Ceremony to Mark the 80th Anniversary of the Death of Captain of the Graf Spee, to be Held in Argentina

Craig Bowman
800-pound, bronze eagle, recovered from a German battleship Graf Spee recovered off the coast of the South American nation.
800-pound, bronze eagle, recovered from a German battleship Graf Spee recovered off the coast of the South American nation.

Inge Nedden, daughter of Kriegsmarine Captain Hans Langsdorff of the Graf Spee, will honor her father in a ceremony this Christmas, many miles away from their German origins.

Captain Hans Langsdorff commanded the Kriegsmarine battleship, Admiral Graf Spee, during WWII. The Admiral Graf Spee was cruising in the South Atlantic in the weeks preceding the start of the war.

‘Admiral Graf Spee’ at the Spithead Naval Review representing Germany at the coronation of King George VI.
‘Admiral Graf Spee’ at the Spithead Naval Review representing Germany at the coronation of King George VI.

When Captain Langsdorff received authorization on 26th September 1939, he started raiding ships carrying supplies to England.

This prompted the British Admiralty to dispatch a battle group of three Royal Navy cruisers, the HMS Achilles, HMS Ajax, and HMS Exeter, to hunt the German raider.

The Royal Navy found the Admiral Graf Spee in the Atlantic, just off the coast of Uruguay near the River Plate estuary.

The three cruisers engaged with the German battleship in what is known as the Battle of the River Plate and all four vessels sustained damage.

The HMS Exeter was severely damaged while the HMS Achilles and the HMS Ajax sustained less damage.

Captain Langsdorff at the funeral of crew members who were killed in the battle.
Captain Langsdorff at the funeral of crew members who were killed in the battle.

The Admiral Graf Spee was not as severely damaged as the British ships, but the damage she sustained was in a critical location; her fuel system was crippled.

The Admiral Graf Spee made for Montevideo in Uruguay to effect repairs in this neutral port. She was followed closely by the two British cruisers.

When Captain Langsdorff was told that he had to leave port within 72 hours, he had a tough decision to make. His ship was damaged, the fuel system not repaired, and he was critically short of ammunition.

The warship cost 82 million Reichsmark and was unique in that it had eight diesel engines, allowing the vessel to travel distances of up to 8,900 nautical miles at a constant speed of 20 knots.
The warship cost 82 million Reichsmark and was unique in that it had eight diesel engines, allowing the vessel to travel distances of up to 8,900 nautical miles at a constant speed of 20 knots.

If he had left port, he would have had to face an arduous trip back to Germany for proper repairs. This was a hopeless course of action, and rather than blindly follow Hitler’s orders to fight to the last man, he chose to scuttle the Admiral Graf Spee on the 17th December 1939.

This action undoubtedly saved the lives of his 1,000 strong crew, and they were transported to Buenos Aires in Argentina.

The crew was interned in Argentina for the remainder of the war. On the 19th December 1939, Captain Langsdorff committed suicide, and he was buried in the La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

Langsdorff
Langsdorff

Captain Langsdorff left a suicide note addressed to the German Ambassador in Argentina. The letter said that as he was a man of honor, his fate could not be separated from that of his ship.

Langsdorff’s biographer, Hans-Jurgen Kaack, said that he believed that the Captain’s suicide was his way of taking responsibility for the loss of the vessel and for the casualties that his crew suffered during their battle with the British ships.

Inge Nedden has had contact with descendants of the Admiral Graf Spee’s crew, and many of them will be joining her at the ceremony.

She told an interview with Fox News that even though her father is not a public figure in Germany, he should be honored for saving the lives of his crew.

Without doubt, if he had chosen to sail out of the port, many, if not all, of his crew would have perished.

Admiral Graf Spee shortly after her scuttling
Admiral Graf Spee shortly after her scuttling

The German Defence Ministry has acknowledged his saving of the crew but is still unable to endorse honoring him publicly.

There will be no official German military representation at the graveside service on the 80th anniversary of his death.

This is primarily due to the mindset prevalent in the German Navy, even to this day, that believes you have an extreme duty to fight.

Kaack has received many communications from German Naval Officers who believe he is wrong for trying to honor Langsdorff.

The massive range finder from the Graf Spee. Tano4595 CC BY-SA 2.5
The massive range finder from the Graf Spee. Tano4595 CC BY-SA 2.5

This does not mean that others also choose to ignore his bravery. In Canada, the town of Ajax named a street after him, and the British Navy will hold a memorial dinner for him in December in Portsmouth to thank him for saving them additional casualties as well.

Jan Korte, a member of the Left Party in the German Bundestag, also feels that Langsdorff should be honored for preferring 1,000 live sailors to 1,000 dead heroes and following his conscience rather than orders from Germany.

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Kaack knows that the descendants of the sailors whose lives were saved by Captain Langsdorff’s brave act will express how grateful they are at the service being held to honor him.