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The fate of the Admiral Graf Spee

Written by Sakhal

The corsair campaign

The Admiral Graf Spee left the shipyard in Wilhelmshaven the 21st August 1939, the same day of the signing in Moscow of the German-Russian Pact. About two weeks remained for the beginning of the war but Hitler had taken definitive decisions. During these days of general doubt Germany tuned up its war machinery. The Admiral Graf Spee was just an echelon in this homicidal chain and her mission was already one of war, a corsair route against the British merchant ships. She had to reach a secret position to start attacking at the outbreak of the conflict. The only person onboard who knew about the mission was Commander Hans Langsdorff, German officer born in Hamburg in 1894, a veteran of the Great War and a prideful, tenacious, lonesome and rather silent man.

The orders received when departing were: "At the outbreak of the war, immediately proceed to destroy the enemy merchant ships. Perform frequent position changes to confuse the enemy. Engage in combat against the enemy warships only if necessary. The Admiral Graf Spee must behave like a corsair ship. She can camouflage herself, change her name and her flag. She must not dock in any enemy or neutral port. She can provide herself with fuel, ammunitions and victuals from the auxiliary ship Altmark, which will wait her at preset points."

The complement was formed by 1500 men, all young and selected. Apart from those who controlled the Admiral Graf Spee there were groups called "prey crews" whose purpose was to get onboard the captured merchant ships to transfer them to Germany if possible. The auxiliary ship Altmark was a petrol tanker which the mariners called "the milky cow", just because she provided fuel. The Altmark followed the Admiral Graf Spee like a satellite, changed her name and her flag and refuelled in neutral ports without raising suspicions.

The 20th September the Admiral Graf Spee found her first prey near Pernambuco: the British steamship Clement, loaded with coal and petrol. Langsdorff telegraphed to the merchant ship the order of shutting down her radio; otherwise, he would order to fire at her. The captain of the steamship obeyed and Langsdorff sent the "prey crew" to take control of the captured ship. To confuse the British, the German wore caps with the name of the battleship Admiral Scheer. So, the mariners of the Clement (who were sent to the coast onboard shallops) later reported that the Admiral Scheer had attacked their ship. Later the Admiral Graf Spee captured another three ships, which she towed tied one to each other.

Continuing her corsair campaign, the Admiral Graf Spee headed toward Cape of Good Hope to get as far as possible from the area where she had attacked the Clement. Between the 5th and the 7th October the other British ships captured were Newton Beach, the Huntsman and the Ashlea. The German had already four ships to take care of. They would be happy to carry them to Germany, but that was not possible, so they decided to sink them with torpedoes and cannonades, after having gathered all the useful materials and victuals from them.

Before sinking the ships, all the British were transferred to the Admiral Graf Spee, where they spent fifteen days. In such occasion the German behavior was impeccable. The prisoners were allowed to stay for long time in the weather deck to do exercise. One morning, they saw a tanker ship very close, which displayed the Norwegian flag and was named Solveig (Dream). Captain Langsdorff announced that all the prisoners would be transferred to that ship, which made them to rejoice. Being a ship from a neutral country, they believed to be close to freedom. But as soon as they got onboard, they saw with disappointment that the ship was actually the Altmark. Things were worse from that moment. Captain Dau, aged seventy-seven, was a hard Nazi. He locked the prisoners in the hold, letting them to stay on the weather deck only twenty minutes. The food, and especially the water, was very scarce. In the narrowness of the hold, where 150 people had to live, the air seemed unbreathable. But then, over time, the number rose to more than the double.

Meanwhile the British Admiralty, which had been informed about a corsair expedition, was very confused. The whole British fleet was in state of alarm, but the orders were vague. It was only known that one or more corsair ships were operating in the Atlantic. None of the captured ships had communicated their position when being attacked. It was not known where the German ships hid nor how many they were.

