During the first few months of the war British
merchant ships were attacked and Sunk by the Nazis. An attempt
by the Nazis to isolate Britain within its island was showing
some results. Being an island Britain depended much on its merchant
navy and imports for its survival, which made her merchant ships
important targets to the Nazi's if they were to put a stranglehold
on Britain. The Nazis had a powerful presence in the Atlantic
in the shape of its pocket battleship the 'Admiral Graf Spee'.
It would be an encounter with the Graf Spee that would lead to
Britain's first success of the war.
On 13th December, 1939, the Graf Spee was intercepted
by the British South Atlantic squadron. The squadron consisted
of the cruiser Exeter, the light cruiser Ajax and the Royal New
Zealand Navy cruiser Achilles.
The British Commander, Commodore Harwood, split
his force so denying the Graf Spee a single target for her powerful
guns and so effecting its performance and ability to destroy.
A running battle lasted for two hours as the Graf Spee dodged
in and out of range of the pursuing British force.
Captain Langsdorff, Graf Spee, set course for
the neutral safe port of Montevideo, Uruguay. The British force
waited outside for the Graf Spee to re-emerge so it could engage
the battleship. Believing that the British force had been strengthened
Langsdorff asked if he could remain in the port, but his request
was denied and he was ordered to leave Montevideo within 72 hours.
The fate of the Graf Spee was determined by the
actions of its Captain. Langsdorff, who after burying his dead,
gave the order for the Graf Spee to leave the port of Montevideo.
Instead of engaging the British force he scuttled the battleship
in the River Plate.
Two days after the Graf Spee had been scuttled
Captain Langsdorff committed suicide. On the other hand Winston
Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) made the most out of this
victory, and the news of the destruction of the Graf Spee was
warmly greeted in Britain, its propaganda value being priceless.
Winston Churchill (The First
Admiral): "The news that has come from Montevideo has been
received with thankfulness in our Island, and with unconcealed
satisfaction throughout the greater part of the world. The pocket
battleship The Graf Spee, which has been for many weeks in the
South Atlantic, has met her doom."
On 20th January 1940, the First Lord of the Admiralty,
Winston Churchill made a radio broadcast from London. The broadcast
informed the nation of the 'War Situation' after the first five
months of the conflict. He endnd the broadcast with : "The
day will come when the joybells will ring again throughout Europe,
and when victorious nations, masters not only of their foes but
of themselves, will plan and build in justice, in tradition, and
in freedom a house of many mansions where there will be room for