Admiral Graf Spee

 

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Operational History
Construction
23 August 1932 The building contract was placed with the Marine Werft in Wilhelmshaven, as Panzerschiff "C". It was Construction No. 124 at the Marine Werft, Wilhelmshaven.
1 October 1932 The keel was laid and the construction took place on Slipway 2.
1 April 1933 The prepared material was transferred to Slipway 1, immediately after the launch of Admiral Scheer.
30 June 1934 Admiral Graf Spee was launched. Christened by Gräfin Huberta von Spee, daughter of the late Vice-Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee.
30 June 1934 Admiral Graf Spee was commissioned and placed under the command of Kapitän zur See (Captain) Conrad Patzig.
Until April 1936 Preliminary sea trials and intensive working-up.
9 April 1936 Admiral Graf Spee joins the fleet after having completed her trials and working-up period.
29 May 1936 Admiral Graf Spee was functioning as Fleet flagship at the Kiel Naval Review.
31 May 1936 As Fleet flagship, participated in the honour formation at the opening of the naval memorial at Laboe near Kiel.
6 - 26 June 1936 Compass adjustment and gunnery trials were carried out off the Canaries.
20 August - 9 October 1936 Admiral Graf Spee left Wilhelmshaven to patrol Spanish waters and returned to Kiel.
13 December 1936 - 14 February 1937 Admiral Graf Spee left Wilhelmshaven to patrol Spanish waters and returned to Kiel.
2 March - 6 May 1937 Admiral Graf Spee left Kiel to patrol Spanish waters and returned back to Kiel.
15 - 22 May 1937 Represented Germany at the Spithead Naval Review, England, on the occasion of the Coronation of the British King George VI.
June 1937 Participated in the Naval Review at Kiel.
23 June - 7 August 1937 The ship left Kiel to patrol Spanish waters and returned back to Kiel.
23 June - 7 August 1937 Admiral Graf Spee took part in naval exercises as Fleet flagship.
18-20 September 1937 Admiral Graf Spee visited Wisby, Sweden during the naval exercise period.
2 October 1937 Kapitän zur See Walter Warzecha assumed command of Admiral Graf Spee.
1-2 December 1937 Admiral Graf Spee visited Kristiansand, Norway during the naval exercise period.
7 - 18 February 1938 Left Kiel to patrol Spanish waters and returned back to Kiel.
29 June - 9 July 1938 Visited different fiords in Norway.
22 August 1938 Was in Kiel for the launching of the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.
Autumn 1938 Took part in the autumn naval exercises as Fleet flagship.
Autumn 1938 A refit followed, in which six 8,8 cm twin Flak guns were exchanged for six 10,5 cm Flak guns on the same chassis, a mattress for an FMG G(gO) (FuMO 22 type) radar was installed on the rangefinder of the foretop revolving dome, the octagonal foretop was reshaped and the single-searchlight platforms either side of the tower mast were replaced by a single-searchlight platform on the forward face of the tower.
6 - 23 October 1938 Atlantic cruise.
1 November 1938 Kapitän zur See Hans Langsdorff assumed command of Admiral Graf Spee.
10 - 24 November 1938 Atlantic cruise.
From 1 January 1939 Based at Wilhelmshaven.
22 - 24 March 1939 Flagship of the naval force at Memel, when the territory was reincorporated into the German Reich.
April 1939 Flagship during large-scale Atlantic naval exercises sisterships Deutschland and Admiral Scheer as well as Gneisenau and numerous other units. C-in-C for the exercises was Admiral Boehm.
29 - 31 May 1939 Admiral Graf Spee was in Hamburg to welcome the Legion Kondor arriving home from Spain aboard passenger liners.
21 August 1939 Admiral Graf Spee left Wilhelmshaven, equipped for commerce warfare, for a remote waiting position south of the Equator.
26 September 1939 Admiral Graf Spee received instructions to proceed against enemy merchant shipping.
30 September 1939 Sunk Clement.
5 October 1939 Sunk Newton Beech.
7 October 1939 Sunk Ashlea..
10 October 1939 Captured Huntsman and sunk it on 17 October 1939.
22 October 1939 Sunk Trevanion.
15 November 1939 Sunk Africa Shell (tanker).
2 December 1939 Sunk Doric Star.
3 December 1939 Sunk Tairoa.
7 December 1939 Sunk SS Streonshalh.
Early Morning Admiral Graf Spee was engaged in a battle off the coast of Uruguay with a small British naval group consisting of the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter and the light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles. The New Zealand vessel, HMNZS Achilles, was the flagship of Rear-Admiral Harwood. whose intuition based on the Doric Star signal had brought him to these waters. The three British cruisers were steering north-north-east in line ahead at 14 knots.
06:14 The British sighted smoke on the horizon to port and HMS Exeter was detached to investigate. Two minutes later she reported: "I think it is a pocket battleship". The British ships and Admiral Graf Spee were rapidly approaching eachother on a collission course. The British ships split up. Heavy cruiser Exeter changed course to west. The two light cruisers stayed on their north-east course.
06:18 Admiral Graf Spee opened fire with her main armament and the two groups each received the attention of one turret.
06:20 Exeter opened fire with her forward 8 inch turrets. Range 9,5 nautical miles.
06:21 Ajax opened fire.
06:23 Exeter fire with all three turrets. Achilles open fire. Admiral Graf Spee concentrate her main fire against Exeter, the heavy cruiser. The secondary fire against the light cruisers.