To counteract the deceitful actions of the Admiral Graf Spee, the British Admiralty initiated the largest tracking operation in History. Using all the available units and moving the Mediterranean Fleet to the Atlantic, they were formed nine search groups, being entrusted to each of them a sector in the vast ocean. Still, it was like searching a needle in a haystack and this hide-and-seek game lasted for months. The Admiral Graf Spee showed up in the most unexpected places.

Besides, it was easy for the German to avoid the enemy hunt. Back then the largest part of ships were fueled with coal and tall columns of smoke rose from the horizon, which allowed Langsdorff to act with enough anticipation. However, the safety of the Admiral Graf Spee relied in coercion to the captured ships so they would not call for help via radio. When one of them (the Doric Star) did not obey, things turned ugly for the German. The "RRR" signal had betrayed their location. At noon, a British squadron showed up in the horizon. But Langsdorff used one of his tricks as a last resort. He raised a fake funnel and the British flag to mimic a Repulse-class cruiser. With such a clever camouflage the German battleship managed to quietly pass through the enemy squadron without being spotted.

On the morning of the 3rd December, after a brief mission in the Indian Ocean, the Admiral Graf Spee returned to the Atlantic. The morale onboard was extraordinarily high. During three monts of piracy they had sunk nine enemy merchant ships with a total of 50,000 tonnes and, however, not even a drop of blood had been spilled. The prisoners, around 260, had been being transferred to the Altmark. Onboard the Admiral Graf Spee still stayed 63 prisoners: 42 officers and 21 mariners. Despite the long stay in the sea, the German felt satisfied. The war seemed like an easy thing, with glory for everyone in exchange of little risk.

But Commodore Henry Harwood, commander of three British cruisers (the heavy cruiser Exeter and the light cruisers Ajax and Achilles) tasked with patroling the South American coasts, was preparing a deadly trap for the Admiral Graf Spee. After analyzing the sequence of sinkings and the movements of the German battleship, the British commander calculated that it was probable that the Admiral Graf Spee reached the waters of the River Plate around the 13th December, even if she was then almost 3000 miles away. It was a very vague hypothesis, but Harwood sent his cruisers to that area.


A squadron of the Home Fleet, the British metropolitan war fleet.


The Battle of River Plate

With disconcerting punctuality, what Harwood had predicted happened indeed. The 13th December at 06:14 o'clock the Admiral Graf Spee showed up on the horizon. The German sighted the small enemy fleet with anticipation. The alarm sounded and the men ran to their combat positions. However, Langsdorff had not realized that he was dealing with cruisers. Believing the British ships to be destroyers, he charged against the enemy at full speed. And this was his first mistake.

Still, despite the enemy units being cruisers, the Admiral Graf Spee should have, at least in theory, advantages when facing them. She was armed with six 280-millimeter cannons and eight 150-millimeter cannons, directed by an excellent fire control system. The three British cruisers had in total six 203-millimeter cannons (those of the Exeter) and sixteen 152-millimeter cannons. A salvo from the Admiral Graf Spee would easily destroy the thinner armor of the British cruisers, whereas three simultaneous salvos from these would find it harder to break through the relatively robust armor of the German battleship.

The British had advantage only regarding their higher rate of fire (six rounds per minute of the Exeter versus three rounds per minute of the Admiral Graf Spee), but the German cannons had a longer range. This would allow the Admiral Graf Spee to hit the enemy without being hit in turn. To avoid the risk of being under the enemy fire without being able to return it, the British commander ordered to his squadron to defilade as much as possible and arrange the units in a semicircle around the German battleship, to prevent the enemy from concentrating the fire upon a single target.

The German reacted to the attack as the British had expected. The Admiral Graf Spee opened fire with her fore turret against the Exeter, the most powerful cruiser, and with her rear turret against the Ajax. Attacking in this way, the Admiral Graf Spee could not assert her whole firepower. Albeit the first salvo from the Exeter hit the German battleship at the beginning of the combat, the British cruiser received a cannonade that destroyed her rear turret, leaving only one cannon available. Another cannonade like this one and the Exeter could end in the bottom of the sea.

