"Admiral Graf Spee" in Montevideo. Last parking
On the evening of December 17, 1939, a crowd of thousands of spectators from the shores of La Plata Bay watched the spectacular spectacle. The war, which was already raging with might and main in Europe, finally reached the carefree South America and no longer as newspaper reports. Angular, with sharp chopped forms, like a medieval Teutonic knight, the German raider "Admiral Graf Spee" moved along the fairway. Those who were versed in naval history shook their heads thoughtfully - the circumstances were too reminiscent of the events of 120 years ago, when the inhabitants of Cherbourg escorted the Confederate cruiser Alabama to battle the Kearsarge. The crowd thirsted for battle and inevitable bloodshed: everyone knew that an English squadron was guarding the Spee at the entrance to the Gulf. "Pocket battleship" (an English term, the Germans called such ships "cut-off battleships") slowly sailed out of the territorial waters, the anchors that were being thundered rumbled in the haws. And then explosions thundered - a cloud of smoke and flame rose above the ship. The crowd sighed, mesmerized and disappointed. The anticipated battle did not take place. Wagers and deals collapsed, newspapermen were left without fees, and doctors in Montevideo were out of work. The career of the German "pocket battleship" "Admiral Graf Spee" was over.
Sharp dagger in a narrow sheath
In an effort to humiliate and trample Germany into the mud after the First World War, the Allies in the Entente entangled the defeated country with many restrictions, primarily in military terms. It was quite difficult to determine in a long list with no less impressive additions, clarifications and explanations: what can the defeated have in service and how should it look like? With the death of the most efficient core of the High Seas Fleet by self-flooding in Scapa Flow, the British lords finally breathed easier, and the fog over London became less gloomy. As part of a small "club for the elderly", which can hardly be called a fleet, the Weimar Republic was allowed to have only 6 ships of the line, not counting the limited number of ships of other classes, which were actually battleships of the pre-dreadnought era. The pragmatism of Western politicians was obvious: these forces were quite enough to confront the Soviet Russian Navy, the state of which by the beginning of the 1920s was even more bleak, and at the same time completely insufficient for any attempts to sort out relations with the winners. But the more voluminous the text of the treaty, the more clauses it contains, the easier it is to find appropriate loopholes and room for maneuver in it. Under the Versailles Peace Treaty, Germany had the right to build new battleships with a tonnage limit of 10 thousand tons instead of the old ones after 20 years of service. It just so happened that the time spent in the ranks of battleships of the type "Braunschweig" and "Deutschland", which entered service in 1902-1906, approached the cherished twenty-year milestone by the mid-1920s. And already a few years after the end of the First World War, the Germans began to design the ships of their new fleet. The fate in the person of the Americans presented the defeated with an unexpected but pleasant gift: in 1922, the Washington Naval Agreement was signed, which imposes restrictions on the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of ships of the main classes. Germany had a chance to create a new ship from scratch, being within the framework of less stringent agreements than the Entente countries that won it.
At first, the requirements for new ships were quite moderate. This is a confrontation in the Baltic either with the fleets of the Scandinavian countries, which themselves had plenty of junk themselves, or a reflection of the "punitive" expedition of the French fleet, where the Germans considered intermediate class battleships of the "Danton" class to be their main opponents - it is unlikely that the French would have sent their deep seated dreadnoughts. The future German battleship at first confidently resembled a typical coastal defense ship with powerful artillery and a low side. Another group of specialists advocated the creation of a powerful 10,000-ton cruiser, capable of fighting any of the "Washingtonians", that is, with cruisers built taking into account the restrictions imposed by the Washington Naval Agreement. But again, the cruiser was of little use in the Baltic, besides, the admirals were scratching their heads, complaining about insufficient booking. A design dead end was formed: a well-armed, protected and at the same time fast ship was required. The breakthrough came when the fleet was led by Admiral Zenker, the former commander of the battle cruiser Von der Tann. It was under his leadership that the German designers managed to cross a "hedgehog with a snake", which resulted in the I / M 26 project. Ease of fire control and space saving led to the optimal 280-mm main caliber. In 1926, the French, tired of victory, left the demilitarized and occupied Rhineland, and the Krupp concern could guarantee the timely production of new barrels. Initially, it was planned to equip the ship with intermediate caliber - universal 127-mm guns, which was an innovative and progressive solution for those years. However, everything that looks great on paper is not always embodied in metal (sometimes, fortunately), or it is not realized at all. The conservative admirals, who are always preparing for the naval battles of the bygone war, demanded a return to the 150 mm medium caliber, which would be complemented by 88 mm anti-aircraft guns. Further service of the "pocket battleships" showed the fallacy of this idea. The center of the battleship turned out to be overloaded with weapons, protected, moreover, for the sake of economy, only by splinter shields. But the admirals thought this was not enough, and they pushed through the installation of torpedo tubes, which had to be placed on the upper deck behind the main tower. We had to pay for this with protection - the main armor belt "lost weight" from 100 to 80 mm. The displacement increased to 13 thousand tons.
