Tuesday, May 3, 2016

December 13, 1939: Battle of River Platte

Wednesday 13 December 1939

13 December 1939 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Admiral Graf Spee

Battle of the Atlantic: The Battle of the River Platte on 13 December 1939 is the one military event of late 1939 that people remember. It received endless media coverage during a dreary winter of waiting for the larger war to shift into high gear and watching the Soviet Union grind into Finland. In the end, it is a sideshow, but full of valor and death. It is the first of the great "epics" that characterize the German war effort in World War II.

Captain Langsdorff in the Admiral Graf Spee closes on the three British cruisers (Exeter, Achilles, and Ajax) in Force G that are waiting for him just outside the Platte River. This is his second mistake (his first was offering battle at all): the Admiral Graf Spee has the range to stand off and destroy at least one of the British ships with impunity. By moving in, Langsdorff exposes his own ship to damage. The British ships immediately disperse, make smoke, and wait for their prey to get in range.

Langsdorff fires his first shot at 06:18 from 11 miles away. Commodore Harwood in command of Force G splits his forces to put pressure on Langsdorff's ship because its big guns are not agile. By 06:23, the British ships are in range and returning fire, and they begin scoring hits. The pocket battleship's fire is accurate,, too, and early on hits the HMS Achilles (four dead). HMS Exeter is the largest British ship, and Admiral Graf Spee focuses on it, hammering it with 7 11-inch shells that kills 61 crew. By all rights, that should have finished the Exeter, but it is a lucky ship (for now).

Heavy cruiser Exeter is left barely afloat but still firing. By 06:38, only twenty minutes into the battle, one of Exeter's 8-inch shells plunges into the ship and luckily destroys most of Admiral Graf Spee's fuel system. The battle is decided, though the British have by far taken the worst of the fighting: Admiral Graf Spee, now needing repairs but still functional, scurries for sanctuary in Montevideo. The British ships remaining outside the harbor call for reinforcements. British cruiser HMS Cumberland comes up from Port Stanley in the Falklands to replace the battered Exeter.

13 December 1939 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Admiral Graf Spee
Admiral Graf Spee, its guns still hot and raised, enters Montevideo Harbor with colors proudly flying.
In the North Sea, HMS Salmon (Lt. Commander Edward O. Bickford), which narrowly missed sinking the Bremen on the 12th, spots both the cruisers Leipzig and Nürnberg in the Heligoland Bight and pumps a torpedo into each. Both survive and struggle back to port, badly damaged.

U-38 (Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Liebe) torpedoes and sinks 4,101-ton British freighter Deptford. Only five survive, 32 perish.

U-57 (Kapitänleutnant Claus Korth) torpedoes and sinks 1,173-ton Estonian freighter, Mina. All 17 onboard perish.

British freighter William Hallett hits a mine and sinks.

US freighter Exochorda is released from detention at Gibraltar by the British.

Convoy OG 10 forms at Gibraltar.

Winter War: International aid continues to flow to Finland. France ships arms there for the first time. General Wallenius takes command of the Finnish Lapland Group. On the Soviet side, Grigori Shtern replaces Ivan Khabarov as commander of the 8th Army, an indication of how poorly the battle is going for the Soviets north of Leningrad.

Winter War Army Operations: Both sides continue battling over Salla, but the Soviets are tightening their grip on the village and looking for their next step. They are at a crossroads there in more ways than one. At Suomussalmi, the Finns remain in control and have completed surrounded the trapped Soviets in the village.

European Air Operations: The RAF intercepts and damages two Dornier flying boats over the North Sea.

13 December 1939 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Gloster biplane
Briefing pilots of B Flight at Vitry-en-Artrois after flying in from Merville on 13 December 1939, F/L James G "Sandy" Sanders (third left) of No 615 Squadron RAF chased a He 111 up to 23,000ft during a weather patrol 16 days later in Gladiator Mk II KW-T and, losing it in the clouds, was hit by return fire, ending with a crash near Valenciennes. The badly concussed 25-year-old flight leader was later awarded a damaged claim, the only validated score of an obsolete RAF Gloster biplane in France.
Western Front: The same type of patrols without results that have continued along the border continue.

League of Nations: The League adopts a formal resolution condemning the Soviet Union for its invasion of Finland and calls on member nations to assist Finland.

British Government: The House of Commons meets in secret session for the first time since World War I. The debate is about supplies, and one good guess is that it is a hard look at the true impact of the U-boats on Britain's shipping imports.

Romania: King Carol receives a negative reply from the British on whether they will defend his country from the Soviet Union.

US Military: Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, a long-time aide to General MacArthur in the Philippines, boards the liner President Cleveland to return to the United States for re-assignment.

China: The Chinese Winter Offensive proceeds on multiple axes:
  • Chinese 1st War Area clears Taihsing Shan and cuts Taotsing rail line
  • 40th Army and 27th Army of Chinese 2nd War Area open offensive against Japanese 36th Infantry Division around Changtze and Tunliu
  • 10th Army Group of Chinese 3rd War Area raids Fuyang, Yuhang, Nanchang, and Hangchow
  • Chinese 5th War Area captures Changnaoyuan, Hsinchenshih, Chuankoutien, Chianghsitien, and Yangliuho
  • Chinese 9th War Area turning back Japanese columns around Wulimiao, Tashihling, and Kueihuashu and also attacking around Fenghsin and Chingan 
  • 27th Army Group of Chinese 9th War Area attacking around Chungyang, Kueihuashu, and Shihchengwan
The Japanese forces are reeling and giving up ground everywhere from this vicious attack, which they appear to have had some advance notice of.

13 December 1939 worldwartwo.filminspector.com 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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