River Plate: Twice Is Nice
We were seeking to conclude our second attempt at a campaign about the 1939 commerce war cruises of KMS Deutschland and KMS Admiral Graf Spee. The Deutschland had run a fowl (she would have been better off to turn chicken) of a convoy and been sunk for her efforts after sinking three MM. Graf Spee on the other hand had avoided escorted MM and had sunk 10. Graf Spee, knowing that she needed to sink more MM selected a high-risk strategy, but tactically would run from any warship of any kind. The idea was to string out pursuit until night fall when the general lack of SW radar on Allied cruisers at this point in the war would allow her to break contact, using her SW radar if needed. Graf Spee had followed this tactic thrice now and had sacrificed the Altmark (supply ship) and Emmy Friedrich (tanker) in order to break contact. The Alligators (Allies) would eat GS last or so she hoped. By now the Graf Spee had steamed some 30,000 NM plus and her engines needed a refit. Heading home she would try her luck off the River Plate Estuary.
13 December 1939, the sun shined brightly in a cloudless sky. The wind was a Force 4 southerly with a speed of 15 knots. There were no squalls or sea haze. Visibility was 27,000 yards and smoke would only last 6 minutes.
The Graf Spee was steaming at 18 knots, heading due north. At 0830 hours she had just launched her FP when the masthead reported a cruiser due west at 27,000 yards. The cruiser (later identified as HMS Exeter) was steaming NE at 22 knots. The GS continued due north increasing her speed over the next 12 minutes to 26 knots. The Exeter turned due north and paralleled the GS while increasing its speed.
GS’s FP quickly discovered two cruisers (HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles) some 35,000 yards due south of GS and steaming north at 25 knots. The cruisers soon increased their speed to 32 knots and began to close. The light cruisers caught up to Exeter and took station to her rear as Exeter had dropped back behind GS using evasive maneuver to make gunnery against her harder. By 1030 hours the cruisers had gotten within 18,000 yards of GS and she had turned to engage.
By now everyone had their FP up for air spot. All the first salvos missed. But GS managed to break both her radars (there was a whole lot shaking going on). But while GS gunners could seem to hit, her Sensor repairmen could fix and GS restored her FC radar (a 1 will do that).
At 1036 hours GS MB hit Exeter 4 times, knocking out her fore turrets, starboard secondary and damaged her hull slowing her to 29 knots. But it was GS’s SB that claimed the prize (the SB offizer would later transfer to Bismarck) and hit a 4” magazine which then ignited the fore MB magazine and blew HMS Ajax up along with Commodore Harwood.
Captain Bell, being senior rang the retreat and the GS still in shock and awe of the moment turned back to North with every intent of making it home Germany.
Buttt, the concept of this becoming “Spring time for Hitler and Germany” was unacceptable to anyone present around the table. And it being before noon we resolved to fight it again with a twist. This time Exeter will have stayed to the GS’s starboard and while at 27,000 yards was 10 degrees aft of GS’s beam and heading 350 degrees.
At 1030 hours GS’s MB hit Exeter twice knocking out her fore turrets. GS was making smoke which protected her from the trailing CL’s 6-inch fire.
At 1036 hours GS’s MB hit Exeter 4 times damaging her hull and reducing her to 26 knots as well as damaging her a/c facilities.
At 1042 hours GS’s MB hit Exeter 4 more times knocking out her aft MB turret and Exeter withdrew under smoke (she failed her morale). Commodore Harwood was unfazed by this (He made his morale) and carried on the fight to a fitting British conclusion.
From 1048 to 1136 GS’s MB missed every shot except at 1124 hours when it hit Achilles twice knocking out her fore turret and her starboard TT. Damage inflicted by GS’s SB and TB would reduce Achilles to 10 knots at the end before the smothering fire of the British 6 inch silenced all guns bearing on them. Ajax did not go unpunished and was the primary target of GS’s SB which reduced her to 4 knots (half a hull box) by the end. But the end came for GS at 1140 hours as she slipped beneath the waves, she had found so full of triumph scant minutes before. The British cruisers tried to pick up survivors but the crew of GS were true Germans and died for Herr Hitler to the man, heroes of the Thousand Year Reich the namesake of that the Brits had sunk earlier in the campaign.
The campaign thus ended with both PBs on the bottom. Rule Britannia.
This AAR was written from the POV of the PB’s tabletop captain, but also from a confirmed Anglophile.