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River Plate, battle of the

River Plate, battle of the, 1939. A German ‘pocket battleship’, Graf Spee, heavily armoured, with 11-inch guns, sinking British merchant ships in the South Atlantic, was attacked on 13 December 1939 by three British cruisers, Exeter (8-inch guns), Ajax, and Achilles (both 6-inch guns). Though putting Exeter out of action, Graf Spee withdrew to Montevideo in the Plate estuary. Captain Langsdorff then blew up and sank Graf Spee rather than fight the superior British force he expected and shot himself. Early in 1940 HMS Cossack entered Norwegian waters and liberated merchant seamen taken prisoner by the Graf Spee and transferred to the Altmark. British confidence in the skill and daring of the Royal Navy was confirmed.

R. A. C. Parker

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