Battle of the River Plate
The 13th of December 1939 AD
The Battle of the River Plate, though it only involved the German pocket battleship Graf Spee, and three allied cruisers, Ajax, Exeter, and Achilles, was of great significance for the rest of WWII .
The Graf Spee had successfully raided allied commercial vessels in the first months of the war. Commodore Henry Harwood aboard Ajax guessed correctly that Captain Langsdorff of the Graf Spee would run for the busy shipping lanes off the River Plate, and just after 6am on December 13 the three RN ships engaged the enemy there. Armed with longer range guns than the Allied ships the Graf Spee could have manoeuvred to fire on them while out of their range, but did not, the first of several errors, another being the failure to finish off the disabled Exeter.
A shell from the stricken Exeter severely damaged the Graf Spee’s fuel system, leaving her an estimated 16 hours of diesel. Again Captain Langsdorff made an error, making for Montevideo in Uruguay, neutral but with a leaning to the allies, rather than friendlier Argentina. British diplomats played the rules of the Hague Convention to keep Graf Spee in Montevideo; Langsdorff was fooled into thinking a large force awaited him should he leave the River Plate estuary, so he chose to scuttle his damaged ship rather than fight a futile and necessarily short battle. The furious Hitler lost some confidence in his navy. Langsdorff committed suicide on December 19.
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