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Title As It Happened : The Battle Of The River Plate / Director: Hayes, James.

Published Australia : SBS 2 [broadcaster], 2011 November 29 at 20:30:00.


Location Call No. Status
Physical description 1 streaming video file (47 min. 53 sec.) ; 287902927 bytes
Summary On December 13th 1939, two hundred miles off the coast of South America, the first major naval battle of World War II exploded into action. Against overwhelming fire power, three British ships took on the pride of the German fleet, the pocket battleship Graf Spee. This naval conflict would become known as The Battle of the River Plate. This documentary examines one of the most potent symbols of Nazi sea power, the Graf Spee, and how it wreaked havoc on allied merchant shipping in the opening months of World War II. The Graf Spee was touted as being bigger than anything faster, and faster than anything bigger. The battle that ensued between the two navel stalwarts, Commodore Henry Hardwood and Captain Hans Langsdorff, finally saw the Graf Spee outmanoeuvred by her British counterpart not only on the seas but also through military intelligence. "In this battle we have good vs. evil and the weak vs. the strong. In this battle, the weak triumphed over the strong," says Naval Historian Dr Eric Grove. "But the strong is represented by a good man fighting for an evil cause and he pays the price of this impossible situation. It's a tragedy that most playwrights could learn a great deal from." A 'cloak and dagger' operation was waged as British Intelligence leaked information claiming a large fleet was steaming to the River Plate to lie in wait for the Graf Spee. "You can see from the war diaries that Langsdorff was getting very frustrated at just sinking merchant ships," says Grove. "He wanted a victory against the British before he went home." "Howard, thinking that Langsdorff would head to River Plate is one of the most inspired example's of intuition in naval history," says Grove. "This was inspired intellectual instinct and he was absolutely right." Following the Battle of River Plate, in which the British lost one of their three ships, Langsdorff took the Graf Spee to the neutral port of Montevideo in Uruguay. It was here that the second half of the story, a story of guile and deception and perhaps one of the biggest bluffs of World War II, took place. "Everybody was waiting for the battle to continue, actually that was the assumption," says Hugo Roca, a journalist in Montevideo. "It was an unfinished battle, the Graf Spee cannot remain in Montevideo, and the Germans have to leave the port - so naturally a clash had to occur." The Battle of the River Plate examines Langsdorff's personal letters which have been hidden by his daughter for 66 years. These provide unprecedented access into the mind of a man in control of one of the biggest naval battles of World War II. "The British have surrounded us in such a way that leaving to engage in battle with an opponent so overwhelmingly superior to us would lead to our certain demise," writes Langsdorff. "If Langsdorff sailed, he was facing certain death and a death that meant dishonour," says Grove. The 'official' British account said that Langsdorff scuttled his ship rather than face certain defeat. But a re-examination of the official records, and the captain's war diaries, points to Langsdorff knowing the British were trying to trick him. The Battle of the River Plate brings new understanding to one of the important naval battles of World War II. . (From the UK, in English and German, English subtitles) (Documentary).
Audience Classification PG ACMA.
Other author Hayes, James, director.
Diggins, Kurt, contributor.
Grove, Eric, contributor.
Harwood, Henry, contributor.
Harwood, Stephen, contributor.
Millington-Drake, Tristan, contributor.
Nedden, Inge, contributor.
Praed, Michael, contributor.
Rocha, Hugo, contributor.
Trott, Basil, contributor.
Subject Langsdorff, Hans Wilhelm, 1894-1939.
Admiral Graf Spee (Battleship)
Naval battles.
River Plate, Battle of the (1939)
War victims.
Military operations, Naval -- Submarine.