Lord Chatfield was right when he expressed the opinion in the House of Lords that the Graf Spee would soon put out to sea again, for a short time. On December 17, after days of frenzied preparation, she left Montevideo, and two hours later was scuttled in the fairway by her own crew. The story of what has been well styled Ignominy to order is given below. It was late at night on Wednesday, December 13th, when the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee limped into the neutral harbour of Montevideo. For fourteen hours she had been engaged in a running fight with three British cruisers, Ajax, Achilles, and, Exeter. All three were small ships of their class, and against the Graf Spee's six 11inch gun's and eight 6-inch guns, the Exeter mounted only six 8 inch guns and her two consorts eight 6-inch guns apiece. A broadside fired by the Graf Spee was half as much again as the total broadside of the three British cruisers, and the disparity was still further increased by the fact that early in the action the Exeter was hit by a German Salvo which knocked out two of her four turrets, smashed three of her 8-inch guns, and inflicted nearly a hundred casualties, Though she was able to continue in the chase, the Exeter was forced to drop behind, and it was the two comparatively small British cruisers, Ajax and Achilles which finally drove the Graf Spee off the seas. Well might Captain Langsdorf talk of the inconceivable audacity displayed by Achilles and Ajax of that incredible manoeuvre which brought the two cruisers dashing through the smoke screen to within a mile of the Graf Spee, firing salvo after salvo into the German ship at close range. When the Exeter dropped out of the action, wrote Admiral Sir Howard Kelly in the Daily Telegraph, the two small cruisers had a tremendous task in front of them, and most gallantly they tackled it. They took every advantage of their superior speed, attacking the enemy from ever-changing angles. When they made their final dash, closing in at full speed from opposite directions to almost point blank range, completing their destructive work, the spirit of their naval forefathers must indeed have cried Well done! Here was no necessity to hoist Nelson's favourite signal "Engage the enemy more closely" it was a perfectly working team of gallant fellows knowing what he had to do and doing it. Above is the "Exeter" an 8,000 ton Cruiser, completed in 1931 and recommisioned at the outbreak of War. At the battle of the plate she was commanded by Captain F.S Bell So it was that, sorely battered, with holes gaping in her superstructure, and riddled by shells just above the waterline, the much-vaunted pocket battleship just managed to limp into harbour. Close on her tracks went Ajax and Achilles ready and eager to renew the battle, while the Exeter came up through the night ready to take part in a fresh attack. Not until the Cumberland arrived did the crippled ship depart to care for her wounded and injuries. For three days the Graf Spee swung at anchor in Montevideo harbour for three days her men toiled desperately to repair the damage and plug the holes which had been torn by the British shells. Mr E. Millington Drake, the British Minister at Montevideo, urged that the battleship should be required to put to sea at once or be interned for the duration of the war; a battleship which could travel so fast as did the Graf Spee when seeking refuge must, he pointed out., be perfectly navigable. Captain Dietrich German Naval Attache at Buenos Aires, and a German civilian expert, also examined the battleship and, so it was believed, reported that she was navigable. According to international law a war ship that is seaworthy may be compelled to leave a neutral harbour, and the Uruguayan Cabinet decreed that the Graf Spee must leave Montevideo within 72 hours-by 8 p.m. on Sunday evening, December 17th (11.30 p.m. Greenwich mean time) or be interned. Afterwards it transpired that Captain Langsdorf protested strongly against the time limit. He wanted fifteen days in which to repair the damage that had been done, for, so he maintained, although the fighting capacity of his ship had been practically unaffected by the battle, certain repairs would have to be done to the hull in order to make the ship seaworthy. As the hours drew on activity on the great ship was intensified. The German cargo boat Tacoma came alongside and fuelled her with oil, and a number of steel plates and cylinders of oxygen for welding were taken aboard. Several local firms refused to have any hand in the repair work, and amongst the ship workers anti-Nazi feeling was so strong that the police had difficulty in controlling the crowds who, marching up and down the quay, shouted Down with Germany ! Above is the "Ajax" which was commanded by Captain C.H.L. Woodhouse (below) when fighting the "Graf Spee" Nevertheless, the work went on and as yet there were no indications of the ignominious climax which was being prepared. Sunday dawned, and crowds of Montevideans flocked to