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Admiral Graf Spee file photo [1287]

Admiral Graf Spee

Ship ClassDeutschland-class Heavy Cruiser
Yard Number124
Slip/Drydock NumberII
Ordered23 Aug 1932
Laid Down1 Oct 1932
Launched30 Jun 1934
Commissioned6 Jan 1936
Sunk17 Dec 1939
Displacement12,100 tons standard; 16,023 tons full
Length610 feet
Beam71 feet
Draft24 feet
Machinery8 MAN diesel engines
Power Output52,050 shaft horsepower
Speed28 knots
Range8,900nm at 20 knots
Armament6 11-in guns (2 triple turrets), 8 5.9-in guns, 8 21-in torpedo tubes (2 quadruple)
Armor5.5-in turret face, 2.3-in midships belt, 1.6-in deck
Aircraft2 Arado 196 seaplanes


ww2dbaseThe "pocket battleship" heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee, originally known as Panzerschiff C and Ersatz Braunschweig was named after WW1 Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee. Her construction was rather advanced for her time, particularly her speed when compared with her contemporaries; she was built with the philosophy that she must be faster than enemies that out-gunned her, while she must also be stronger than enemies that were faster than she was. She spent part of her early career patrolling the coast of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. On 21 Aug 1939, together with tanker Altmark as her supply ship, Admiral Graf Spee was sent by Berlin to raid merchant ships in the South Atlantic that were Britain bound. Between Sep and Dec 1939, she sank nine merchant ships in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, but no lives were lost in any of these sinkings; the captain of Admiral Graf Spee abided strictly by the rules of naval warfare when it came to attacking enemy civilian ships.

ww2dbaseTo counter Admiral Graf Spee's actions, British and French ships formed eight task forces to hunt down Admiral Graf Spee and the Deutschland, which was on a similar mission. The Admiral Graf Spee was found by British Hunting Group G at River Plate in South America on 13 Dec 1939. After a 90-minute intense battle against heavy cruiser Exeter and light cruisers Ajax and Achilles, Admiral Graf Spee sustained damage and fled for the neutral port of Montevideo. Neutrality laws required Montevideo to eject the German ship from its ports after 72 hours. With the Admiral Graf Spee's diesel engines unreliable, the British knew Captain Hans Langsdorff of the German heavy cruiser must be a little stressed about his situation. The British played a successful mental tactic against the German captain, tricking him in believing that a large British and French fleet waited outside the port for the German cruiser. Langsdorff bought the deception, and scuttled his ship on 17 Dec 1939. He committed suicide three days later.

ww2dbaseIn 1997 one of Admiral Graf Spee's secondary gun turrets were raised and restored. They are now on display outside Montevideo's National Maritime Museum. The rest of the ship is in the process of being raised, and may be restored in the future for display.

ww2dbaseSources: the Second World War, Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Feb 2006

Heavy Cruiser Admiral Graf Spee Interactive Map


Painting of Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee by Oscar Parkes before the ship was completed, 1932Admiral Graf Spee
See all 45 photographs of Heavy Cruiser Admiral Graf Spee