The first ship of the series, serial number 219, was laid down in Kiel at the Deutsche Veerke shipyard on February 9, 1929. The construction of the head battleship (just so as not to embarrass the "enlightened sailors" and their friends, the new ships were classified) did not go very quickly, and under the pretentious name "Deutschland" it was handed over to the Navy on April 1, 1933. On June 25, 1931, the second unit, the Admiral Scheer, was laid down at the state shipyard in Wilhelmshaven. Its construction was already proceeding at a fairly fast pace. Meanwhile, the appearance of some suspicious "battleships" in Germany, having contractual dimensions on paper, but in reality looking very impressive, could not but bother the neighbors. First of all, the French, who hastily began to design "hunters" for German "Deutschlands". The fears of the French were embodied in the ship steel of the battlecruisers "Dunkirk" and "Strasbourg", in all respects superior to their opponents, although they were much more expensive. German designers needed something to respond to the appearance of "dunkers", which caused a pause in the construction of the series. It was too late to make drastic changes to the project, so they limited themselves to revising the booking system of the third ship, bringing it to 100 mm, and instead of 88-mm anti-aircraft guns, more powerful 105-mm guns were installed.
"Admiral Graf Spee" is leaving the slipway
On September 1, 1932, battleship C with building number 124 was laid on the slipway freed after the Sheer was launched. On June 30, 1934, the daughter of the German Admiral Count Maximilian von Spee, Countess Hubert, broke a traditional bottle of champagne on the side of a ship named after her father … On January 6, 1936, "Admiral Graf Spee" joined the Kriegsmarine. In memory of the admiral who died in 1914 near the Falkland Islands, the new battleship bore the coat of arms of the von Spee house on the nose, and the Gothic inscription "CORONEL" was made on the tower-like superstructure in honor of the victory won by the admiral over the English squadron off the coast of Chile. It differed from the first two battleships of the "Spee" series by enhanced armor and a developed superstructure. A few words should also be said about the power plant of the Deutschland-class ships. Naturally, these so-called "battleships" were not intended for any protection of the Baltic waters - their main task was to disrupt enemy communications and fight against merchant shipping. Hence the increased requirements for autonomy and cruising range. The main power plant was supposed to be the installation of diesel engines, in the production of which Germany traditionally retained the leadership. Back in 1926, the well-known MAN company began to develop a lightweight marine diesel engine. For the experiment, a similar product was used as an installation of the economic course on the light cruiser Leipzig. The new engine turned out to be capricious and often failed: since the design was lightweight, it created increased vibration, which led to breakdowns. The situation was so serious that the Spey began to work out options for installing steam boilers. But MAN engineers promised to bring their creation to mind, besides, the requirements for the project did not provide for a difference in the types of installed engines, and the third ship of the series received 8 main nine-cylinder diesel engines with a total capacity of 56 thousand hp provided for it. By the beginning of World War II, the engines on all three ships had been brought to a high degree of reliability, which was proved in practice by the first raiding of the "Admiral Scheer", which passed 46 thousand miles in 161 days without serious breakdowns.
