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Tuesday, 18 June, 2024
17December 1939

Captain of Graf Spee destroys ship rather than surrender

The captain of the German heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee, Hans Wilhelm Langsdorff, scuttled his warship just off the Uruguayan coast rather than surrender his vessel.

Captain Langsdorff was aware he only had three days to repair his ship in the neutral Uruguayan port of Montevideo. British intelligence had also convinced him a large Royal Navy fleet was waiting for him once he left port. In fact, only the severely damaged HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles were nearby. Unable to repair his ship in 72 hours, and unwilling to risk harm coming to his crew in a potential second battle with the Royal Navy, Captain Langsdorff decided to scuttle his ship.

Langsdorff released all his prisoners, took his injured crew to an Uruguayan hospital, buried his dead crew and unloaded his surviving crew on land. Then Captain Langsdorff, along with only 40 crew, sailed the Graf Spee away from the coast. After distributing ammunition around the ship, the captain and his remaining crew disembarked and watched, along with 20,000 spectators, as his ship was blown up.

On 20 December 1939, Captain Langsdorff killed himself.

The Admiral Graf Spee’s sister ship, the Deutschland, was renamed the Lützow by Hitler two days after the Graf Spee was scuttled. Seeing the loss of the Graf Spee, Hitler feared losing a ship named ‘Germany’ would be embarrassing for the German state.

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