This was not only the first naval battle of WWII, but it was a victory for a small force of British and Commonwealth warships against a significantly more powerful enemy. The author has produced a well researched work that carries monochrome images in support of a flowing text that carries the reader through this exciting story.Highly Recommended.
NAME: The Battle of the River Plate, The First Naval Battle of the Second World War
AUTHOR: Gordon Landsborough
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, frontline
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Ships, people, organization, WWII, Second World War. World War Two, war at sea, convoys, commercial raiders, naval aviation, Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm, FAA, RN, radar, communications, armoured cruisers, pocket battleships, light cruisers
DESCRIPTION: This was not only the first naval battle of WWII, but it was a victory for a small force of British and Commonwealth warships against a significantly more powerful enemy. The author has produced a well researched work that carries monochrome images in support of a flowing text that carries the reader through this exciting story. Highly Recommended.
The Germans developed a class of three unusual major warships to provide the best use of the tonnage allowance available under international treaty. The objective was to produce a warship with a long unrefueled range that could outgun anything fast enough to catch her, and fast enough to flee anything that was more powerful. The guns were as large as some line of battleships in use during WWI, mounted on an armoured hull that was economically driven by diesel engines. By rights, the ships, that came to be known as pocket battleships, were as close to invincible in their intended roles as it is possible to design.
Germany began sending its commerce raiders out to their war stations before the declaration of war and Graf Spee was one that was already on station in the South Atlantic, together with its supply ship. As soon as war was declared, she began sinking Allied merchant craft in the South Atlantic and the south of the Indian Ocean. The severe lack of RN escort vessels meant that most merchant ships operating in southern waters sailed alone, without escort. The RN reserved most of its available ships to the North Atlantic and Mediterranean where the greatest threat of German surface and submarine forces were likely to operate and where the Atlantic bridge was considered vital to British survival.
Graf Spee was immediately successful and, at an early point, the RN considered there might be more than one warship in operation. The RN decided to give a small squadron of three cruisers the task of searching out the enemy raider. Ajax and Achilles were light cruisers, little more powerful than Captain D destroyers of the period and with Anzac crews. The third cruiser Exeter was more powerful but significantly less powerful than the Graf Spee.
Action was joined on 13 December 1939 and the Allied ships were handled extremely well, working together to divide enemy fire. Even so, the courageous Exeter was seriously damaged during the engagement, remaining in the fight, but being sent to the Falklands for emergency repairs as soon as the German ship had fled for Montevideo. The little Seafox float-planes proved very useful in keeping observation of the Graf Spee as she fled for port, and then maintained observation from outside Uruguay’s territorial waters.
The battle was in the finest Nelsonian traditions of the RN, but the next stage was a triumph for diplomatic and intelligence personnel. They conducted a war of nerves that ended with the German Captain sending most of his crew ashore and then sailing out of port to scuttle the Graf Spee, giving the Allied force total victory. In part, the war of nerves was aided by the indomitable Seafox maintaining many hours flying in sight of the shore and helping to convince the Germans that a far superior force, including an aircraft carrier, has arrived.
The final stage of the battle was the pursuit of the Graf Spee’s supply ship, the Altmark, which was carrying British seamen captured from the Graf Spee’s sinking of merchant ships. This culminated with a daring attack on the Altmark, in hiding in a Norwegian fjord, by British destroyers.
This is a really exciting and stirring story of British and Commonwealth sailors working together to defeat a theoretically superior enemy, far from their home bases.