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Battle of the River Plate

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Battle of the River Plate

Old 21st Jan 2020, 14:51
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Battle of the River Plate



I meant to post this in early December last year, close to the 80th anniversary of the River Plate battle. They look like just a bunch of blokes having a drink in a dockside bar. The scene however is Montevideo a few days after that epic battle in 1939, and they are a mixture of British merchant seamen whose ships were trapped there, and sailors from the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. I don't know if such a gathering of enemies took place ever again in the war.

Second from the left among those seated, in the white vest, is Steve, the father of my sister in law. Far right, in the cap, is his friend Dan. Both were from Maidstone in Kent. Both men survived the war and each of them subsequently married the other one' s sister. Dan died on the day of Steve's funeral just a few years ago.

My sister in law tells me that Steve went on to serve aboard the SS Ohio (operation Pedestal), and that he was aboard during that famous entry into Malta's Valetta harbour later in the war.

I believe there is a museum in Montevideo that has exhibits related to this battle, so I will send them this picture in case they are interested.

Happy New Year to all.
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Old 21st Jan 2020, 15:40
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Fascinating, glad to hear some of them survived the war. Is that Guinness or some other form of stout they're enjoying?
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Old 21st Jan 2020, 15:41
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I don't know if such a gathering of enemies took place ever again in the war.
Probably not in the way you mean but if you want to read something that will make your jaw drop, have a look at the article below which is about The Curragh internment camp in Ireland and the K-Line rules for British and German soldiers.
Unbelievable as it seems, I know it to be true because my father was a 'guard' there during the war. Although the article tends to emphasise the two sides kept to themselves, my father's recollections were very different.

https://www.theguardian.com/theguard.../features11.g2
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Old 21st Jan 2020, 17:21
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Fascinating photograph, mind you, the Captain of the Graf Spee wasn't a died in wool nazi and appeared to have acted honourably to the crews of those he sank.
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Old 21st Jan 2020, 19:07
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Steve, the father of my sister in law
but not your father-in-law?
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Old 21st Jan 2020, 21:09
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but not your father-in-law?
Not if it's your brother's wife's father.
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Old 21st Jan 2020, 21:10
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In the UK the father of your brother's wife is not generally referred to as your father in law. This term is generally only used for the father of your own wife/husband.

PDR
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Old 21st Jan 2020, 22:09
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Correction - father of my wife's sister in law!
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Old 22nd Jan 2020, 01:00
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Originally Posted by tow1709 View Post
Correction - father of my wife's sister in law!
That's better .... now I am wholly satisfied
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Old 22nd Jan 2020, 16:33
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After the scuttling of the Graf Spee and the photgraphs appearing the press, the Admiralty sent L. H. Bainbridge-Bell out to exmaine the aerials. He reported that they were radar aerials - which would have been for the 500Mc/s 'Seetakt' radar originally fitted to Graf Spee. Looking at photos of the Graf Spee from 1938 showed something covered in those positions on the ship, which indicated that the Germans had a production gun ranging radar at least as early as 1938. Later versions (1939) of Seetakt moved to 375 Mc/s. Bainbridge-Bell's report was ignored in Whitehall who, according to R. V. Jones, 'for many months more continued to debate if the Germans had radar'.

The GEMA company had a ship detecting radar in 1934.......The RN received its first operational radar in 1941.
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Old 23rd Jan 2020, 11:59
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Originally Posted by NutLoose View Post
Fascinating photograph, mind you, the Captain of the Graf Spee wasn't a died in wool nazi and appeared to have acted honourably to the crews of those he sank.
There is a military museum in Buenas Aires which has on display what it claims is the Luger pistol that the captain of the Graf Spee used to shoot himself.
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Old 24th Jan 2020, 11:54
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Often wondered whether Commodore Henry Harwood's decision to patrol off Buenos Aires was a brilliant deduction or whether it was inspired by Bletchley Park code breakers? (I believe the former) I've not been able to find when Bletchley Park was able to decrypt the German naval codes.
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Old 24th Jan 2020, 12:00
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The British had NINE groups searching for the Graf Spee ... amazing.....................
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Old 24th Jan 2020, 21:18
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tow1709. I'm assuming from your information that you KNOW these were British merchant seaman on ships were "trapped" in Montevideo, but surely the same rules of 72 hours applied before being interned?
Is it possible that these were crewmen from ships captured and sunk by the Graf Spee?
Africa Shell 706 tons 15/11/1939
Huntsman 8196 tons 10/10/1939
Ashlea 4222 tons 07/10/1939
Newton Beech 4615 tons 05/10/1939
Clement 5050 tons 30/09/1939
Streonshalh 3895 tons 07/12/1939
Doric Star 6347 tons 02/12/1939
Tairoa 7983 tons 03/12/1939
Emmy Friederich 4372 tons 23/10/1939
Trevanion 5299 tons 22/10/1939 ???
There was also a ship sunk in the Indian Ocean on 15 November before Graf Spee headed back into the Atlantic
Uckermark 10698 tons 30/11/1942 *
See: https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?16222

