Salvage team in three-year plan to raise the Graf Spee

This report is attributed to the Guardian Newspaper for Friday the 23rd. of January, 2004.

A salvage plan will be launched next week to raise from the estuary of the River Plate, the wreck of the German Battleship, Graf Spee. The salvage operation is a private venture with German funding and backing from the Uruguayan Government, and is expected to last more than three years.

The ship is only eight metres below the surface, but has broken in two to be engulfed by mud. When she is raised and restored, the Graf Spee is expected to become a major tourist attraction in Montevideo, where reminders of the battle which made it famous still abound.

Museums, Memorials, Street Names, Graves.
An eyewitness of the battle, now so long ago wrote:

"The whole of the northern bank of the River Plate was in an uproar of exitement. The road from Punta del Este to Montevideo was crowded with automobiles tearing from one vantage point to another,  guided by the flashes of the guns. Every rocky hill, every rooftop and every church tower was crowded with people straining their eyes out over the broad expanse of the river."

From the roof of the Salvio Palace, still the highest building in Montevideo, British intelligence agents trained their binoculars on the enemy warship. The British laid a smokescreen of false intelligence to convince the Germans that a fleet of warships was on its way to attack the Graf Spee as soon as it put to sea again.

With his spotter planes out of action, Langsdorff had no means of checking on these reports. Instead, he concealed the real extent of the battle damage, which had not only left a gaping hole in Graf Spee's side, but wrecked the ship's galley and bakery, leaving the crew of more than 1,100 men without bread or hot food. As the 72 hours came to an end on the evening of the 17th. of December, tens of thousands of Uruguayans poured down to the waterfront to watch the patched up Graf Spee raise anchor and sail, as everyone believed, to join battle again.

The wounded including the 20 year old Freidrich Adolph, were sent ashore to hospital.

Smashing the ultra - modern gunsight technology.
Members from the skeleton crew smashed up the Graf Spee's ultra - modern gunsight technology with hammers to prevent the British from finding it. Four miles out, the Captain and his men took to small boats, and the night sky over the River Plate was lit up by explosions and flames, as the pride of the German Navy burned and sank. The ship's crew were taken across the river to Buenos Aires, where crowds greeted them with fresh fruit.

That night, wrapping himself in the flag of Imperial Germany, rather than a Swastika, Captain Langsdorff put a bullet through his head. Did he feel responsible for bringing dishonour on his ship? Whatever the reason, for those who spent years studying the events, he was above all an honourable man, who saved many lives.

At the Naval Museum in Montevideo, retired Captain Ricardo Barre said:

"The Battle of the River Plate was fought by gentlemen of the sea. Langsdorff sank Merchant ships, but always picked up the crews. Several of the British Captains he rescued went to the funerals of the 36 German sailors who were killed. He preferred to save his young sailors' lives rather than sacfifice them for the Fatherland in a battle he could not win."

Mr Adolph who stayed behind in Uruguay, remembers Langsdorff as a father figure, and as saying: " I've got too many young lads aboard." In Spanish, still heavily accented, he added: " He did not want us to be killed. But we respected his decision to take his own life. It's the tradition, a Captain dies with his ship."

Mr Adolph married Lotte Klass, one of four daughters of a German immigrant couple who went to visit the wounded sailors. Their sixth floor flat is not far from the huge Anglican church that looks out over the River.  Inside is a Memorial Plaque to the 77 British and New Zealand sailors who died in the Battle of the River Plate
in December of 1939.


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