Battle of the River Plate 1939: Minute-by-Minute DOCUMENTARY



The Battle of the River Plate took place in December 1939, and featured the Royal Navy cruisers Exeter, Achilles and Ajax, against the German Panzerschiffe, Graf Spee.

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Sources:
Richard Petrow, The Bitter Years: The invasion and Occupation of
Denmark and Norway April 1940-May 1945 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974). – first chapter of the book includes a brief description of the hunt for the Graf Spee

Corelli Barnett, Engage The Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (London: Penguin, 1991)

Commodore Harwood’s own account of the battle, made available here: http://naval-history.net/WW2LGGrafSpee.htm

Graf Spee’s voyage described here: https://www.deutschland-class.dk/admiral_graf_spee/admiral_graf_spee_operation_hist.htm

Video clips from World of Warships gameplay and the Battle of the River Plate film, 1958

Music:

“Crypto” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

“Division” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

“Crossing the Chasm” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Sound Effects:
Gunshots and so on are recordings from World of Warships, where the gameplay footage of the ships hails from.
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38 thoughts on “Battle of the River Plate 1939: Minute-by-Minute DOCUMENTARY

  1. Durrin ofthe Ozarks says:

    @1:00 HMS Repulse would like a word. 😆

  2. ROBERT EWING says:

    Cumberland was unavailable, and that led to the battle, because Grafspee saw Exeter and mistook the light cruisers for destroyers and closed, a psychological disaster when it was realised.

  3. Games of All says:

    I find it strange that even if a ship is named after a guy it’s still a she I mean most war ships were either named after a place or a famous WW1 general (or in the Germans case stick panzer in front of it an your all good)

  4. Andrew Stackpool says:

    Harwood was fortunate not to lose his squadron as he broke his own orders. They knew a German raider was in the area and he had directed tat upon sighting Exeter would attack from one side while the other two the other simultaneously to divide her fire power; a sensible tactic. However, when smoke was sighted he ordered his most important ship to investigate it. For some reason it seems the probability of the smoke being hostile was overlooked. An aircraft should have done this job. As it was Exeter was forced to front a superior enemy alone until the others could catch up. We see the horrific damage Exeter took. Had she gone (as she still presented a significant threat to Graf Spee) AJAX and ACHILLES could have been easily overwhelmed as well as it would have left Graf Spee with one 11-inch turret per cruiser and her gunnery was superb. Their only luck continued because CAPT Langsdorf believed he was facing a cruiser and two destroyers. He was thrown realising it was three cruisers.

  5. Ivan Lussich says:

    I am Uruguayan and after WW II the former British ambassador sir Eugen Millington-Drake visited us many times. One of my aunts was close friend to him and his family so I met sir Eugen. He didn't talk much of the battle but kept a relationship with both British and German battle veterans.

  6. Where is the defeat? Graf Spee was not defeated. Look at the wrecked HMS Exeter after she was introduced to Graf Spee‘s 28 cm guns and you know who was defeated!

  7. James Cook says:

    The “exter” you use is a town class light cruiser instead of a York heavy cruiser, and the Ajax is actually an Leander, instead of a York

  8. Norman Boyes says:

    Very well done.

  9. wonder why Raider switched to building cruisers, battle cruisers, and battleships instead of continuing pocket battleships?????

  10. Edmond Meltz says:

    The tedious advertisement astonishingly develop because sidecar longitudinally occur near a acoustic finger. lovely, lively week

  11. Al Melling says:

    Just to get things correct Spey sank 13 ships on that cruise and didnt cause any crew killed. Since her launch she had engine problems and even had a engine changed in 1936 on the criuse she also had engine problems, also the refrigeration unit failiure which meant her explosives were not chilled which could cause the ship to explode and that is why she went to the plate.

  12. J.S. MacDirty says:

    Graf Spee, Von Spee. No wonder I get these two mixed up.

  13. SandhoeFlyer says:

    Is this guy black ?

  14. RF590KG84 says:

    Alan Zimm writes a remarkable article in "Warship 2019" in which he disagrees with the popular story. Graf Spee was very lightly armoured, and certainly vulnerable to cruiser shells. The combined British ships fired a much greater weight of shells per minute. The Graf Spee was capable of only about 22 knots at the time so the British could choose the way they attacked. Harwood got himself into a terrible position downwind with the light cruisers where their fire was ineffective for long periods due to smoke masking and not being able to differentiate each others shell splashes. The "brilliant" tactic of splitting into two groups allowed the Graf Spee to bring all her secondary armament to bear, not that it was effective but that could hardly have been relied upon beforehand. The British were very lucky Graf Spee didn't lay smoke to take the light cruisers completely out of the action and destroy the Exeter at close range, but she should never have been allowed to have that option. Lansdorfs own officers were critical of his constant changing of target for the main armament. Lots of mistakes on both sides. Indeed it appears the Germans spotted the British 10 minutes before they were spotted themselves, and could easily have evaded if they had wanted to. They were only spotted when they put on power and caused smoke.

  15. Big Smoke says:

    Typical suicidally brave Royal Navy aggression .

  16. Robert Giles says:

    The actual name of the river is; Río de la Plata
    It means Silver, not a dinner plate.

  17. wentao he says:

    I am confused, the HMS Exeter they are talking about is actually HMS Fiji or the town class.

  18. Eric Hutton says:

    USS Salem looked nothing like the Graf Spee.