At the beginning of the battle the German commander was very close to success. His mistake was to not take maximum advantage of the range of his cannons. Nonetheless, the first phase of this encounter was a triumph for the German, as they were close to put the Exeter out of action. The battle lasted for an hour and twenty minutes. The Exeter was hit again and 60 crewmen died. Also the Ajax and the Achilles were hit several times. The balance of casualties was 36 dead and 60 wounded for the German and 72 dead (61 on the Exeter) and 28 wounded for the British. And the Exeter was finally out of action.

The report from Charles Woodhouse, commander of the Ajax, stated that the Admiral Graf Spee had sighted the British squadron with anticipation and thus the German had the necessary time to prepare for battle. In opinion of Woodhouse, Langsdorff could have avoided the combat and fled before the British could have noticed about his presence if he had wanted so. But he accepted the battle and, while the British had managed to make some good shots, the Exeter was suddenly hit and severely damaged. The majority of experts who studied this battle agreed that it was a mistake from Langsdorff to not complete the neutralization of the Exeter. The thesis from Admiral Woodhouse is generally accepted. However, we should not forget that the Admiral Graf Spee was hit as well and that Langsdorff was injured in the head during the initial phase of the battle, being probable that his judgement were diminished because of this. If this had not happened, perhaps he could have taken a better control of the situation, keeping his battleship at a safer distance.

Around 10:00 o'clock the Admiral Graf Spee, severely damaged during the confrontation, headed toward the estuary of the River Plate, in an attempt to take refuge in the neutral port of Montevideo. The whole day the two remaining cruisers, the Ajax and the Achilles, followed the German battleship like bloodhounds. They did not want to lose their prey until the arrival of reinforcements. During the day, when the distances shortened, quick artillery encounters took place. The ships continued firing at each other while they navigated at few kilometers from the Uruguayan coast, when the night had already fallen upon them. Finally, at midnight, the German battleship entered the neutral port of Montevideo. The two British battleships, of course, did not follow her. They stopped in the limit of territorial waters and awaited there.


Sir Eugen Millington-Drake, descendant of the famous Sir Francis Drake, was then the British ambassador in Montevideo. He was one of the protagonists of the diplomatic battle which took place during the four days that the Admiral Graf Spee spent in Montevideo. The German battleship had entered the port the 13th December at 23:00 o'clock, without support from lights or pilots. The British ambassador received orders from London of demanding that she could stay only 24 hours in her haven, condition that the Hague Convention of 1907 had established for a belligerent ship which entered a neutral port, unless she were unable to navigate due to damage. He motivated his request on the fact that the Admiral Graf Spee had fled at full speed from the location of the battle, 300 miles away. But he guessed that the German would request a permission for 48 hours, because shortly before some British warships had obtained 48 hours instead of 24 hours. The German ambassador adviced Langsdorff to request a similar permission. But Langsdorff was inflexible and insisted in requesting 15 days, even if this would require to demonstrate that the German battleship was more damaged than what it seemed to be.

The diplomatic conversations between the Uruguyan Minister of the Exterior and both ambassadors began the 13th December at midnight. While a large multitude crowded the port, in the Admiral Graf Spee the crew worked hard to dissimulate with sailcloth the damage inflicted to their ship. Pride and prejudice forced the German to hide the reality. Berlin wanted to hide that the battleship had gotten a hard lesson from the humble British cruisers. But it was absurd to hide the damage and then request 15 days to repair it.