the harbour and lined the shore in the hope of catching a glimpse of the wounded ship. All day long launches went to and fro between the Graf Spee and the quay, while her sailors continued their repair work. Some of them were noticed to be busy polishing the ship's guns. Intense diplomatic activity continued, as on the one hand Mr. Millington Drake urged that the ship should be compelled to leave port at once in view of the claim that she was perfectly seaworthy, while on the other hand Dr. Otto Langman, his German opposite number, made desperate efforts to persuade the Uruguayan Government to extend the time limit. Shortly after five in the evening the Graf Spee weighed one anchor, and a quarter of an hour later the second. At six o'clock the tens of thousands of onlookers were surprised to see that the bulk of the battleship's crew were being transferred to the Tacoma, and they realised that something strange was afoot, when at 6:19 the ship left the inner harbour with only a skeleton crew. Slowly she sailed down the fairway, followed by several launches. At 6:40 she turned west as if making for Buenos Aires, and then a few minutes later turned again and moved slowly towards the open sea. At seven the ship halted in the middle of the estuary most of the onlookers thought that her captain was waiting for complete darkness before making his dash through the British line. The moment of the great drama had come, but it was a drama of defeat and ignominy, not of bravery and defiance. Precisely at 7.50 p.m. (11.20 GMT) there was a terrific explosion. A great column of smoke rose up into the darkening sky, and flames leaped and ran along the whole length of the ship. As the special correspondent of the Daily Telegraph wrote: At that moment the sun was just sinking below the horizon, flooding the sky in which small grey clouds floated lazily, a brilliant blood red. It was a perfect Wagnerian setting for this amazing Hitlerian drama. At first it was thought that Captain Langsdorf and his crew had gone up with the ship, but soon the amazed and terrified spectators saw boats proceeding from the scene. The captain had indeed left the ship a few minutes before the fuses fired the several tons of explosives placed in the ship's magazine. He was taken on a launch to the Tacoma; which had followed the Graf Spee down the river. There, leaning on the rail with bowed shoulders, tears streaming from his eyes, he watched his ship blaze and smoke into ruin. Later, reports were current that there had been insubordination among the Graf Spee's crew as soon as they learned on the Saturday evening that their vessel was to be scuttled, and there seems to be little doubt that although in his letter to Dr. Langman Captain Langsdorf said that in the circumstances there remains no solution but to sink my ship by blowing her up near the coast, this decision was dictated by the Fuehrer himself. Furious because his ship was trapped Hitler in a moment of passion issued the order to scuttle-thus revealing to the world in the plainest fashion his doubts concerning the ultimate victory. For if the ship had been interned and Germany won the war she would have been returned to the triumphant Reich.... Captain Perry (below) who commanded the "Achilles" (above) served as Torpedo officer on board "Birmingham" in the Great War. The news said Mr. Churchill in his broadcast to the nation on December 18th , which has come from Montevideo has been received with thankfulness in our islands and with unconcealed satisfaction throughout the greater part of the world ... The German pocket battleship, in spite of her far heavier metal and commanding range, was driven to take refuge in a neutral harbour by the three British cruisers whose names are on everyones lips. Once in harbour she had the choice of submitting in the ordinary manner to internment, which would have been unfortunate for her, or of coming out to fight and going down in battle like the Rawalpindi, which would have, been honourable to her. She discovered a third alternative. She came out not to fight but to sink herself in the fairway of a neutral State from whom she had received such shelter and assistance as international law prescribes. At that time the pocket battleship 'Graf Spec' knew that the British heavy ships 'Renown' and 'Ark Royal' were still a thousand miles away, oiling at Rio. All that awaited her outside the harbour were the two six-inch gun cruisers 'Ajax' and 'Achilles,' who had chased her in, and the eight-inch gun cruiser 'Cumberland,' which had arrived to take the place of the ' Exeter.' The world heard the news with amazement mingled with contempt. "Incredible," said Rome; "she might, as well have fired upon the enemy first," said Japan. But, as the "Daily Telegraph" appropriately said, "When it takes orders from Hitler, the German Navy has to leave honour out of the question, when the Graf Spee was sunk by her captain in the channel of the neutral harbour of Montevideo, he wrote the last, line of an immortal epic of ignominy."