Admiral Graf Spee Operational Timeline

1 Oct 1932 The keel of the future pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was laid down.
30 Jun 1934 Admiral Graf Spee was launched.
6 Jan 1936 Admiral Graf Spee was commissioned into German service.
21 Aug 1939 German warship Admiral Graf Spee and her tanker Altmark departed Germany on a raiding mission against British shipping.
11 Sep 1939 HMS Cumberland on passage to Rio de Janeiro. Aircraft sighted German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee and tanker Altmark but enemy ships escaped interception.
30 Sep 1939 The German pocket-battleship, Admiral Graf Spee (Kapitän Zur See Hans Langsdorff), intercepted her first victim, the SS Clement, off Brazil. But the 5,084-ton ocean-going tramp steamer reported the pocket-battleship as the Admiral Scheer, a report that confused the eight Raider Hunting Forces formed jointly by the British Admiralty and the French Ministry of Marine.
15 Oct 1939 German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee refueled from tanker Altmark.
28 Oct 1939 German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee received fuel from and transferred British prisoners to tanker Altmark near Tristan de Cunha in the South Atlantic.
9 Dec 1939 German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee sailed toward the River Plate estuary on the border of Uruguay and Argentina to attack a reported convoy departing from Montevideo, Uruguay. Meanwhile, Royal Navy Force G (light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles, soon to be joined by heavy cruiser HMS Exeter) was already en route toward the area in search of Admiral Graf Spee.
13 Dec 1939 HMS Cumberland was ordered to join Exeter, Ajax and Achilles off the Plate estuary off Uruguay after Admiral Graf Spee had sought refuge in Montevideo following her defeat in Battle of the River Plate.
14 Dec 1939 HMS Cumberland joined other ships in Plate estuary off Uruguay awaiting departure of Admiral Graf Spee.
17 Dec 1939 Admiral Graf Spee was scuttled by her own crew at Montevideo, Uruguay.
17 Dec 1939 HMS Cumberland at Montevideo, Uruguay after Admiral Graf Spee scuttled.
27 Mar 1945 Argentina declared war on the Axis alliance. The interned sailors of the Admiral Graf Spee (since Dec 1939) were now considered prisoners of war.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
20 Jun 2007 03:58:29 PM

Hi. Would like to know if theres any place I can obtain the crew list of the Admiral Graf Spee that came to Argentina on 1939. Thanks
2. mccartrey says:
22 Sep 2007 12:47:48 AM

Hi Anon, try this URL and look up Graf Spee on the named vessels drop down list.

best of luck in tracing whoever.
3. Anonymous says:
11 Dec 2007 01:56:03 PM


The correct URL is:


drop down list under named vessel, seems your /s in the URL are MIA.
4. Richard says:
21 Apr 2008 08:24:10 AM

In fact, the fuel for Graf Spee's diesel engines had become contaminated and the mechanism that cleaned out the contamination was damaged in the attacks on the ship. Therefore the British ruse was irrelevant. The Graf Spee could not make serious speed or distance in any case.
5. Mark says:
7 May 2008 04:39:32 AM

Richard: The fuel wasnt contaminate thats the way it was. The ship used two steam plants to refine the crude fuel into aux tanks that feed the engines. The aux tanks where not empty but the on ship refining machinery had not been repaired when force to sea so they only had a short period of run time before they ran them dry. So these ships ran on very "crude oil" which they refined on demand. They could make any speed they normally capable of just not for very long.
6. hernan says:
25 May 2008 11:22:21 AM

see this is very important
7. Anonymous says:
25 May 2008 11:24:03 AM

complete list of crew graf spee
8. ming says:
22 Jun 2008 07:19:18 AM

Spee was heavier armored than the others

see Dudly Pope ( only original edition)and letter from gunnery officer in blog

140mm over ~25mm

45mm slope and deck of protected cruiser

actual armor was understated in offical documents since the armor and weight of the ship was in treaty violation

the fuel was heavy residual oil which had to be heated to flow in the engine's fuel system

does any one have url for official documentation of damage to steam heating systems?
9. Anonymous says:
22 Feb 2009 11:27:16 AM

good. I vill make the Graf Spee model I have a plan from the german museum, plans from yard of construction. are they good for it? Bye.
10. CONDOR says:
26 Jun 2009 12:36:27 PM

What kind of couplings connected the main propulsion diesel engines to the propeller shafts?
Where the main propulson diesel engines connected to a reduction gear, or directly via a coupling to the propusion shafts?