"Spee" passes through the Kiel Canal
After various tests and equipment checks, the "pocket battleship" took part in the May 29, 1936 naval parade, which was attended by Hitler and other top officials of the Reich. The reviving German fleet faced the problem of training the personnel of the ship's personnel, and already on June 6, "Graf Spee", taking on board the midshipmen, sets sail for the Atlantic to the island of Santa Cruz. During the 20-day hike, the operation of mechanisms, primarily diesel engines, is checked. Their increased noise was noted, especially on the main course. Upon returning to Germany - again exercises, trainings, training voyages in the Baltic. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Germany took an active part in these events. As a member of the Non-Interference Committee, whose function was to prevent the delivery of military supplies to both opposing sides, the Germans sent almost all of their large ships into Spanish waters. First, the Deutschland and the Scheer visited Spanish waters, then it was the turn of the Count Spee, which set sail for the Bay of Biscay on March 2, 1937. The "Pocket Battleship" was on watch for two months, visiting Spanish ports between times and encouraging the Francoists with its presence. In general, the activities of the "Committee" over time began to be more and more mocking and one-sided, turning into a farce.
"Pocket Battleship" at the Spithead Maritime Parade
In May, the Spee returned to Kiel, after which she was sent as the most modern German ship at that time to represent Germany in the naval parade on the Spithead roadstead, given in honor of the British king George VI. Then again a trip to Spain, this time a short one. The time remaining before the big war, the "pocket battleship" spent in frequent exercises, training voyages. The fleet commander repeatedly raised the flag on it - the Spee had a weighty reputation as an exemplary parade ship. In 1939, a large foreign campaign of the German fleet was planned to demonstrate the flag and technical achievements of the Third Reich, in which all three "pocket battleships", light cruisers and destroyers were to take part. However, other events took place in Europe, and the Kriegsmarine was no longer up to the demonstration campaigns. The Second World War began.
The beginning of the war. Pirate everyday life
The German command, in the face of an increasingly deteriorating situation in the summer of 1939 and an inevitable clash with Poland and its allies England and France, planned to start a traditional raider war. But the fleet, whose admirals were worried about the concept of chaos on communications, was not ready to create it - only the Deutschland and Admiral Graf Spee, which were constantly in close operation, were ready for a long voyage into the ocean. It also turned out that hordes of raiders converted from commercial ships are only on paper. To save time, it was decided to send two "pocket battleships" and supply vessels to the Atlantic to provide them with everything they needed. On August 5, 1939, the Altmark left Germany for the United States, where it was to take on board diesel fuel for the Spee. The "pocket battleship" itself left Wilhelmshaven on August 21 under the command of Captain Zursee G. Langsdorf. On the 24th, the Deutschland followed its sister ship, working in conjunction with the tanker Westerfald. Areas of responsibility were divided as follows: "Deutschland" was to operate in the North Atlantic, in the area south of Greenland - "Graf Spee" had hunting grounds in the southern part of the ocean.
Europe still lived a peaceful life, but Langsdorf was already ordered to observe the maximum secrecy of the movement, so as not to alarm the British ahead of time. "Spee" managed to sneak unnoticed, first to the shores of Norway, and then to the Atlantic south of Iceland. This route, subsequently carefully guarded by British patrols, will not be repeated by any German raider. Bad weather helped the German ship continue to remain unnoticed. On September 1, 1939, a "pocket battleship" was found 1,000 miles north of the Cape Verde Islands. There was an appointment and a meeting with "Altmark" was held. Langsdorf was unpleasantly surprised that the supply team had discovered and identified the German raider by a tall tower-like superstructure that had no analogues on other ships. Moreover, the Altmark itself was spotted from the Spee later. Taking fuel and completing the supply team with artillery servants, Langsdorf continued his voyage south, observing complete radio silence. "Spee" observed complete secrecy, dodging any smoke - Hitler still hoped to resolve the issue with Poland in the style of "Munich 2.0" and therefore did not want to anger the British ahead of time. While on the "pocket battleship" they were waiting for instructions from Berlin, his team, taking into account the opinion of colleagues from the "Altmark", began to camouflage the ship. From plywood and canvas behind the front tower of the main caliber, a second was installed, which gave the Spee a distant resemblance to the battle cruiser Scharnhorst. One could expect that such a ruse would work with the captains of civilian ships. Finally, on September 25, Langsdorf was given freedom of action - an order came from headquarters. The hunter could now shoot the game, and not only watch it from the bushes. The supplier was released, and the raider began patrolling the northeastern coast of Brazil near the port of Recife. On September 28, the first time was lucky - after a short pursuit, the British 5-thousandth steamer Clement, which was performing a