Saturday, May 25, 2024

Graf Spee


 Graf Spee was the last of three Deutschland class Pocket Battleships.

The Graf Spee was designed to be a commerce raider - powerful enough to knock out patrolling cruisers and the speed to elude the more powerful full size battleships.

Germany launches its first aircraft carrier.

 The Kriegsmarine, Germany's navy, wasn't prepared when war broke out in 1939.  It would easily take them another eight years before Germany could compete on the seas with the Royal Navy.  Preoccupied with directing his land army, Hitler left naval strategy to the admirals.  The Kriegsmarine chose to ad lib a blockade of England with the few odds and ends they had available.  Grandiose projects such as aircraft carriers consumed too much time and resources dedicated to their production.  Ultimately a number of surface warships were completed only to be turned around and then dismantled for scrap.  Precious metal was now freed up to better contribute to the war effort by furnishing new tanks, aircraft and subs.   

U-boat Wolf Pack tactics devastate early convoys.

 A picket line of U-boats block the convoy as it makes its way to English ports. Once the Allied fleet is sighted, the command is given for all U-boats to converge on the target zone, flooding it with torpedoes.  The war is going well.  It is the 'Happy Time' for U-boat personnel.

British cruisers intercept Graf Spee off Uruguay.

The commander of a group of three British cruisers was playing a hunch when he directed his vessels toward Uruguay and a hoped for confrontation with Germany's elusive surface raider, the Graf Spee.  In fact, the Graf Spee's Captain had decided now was an opportune time for disrupting the heavy South Atlantic commerce that continually passes near Montevideo.

A barrage of eleven inch shells knock Exeter out of the battle.

The Graf Spee made its retreat towards Montevideo's harbor despite the fact there was but one of the three cruisers left behind that was in actual working order.  Graf Spee's Captain Langsdorff was needing a respite in safe harbor to tend to his ship's own extensive damage.  Uruguay, a neutral country, offered waring adversaries a limited stay of 72 hours, strictly enforced.   The Graf Spee needed two weeks for repairs if it was to have any chance of surviving a confrontation with the waiting British cruisers.

The Ark Royal believed to reinforce cruiser blockade.

 Word is the Royal Navy carrier Ark Royal and the battleship Renown have just arrived, adding decisively to the growing number of Royal Navy warships, each waiting, eager for the kill.

German commander scuttles battleship, commits suicide.

With all hope gone of successfully returning to Germany, Langsdorff orders his ship sunk in the shallow estuary that leads to the sea.  Too bad the reports of powerful reinforcements arriving was all a ruse.  The Royal Navy's Ark Royal and battleship Renown were still two thousand distant miles away.  In its short career the Graf Spee sank all of eleven merchant ships.  In return, a valuable battleship was sacrificed.  Two U-boats could have accomplished as much and in less time.  The surface raider strategy was a loser.  

U-boats get it done.  They're cheap and you can turn out a couple dozen a month.  That's important because the British merchant marine consists of over four thousand ships.  Taming this torrent of trade requires an estimated 300 U-boats.  That puts one hundred subs on station in the Atlantic doing its damage.  Another hundred U-boats are in transit between coming and going destinations.  The final hundred are in port for maintenance, training and repairs.  To win the war with Britain in 1940, Germany must send 700,000 tons of supplies to the bottom of the ocean each and every month, depriving Great Britain for a full year of what it needs to make its society work.

©  Tom Taylor



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