Pictures: Life and Death of the German Heavy Cruiser Admiral Graf Spee

Graf Spee gun deck

The Admiral Graf Spee was a notorious heavy cruiser in the Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II.

The ship was built at the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven between October 1932 and January 1936. A Leviathan of the ship, the Admiral Graf Spee barely made the 10,000 long ton weight limit on warships imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. With a full load displacement of 16,020 long tons though she significantly exceeded the treaty limits. Armed to the gills with six 28 cm guns in two triple gun turrets, the Admiral Graf Spee, and her sister ships were built to overpower any cruiser on the water fast enough to keep up with her. With a top speed of 28 knots, only an elite group of ships in the British and French navies could keep pace with her and go toe-to-toe and stand a chance of sinking her.

The Admiral Graf Spee was deployed to the South Atlantic in the weeks immediately prior to the outbreak of WWII. Once the war started, she was assigned to patrol merchant sea lanes. Crippling Allied commerce, she sank nine ships between September and December of 1939 for a total of 50,089 gross register tons. In response, she was confronted by three British cruisers on December 13, 1939, in what become the Battle of River Plate.

Though she inflicted heavy damaged on the British ships, Admiral Graf Spee herself also suffered heavy damages and was forced to pull into port at Montevideo. Surrendering to false reports that superior British forces were enroute to confront her, Admiral Graf Spee commanding officer Hans Langsdorff ordered the Graf Spree be scuttled. The ship was partially broken up, however part of the ship remains visible above the water to this day.

Launch and construction

Recognition drawing of a Deutschland-class cruiser.
Recognition drawing of a Deutschland-class cruiser.

Launching of the German “pocket battleship” Admiral Graf Spee at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, on 30 June 1934. Note flags bearing the National Socialist emblem, and Nazi salutes being given by most of those present.
Montage of the forward gun battery, 1935.

Lansdorff addressed his crew aboard Admiral Graf Spee, possibly commissioning ceremony, 6 Jan 1936. Photo Credit.