Exeter was straddled by the third salvo from Admiral Graf Spee. Within a minute a whirlwind of splinters from a near-miss amidships killed men at the torpedo tubes, destroyed the command relay centre and peppered the funnels and searchlights; from the next salvo a 28 cm shell put "B" turret out of action, splinters killing or seriously wounding all present on the bridge bar the commander and two other men. While the ship was out of control two further 28 cm hits were sustained forward.
06:30 Captain Langsdorff again divided the fire of his main armament to drive off the light cruisers, which had worked up to 28 kt and were uncomfortably close. Admiral Graf Spee's 15 cm medium guns had concentrated on the two smaller vessels since the beginning of the battle, but had managed only near-misses
06:32 Admiral Graf Spee laid smoke and made a 150° turn which allowed a fan of torpedoes from Exeter's starboard tubes to pass harmlessly astern.
06:37 Ajax catapulted her ship's aircraft aloft.
06:38 As Exeter was turning to starboard to bring her portside torpedo tubes to bear, she received two 28 cm hits which knocked out a main turret and started a fire between decks. She was now reduced to only two intact 8 in guns. All her gyro-compasses had been destroyed and the commander was steering by a boat's compass. All communication in the ship was being performed by runners, a number of compartments were flooded and a dangerous fire was raging. She had a 7° list and was down by the head, although steaming at full speed.
06:40 Achilles was hit near the bridge, the splinters killing four men in the gunnery control centre. At the same time Admiral Graf Spee laid smoke and headed west towards the coast, pursued at 31 kt by the light cruisers whose north-west heading was masking their after turrets. Exeter followed as best she could on the German ship's port side.
06:56 When Ajax and Achilles altered to starboard away from the German ship to bring all turrets to bear, Langsdorff again laid smoke and turned away sharply, increasing the range to 8 nautical miles.
07:10 Captain Langsdorff on Admiral Graf Spee was bearing down directly on Exeter to finish her off, but the fire of the two light cruisers was such that he was obliged to head off north-west and renew the concentration of his main turrets on them again, straddling Ajax with a 28 cm salvo at 5,5 nautical miles range, although his 15 cm secondary armament was continuing to maintain a ragged and inaccurate fire with no hits to report.
07:20 Admiral Graf Spee was hit amidships and set on fire when subjected to heavy salvos from the light cruisers, but she laid another smoke screen and turned 130° to port to avoid torpedoes from Ajax loosed off at a range of 4,5 nautical miles.
07:25 Ajax was hit and lost the use of both after turrets. Her aircraft, which had been sent up to spot the fall of shot, had also attempted to gain an impression of the damage aboard the German ship, but was forced to circle just beyond the range of her Flak. Exeter had had to reduce speed and had fallen behind, occasionally firing rounds from her surviving turret, the gunnery officer directing fire from a searchlight platform.
07:28 Ajax and Achilles turned west.
07:30 When the last turret began to flood, Exeter was released and she retired to the south-east, taking no further part in the pursuit.
07:31 Ajax's aircraft warned of torpedoes approaching well ahead of the cruiser's track. Harwood now headed directly for the German ship, even though Ajax had only three serviceable 6 in guns, and the combined British fire forced Langsdorff to steer west, laying smoke to cover his zig-zags.
07:36 Admiral Graf Spee reappeared on a bearing to the south-west so as to bring her main turrets to bear. The range was now only 4 nautical miles. Harwood, who had just been notified that his stock of shells was rapidly diminishing, decided to modify his tactics and merely shadow his opponent until nightfall, when he considered he would have a better chance of approaching the enemy ship unobserved for a gun and torpedo attack from close range. He was unaware that the German Panzerschiff was fitted with radar.
07:40 The two British cruisers made smoke and bore east. While making the turn a hit destroyed Ajax's mainmast and radio aerials, although a jury rig was soon erected. Langsdorff made no attempt to follow and persevered heading west at 22 kt. After a short while the light cruisers took station on either quarter of the Admiral Graf Spee about fifteen miles astern.
10:15 Achilles had approached within 11,5 nautical miles and was straddled by the second of two salvos from the German main turret forward, which forced Harwood to fall back behind a curtain of smoke.
11:15 Admiral Graf Spee encountered the British freighter Shakespeare and ordered her to stop; a few minutes later Langsdorff signalled a request to the shadowers to pick up the survivors from a ship's boat adrift, this being a ruse to delay the pursuit.
19:15 Admiral Graf Spee fired a few salvos at a range of 13 nautical miles to reinforce the message, by which time it was already clear that she would probably be running into a neutral River Plate port to effect repairs.
20:55 Salvos were exchanged
21:32 German ship fired desultory reminders.
21:40 German ship fired desultory reminders.
21:43 German ship fired desultory reminders.
Thursday 14 December 1939
00:10 On the morning of 14 December 1939, the Admiral Graf Spee dropped anchor in the roadstead at Montevideo, Uruguay.
The Battle of River Plate - Damage, Loss and Status
The balance sheet of damage and loss resulting from the Battle of the River Plate (all damage to the British ships having been inflicted by the German ship's main 28 cm armament) was:

