The cruiser Admiral Graf Spee (1936-1939). This impressive model of the „Admiral Graf Spee“ was built by Master Helmut Schmid on a scale of 1:100. It can be seen on deck 5 of the museum.
82 years ago, the „Admiral Graf Spee“ was sunk because of the Battle of the Río de la Plata, which is considered the first naval battle of the Second World War.
The battle took place in South American waters, off the mouth of the Río de la Plata. The „Admiral Graf Spee“, a ship of the Deutschland class, was built at the Wilhelmshaven naval shipyard and commissioned in 1936. The ship was sent to the South Atlantic as a merchant destroyer after the declaration of war. The „Admiral Graf Spee“ initially operated successfully in the region and sank 9 merchant ships. The Royal Navy subsequently sent several fighter groups to stop her. They found the ship on 13 December 1939.
The German Captain Langsdorff initially mistook the British ships for an escorted freighter. By the time he realised they were two light cruisers and one heavy cruiser, it was too late. Langsdorff could have tried to keep his distance and use the superior range of his ship’s main guns. Instead, he went full speed ahead. The light cruisers „Achilles“ and „Ajax“ as well as the „Exeter“ maneuvered to divide the fire of the „Graf Spee“. In the battle, the „Exeter“ suffered heavy damage and had to retreat. The „Admiral Graf Spee“ was in a better condition, but some vital systems had failed, especially the fuel treatment system. In this condition, the ship needed urgent repairs and sailed, pursued by the „Ajax“ and the „Achilles“ to the mouth of the River Plate. The ship docked in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. The country was neutral in the conflict, but Britain had considerable political influence over the country. The „Graf Spee“ was only allowed to stay in Montevideo for 72 hours due to British pressure, and would have needed two weeks to complete repairs. The German ship only had fuel for one day and no chance of calling at another port because of the shallows in the river. On the evening of 17 December, the ship lifted anchor and left the port of Montevideo. Captain Langsdorff and a 40-strong emergency crew set off explosives and left the ship to meet up with the rest of the crew, who had remained in Montevideo. The half-submerged wreck of the „Admiral Graf Spee“ burned for three days. Langsdorff committed suicide after two days in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Many crew members settled permanently either in Argentina or Uruguay. False information previously scattered by the MI6 about the presence of a major naval force in the La Plata estuary may have contributed to Captain Langsdorff’s decision to abandon the „Graf Spee“.
This impressive model of the „Admiral Graf Spee“ was built by Master Helmut Schmid on a scale of 1:100. It can be seen on deck 5 of the museum.