Langsdorff and the Graf Spee

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Benoit Douville
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Langsdorff and the Graf Spee

Post by Benoit Douville » 31 Mar 2002 21:28

It was the first defeat for the Germans during World War II. Why Langsdorff commit suicide. He was in Uruguay so in good hand I believe and near Argentina...
Last edited by Benoit Douville on 11 Oct 2003 01:34, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Dan » 31 Mar 2002 21:35

Another interesting question about suicide. To go down fighting, when you know you'll lose and most of your men will die? Or to make a statement???

I like to think I'd go down fighting, but when the captain wraped himself in the flag he fought under during Juteland and sent his men to safety, and then killed himself, I feel somewhat self-righteous judging him from my comfy chair with the glass of wine by my side and the kids playing in the background.

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Post by Lars EP » 31 Mar 2002 21:45

committed suicide because of shame. He wanted to take Graf Spee out and fight the still relatively weak British forces, Ajax, Achilles and the newly arrived Cumberland. Exeter had been so badly mauled in the initial conflict, that she had to depart for the Falklands.

However, Langsdorf was under orders from the German high command, who dared not risk a defeat, and therefore ordered Langsdorf to abandon and destroy Graf Spee.

It is quite likely that Graf Spee could have defeated the British forces. Ajax and Achilles had both sustained damage, and where only light cruisers with 6 inch guns. Cumberland and Exeter was heavy cruisers, armed with 8 inch guns, but was stille outclassed both in armour and armament by Graf Spee's 11 inch guns.

Langsdorf's error in the initial conflict was to divide his fire between Ajax and Exeter. As the light cruisers needed to be at torpedo range to pose any real threat, he should have concentrated his fire at Exeter. He therefore takes to long in disabling Exeter, thus allowing the light cruisers to get close enough to make their guns count.

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Post by Ovidius » 31 Mar 2002 23:47

Capt. Langsdorff had sent the following message to Germany:

1.Renown and Ark Royal as well as cruisers and destroyers off Montevideo. Close blockade at night. No prospect of breaking out to the open sea and getting through to Germany.
2. Intend to proceed to the limit of neutral waters. If I can fightmy way through to Buenos Aires with ammunition still remaining I shall endeavor to do so.
3. As a possible break-through might result in the destruction of SPEE without the possibility of causing damage to the enemy, request instructions whether to scuttle the ship (in spite of the inadequate depth of water in the Plate Estuary) or submit to internment.

NOTE: He had been intoxicated by the British intelligence service with false information about a superior enemy force approaching.

Raeder's answer was the following:

1. Attempt by all means to extend the time in neutral waters in order to guarentee freedom of action as long as possible.
2. With reference to No. 2. Approved.
3. With reference to No. 3. NO internment in Uruguay. Attempt effective destruction if ship is scuttled.

Therefore, Admiral Raeder had given him carte blanche to act as he thinks appropriate.

By point #2 of his message, Langsdorff had admitted that he had a real chance to fight his way out to friendly Argentina. Either scuttling or being sunk in combat would have had the same result: loss of the ship. But in the hypothesis of a gunfight, even a potentially victorious one, more sailors were going to die.

He could have broken the blockade(which was actually false, based on fake info from the Brits) or could have sailed to Buenos Aires, but he did not want to risk the lives of his men.

Langsdorff had chosen to sacrifice his ship to save the lives of his men aboard. This must have been the main reason for which he took his life: once returned to Germany, he was going to be tried and sentenced for refusal to engage combat, having the means to do so. Hitler would have said the men were expendable, the ship was more precious for the war effort.



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Very interesting

Post by Lars EP » 01 Apr 2002 02:25

I was not aware that Langsdorf had been fed false information by the British.

I'll have to through some old bookcases, since it's been a long time since I've read anything about that particular incident. Thanks for the info...

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Post by Takao » 01 Apr 2002 06:43

The British released a lot of misinformation. They made known that a large surface for was heading to intercept the Graf Spee, headed by the carrier Ark Royal and the battlecruiser Renown. This group was actually small and was too far away to be effective in any battle, when the Graf Spee was scuttled, the group was 1,000 miles away in Rio refuelling. Another ruse the British used was begun once the Graf Spee had reached Montevideo, the British ordered a large amount of fuel oil from the Montevideo naval base for non-existant reinforcements (they made sure to use a known tapped phone line in the British Embassy). Finally the BBC was broadcasting several stories on the ships coming to hunt down the Graf Spee.

There may be more efforts on the part of the British, but these are the ones I remember.