Meanwhile, the 14th December at dawn, the British ambassador suddenly changed his tactic and seemed to support the request from Langsdorff. Why this change? Because, as Millington-Drake explained many years later, that very morning he had received new instructions from Commodore Harwood, commander of the British cruisers. He wanted to retain the Admiral Graf Spee in Montevideo at least until the 20th December, when two large units, the battleship Renown and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, arrived to River Plate to support his two cruisers. Harwood also adviced the British ambassador on how to achieve his purpose. A certain article from the Hague Convention modified the aforementioned one in the sense that a belligerent ship can leave a neutral port only 24 hours later than a merchant ship belonging to an enemy country. This rule was made to prevent that a battle could take place just in front of a port. The Minister of the Exterior found it funny when the British ambassador notified him about the departure of a British merchant ship that same day, but he became very serious when the ambassador said that another ship would depart the following day and energically asked to not send a third merchant ship out of the port, because he did not want the Admiral Graf Spee to stay in the port for long time. He had thought to grant a permission of 72 hours to the German battleship, which should depart the 17th December at 9:30 o'clock to avoid being seized by the Uruguayan Government.

On the morning of the 14th December they were disembarked the German wounded and the British prisoners, who consequently retrieved their freedom. On the evening of that same day it took place in Montevideo the burial of the 36 German mariners fallen in combat. Many people attended the ceremony and a group of British mariners who had been prisoners onboard the Admiral Graf Spee put a wreath on the coffins. Meanwhile, the diplomatic battle was gaining intensity. Langsdorff and the German ambassador were in continuous telephonic contact with Berlin. Orders and counterorders arrived and Langsdorff did not hide his discomfort. He started to realize that he had committed a big mistake when seeking protection in a neutral port. The diplomatic encounter seemed to be more arduous than a naval one, for he was in risk of losing his ship without firing a single shot. Meanwhile, Montevideo was the center of attention of the world because the case of the Admiral Graf Spee caused sensation among the public opinion. Everyone wondered what would Langsdorff do after the 72 hours of asylum which had been granted to him.

Meanwhile, uncertainty reigned onboard the Admiral Graf Spee. News had arrived about many British warships joining the Ajax and the Achilles. This was not true, but the British Admiralty had sent many messages telling about a large concentration of warships near Montevideo, to be intercepted by the German secret service. Actually, the ships were still hundreds of miles far away. Only a cruiser, the Cumberland, had joined the Ajax and the Achilles. Hence, if Langsdorff had not heard the news coming from Berlin and he had departed, it is probable that he would have managed to overcome the modest obstacle posed by three light cruisers. But Langsdorff did not know the actual situation and, besides, the rupture of the blockade would not be enough to save the Admiral Graf Spee, for the British had already localized her.

The Sunday 17th December a multitude crowded the port of Montevideo. All the binoculars were aimed at the Admiral Graf Spee. At 19:30 o'clock the time granted by the Uruguayan Goverment would end. What would the German do? On the afternoon, Langsdorff visited the German embassy to receive the final orders from Berlin, which he would not reveal to anyone. Finally, at 19:30 o'clock the Admiral Graf Spee headed toward the exit of the port but, unexpectedly, she stopped at around five miles from the city. The German steamship Tacoma, which was docked there as well, followed her slowly. Few minutes later some small boats showed up on the horizon and stopped near the Admiral Graf Spee. Right away, the crew left the battleship to take place in the small boats, which headed toward Buenos Aires. During some minutes, the battleship remained immobile in the still waters. Then, a loud explosion shocked Montevideo. The Admiral Graf Spee had exploded.

The bustle from the multitude and the loudspeakers was suddenly replaced by a death silence when a column of smoke rose from the battleship. After some seconds the noise from the explosions arrived, which lasted for one hour in a series of blasts. The roar of the blasts reached the British ships which were preparing for battle. Amidst the general joy, Commodore Harwood telegraphed to London: "Today many lives have been saved". The Admiral Graf Spee burned during some hours before overturning and resting on a depth of barely eight meters. The photograph of the scuttled battleship traveled around the world. Many expert mariners wondered about the mysterious structure which rose on the top of the conning tower. The British had no doubt: they promptly understood that also the German had built a radar device.


The Admiral Graf Spee burning before the River Plate.