coastal voyage from Pernambuco to Bahia, was stopped. When trying to send their first booty to the bottom, the Germans had to sweat a lot: despite the pledged explosive cartridges and open Kingstones, the steamer did not sink. Two torpedoes fired at it passed by. Then they went into action 150-mm guns and, spending precious shells, the obstinate Englishman was finally sent to the bottom. The war had just begun, and both sides had not yet accumulated merciless ferocity. Langsdorf contacted the coastal radio station and indicated the coordinates of the boats in which the crew of the Clement were. However, this not only revealed the location of the raider, but also helped the enemy to identify him. The fact that a powerful German warship was operating in the Atlantic, and not an armed "huckster", alarmed the British command, and it promptly responded to the threat. To search for and destroy the German "pocket battleship", 8 tactical battle groups were created, which included 3 battle cruisers (British Rhinaun and French Dunkirk and Strasbourg), 3 aircraft carriers, 9 heavy and 5 light cruisers, not counting the ships involved in escorting Atlantic convoys. However, in the waters where Langsdorf was going to work, that is, in the South Atlantic, all three groups opposed him. Two of them did not pose an undue threat and consisted of a total of 4 heavy cruisers. A meeting with Group K, which included the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the battle cruiser Rhinaun, could have been fatal.
The Spee captured her second trophy, the British steamship Newton Beach, on the Cape Town - Freetown line on 5 October. Together with the cargo of maize, the Germans got an intact English ship radio station with the corresponding documentation. On October 7, the steamer Ashley, which was transporting raw sugar, fell victim to the raider. Allied ships were actively searching for a robber who dared to climb into the Atlantic, into this "old English court". On October 9, a plane from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal discovered a large tanker drifting west of the Cape Verde Islands, which identified itself as the American transport Delmar. Since no one was escorting the aircraft carrier besides Rhinaun, Admiral Wells decided not to conduct a search and to follow the previous course. Thus, the Altmark supplier escaped the fate of being destroyed at the very beginning of his voyage. Out of harm's way, the transport moved to the southern latitudes. On October 10, the "pocket battleship" stopped a large transport "Huntsman" carrying various food cargoes. Having sunk it, "Spee" on October 14 met with the nearly unmasked "Altmark", to which he transferred prisoners and food from the captured British ships. Having replenished the fuel supplies, Langsdorf continued the operation - on October 22, the raider stopped and sank the 8,000th ore carrier, which, however, managed to deliver a distress signal, which was received on the shore. Fearing being discovered, Langsdorf decided to change his area of activity and try his luck in the Indian Ocean. For the first time since the beginning of the campaign, after contacting the headquarters in Berlin and informing that he plans to continue the campaign until January 1940, on November 4, the Spee rounds the Cape of Good Hope. He moved towards Madagascar, where major ocean shipping lanes crossed. On November 9, when landing in rough seas, the ship's reconnaissance aircraft Ar-196 was damaged, which left the "pocket battleship" without eyes for a long time. The hope for rich booty, which the Germans had counted on, was not justified - only on November 14 the small motor ship "Africa Shell" was stopped and flooded.
On November 20, the Admiral Graf Spee returned to the Atlantic. November 28 - a new rendezvous with the Altmark, pleasant for the crew exhausted by the fruitless campaign, from which they took fuel and renewed the supply of provisions. Langsdorf decided to return to the successful waters for his ship between Freetown and Rio de Janeiro. The replenished ship could now continue to cruise until the end of February 1940. Its engines were redesigned, and the aircraft mechanics were finally able to bring the reconnaissance plane back to life. With the flying Arado, things got better - on December 2, the Doric Star turbo ship with a load of wool and frozen meat was sunk, and on December 3, the 8,000th Tairoa, which was also transporting mutton in refrigerators. Langsdorf again decides to change the cruising area, choosing for this the mouth of the La Plata River. Buenos Aires is one of the largest ports in South America, and several British ships called here almost daily. On December 6, "Admiral Graf Spee" meets for the last time with her supplyman "Altmark". Taking this opportunity, the "pocket battleship" conducts artillery exercises, choosing its own tanker as a target. Their result was extremely worried about the senior gunner of the ship frigatenkapitan Asher - the personnel of the fire control system for two months of inactivity showed a very mediocre level of technique. On December 7, taking away more than 400 prisoners, Altmark parted with its ward forever. By the evening of the same December 7, the Germans managed to capture their last trophy - the steamship Streonschal, loaded with wheat. The newspapers found on board contained a photograph of the British heavy cruiser Cumberland in camouflage. It was decided to make up for him. "Spee" is repainted, and a fake chimney is mounted on it. Langsdorf planned, trampling on La Plata, to return to Germany. However, the story turned out differently.
