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The Battle of the River Plate

SS Ajax
HMS Ajax

Graf Spee left Wilhelmshaven 21 August, 1939, with orders to take position in the South Atlantic. Beginning her raider cruise on September 30th, she sank SSClement. During October she sank SSNewton Beech, SSAshlea, SSHuntsman and MVTrevanion. Prowling the Indian Ocean in November, she sank MVAfrica Shell. Four large hunting groups of Allied capital ships were now hunting the elusive raider. Homeward bound in December, she sank SSDoric Star, SSTairoa and SSStreonshalh. A total of nine British freighters (50,000 tons) went to the bottom but no-one lost their lives. In accordance with the Hague Conventions the crews were taken off before the ships were sunk.

On December 13, 1939, the Battle of the River Plate burst into world news. Ajax, Achilles and Exeter met Graf Spee in deadly combat. Exeter was disabled and Graf Spee received hidden critical damage. More than 100 brave young sailors lost their lives.

Map showing Montevideo

On Thursday, December 14, 1939, front pages around the world reported the full story of the Battle of the River Plate. The German pocket battleship lay trapped in Montevideo harbor. British cruisers lay in wait to finish the job. Worried families of the ships' crews prayed for the safety of their kin. Strenuous political negotiation failed to gain time for adequate repairs. Graf Spee must leave neutral waters by 8pm Sunday, 17th December.

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Content ©2006, 07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12 Joseph Gilbey.