Live broadcast of the sinking from Montevideo

Montevideo, 17th December 1939. At 19:30 o'clock that day the special correspondent of the BBC transmitted the following broadcast, which was reproduced by the whole western network:

Here Mike Fowler, who talks from Montevideo. In front of me, in the center of the port, lies the "Graf Spee" pocket battleship, the German corsair ship of which everyone is talking about. The Nazi unit has spent four days sheltered in the Uruguayan neutral port after having sustained a hard encounter with three British units which are now waiting her outside the territorial limits. Shortly, the "Graf Spee" will have to leave this port. Few minutes are left for the end of the time granted by Uruguay to the German to repair the damages suffered by the ship during the battle. If after some minutes she does not depart, she will be seized, and the crew interned. What will the German do? Will they confront the ships which await outside the port or will they let their battleship to be seized? The case created by this warship sheltered in a neutral port is to be resolved. There are around three hundred thousands of persons crowded in the docks, in the rooftops and in the roofs of the whole city. All of them want to see in person what is going to happen. They know that they are witnesses of an event that will go down in History. But... What is happening? I see agitation on the deck of the "Graf Spee"... It is true... The ship is going to depart... We feel the beat of the machines... The anchors are weighed... Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the battleship is moving. She heads toward the exit. Toward the enemy... The German have taken a decision... Now the unavoidable will happen...

But the unavoidable did not happen. The prediction made by Fowler showed to be wrong after few minutes. The battleship was not heading toward the enemy, who was waiting during four days already. Once having arrived to the mouth of the porth, the spectators saw the ship stopping and then the crew jumping into the shallops and heading toward some small boats which arrived in that moment. Shortly after, a column of smoke rose from the center of the Admiral Graf Spee. And Mike Fowler went on with his broadcast:

What is happening? My God, the German have set fire in the powder magazine! Terrible explosions arrive to us. All the crystals in Montevideo break into pieces! The "Graf Spee" is sinking... The German have exploded it. But why have they done this? Why? Why?...

The German had obtained permission to move to Buenos Aires, where the situation was more favorable for them. There Langsdorff spent a time organizing his crew. He was also called to the German embassy, where he had many conversations with Berlin. It has been said that he received harsh reproaches because of his behavior and, besides, many newspapers wrote that he had avoided the duty of a captain of dying with his ship. Finally, Langsdorff took a tragic decision: the afternoon of the 19th December he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. It is very difficult to understand the reason of this delayed suicide. The German Ministry of Propaganda presented it as a sign of valor, saying that he had delayed his sacrifice just to be able to save his crew. But this source is not trustable. The truth is that Langsdorff was a victim of the trick organized by the British secret service. It is also possible that his suicide were ordered by Hitler. The Ministry of Propaganda tried to disguise this failure as a case of heroism of the Kriegsmarine, but in Berlin it was widely believed that a more audacious commander could have saved the Admiral Graf Spee. Hence, it is also possible that Langsdorff wanted to put an end to his life to avoid the humilliation of a court-martial where he would have to explain his mistakes. A revealing fact is that, despite the official position of considering Langsdorff to be a hero, his widow received only half pension because the German Government defined his death as a personal initiative rather than a war service.

The Admiral Graf Spee

The "pocket battleship" Admiral Graf Spee was built in 1934 after her sister ships Admiral Scheer and Deutschland. She had been designed to elude the Versailles Treaty, which prohibited to Germany to build warships of displacement above 10,160 tonnes and armed with calibers above 280 millimeters. The German engineers had made a technical miracle in building a warship of such power within the mandatory weight (she actually exceeded the weight but not exaggeratedly). By using a large proportion of light alloys and replacing rivets by electric soldering, it was possible to lighten the hull and arm it with cannons of caliber much superior than that of those installed in other ships of the same tonnage. The main armament was installed in two triple turrets to save weight, but this caused that the Admiral Graf Spee could fire with certain precision against a single target only, a negative aspect which came to light when she had to fire simultaneously against the Exeter and the other two cruisers which pursued her during the Battle of River Plate. The 150-millimeter cannons were installed beside the superstructure in single mountings protected by simple casemates. Two torpedo launchers with four tubes each were installed astern and their main purpose was to quickly sink the merchant ships.