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Re: Graf Spee scuttling

Post by Galahad » 01 Apr 2002 07:12

One of the factors bearing on Langsdorff's decision to scuttle rather than fight was that he had only about 40% of his main battery ammo remaining, and perhaps 60% of his secondary battery's ammo--with Germany a LONG way from Montevideo.

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Kapitan Langsdorff

Post by Matt Gibbs » 01 Apr 2002 18:05

Whatever the Kapitan's reasons with regard to his feeling of being left with no choice and abandoned by the Kriegsmarine it is certainly felt that his descisions leading up to the scuttling of the Graf Spee were the right ones. He saved a huge number of lives by taking that descision upon himself and it is surely versed in Naval circles that it was a shame he decided to face suicide than disgrace at the hands of his government. A lot has been written about him and the ship and there are a number of websites on the subject. I note that the allied memebrs fo the committee of the town named after the 'Ajax' a number of whose streets are named after personalities of the battle voted unanimously in 1999 that Langsdorff's name should be used. I was also interested to see some pictures of the burial in Uraguay of the 36 members of the crew killed in action on the Graf Spee and the crowd of people giving the Nazi salute whilst the Kapitan stands at the graveyard giving a fine naval salute to his fallen crew. I believe this shows where his loyalty and feelings lay.

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Post by Krasnaya Zvezda » 08 Oct 2003 03:26

My impression was that Hitler had forbidden the Kriegsmarine to attack British warships and had decided to use his own surface boats and U-boat to throttle the life from Britain merchant fleet. So , Langsdorf knew that he will be put on trial on return to Germany after all that has happened.

As far as the false info, that is true. The Commodore Henry Harwood leaked a shan order for fuel oil with the help of the British naval attache in Montevideo, Henry McCall fooling Lanfsdorff into believing that a strong reinforcemenet has joined Harwood.

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Post by Xavier » 08 Oct 2003 14:06

another comment:

the diesel engines were on the verge of collapse acording to several accounts, even if he outfought his opponents, it was still a long way back to germany under pursuit.

By "verge of collapse" >I mean, they were still very capable of reaching germany in their present state at the time of internment, but after the stress of battle, Langsdorf doubted they would be in a state to reach safely germany.

I have always tought he did the right thing. a gentleman.


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British Navy

Post by Paul Timms » 08 Oct 2003 20:13

Although he may have done the right thing i believe a British Captain would have gone for it. The Glowworm, Jervis Bay, Rawlpindi and the two destroyers guarding the Glorious all attacked even though they knew the odds were hopeless. As a result he might just have escaped.

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Post by ChristopherPerrien » 08 Oct 2003 21:27

I think Langsdorf suffered from a mental illness, "depression". It was compounded by the "bad news" forecasts he believed, that the British had over-whelming force to oppose a break-out sortie.

What he did defies common sense , and I guess I accuse him of cynical defeatism brought on by depression leading bad judgements ending in suicide.

Given the actual odds, a commander with more "steel" in his nerves, might well have been able to bust-out, win, and get back to Germany.

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Post by varjag » 09 Oct 2003 12:32

Wasn't the SKL orders to Langsdorff to, in the first instance, 'break out and through to Buenos Aires' in Argentina? To buy time to think? Or what?
The run to Buenos Aires was shallow, treacherous and would have brought the GRAF SPEE even further away from the Atlantic and 'freedom of the oceans'. And within reach of Harwoods squadron as they were instructed NOT to respect the 12-mile territorial waters claim of Uruguay and Argentina but engage the SPEE anywhere outside the 3-mile limit acknowledged by Britain. By just leaving Montevideo and scuttling - Langsdorff possibly ignored the SKL order to save his crew, which may have been the ulterior motive for his suicide.

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Re: British Navy

Post by Juancho » 12 Oct 2003 12:14

Paul Timms wrote:Although he may have done the right thing i believe a British Captain would have gone for it. The Glowworm, Jervis Bay, Rawlpindi and the two destroyers guarding the Glorious all attacked even though they knew the odds were hopeless. As a result he might just have escaped.
yeh... the british would have gone for it. Langdorff's judgment of the situation was correct, because many details escape to our understanding,the reason is that we're many years later, not under the pressure of a damaged ship, dead and wounded crew, many enemies near us and so on, he did the right thing. A honorable man. He died for his fatherland, like Nelson.



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Post by Andy H » 12 Oct 2003 12:33

Depending on his course you have to remember that to escape the GS would have to break through the British gun line.

The British ships would have lined up broadside across the Plate estuary, thus bringing all there guns into play, whilst the GS would either zig-zagging or coming head on, thus it would only have it's forward arnament to engage the British or as it turned it's aft guns.

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