  19. John Seeley says:

    As an ex British merchant marine engineer, the last time (we) left Montevideo,at low tide parts of the superstructure,could still be seen,,, bit of history never to be seen again….!!

  20. Moncho1234 says:

    When I was a child I was told the story of this battle by local people in Maldonado, Uruguay. They assured me that the blast of the cannon was perfectly heard from the coast, and could even be seen as lightning over the horizon.

  21. Graf Spee had a defect. She didn't have the fire control to engage one target with her main guns and another her secondary battery at the same time!

  22. Geoffrey BROOKS says:

    The interesting question is why Langsdorff headed for pro-British Uruguay when within another few hours he could have made the Argentine naval base at Bahia Blanca and would no doubt have been given the time there he needed to repair, or could have interned the ship if the damage was as bad as he claimed it was.
    Langsdorff and the German consular authorities thenhad to arrange with the Argentines to ship out the majority of the Graf Spee crew across the River Plate to Buenos Aires aboard tugs owned and oprated by German shipping companies. fFom there with the connivance of the Argentines about 220 of the specialist officers and NCO's were shipped back in secret to Germany. Eight of the officers subsequently became U-boat commanders.

  23. john higgins says:

    WHEN IWAS ACHILD I USED TO BY ACOMIC CALLED THE HOTSPUR AND THERE WERE TWO CHARACTORS THEY WERE TWO ROYAL MARINES CAPTAIN HURRACNE AND MAGGOT AND THEY ALWAYS REFERED TO THE GERMANS AS SAUAGE NOSHERS AND I CAN UNDRESTAND WHY WHEN IWAS INTHE NAVY WE WAS TIED UP IN PORTS MOUTH HARBOUR ON HMS FIFE UNDER GOING REPAIRS A GERMAN DISTROYER CAM INTO PORTS MOUTH HARBOUR AND THE GERMAN SAILORS WHERE QUITE FRIENDL Y AND HOSPITABLE THEY TOOK ME AND SOME OTHER SAILORS ON BOARD AND WE HAD MEAL , ALL IN SAUSAGE FORM APART FROM THE MUG OF TEA

  24. sam badger says:

    sending an expensive and advanced small battlecruiser out alone to sink a few merchant ships before getting mobbed by a significant portion of the Royal Navy sort of sums up why the Nazis were not particularly brilliant at military strategy

  25. Contacto HN says:

    Some say: "many nazi sailors were not associated to the party". Maybe not but they were all accomplices.

  26. Fernando Girard says:

    Actually, the battle took place in front of Punta del Este.

  27. Anthony Ryan says:

    Recently I heard that Graf Spees bottom was split into from end to end due to the recoil of its guns. ..it was only made from aluminium to keep its weight down

  28. Alejandro Ochagavía says:

    I wonder if Graf Spee just got very lucky during the battle. I know she did take a lot of damage, but she was still doing alright by the end of the battle. Graf Spee only had a 4" belt that shouldn't afford that much protection against the 16 6" and 6 8" British guns. And the belt only covers a small part of the ship, with the rest being unprotected, so I'm surprised she didn't take critical damage even without the citadel being penetrated. For instance, Bismarck and USS South Dakota are famous examples of ships that were quickly disabled by shells that didn't penetrate their citadel.

  29. brett thomas says:

    Please do a video of HMS Gloworms last action

  30. I don't really get why they didn't leave the harbor. Who the fuck cares if you leave the harbor within the 24 hours if you don't hunt that specific ship down afterwards? It' like ignoring a stop sign on an empty road.

  31. Lance Giammanco says:

    A classic example of poor leadership squandering a clearly superior tactical advantage and following that up with additional blunders and defeat. Langsdorf’s ship with 11” main battery could have stood off from the smallish British fleet and destroyed all three cruisers piecemeal before the British could get in effective range. Instead he chose to close to ranges that allowed both 6” and 8” cannon to do damage. Still able to destroy both 6” light cruisers after putting Exeter out of the fight, Langsdorf breaks off action and retreats to safe (?) harbor. His subsequent actions were another succession of poor judgement, lack of courage/determination and clearly dereliction of duty. His later suicide preceded his arrest, court martial and probable execution . As it was, his spineless lack of leadership put his crew in harms way, imprisonment and cost the Kriegsmarine a fine warship. There is something of an unfortunate consistency in German capital ship commanders in WW2. That was not the case with the Uboat fleets.

  32. Megapangolin says:

    Excellent video, very clear, well narrated, facts, facts, facts. What could be better. Thank you and well done.

  33. Michael Whalen says:

    Just for the record, it is not the River Plate. It is the Rio de la Plata, which is Spanish for River of Silver.

  34. So the Graf Spee was not allowed to leave port if a merchant ship of the British has left within the last 24 hours, or they would breach international law…
    And what would the British do if the Germans decided to leave anyway? Declare war on them?

  35. Graf Spee: you bastards stop spawn-camping. get good, idiots.
    *Graf Spee has left the game.*

  36. NORMAN CURNOW says:

    She When't into Montevideo, cause EXETER PUT SHELL THROUGH GALLEY INTO HER REFINERY, SO SHE COULD NOT REFINE HER DIESEL FOR ENGINES ,TO MOTOR TO FATHERLAND

  37. Maurice Hodgson says:

    My first job after school worked with ex navy guy. Battle of River Plate he was in the rear turret of the AJAX. During the battle he went out to get sandwiches for the crew, but when he returned the turret had taken a direct hit and crew killed.

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