Panzerschiff Admiral Graf Spee – Heavy Cruiser/Pocket Battleship

Admiral Graf Spee was a Deutschland-class heavy cruiser (originally termed Panzerschiff or armoured ship, sometimes referred to as “pocket battleship”) which served with the Kriegsmarine of Nazi Germany during World War II. The vessel was named after Admiral Maximilian von Spee, commander of the East Asia Squadron that fought the battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands in World War I. She was laid down at the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven in October 1932 and completed by January 1936. The ship was nominally under the 10,000 long tons (10,000 t) limitation on warship size imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, though with a full load displacement of 16,020 long tons (16,280 t), she significantly exceeded it. Armed with six 28 cm (11 in) guns in two triple gun turrets, Admiral Graf Spee and her sisters were designed to outgun any cruiser fast enough to catch them. Their top speed of 28 kn (52 km/h; 32 mph) left only a handful of ships in the Anglo-French navies able to catch them and powerful enough to sink them.

The ship conducted five non-intervention patrols during the Spanish Civil War in 1936–1938, and participated in the Coronation Review for King George VI in May 1937. Admiral Graf Spee was deployed to the South Atlantic in the weeks before the outbreak of World War II, to be positioned in merchant sea lanes once war was declared. Between September and December 1939, the ship sank nine ships totaling 50,089 gross register tons (GRT), before being confronted by three British cruisers at the Battle of the River Plate on 13 December. Admiral Graf Spee inflicted heavy damage on the British ships, but she too was damaged, and was forced to put into port at Montevideo. Convinced by false reports of superior British naval forces approaching his ship, Hans Langsdorff, the commander of the ship, ordered the vessel to be scuttled. The ship was partially broken up in situ, though part of the ship remains visible above the surface of the water.

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4 thoughts on “Panzerschiff Admiral Graf Spee – Heavy Cruiser/Pocket Battleship”

  1. I am quite surprised that you have referred to the Graf Spee as a “Pocket Battleship” I was under the thought that the Germans (eta.l) never used this term… an invention of British press… If I am wrong please correct my thinking Thank you so much. Jim

    1. Jim: We normally keep the terminology historically correct, but from time to time we use the nick names to say so people have an easier time finding the subject. We have done this with the Tiger 2 also – Bengal Tiger, King Tiger, Royal Tiger, etc. Yes it is still a “Panzerschiff” (armored ship) in our minds. Thank you for the comment.

        1. Glad to meet a fellow historian. Very Impressive on your enjoyment in the Naval area. If you ever want to contribute or have something then please write us.


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German Military History with a focus on World War 2 History including other areas of German History