Commodore Harewood's British cruising force "G", like persistent hunting dogs following the trail of a wolf, has long plied the South Atlantic. In addition to the heavy cruiser Exeter, the Commodore could count on two light cruisers - Ajax (New Zealand Navy) and the same type Achilles. Patrolling conditions for Harewood's group were probably the most difficult - the nearest British base, Port Stanley, was more than 1,000 miles from the area of operations of his compound. Having received a message about the death of the "Doric Star" off the coast of Angola, Harewood logically calculated that the German raider would rush from the coast of Africa to South America to the most "grain" area for prey - at the mouth of the La Plata. With his subordinates, he long ago developed a battle plan in case of a meeting with a "pocket battleship" - to persistently approach in order to make the most of the numerous 6-inch artillery of light cruisers. On the morning of December 12, all three cruisers were already off the coast of Uruguay (Exeter was hastily summoned from Port Stanley, where it was undergoing preventive maintenance).
"Spee" was moving to about the same area. On December 11, his on-board aircraft was finally disabled during landing, which, perhaps, played an important role in the events that occurred later.
The wolf and the hounds. Battle of La Plata
At 5.52, the observers from the tower reported that they saw the tops of the masts, - Langsdorf immediately gave the order to go full speed. He and his officers thought it was some "merchant" hurrying to the port, and went to intercept. However, an Exeter-class heavy cruiser was quickly identified in the approaching ship from the Spee. At 6.16, Exeter spelled out at the flagship Ajax that the unknown looked like a "pocket battleship". Langsdorf decides to take the fight. The ammunition load was almost full, and one "Washington tin" was a weak threat to the "pocket battleship". However, two more enemy ships were soon discovered, smaller ones. These were the light cruisers Ajax and Achilles, mistaken by the Germans for destroyers. The decision to take battle at Langsdorf was strengthened - he took the cruiser and the destroyers for guarding the convoy, which should be nearby. The defeat of the convoy was to successfully crown the modestly efficient voyage of the "Spee".
At 6.18 a German raider opened fire, firing at the Exeter with its main caliber. At 6.20 a British heavy cruiser returned fire. Initially, Langsdorf gave the order to concentrate fire on the largest English ship, providing "destroyers" to auxiliary artillery. It should be noted that in addition to standard fire control devices, the Germans also had the FuMO-22 radar, capable of operating at a distance of up to 14 km. However, during the battle, the Spee's gunners relied more on their excellent rangefinders. The overall ratio of artillery of the main calibers: six 280-mm and eight 150-mm guns on the "pocket battleship" against six 203 and sixteen 152-mm on three British ships.
Exeter gradually reduced the distance and hit the Spee with its fifth salvo - a 203-mm shell pierced the 105-mm starboard installation and exploded inside the raider's hull. The response of the Germans was weighty, the eighth salvo of the "pocket battleship" smashed the tower "B" on "Exeter", a barrage of debris riddled the bridge, wounding the captain of the ship of the 1st rank Bell. More hits followed, knocking out the steering and causing more damage. Settled on the bow and shrouded in smoke, the Briton slows down the rate of fire. Until that time, he managed to achieve three hits in the "Spee": the most sensitive - in his KDP (control and rangefinder post). At this time, both light cruisers crept up to the "pocket battleship" at 12 thousand meters, and their artillery began to damage the lightly armored superstructures of the raider. It was because of their insistence that at 6.30 am Langsdorf was forced to shift the main caliber artillery fire on these two "impudent men", as the Germans themselves later said. Exeter fired torpedoes, but Spee easily dodged them. The commander of the German ship ordered to increase the distance to 15 km, neutralizing the already very annoying fire from Ajax and Achilles. At 6.38, another German shell knocked out the A turret on the Exeter, and now it is increasing the distance. His companions again rush to the raider, and the heavy cruiser gets a break. She is in a deplorable state - even the ship's plane "Ajax", which was trying to adjust the fire, reported to Harewood that the cruiser was burning and sinking. At 7.29, Exeter was out of action.
