Another book on the war. THE war. Most people have never heard of this battle, much less read the book or watched the excellent movie of the same title.
Prior to the start of the war, The pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee (pronounced "shpay")slipped out into the Atlantic. Shortly thereafter, the war began and the Spee went into action. It sunk nine ships before it ran into the British who had been hunting it.
In early December, 1939, the British ships Ajax, Achilles (named for heroes of the Iliad) and Exeter (named for a town in England) duked it out with the Spee. The Spee had 6 11-inch guns. The largest guns it faced were mere 8 and 6 inch. The Spee all but sank the Exeter, the largest British ship, and then it withdrew to Montevideo.
There are two big mysteries associated with the battle: why did the Spee bug off, and why did it not fight its way out of the harbor.
The three British ships did damage the Spee more than they thought, but it still could have sunk the Exeter if it chose to do so, and perhaps the other two. Captain Langsdorff did not see it that way and slipped away from the battle. It could have fought its way out of the harbor with ease, but a masterful diplomatic bluff convinced Langsdorff that the Ark Royal (Britain's main aircraft carrier) and other ships had joined the blockade set up by the remaining Ajax, Achilles and the recently arrived Cumberland.
Instead of fighting its way out, the Spee famously sailed out of the harbor and scuttled itself. It is still visible at low tide in Montevide0. Lansdorff did the same to himself a few days later.
For buffs like me, it was very interesting reading about the mechanics of loading, aiming and firing of naval guns while the ship is being maneuvered.
The book was hard to follow due to the overlapping stories. The perspective jumps from the Spee to the British ships, recovering the same events, which I found confusing.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.