(WWII) Letter from the Captain Langsdorff of the Graf Spee to the German Minister at Montevideo 17 December 1939

Read a transcript by Captain Langsdorff stating his determination to sink the his ship the Graf Spee after the Battle of the River Plate. 


The Commander of the Graf Spee states his determination to sink his ship and protests against the actions of Uruguay.

Battleship Admiral Graf Spee
Montevideo 17/12/39
To the German Minister at Montevideo.

Herr Otto Langmann,

Before leaving Montevideo, I wish to express through you my deep gratitude for the numerous demonstrations of sympathy and help from the people of Uruguay, I shall never forget them.

Also, I wish to express my great pleasure to the Uruguayan authorities, especially when consideration is given to the grave situation which has arisen between us, for the quick assistance which was given to the Graff [sic] Spee for the outside help given to my wounded and the honours rendered to my dead.

With great sorrow on my part, they have mixed with these truly humanitarian sentiments a profoundly disagreeable one.

According to your communication referring to your visit to the Foreign Relations Minister of the Uruguayan Republic, you are obliged to consider as definite the time fixed by the Cabinet for 8 p.m. on the 17th of December for the sailing of the Graf Spee. This notwithstanding the fact that urgent repairs required to make the ship navigable cannot possibly be completed by this time.

Against such a ruling I protest in every way. The points of my protest are as follows:

(1) In accordance with Art[icle] 17 of the 13th Hague Convention you are allowed to concede to belligerent warships in neutral ports time necessary to make good defects which are essential to safe navigation. There is a precedent in South America which dates from 1914 when the British Cruiser “GLASGOW” was allowed to make repairs over a period of weeks. In order to make good the damage to my ship I have asked for a period of 15 days.

(2) The technical commission of the Uruguayan Government have been able to convince themselves that the fighting ability of the Graf Spee, both machinery and armament have suffered little so that I am not allowed to repair either of them. This same commission also convinced itself that the hull was safe against the dangers of navigation. Besides, states of the galley and bakery would prohibit a long stay on the high seas considering the number of crew. Such repairs are covered by Art.17 previously quoted and 72 hours did not allow these repairs to be carried out.

(3) In spite of the intense efforts being made it has not been possible to repair the damage in the time fixed even with outside help from firms in Montevideo. This fact should have been understood and a new investigation ordered. Work was also hindered by the Custom authorities at 1800 on December 16th. I also state that the determination of the Uruguayan Cabinet forces me to leave Montevideo with a ship that has not been repaired and that is unsafe to navigate. A voyage on the high seas would endanger the crew of more than 1000 men. In this I do not refer to the danger of enemy origin but exclusively to the general dangers of navigation.

(4) The decision of the Cabinet represents a flagrant violation of the hopes of carrying on the war more humanely in accordance with the article of the Hague Convention already quoted. I for my part protest strongly against their decision.

(5) On the morning of the 13th December I attacked the English Cruiser “EXETER”. In the fight the “AJAX” and “ACHILLES” also took part. Once the “EXETER had been put out of action by me, I resolved to enter Montevideo to effect repairs. I also knew the British Government only recognised territorial waters as extending three miles from the shore. Once my ship had entered this zone which is internationally owned by several South American States. I respected their neutrality by ceasing fire in spite of favourable visibility. I opened fire on a British Cruiser stationed of f Labos Island after she had opened fire and the shells were falling close to my ship.

(6) In spite of the fact that I do not recognise the action of the Uruguayan Cabinet at the same time I shall respect the time limit they have fixed. I blame the Government for not allowing me to make my ship fit to navigate in accordance with the Hague Convention. I cannot argue against the control of this country with my ship which has suffered badly in battle although she can still be fought. Under these circumstances there remains no other solution than to sink the ship. I shall blow her up close to the shore, disembarking before hand as many of the crew as possible.


Naval Captain