Exeter: 61 dead, 23 wounded. "A" turret shut down due to flooded magazine, "B" turret knocked out. Hits in forecastle, serious fire and flooding below decks. Bow-heavy trim, speed reduced, enforced retirement from battle.

Ajax: 7 dead and wounded. "X" and "Y" turrets plus one 6 in gun on forward turret knocked out. Mainmast demolished.

Achilles: 4 dead. Superficial damage only.

Graf Spee: 36 dead, 60 wounded. Seventeen 6 inch hits causing minor damage, two 8 inch hits in nonvulnerable areas below armour deck, but oil purification and desalination plants destroyed, all kitchens wrecked. Ammunition stocks very low.

Essential repairs at Montevideo would have kept Admiral Graf Spee there for more than 72 hours, that being the maximum period allowed a belligerent warship to repair in a neutral port under international law. Cut off from home bases and having no hope of convincing this pro-British neutral state to bend the rules, the ship's captain saw himself caught in a trap.
Sunday 17 December 1939
About 18:30 Thus the circumstances determined Langsdorff's decision for him. Once the wounded had been cared for and Admiral Graf Spee's dead interred in Montevideo with full military honours before a huge following - there was, and still is, a large German colony in Uruguay - Langsdorff put out in the Panzerschiff for the last time with a skeleton crew aboard at about 1830 on 17 December.

His ship passed slowly through the dredged channel and turned her bows to face west before coming to a stop in a position in shallow water about 6 nautic miles south-west of the port. Detonators were fitted to scuttling charges which had been placed aboard earlier, and the crew members were transferred from the warship to the Argentinian tug Colossus.
About 20:55 Massive explosions rocked the hull, which was soon shrouded in flames and smoke from stem to stern. The explosions blew great holes in the hull and Admiral Graf Spee settled quickly on an even keel. The final act was watched by a huge crowd ashore and by the two British light cruisers waiting offshore, outside the territorial limits.
Wednesday 20 December 1939
20 December 1939 Knowing his crew had been accepted by Buenos Aires, Kapitän zur See Hans Langsdorff elected to commit suicide. His grave is to be found in the German Cemetery in Buenos Aires.
Late December 1939 - March 1940 - British Investigation of wreck
When scuttling Admiral Graf Spee, the Germans wasn't careful enough in destroying all vital equipment. The highly secret radar equipment wasn't fully destroyed and the mattress aerial was left on the foretop. Visits to the wreck were made by British experts in December 1939 to inspect the welding of the Wotan armour and aluminium components and in March 1940 for a look at the radar. Several items was brought to Great Britain for further investigation.
Thursday 26. February 2004 - Salvage of Rangefinder
An international team lead by Uruguayan Hector Bado managed to salvage a rangefinder from the wreck of Admiral Graf Spee at 1459 local time, Thursday 26. February 2004. This is officially a part of a plan to salvage the entire wreck, but it is highly questionable and very doubtful that the wreck will ever be salvaged and preserved.


© John Asmussen, 2004 - 2010. All rights reserved.