Conisbrough Sailor Gives Inside Story Of River Plate Battle (pictures)

May 1946

South Yorkshire Times May 18, 1946

Graf Spee Was Trapped
Conisborough Sailor Gives Inside Story Of River Plate Battle

Some of the “inside” story of the famous Battle of the River Plate, which ended with the German battleship, “Graf Spee,” blowing itself up, was told to Conisbrough Branch of the British Legion at their monthly meeting on Sunday by ex leading seaman W.B. Wright of Conisbrough, who was aboard the “Ajax” at the time.

Councillor Oldfield (Chairman) presided.

The cruiser HMS ACHILLES seen from HMS AJAX at the Battle of the River Plate

Photo from wikipedia – By Royal Navy official photographer
This is photograph HU 205 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4007-03), Public Domain,

Soon in Action

Mr Wright said when war broke out the “Ajax” was at Rio de Janeiro.

After about a month at sea they were allowed a 24 hours sojourn at Buenos Aires, and were returning to their tasks on the “Ajax” when a BBC broadcast announced that a German armed battleship was loose in the South Atlantic.

They received a call for help from the “African Shell,” but the Ajax was too far away. They did, however, get onto the track of an enemy ship and Captain Woodhouse, of the Ajax hoped to take her intact, but the crew scuttled her.

Baiting the Trap

It seemed probable, however Mr Wright said that the Admiralty using the incident to draw the German raider, for the BBC reported the capture of a German supply ship and said that she was being taken to a British port. To fill in the detail, the “Ajax” were joined by the “Exeter” and a French cargo named the “Formosa” which was similar in appearance to the sunken German ship.

Early one morning “Action stations were sounded and in six minutes every man was at his post, a very creditable performance. The Germans quickly realised that the Frenchman was not their lost supply ship and opened fire on her with their 11 inch guns. The “Ajax” drew attention to herself, but with the larger “Exeter” showing up the Germans concentrated on her. Badly damaged she was ordered to retire.

Adml Harwood proceeded to attack with the “Ajax” and the “Achilles”; the six-inch light guns could only fire about 12 miles against the Germans 25 miles. The Allied ships worked a mutual battle service using smokescreens to cover each other and so get within firing range.

A salvo wrecked the “Graf Spee’s” forward turret housing, followed by more salvos so that they had to turn away, after their 11 inch guns came to bear, and after an 84 minute battle the Germans ran for shelter.

Again the BBC came into the picture by announcing that waiting outside the Plate for the “Graf Spee” there were, besides the “Ajax”, the “Renown” and the Dutch battleship, “Dunkerque.” Actually the three ships were not in the picture. The 8 inch gun cruiser “Cumberland” had come to the party.

Mr Wright said that he had been sure that as there were three British battleships against one German the odds were against the German, but the power that the guns the “Graf Spee” could throw in one broadside was heavier than all the British ships together, apart from the fact that the “Graf Spee” could out range them.

rp 2

Admiral Graf Spee in flames after being scuttled in the River Plate estuary

Photo from wikipedia – By Royal Navy official photographer
This is photograph A 3 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-01), Public Domain,