Battle of the Rio de la Plata

Battle of the Río de la Plata

The Battle of the Río de la Plata (also known locally as La Batalla en la Bahia de Montevideo) was the first naval battle between English and German ships during World War II. In addition, it was the only episode of the war developed in South America, in Uruguayan territorial waters. The pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, the light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles and the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter participated.

The Graf Spee in the South Atlantic

The mission of the Graf Spee was to be stationed in the South Atlantic, for which it sailed from the port of Wilhelmshaven on August 21, 1939, 11 days before the opening of hostilities. During the voyage the Altmark accompanies him as a mother ship that, in previously decided places in the open sea, supplies him with fuel and provisions. The Graf Spee acts like a real corsair: it changes its name, its flag, it even places a high tower to be confused with another ship. On September 28, the Graf Spee sinks a steam in the vicinity of Pernambuco . In October it captures four more ships in points of the South Atlantic very far from each other. In November it appears in the Indian Ocean. The action of the Graf Spee creates serious problems for the British supply and is intensely sought after. However, there was never a death: each of the victim ships was required not to broadcast the attack and then evacuated the crew and apprehended the captains and officers.

The battle

Ship movements during the Battle. In December, Hans Langsdorff, captain of the Graf Spee, decides to make a raid on South American coasts and then withdraw. On the 7th another freighter sinks and sets sail for the Río de la Plata area where, at dawn on the 13th, it finds the British ships Ajax, Achilles and Exeter waiting for it, under the command of Admiral Henry Harwood, off the coast. from Punta del Este. After an hour and a half of combat, Exeter must abandon the fight. Ajax and Achilles are also in very bad shape. Harwood decides to flee and tries to follow the Graf Spee while waiting for reinforcements, but Langsdorff decides to enter the port of Montevideo. It was the last classic naval battle without submarines or planes.

The end of the Graf Spee

Days of intense diplomatic negotiations go by, during which the British and Germans seek to keep the Graf Spee in port until, at the end of the period agreed by the Uruguayan government, at sunset on December 17, it weighs anchor, anchors at a certain distance from the On the coast, the crew boarded the cargo ship Tacoma (which escaped from the port of Montevideo in contravention of orders from the Uruguayan Naval Command ) and the Graf Spee was flown by order of its captain, who later committed suicide. Then two tugboats came from Buenos Airesand a series of smaller vessels that came and went from the battleship to the transport, transporting the crew of more than 1,000 men. More than half a thousand crew members were transferred to Buenos Aires and part to Montevideo , together with the merchant ship Tacoma, and in January 1940 they were admitted to the city. Both in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, some 200 officers were released and fled to Germany where they re-entered the German Navy, while the sailors were interned in military barracks. The impossibility of ensuring your residence in Montevideo, motivated the Executive Power to order in 1942 and make effective in 1943, the transfer to Sarandí del Yí (to the Paso del Rey Barracks) of 96 sailors from the crew of the “Graf Spee” and the “Tacoma” (also a German ship) , designating troops from Military Region II to monitor them. They remained there until their transfer to Montevideo and repatriation to Germany in 1946. Numerous objects belonging to the Graf Spee are found in the Paso del Rey Barracks museum in Sarandí del Yí, in the Department of Durazno in Uruguay. The German sailors were repatriated from Argentina and Captain Langsdorff shot himself in the head, in his hotel room in Buenos Aires, wrapped in the German flag .


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