Wednesday, May 4, 2016

December 17, 1939: End of Admiral Graf Spee

Sunday 17 December 1939

17 December 1939 Kollaa Finland
A Finnish soldier on the Kollaa front, 17 December 1939.
Battle of the Atlantic: On 17 December 1939, Captain Langsdorff must make a decision, and he does. The Admiral Graf Spee only has left a third of its ammunition, about as much as expended during the previous battle. It also has insufficient fuel left to return to Germany, with the prospect of being able to refuel while being chased by the British very unlikely. So, after consulting with his officers, at 6:15 p.m., Langsdorff sails slowly west out of Montevideo and scuttles the ship in neutral waters. It sits mostly submerged in 7 meters of water, blazing away.

Most of Langsdorff's crew transfers to the German freighter Tacoma. He and his 1,039-man crew wind up in detention in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The outcome is a huge propaganda victory for the British and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, but the sailors from Admiral Graf Spee survived. Churchill spins into rhetorical overdrive:
the outcome was "like a flash of light and colour on the scene, carrying with it an encouragement to all who are fighting, to ourselves, and to our Allies."
The Admiral Graf Spee had sunk 50,089 tons of shipping, nine ships. It also badly damaged a heavy cruiser and kept a large portion of the Allied fleets searching the South Atlantic for weeks. This deprived convoys further north of protection. The Altmark, its supply ship, remains free and heads back north to Germany, loaded with Allied prisoners.

U-59 (Oberleutnant zur See Harald Jürst) sinks the 1.245-ton Danish freighter Jaegerborg east of the Firth of Forth in Scotland. All eighteen crew perish.

U-59 also torpedoes and sinks the 1,214-ton Danish freighter Bogø. Of the 20-man crew, three survive.

British destroyers lay mine off the German coast.

The British at Gibraltar detain the US freighter Meanticut.

17 December 1939 Admiral Graf Spee
Admiral Graf Spee burning in the Platte River, 17 December 1939.
Winter War Army Operations: Soviet attacks continue at Summa. Soviet tanks continue attempting to penetrate the gap in the defenses in the nearby swamp. The Finnish infantry holds its ground and separates the Soviet tanks from their infantry support, then pick the tanks off with anti-tank guns and Molotov Cocktails primarily after dark.

The Soviet 163d Rifle Division remains surrounded at Suomussalmi. The relief force is reeling from Finnish counterattacks and is not trying to break through again. The Finnish strategy is to cut the elongated Soviet caravan on the Ratte road into separate pieces and then finish them off individually.

The Finns at Kollaa are counterattacking two Soviet divisions trapped on the coastal road. The Finns operating on skis can pick and choose their points of attack, while the Soviets are defending their immobile vehicles. The process is debilitating for both sides, but the Finns have turned the tables and are attacking the helpless Soviets.

Snipers are of huge importance in the woods. Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä, nicknamed "The White Death," is accumulating kills.

At Salla, the Soviets have split into two parts at a fork in the road. The Finns block the Soviet move on the southern road toward  Kemijärvi and put the weight of their effort on the north road. The Finns use these men to ambush the northern pincer moving toward Pelkosenniemi. The Soviet force on the north road, an infantry regiment a battalion, and a company of tanks, is outflanked and begins to retreat. A wild fight ensues.

League of Nations: The Soviets issue a long and entirely negative reply to the League of Nations resolution expelling it.

BEF: The first convoy of Canadian troops arrives in Liverpool, some 7,500 men of the 1st Canadian Division (Canadian Major-General McNaughton). It consists of five ocean liners.

China: The Chinese Winter Offensive continues. While the Chinese 3rd War Area attacks the 116th Infantry Regiment and captures Hsientao and Szekang, elsewhere the Japanese begin counter-attacking. The Japanese 5th Infantry Division attacks toward Lungchow, the 104th Infantry Division reaches Yuantan in Kwantung Province, and the Japanese counterattack the Chinese 2nd War Area.

17 December 1939 Admiral Graf Spee

December 14, 1939: Quisling Meets Hitler
December 15, 1939: Chinese Winter Offensive in High Gear
December 16, 1939: Battle of Summa
December 17, 1939: End of Admiral Graf Spee
December 18, 1939: Battle of Heligoland Bight
December 19, 1939: British Disarm Magnetic Mines
December 20, 1939: Finnish Counterattacks Continue
December 21, 1939: Finns Plan More Counterattacks
December 22, 1939: Enter Chuikov
December 23, 1939: Failed Finnish Counterattack
December 24, 1939: Soviets on the Run
December 25, 1939: Fresh Soviet Attacks
December 26, 1939: Vicious Battles at Kelja
December 27, 1939: Grinding Finnish Victories
December 28, 1939: Liberators
December 29, 1939: Finns Tighten the Noose
December 30, 1939: Finnish Booty
December 31, 1939: Planning More Soviet Destruction


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