The original anti-aircraft armament comprised 88-millimeter cannons, which were soon replaced by 105-millimeter cannons in the Admiral Graf Spee, and in the autumn of 1939 in her sisters. The main belt, which was thicker in the Admiral Graf Spee than in her sisters, was inclined and it had a superimposed anti-torpedo bulkhead. The most visible differences with the former Deutschland were the conning tower of modernized design and the aircraft-launching catapult reallocated after the funnel. Apart from the special armament there was another "secret weapon" in the ship: the radar, which the German called "Dete". The Admiral Graf Spee was one of the first ships fitted with such a device. The propulsion system was based in Diesel engines, which despite being not much lighter than a steam machinery occupied less space, required less operators and consumed less fuel, granting a larger operational range to a smaller ship. Another advantage was that they produced less smoke, which allowed the Admiral Graf Spee to sight with anticipation the British squadron in River Plate, for its smoke trails were visible 15 minutes before it could sight the smoke from the German battleship. A negative aspect was that the utilization of Diesel machinery reduced the maximum speed.

Actually, the ships of the Deutschland class were long-range but slow battlecruisers, a fact that the German acknowledged in February 1940, when the Lutzow (ex Deutschland) and the Admiral Scheer were reclassified as heavy cruisers. These ships would have been more effective if they had installed an armament lighter than that of 280 millimeters and 150 millimeters; the saved weight could have been used to increase speed and protection. However, they would have not had the same effect of propaganda. Since their speed would not allow them to fight at long range, they were actually very vulnerable to the 203-millimeter cannons, whose projectiles could easily shatter their armor. The French fast battleship Dunkerque confirmed the obsolescency of this type of warship, and despite another three ships of the Deutschland class were designed their keels were never laid down. However, the main armament for two of those ships had been already produced and it would be finally installed in the battlecruisers of the Scharnhorst class, another unfortunate design of the Kriegsmarine.



The Admiral Graf Spee in December 1939 with an Arado 196 seaplane. Note the tall and narrow conning tower, characteristic of the German warships of that time, fitted with a radar-telemeter device on top.


Class: Deutschland (Deutschland, Admiral Speer and Admiral Graf Spee)

Built in: Wilhelmshaven Shipyards

Authorized: 1932

Keel laid: 1 October 1932

Launched: 30 June 1934

Completed: 6 January 1936

Fate: Sunk by her own crew on 17 December 1939 and scuttled in 1942

Length (total): 186 meters

Length (in waterline): 181.7 meters

Beam: 21.3 meters

Draught: 5.8 meters

Displacement (standard): 12,290 tonnes

Displacement (normal): 14,100 tonnes

Displacement (full load): 16,460 tonnes

Engines: Eight MAN Diesel 9-cylinder engines (four per axis); two propellers

Power (total): 56,000 shaft horsepower

Speed (maximum): 28 knots

Operational range: 7570 nautical miles at 19 knots

Fuel load: 2564 tonnes

Armor: 100 millimeters in main belt; 40 millimeters in anti-torpedo bulkhead; 45-70 millimeters in deck; 85-140 millimeters in main turrets; 100 millimeters in barbettes; 10 millimeters in secondary turrets

Armament: 6 x 280-millimeter 54-caliber cannon (2 x 3); 8 x 150-millimeter 55-caliber cannon (8 x 1); 6 x 105-millimeter anti-aircraft cannon (3 x 2); 8 x 37-millimeter anti-aircraft cannon (4 x 2); 10 x 20-millimeter anti-aircraft cannon (10 x 1); 8 x 533-millimeter torpedo tube (2 x 4); 2 x reconnaissance aircraft

Complement: 1150


1936-38: Flagship of the Fleet.

1936-39: Patrols in Spanish waters during the Spanish Civil War.

May 1937: Attended the British Coronation Ceremony in Spithead.

1938: Remodelation; modification of the conning tower and installation of radar equipment.

