Warship Wednesday, June 5 The Graf
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, June 5
Here we see the Panzerschiff Admiral Graf Spee as she looked at her finest at the Coronation Review for English King George VI at Spithead in May 1937. Just 17-months old in this picture, she would become one of the most hunted of all German ships in the beginning of World War Two just two years later– by the very fleet she steamed with on this day.
Laid down at Reichsmarinewerft, Wilhelmshaven on 1 October 1932, she was the first new German ‘battleship’ since the 1919 Treaty of Versailles to replace the 30-year old pre-dreadnought battleship SMS Braunschweig. Officially weighing just 10,000-tons (the treaty limit) and classified simply as a ‘Armored ship’ (Panzerschiff), she was portrayed as simply a really big cruiser.
However her full load displacement was nearly 17,000-tons (the same as an early WWI battle cruiser) and she carried a half-dozen 280mm (11-inch) SK C/28 naval guns, whereas most cruisers had nothing larger than 8-inches. Western media called her and her other two Deutschland class sisters ‘pocket battleships’ as they could effectively sink any warship but.
The ship’s hull was constructed with transverse steel frames; over 90 percent of the hull used welding instead of the then standard riveting, which saved 15 percent of her total hull weight. This savings allowed the armament and armor to be increased. The hull contained twelve watertight compartments and were fitted with a double bottom that extended for 92 percent of the length of the keel. Four sets of 9-cylinder, double-acting, two-stroke diesel engines further saved weight over huge oil-fired turbines while also giving the ship an amazing 10,000-mile range. This made her the perfect long range surface raider.
When the clouds of war started to form in 1939, Admiral Raeder sent the Graf Spee out to the Atlantic so that she would not be caught in the Baltic and bottled up by the Royal Navy. For the first four months of the war she ranged the South Atlantic, sinking nine Allied merchant ships as a surface raider. She was encountered by the three British cruisers: HMS Exeter (10,000-tons, 6×8-inch guns), HMNZS Achilles and HMS Ajax (9700-tons, 8×6-inch guns). In the resulting running Battle of the River Plate on 13 December 1939, the Spee gave better than she got. All three British smaller British cruisers were badly mauled, suffering over 100 casualties.
However one of Exeter‘s 8 inch shells had penetrated two decks before exploding in Graf Spee’s funnel area—destroying her raw fuel processing system and leaving her with just 16 hours fuel, insufficient to allow her to return home. With her legs cut off, her desalination plant wrecked, her kitchen burnt and 70% of her 11-inch shells expended, Spee made for Uruguay where she hoped to either make repairs or be interned. However the Uruguayans ordered her to sea in 72 hours into the waiting arms of the British fleet. British Intelligence deceived the Germans into believing that a much larger force lay just offshore, ready to destroy the battered Graf Spee when she emerged.
Rather than suffer outright defeat to a seemingly superior force, the ship’s captain, Hans Langsdorff ordered her evacuated and scuttled. After all, the ship herself was named after a German admiral who was killed at sea in defeat by a larger British force in the First World War. Landing most of his crew ashore, he sailed her to the edge of Montevideo harbor and blew her magazines.
More than 1000 of her crew were interned in Argentina during the war while Hans Langsdorff himself shot himself while wearing his dress uniform.
She has been slowly salvaged by various countries and teams since 1939 but most of the ship is still in Montevideo. Her 660-pound, nine foot wide eagle figurehead was recovered from the stern of the ship in 2006 by a team of divers who loosened 145 bolts to free the ornament.
Odds are, no one has seen the last of the Graf.
Length: 186 m (610 ft 3 in)
Beam: 21.65 m (71 ft 0 in)
Draft: 7.34 m (24 ft 1 in)
Eight MAN diesel engines
52,050 shp (38,810 kW)
Speed: 29.5 knots (55 km/h)
Range: 8,900 nautical miles (16,500 km; 10,200 mi) at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Complement: As built:
processing systems: 1940:
FMG 39 G(gO)
FMG 40 G(gO)
Armament: As built:
6 × 28 cm (11 in) in triple turrets
8 × 15 cm (5.9 in) in single turrets
8 × 53.3 cm (21.0 in) torpedo tubes
main turrets: 140 mm (5.5 in)
belt: 80 mm (3.1 in)
deck: 45 mm (1.8 in)
Aircraft carried: Two Arado Ar 196 seaplanes
Aviation facilities: One catapult
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