11. Jan Koso says:
21 Aug 2010 01:41:11 PM

It is my understanding that it was a "Pocket Battleship."
12. Commenter identity confirmed C. Peter Chen says:
21 Aug 2010 01:55:35 PM

@Jan : The "Pocket Battleships" were in all respect cruisers, but in a way more powerful due to heavier armament than typical cruisers. The term was coined by the British.
13. Douglas Stoltzman says:
21 Aug 2010 02:09:27 PM

Outshoot what it could'nt out run, and out run what it could'nt out shoot, was the thinkin'.
14. Brooks Ashley Rowlett says:
21 Aug 2010 02:58:52 PM

The Germans redesignated them heavy cruisers in 1942.
15. Jan Koso says:
21 Aug 2010 03:59:13 PM

Thank you for the clarification
16. Anonymous says:
29 Aug 2010 08:17:36 PM

My understanding is that the term "Pocket Battleship" came from the fact that Graf Spee and sister ships had 28 cm main armament, i.e roughly 11 inches. Thus was considerably more fire power than the 8 in. main armament provided on US and British heavy cruisers such as HMS Exeter. Graf Spee should have had much more advantage of range and shell weight at the Plata, but she was deployed to a close attack which allowed Exeter and others to land hits. The fact of having only 2 main turrets and 6 guns may be seen as a design flaw when fighting multiple enemies, and forced the use of secondary armament. May also have been a factor at the Barents Sea in late 1942.
17. Dieds says:
23 Jan 2012 02:39:52 AM

does anybody have the blueprint of the ship please ? ? I would to take a look at them
18. Caio Voulminot says:
30 Jan 2015 11:49:16 AM

There are many versions of what happened in the Rio de la Plata during those december 1939 days and why did Captain Langsdorff sink the ship outside de port of Montevideo. Here goes anotherone:
My grandfather's father was one of the owners of the only drydock in Montevideo that was capable of repairing the wounded ship. Captain Langsdorff came ashore to meet him and offered a blank check to pay for the materials they needed to repair the ship in the sea, because they had to leave the port of Neutral Montevideo.
But my great-grandfather refused to provide the materials to the German warship because he was antigerman. The reasons for this anti-german feelings were founded in the fact that his father had been forced to flee from his home in Colmar, Alsace, to avoid German military service after Alsace was taken from France in 1870, BTW, his grandfather was the first KIA in the german attack on Colmar. There is a monument in his tomb in the cementery of Colmar that was made by Bartholdi.
There are several books about this piece of history (the Adm. Graff Spee and the Battle of the "Rio de la Plata"). Some of them mention this story.
19. Capt.johnhenry says:
30 Nov 2015 01:37:13 PM

Is Capt. Langsdorff's log available on line to read? I do admire Capt. Langsdorff both as a person and as a naval officer... Are there any "truthful books about he and his carrier? Thank you.
20. Luis Mayne says:
1 Apr 2016 03:21:17 AM

I are one of the childrens left behing wen the tripulation was deported to Germany on the end of the war.
My mother name was Maria Eugenia Santana , Maruja , if any person know anything about , please email me at Luis_mayne@bigpond.com I wish to know if I have a half brother or sister and the name of my father.
21. derek says:
30 Aug 2016 03:39:40 PM

Have a selection of original papers of some crew members (word of honour - not to try and escape). Letter Langmann (legation Germany, Montevideo) relevant to Graf Spee. Letter embassy Buenos Aires wanting good service for German crew members of Graf Spee in hospital. lots more...
22. Andres Rearte says:
9 May 2021 06:15:48 AM

I am trying to find out more information, regarding a grand uncle. He ended up in Argentina. His name was Ernst Knorr. I could have one of the letters spelled incorrectly.
23. Jimmy Berg says:
6 Feb 2023 07:44:27 AM

She was never reclassified as a heavy cruiser

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Event(s) Participated:
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Heavy Cruiser Admiral Graf Spee Photo Gallery
Painting of Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee by Oscar Parkes before the ship was completed, 1932Admiral Graf Spee
See all 45 photographs of Heavy Cruiser Admiral Graf Spee

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