*The Uckermark is perhaps better known under its previous registered name "Altmark"

The amount and sze of the ships sunk is a reflection of both the orders given in sinking British/Allied ships but without engaging warships, thus limiting the ships he could safely target, and the absence of the convoy system, so that he was left to pick off targets of opportunity, some quite small. Nonetheless, a hell of a threat, and one the Admiralty deployed large resources to nullify.

What is needed is an appreciation that the Royal navy was fighting a War with WW1 type equipment, whilst Germany had only piad lip service to the Washington Treaty, so that the (ahem) under 10,000 ton category included the Graf Spee, and sister ships, at 16,000 tons....
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Old 24th Jan 2020, 22:42
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Originally Posted by sidevalve View Post
Often wondered whether Commodore Henry Harwood's decision to patrol off Buenos Aires was a brilliant deduction or whether it was inspired by Bletchley Park code breakers? (I believe the former) I've not been able to find when Bletchley Park was able to decrypt the German naval codes.
There's a very interesting account of events at https://nationalinterest.org/blog/th...g-itself-24537 which includes the following:

"Based on a message from the Graf Spee's last victim, the merchant ship Doric Star which was sunk off South Africa, Harwood shrewdly guessed the raider would sail west toward the River Plate estuary between Argentina and Uruguay. At 06:10 on December 13, 1939, Harwood's force sighted smoke on the horizon, which turned out to be the Graf Spee. Langsdorff had also spotted the British cruisers, but judged them to be destroyers guarding a convoy. Here there would easy pickings for a battleship, he thought until it was too late."

Not categorical I know but, firstly, I suspect that the necessity to keep radio silence alone would suggest that even the Kriegsmarine was probably unaware of the GRAF SPEE's day to day position and, secondly, I knew Commodore (later Admiral) Harwood's son, and he always maintained that his father had made his own decision regarding where to look for her.

Jack
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Old 25th Jan 2020, 07:47
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"What is needed is an appreciation that the Royal navy was fighting a War with WW1 type equipment"

True and especially true of the Bismark & the Tirpitz but the RN had a vast preponderance of ships. And the "pocket battle ships" proved to be a flawed concept. They were really just heavy cruisers and weren't able to run or to fight against serious opposition - the Germans only built 3 in and only in the early 1930's - they were in effect an interim class to give Germany some apparent naval strength before they could build conventional vessels.
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Old 25th Jan 2020, 08:02
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Union Jack, after even a short time in Maritime you could get a feeling in your water. Harwood, with years of experience, made a very good assessment.
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Old 26th Jan 2020, 06:34
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After all the Germans had turned up at the Falklands in 1914 when raiding in the S oceans - off Montevideo was alogical choice given their reported captures to that date
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Old 26th Jan 2020, 18:33
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Replying to Icare9: Delete "trapped", insert "present" in my OP.
No, these were not released prisoners from the Graf Spee - at least Steve and Dan were not. My sister-in-law-in-law (sic) would have known and said so. Maybe others in the picture were.
Their ship was present in Montevideo harbour at the time the picture was taken. That is all that is known. I don't know how many days after 13 Dec 1939 the picture was taken.
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Old 26th Jan 2020, 18:37
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Originally Posted by Asturias56 View Post
After all the Germans had turned up at the Falklands in 1914 when raiding in the S oceans - off Montevideo was alogical choice given their reported captures to that date
... and their commander was Admiral Graf Spee.
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