21 August - 13 December 1939: Corsair patrols in the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

September - December 1939: Sank nine merchant ships for a total of 50,089 tonnes.

13 December 1939: Battle of River Plate; caused important damages to the British cruisers Exeter and Ajax; hit by twenty projectiles; fire control destroyed and forecastle damaged; took refuge in Montevideo.

17 December 1939: Sunk by her own crew outside Montevideo.

1942: Scuttled.

The HMS Exeter

Albeit the ships of the County class achieved all the possible advantages from the limits imposed by the Washington Treaty, the British Admiralty was convinced that for the British requirements it was preferable a lesser amount of larger cruisers. The minimum number of canons for firing before being detected by the radar was six, and this determined the size of the ships of the York class, which were specifically designed for escorting convoys. The thickness of the armor beside the machinery was reduced because it was thought that the largest part of impacts would take place from oblique trajectories, rather than perpendicularly to the board. The York had a tall bridge, because the aircraft-launching catapult had been originally planned to be installed on top of the fore superfiring turret, rearward inclined masts and funnels, and a single catapult installed in the centerline. The Exeter had a low bridge, totally vertical masts and funnels, two catapults arranged like a carpenter's square and a slightly wider beam to improve stability.

The York was sunk by an explosive craft the 26th March 1941, in the agitated waters of Suda Bay in Crete, and was abandoned the 22nd May 1941, when the island was definitely lost after the German assault. The Exeter was sunk by four Japanese cruisers the 1st March 1942, when crossing the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java.

The HMS Exeter in December 1939, carrying a Walrus seaplane. They can be seen the low profile of the bridge, the V-shaped catapult after the aft funnel and the 102-millimeter cannons installed in single mountings.


Class: York (York and Exeter)

Built in: Devonport Shipyards

Authorized: 1927

Keel laid: 1 August 1928

Launched: 18 July 1929

Completed: 21 July 1931

Fate: Sunk after being severely damaged by four Japanese heavy cruisers on 1 March 1942

Length (total): 175.6 meters

Length (in waterline): 164.9 meters

Beam: 17.7 meters

Draught: 6.2 meters

Displacement (standard): 8520 tonnes

Engines: Eight Admiralty 3-drum boilers; four Parsons turbines of simple reduction; four propellers

Power (total): 80,000 shaft horsepower

Speed (maximum): 32 knots

Operational range: 8400 nautical miles at 14 knots

Fuel load: 1930 tonnes

Armor: 51-76 millimeters in main belt; 51 millimeters in deck; 38-51 millimeters in main turrets

Armament: 6 x 203-millimeter cannon (3 x 2); 4 x 102-millimeter cannon (4 x 1) (8 x in 1941); 8 x 40-millimeter anti-aircraft cannon (8 x 1) (16 x in 1941); 2 x 12.7-millimeter machine gun (in 1941); 6 x 533-millimeter torpedo tube (2 x 3); 2 x reconnaissance aircraft

Complement: 630


1931-33: Second Cruiser Squadron.

October 1933 - August 1939: North American and East Indies Squadron.

25 August 1939: Navigation toward South America.

13 December 1939: Battle of River Plate. Severely damaged by the Admiral Graf Spee.

December 1939 - January 1940: Emergency repairs in the Falkland Islands.

January - February 1940: Return to United Kingdom.

February 1940 - March 1941: Readjustments and modernization in Devonport.

March 1941: Included in the Home Fleet. Later she moved to Singapore.

December 1941 - February 1942: Service in the Indian Ocean and in the East Indies.

20 February 1942: Damaged in the Battle of the Java Sea.

27-28 February 1942: Provisional repairs in Surabaya.

1 March 1942: Scuttled after suffering very severe damage from the Japanese heavy cruisers Nachi, Haguro, Ashigara and Myoko.

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The fate of the Scharnhorst

Categories: Ships - Naval Warfare - World War Two - 20th Century - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-10-19

Article updated: 2020-10-30

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