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Pursuit of the Graf Spee (1956) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • In the fall of 1939, the German heavy cruiser (referred to as a pocket battleship) Graf Spee seems to have command of the Atlantic. In the first three months of World War II, she was responsible for sinking 9 ships. The British sent three cruisers commanded by Commodore Henry Harwood to confront her. The battle took place on December 13, 1939 and the British came out on top. The Graf Spee headed for the neutral harbor of Montevideo, Uruguay. They were given only a short time to effect repairs and the British did their best to make them believe a British fleet of 6 or 8 ships awaited them. Rather than chance the loss of his men, the German captain ordered the Graf Spee scuttled.

  • Set during the early years of World War II, the War in the Atlantic. The Royal Navy was fighting a desperate battle to keep the convoy routes open to keep the British Isles supplied. One great danger was the surface raiders, huge cruisers called "pocket battleships" that slipped out of German waters just before war was declared. The "Bismarck", The "Scharnhorst", The "Gneissau" and The "Graf Spee" were supplied by tanker & could strike anywhere. This is the story of how 3 lightly armed cruisers with only 6 and 8 inch guns boldly took on a powerful pocket battleship armed with 11 inch guns. They should have been blown out of the water before they could fire a single shot but ...

  • A true WW2 story: the British Navy must find and destroy a powerful German warship.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Based quite accurately on the first major naval engagement of WWII.

    At the outbreak of war in 1939 the German heavy cruiser (a Panzerschiff or "pocket battleship") Admiral Graf Spee was already loose in the Atlantic and commenced commerce raiding, attacking unarmed merchant ships bringing food and other supplies to the besieged British Isles. Before heading for home waters Captain Langsdorff of the Graf Spee decides on one final raid on a convoy leaving from the River Plate in South America. But this move has been anticipated by Commodore Henry Harwood and his squadron of three Royal Navy cruisers Exeter, Ajax & Achilles.

    The Graf Spee has the much heavier guns and the faster engines so despite explicit orders against engaging with any warships, Langsdorff decides to join battle, hoping to add the sinking of a Royal Navy cruiser to his other achievements. The Graf Spee should have blown the three cruisers out of the water before they landed a shot on her, or just ran away. But with superior tactics the Royal Navy ships do enough damage to the Graf Spee to force her to take refuge in Montevideo, Uruguay. One of the three cruisers, HMS Exeter, is so badly damaged that she limps off to the Falkland Islands to be repaired.

    Then the diplomatic battle begins. The British want to keep the Graf Spee in Montevideo until enough forces can be mustered outside to attack and sink her. Various diplomatic tricks are used to keep the Graf Spee in the harbour while the two remaining cruisers patrol outside. But when it is clear that the Graf Spee is about to set sail, by a clever bit of deception the British convince the Germans that there is already a large Royal Navy force waiting for her and that the Graf Spee is doomed. Not wanting the ship to be captured they scuttle her in the River Plate.

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