On 13 December 1939, while Britain was living through a ‘Phoney War’ at home, in the waters off the River Plate a vicious sea battle was being played out, pitting three small cruisers against the pride of Germany’s Navy: the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.

The Battle of the River Plate has acquired, over the subsequent eight decades, something of a David and Goliath character, with the plucky British cruisers HMS Ajax, HMS Achilles, and HMS Exeter ranged against a giant of a ship.

Below are the specifications of both the Admiral Graf Spee, and the three British cruisers involved on that fateful day.

 


Admiral Graf Spee

Graf-Spee

Deutschland-class cruiser

Displacement: 12,100 tons standard; 16,200 tons full load
Length: 186m (610ft)
Beam: 21.65m (71.0ft)
Draught: 7.34m (24.1ft)

Propulsion: eight 9-cylinder double-acting two-stroke MAN diesels, two screws, 52,050hp
Speed: 28.5 knots (53km/h)
Range: 8,900 nautical miles at 20 knots (16,500km at 37km/h) or 19,000 nautical miles at 10 knots (35,000km at 18.5km/h)
Complement: 1001-1,150 men Electronic warfare and decoys: early version of Seetakt radar

Armament:
6 × 28cm (11in)
8 × 15cm (5.9in)
6 × 10.5cm (4.1in)
8 × 37mm
10 × 20mm
8 × 53.3cm (21in) torpedo tubes

Aircraft carried: two Arado 196 seaplanes


British Ships

 Ajax

Ajax

Built by: Vickers Armstrong (Barrow-in-Furness)
Laid down: 7 February 1933
Launched: 1 March 1934
Commissioned: 12 April 1935
End of service: February 1948

Armament:
8 × BL 6in Mk XXIII (152mm L/50) guns, twin turrets Mk XXI
4 × QF 4in Mk V L/45 guns, single mounts HA Mk IV
12 × QF 0.5in Mk 11 Vickers (12.7mm) machine-guns, quad mounts Mk I
8 (2 x 4) tubes for 21in torpedoes Mk IX

 


Achilles

Achilles

Built by: Cammell Laird (Birkenhead)
Laid down: 11 June 1931
Launched: 1 September 1932

Commissioned: 10 October 1933
Out of service: loaned to Royal New Zealand Navy 1 October 1936
Fate: sold to Indian Navy 5 July 1948 as INS Delhi
Arrived Bombay for scrapping: 30 June 1978

Armament:
8 × BL 6in Mk XXIII (152mm L/50) guns, twin turrets Mk XXI
4 × QF 4in Mk V L/45 guns, single mounts HA Mk IV
12 × QF 0.5in Mk 11 Vickers (12.7mm) machine-guns, quad mounts Mk I
8 (2 x 4) tubes for 21in torpedoes Mk IX


Exeter

Exeter

 

Ordered from Devonport Dockyard: 15 March 1928
Laid down: 1 August 1928
Launched: 18 July 1929
Commissioned: 27 July 1931
Fate: sunk in battle, 1 March 1942, Second Battle of the Java Sea

Displacement: 8,390 tons standard
Full length: 575ft (175m) overall
Beam: 58ft (18m)
Draught: 17ft (5.2m)

Propulsion: 8 Admiralty 3-drum water-tube boilers; Parsons geared steam-turbines; 80,000shp
Speed: 32¼ kts (30½ kts full load)
Range: 1,900 tons oil fuel, 10,000nmi (20,000km) at 14 knots (26km/h)

Complement: 630

Armament (as built):
6 x BL 8in (203mm) L/50 Mk VIII, twin mounts Mk II
4 x QF 4in Mk V guns, single mounts HA Mk III
8 x 0.5in (12.7mm) L/50 Mk III Vickers machine-guns, quad mounts Mk I
2 x triple tubes for 21in (533mm) torpedoes
Aircraft carried: one Supermarine Walrus floatplane, one catapult


This information appeared in issue 47 of Military History Monthly as part of the following feature: Hunting the Lone Wolf: The Battle of the River Plate.



Leave a Reply