Thursday, December 17, 2009

70 Years Ago Today 17/12/39

Finland: The Finnish government have announced that the army have smashed two Russian divisions, taken 36,000 Red Army soldiers prisoner and have a further 20,000 surrounded.

Western Front: An increase in German reconnaissance flights is reported.

Liverpool: The first contingent of Canadian troops arrive in Britain since the war began. 7,400 troops of the First Canadian Division have arrived on five converted ocean liners.

London: The admiralty announced that 61 sailors were killed on board HMS Exeter during the previous days battle of the river plate with the German battleship Admiral Graf Spree

Montevideo: The harbour is like a football stadium as thousands of civilians gather at the port to observe the next step of the German battleship Admiral Graff spree. It was damaged earlier in the week during the The Battle of the River Plate and made its way to the Uruguayan capital Montevideo. A drama ensued as the Graf Spree was granted permission by neutral Uruguay to dock for 24 hours which was extended to 72 to allow for repairs. In the meantime the British light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles wait outside the Port along with the more powerful HMS Cumberland which replaced the HMS Exeter which was severely damaged during the recent battle and had to limp back to the Falkans. The whole world is waiting to see what Captain Hans Langsdorff of the Graf Spree will do. One option is to fight his way out but fearing it would be a futile battle that could lead to the deaths of his 1200 crew he opts instead to scuttle her. On this day 70 Years ago the huge crowds that the throng the harbour walls watch as the German crew board their lifeboats and row toward shore. Shortly afterward a massive explosion rocks the harbour and the Admiral Graff Spree begins to sink. It is a huge victory for the Royal Navy.

The Admiral Graff Spree sinking just outside Montevideo harbour. Today, a part of the German battleship is still visible above water.

Incidentally, followers of Gubu World will know that I am compiling my Greatest War Movies List . The 1956 classic The Battle of the River Plate starring Anthony Quayle details the entire Graff Spree story and is well worth a look. It wont make it into my top ten but it didn't miss out by much.

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