocket battleships would have been better off with three or four 8’’ guns turrents instead of the two 11’’ turrents? The 8’’ shells were just as effective at destroying cruisers than the 11’’. Neither shell were great Battleship killers. Would more guns been a better choice, since the possiblity was high that in any battle the Germans would be outnumbered?



  • makes sense to me AB…since the German ships that they used as raiders were a little overgunned…but maybe they would have sacrificed speed for weaponry…good question my friend.



  • A fact that we have not discussed is that defective none explosive 11’’ shells hurt the Graf Spee during the Battle of River Plate.



  • @ABWorsham:

    A fact that we have not discussed is that defective none explosive 11’’ shells hurt the Graf Spee during the Battle of River Plate.

    youre right…im surprised that the German armaments were that faulty during the early part of the war



  • @ABWorsham:

    Do you think the German pocket battleships would have been better off with three or four 8’’ guns turrents instead of the two 11’’ turrents? The 8’’ shells were just as effective at destroying cruisers than the 11’’. Neither shell were great Battleship killers. Would more guns been a better choice, since the possiblity was high that in any battle the Germans would be outnumbered?

    Nop 11" shells have a longer range making them better suited to attack cruisers what with ther 8" guns cant effectively hit you. The whole idea of a battlecruiser was to make a ship that could outgun range and power any ship that could catch them and outrun real battleship. So making the guns weaker or the ship slower would just make the whole line pretty useless in their main role.



  • Nop 11" shells have a longer range making them better suited to attack cruisers what with ther 8" guns cant effectively hit you. The whole idea of a battlecruiser was to make a ship that could outgun range and power any ship that could catch them and outrun real battleship. So making the guns weaker or the ship slower would just make the whole line pretty useless in their main role.

    The Graf Spee was not a Battlecruiser, she was Deutschland-class cruiser. Built in the 1930’s when Battleship’s speed was about 20 knots, the Graf Spee was designed to out gun anything on the ocean and out run what she could not out gun. However, by the 1940’s the graf Spee had only average speed. Her top speed of 28.5 knots is the same speed of a King George V class battleship.

    The postitives of 8’’ on the Graf Spee would have been, more shells, more turrents and less weight.



  • The 11" guns range would be better. they failed at the river plate because the commander thought it was a convoy and did not want it to scatter before he could sink it. If he would have used the range of his guns he would not even be hit since the cruisers could not get in range.

    Having more guns and more ammunition does not make a difference if the other guy can shoot further.



  • @ShadowHAwk:

    Having more guns and more ammunition does not make a difference if the other guy can shoot further.

    I disagree, acting as a commerce raider operating in distant oceans with limited supplies more ammuntion would make a huge difference. Resupply by ship is difficult, the Atlantis was caught in the act of resupplying an U-boat and was quickly sunk without firing a shot in defense.



  • For the battle we are discussing the longer range would have made the difference if the germans would have kept the distance.

    Also for commerce raiding you dont need much ammo just to destroy the escorts, the norm was to capture the ships and then either scuttle them or send them to germany. Neither costs a lot of ammo, being damaged and needing repairs is a far worst situation for a raider far away from friendly ports then being low on ammo.



  • RJL and Shadowhawk, I’m curious if you were Captain Langsdorff what choice would you have made in Montivedo? Would you have tried to escape?



  • I know you didn’t ask me but, If I could have set up a rondezvous with a supply ship, with food, fuel and ammo (although I am pretty sure the GS had plenty even after the fight) and had enough food and fuel to make that rondevous then I might have risked making a run for it, at night, trying to avoid a general fight. Get past the cruisers, try to out run them and lose them if possible. But it would have been difficult and all the cruisers had to do was shadow. German (or even Spanish)  ports were awfully far away. And eventually something bigger would show up if I couldn’t lose them.

    If I could not arrange the resupply then no, it would have been a waste to even try
    and ship’s captains rarely make suicide charges…some do but not most. A ship would have to have a decent shot at making some friendly port.

    And the River Plate while wide at its mouth and looks very big in maps/photos (Montivedio is on the big entrence) is not a very manueverable body of water, (we were in port at Buenos Aires once) you would be forced to stay in the channel for quite some distance and given how the Brits fight they probably would have violated the soverignty and fired on the ship in the channel. Who knows?

    I spent 6 years at sea and any sailor with an ounce of salt learns to respect the power and danger of the seas. Sailors have two enemies, the other guy on the other ship and the ocean. Get beaten by one and you might not (if they don’t pick you up) survive the other.

    German ships did elude the British Radar many times during the war, not sure if any of these ships had it.

    You know the more I think about it making a run was probably, given the cirumstances, not a good idea.


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