Now the battle turned into an unequal duel between two light cruisers and a "pocket battleship". The British were constantly maneuvering, changing course, knocking down a tip to the German artillerymen. Although their 152mm shells could not sink the Spee, their explosions destroyed the unprotected superstructures of the German ship. At 7.17, Langsdorf, who commanded the battle from an open bridge, was wounded - he was cut by shrapnel on his hand and shoulder and so pressed against the bridge that he temporarily lost consciousness. At 7.25, both Ajax aft turrets were disabled by a well-aimed 280-mm projectile hit. However, the light cruisers did not stop firing, achieving a total of 17 hits on the Admiral Count Spee. Losses in his crew were 39 killed and 56 wounded. At 7.34 a new German shell blew the top of the Ajax's mast with all its antennas. Harwood decided to end the battle at this stage - all of his ships were severely damaged. Regardless of his English opponent, Langsdorf came to the same conclusion - reports from combat posts were disappointing, water was observed to enter the hull through holes at the waterline. The stroke had to be reduced to 22 knots. The British set up a smokescreen and the opponents disperse. By 7.46 the battle is over. The British suffered much more - Exeter alone lost 60 people killed. The crews of the light cruisers had 11 dead.
Not an easy decision
The end of the German raider. The Spee is blown up by the crew and is on fire
The German commander was faced with a difficult task: to wait for the night and try to escape, having at least two opponents on his tail, or to go for repairs to a neutral port. A torpedo armament specialist, Langsdorf fears nighttime torpedo attacks and decides to go to Montevideo. In the afternoon of December 13, "Admiral Graf Spee" enters the roadstead of the capital of Uruguay. Ajax and Achilles guard their adversaries in neutral waters. Inspection of the ship gives conflicting results: on the one hand, the battered raider did not receive a single fatal damage to himself, on the other, the total amount of damage and destruction raised doubts about the possibility of crossing the Atlantic. There were several dozen British ships in Montevideo, with the nearest ones being continuously monitoring the actions of the Germans. The British Consulate is cleverly spreading rumors that the arrival of two large ships is expected, which unambiguously refers to the "Arc Royal" and "Rhynown". In fact, the "enlightened sailors" were bluffing. On the evening of December 14, the heavy cruiser Cumberland joined Harewood instead of the Exeter, which had left for repairs. Langsdorf is conducting difficult negotiations with Berlin on the subject of the further fate of the crew and the ship: to intern in Argentina, loyal to Germany, or to sink the ship. For some reason, a breakthrough option is not being considered, although “Spee” had all the chances for it. In the end, the fate of the German ship was decided directly by Hitler in a difficult conversation with Grand Admiral Raeder. On the evening of December 16, Langsdorf is ordered to sink the ship. On the morning of December 17, the Germans begin to destroy all valuable equipment on the "pocket battleship". All documentation is burned. By the evening, preparations for self-destruction were completed: the bulk of the crew was transferred to the German ship "Tacoma". At about 6 pm flags were raised on the masts of the "pocket battleship", he moved away from the pier and began to slowly move along the fairway in a northerly direction. This action was watched by a crowd of at least 200 thousand people. Having moved away from the coast for 4 miles, the raider dropped anchor. At about 20 o'clock 6 explosions thundered - the ship lay on the bottom, fires began on it. Explosions were heard on the shore for another three days. The crew, with the exception of the wounded, safely reached Buenos Aires. Here Langsdorf made a final speech to the team, thanking them for their service. On December 20, he shot himself in a hotel room. The "pocket battleship" campaign was completed.
The skeleton of the ship
It was ironic fate that the ship "Admiral Graf Spee", a quarter of a century later, would rest at the bottom of the ocean, just a thousand miles from the grave of the man after whom it was named.