December, 13 1939 Timeline of the engagement

05:20 HMS Ajax <ENE 60° – 14 knots>

HMS Ajax at 34º 34′ South 48º 17′ West is leading HMS Achilles and HMS Exeter, the British Squadron 390 nautical miles east of Montevideo.

05:52 DKM Graf Spee <SE 155° – 15 knots>

2 mast detected on the horizon at 31000 m, Captain Langsdorff decide to engage. It was to his knowledge that British were having Cruisers sailing in the area but he was expecting a heavy cruiser and 2 destroyers.

06:04 HMS Ajax <ENE 60° – 14 knots>

Smoke sighted on the horizon at 323°, believed to be a commercial steamer.

06:15 HMS Exeter <ENE 324° – 14 knots>

Cruiser turning to port, Sailing toward sighting at 324°.

06:16 HMS Exeter <ENE 324° – 14 knots>

Smoke sighting identified as a German Pocket Battleship. Initially thought to be the DKM Admiral Scheer.

Note: The camouflage pattern on the DKM Graf Spee has been successful at confusing the observers from the HMS Exeter for a while.

06:17 DKM Graf Spee <SE 115° – 21 knots>

Opening fire on Exeter at 19700 m range.

06:20 HMS Exeter <ENE 324° – 14 knots>

Returning fire at 17150 m (18700 yards).

06:21HMS Exeter <ENE 324° – 25 knots>

Near miss from the third 11” Graf Spee salvo splintered the starboard torpedo launch killing several servants. (Ex / 01)

06:22 HMS Achilles <NNW 340° – 25 knots>

Opening fire, range 19,000 yd.

06:23 HMS Ajax <NNW 340° – 25 knots>

Opening fire

06:24 HMS Exeter <WNW 300° – 30 knots>

Direct double hit on B turret, out of service. Splinters are showering the bridge above killing and wounding most of the crewman. After running out of control for a moment, the lower steering took back control on a 275° course. Exeter receive 2 more hits and several near misses. (Ex / 07)

06:25 DKM Graf Spee <SE 115° – 21 knots>

Due to a threat of torpedo attack from the light cruisers, Captain Langsdorff order NNE course and change of target (to the leading light cruiser)

06:28 HMS Exeter <NW 300° – 30 knots>

Change of course back to 324°.

6:31 HMS Exeter <NW 324° – 30 knots>

Fire starboard torpedoes, this was a local action from the torpedo team, the distance was misjudged to be 9000 yards (in the reality it was about 13000 yards).

06:31 DKM Graf Spee <NNE 50° – 21 knots>

Change of target, reengaging the Exeter with main fire control, while B turret still chasing the light cruisers with local fire control.

6:34HMS Exeter <NW 324° – 30 knots>

3 more direct hits, one on A turret, putting her out of action after 40 to 50 shots. The fire control table is out of service. Meanwhile the Graf Spee was hit twice by 8” from Exeter plus a near miss splintering the port side. 2 more hits from Graf Spee disabled ship communications forcing the remaining Y to use local fire control.(Ex /12) (Gs / 02)

6:35HMS Exeter <S 200° – 30 knots>

The Exeter disengage under a smoke screen

6:36 DKM Graf Spee <N 340° – 24 knots>

The Graf Spee aft turret engage the Achilles

06:36 HMS Ajax <NNW 340° – 25 knots>

Commodore Hardwood order the light cruiser squadron to increase speed to 28 knots.

06:37 HMS Ajax <NNW 340° – 27 knots>

The Fairey Seafox is catapulted.

06:38 HMS Achilles <NNW 340° – 28 knots>

A near miss splintered the DCT killing and wounding 70% of the DCT crew. This will disorganize the HMS Achilles returning fire for several minutes and confuse also the HMS Ajax fire control officer. (Ac / 01)

6:46 HMS Ajax <NNW 340° – 28 knots>

Communication with the Fairey Seafox is established, initially the plane radio was on the reconnaissance channel, while the HMS Ajax was on the spotting channel. Unfortunately HMS Achilles off pace shooting were used by the spotting plane to feed back the HMS Ajax. This created an incredible 4000 yd error (over 16 kyd, 25%). Order to close distance 60° to port.

6:52 HMS Ajax <NNW 280° – 28 knots>

Signal to speed up to 31 knots.

6:56 HMS Ajax <NNW 280° – 31 knots>

In order to get all guns on target the 2 light cruisers veer starboard by 35°.

7:04 DKM Graf Spee <NNW 280° – 24 knots>

The Graf Spee reengage the Exeter

7:30 HMS Exeter <NW 324° – 30 knots>

Power supply are flooded, Y turret cannot be operated. HMS Exeter turn away behind a smoke screen.


Pope, 1956, “The Battle of the River Plate”

Grove, 2000, “The Price of Disobedience” The Battle of the River Plate reconsidered