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Weapons of World War Two

Admiral Graf Spee pocket battleship

Admiral Graf Spee pocket battleship

The battleship Admiral Graf Spee was built in 1934 after the sisters Admiral Scheer and Deutschland. She had been studied to elude the Versailles Treaty, which prohibited to Germany to build warships of displacement above 10000 tonnes. The German engineers had achieved a technical feat by building, more or less within the imposed limits, a warship of great power. By using light alloys and specially by replacing rivets with electric welding, it was possible to lighten the hull and arm it with cannons of very superior calibre than those used in other warships of the same tonnage.

Apart from the powerful armament there was another special weapon onboard: the radar that the Germans called "Dete". The Graf Spee was one of the first warships provided with this installation. In respect of the former Deutschland, the Graf Spee had a conning tower of more modern and robust silhouette, and the aircraft catapult had been reallocated astern of the funnel. The dimensions of the hull were the same, with exception of the width, increased in about 70 centimeters, and the more armored waterline.

She left the shipyards at Wilhelmshaven the 21st August 1939, the same day of the sign in Moscow of the Soviet-German pact. Less than two weeks remained for the outbreak of the war and Hitler had taken definitive decisions. In these days of general incertitude he wasted no time to tune up his powerful war machinery. The "pocket battleship" Graf Spee was an echelon of this chain and her mission was already one of war. She had to arrive to a secret position to hunt the British merchant fleet in the Atlantic. The crew was formed by 1150 men, all of them young and select. Among them there were "prey crews" whose task was to get onboard the captured merchant ships and bring them to Germany if possible.

During her corsair mission, until the 7th October the Graf Spee captured four British ships which the captain decided to sink after retrieving their crews and any kind of valuable materials from them. Facing the corsair expedition of the Graf Spee, the entire British Fleet was put in state of alarm, but the orders were vague. None of the sunken ships had communicated their positions and the only thing known was that one or two corsair ships were operating in the Atlantic. But the Admiralty decided to start the largest tracking operation in History. With the Mediterranean Fleet in the Atlantic were formed nine search groups, being entrusted to each of them a sector in the ocean. It would be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

But because of her Diesel machinery the Graf Spee was actually slower than the average warship of her class. Her safety depended in that the captured ships did not ask for help, but one of them did so and things became ugly for the Graf Spee. However, with a clever camouflage she could easily avoid the enemy squadrons. In the morning of the 3rd December, after a brief mission in the Indian, the Graf Spee returned to the Atlantic. Onboard the morale was extremely high. In three months of piracy they had sunk nine enemy merchants totalling more than 50000 tonnes, and in return not even a drop of blood had been spilled. The war seemed an easy thing.

But Commodore Henry Harwood, commander of three British cruisers tasked with patrolling the South American coasts, was preparing a deadly trap for the Graf Spee. He estimated with a very small chance that the Graf Spee would be in the waters of the River Plate on 13th December, as it happened with astonishing precision. The German battleship was the first one in sighting the small enemy fleet but she did not withdrew. However, due to the damages suffered in the subsequent battle, she had to take shelter in the neutral port of Montevideo. In the morning of the 14th December the German wounded were disembarked and the British prisoners embraced freedom. And the captain started to realize that he had incurred in a big mistake.

It was started a diplomatic battle harder than the naval one. The Germans were taking the risk of losing the battleship without ever having sunk the first enemy warship. Uruguay conceded only a very limited time for repairing the damages suffered during the battle. At the end of the timeline the Graf Spee would have to leave, otherwise she would be seized and the crew interned. Meanwhile the enemy warships awaited at the fringe of the port like beasts of prey to sink the Graf Spee. Her captain, facing the dilemma with a gallantry that made History, opted for leaving the port and sinking the ship with explosives, leaving the enemy without the chance to defeat and capture her.

Launched: 30 June 1934

Length: 186 meters

Beam: 21.3 meters

Draught: 5.8 meters

Displacement: 12290 tonnes

Propulsion: Eight MAN Diesel 9-cylinder engines (four per axis) for a total power of 56000 horsepower; two propellers

Maximum speed: 28 knots

Operational range: 7570 nautical miles at 19 knots

Armor: 80 millimeters in main belt; 40 millimeters in antitorpedo bulwark; 45 millimeters in deck (76 millimeters above magazines); 85-140 millimeters in main turrets; 100 millimeters in barbettes; 10 millimeters in secondary armament

Armament: Six 280-millimeter cannons (2 x 3); eight 150-millimeter cannons (8 x 1); six 105-millimeter cannons (3 x 2); eight 37-millimeter cannons (4 x 2); ten 20-millimeter cannons (10 x 1); eight 533-millimeter torpedo tubes (2 x 4); two reconnaissance aircraft

Complement: 1150

Also in Weapons of World War Two:

Gloster GladiatorAirspeed HorsaType 97 Chi-Ha medium tank

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