How a Nazi Battleship Captain Was Tricked Into Sinking His Own Warship

Michael Peck

Michael Peck

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Just before he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, the German officer penned a final note. "For a captain with a sense of honor, it goes without saying that his personal fate cannot be separated from that of his ship," wrote Hans Langsdorff on December 19, 1939, in a hotel room in Buenos Aires. Langsdorff finished his letter to the Nazi ambassador to Argentina, lay down on a German battle flag, and shot himself.

How a Nazi Battleship Captain Was Tricked Into Sinking His Own Warship

The loss of the Graf Spee was a blow to the prestige of Hitler's small but expensive navy, for which even the loss of a single heavy warship was significant. Within six months, the Bismarck would join the Graf Spee on the Atlantic sea bed. Within eight months, HMS Exeter would be sunk by the Japanese at the Battle of the Java Sea.

Just before he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, the German officer penned a final note.

"For a captain with a sense of honor, it goes without saying that his personal fate cannot be separated from that of his ship," wrote Hans Langsdorff on December 19, 1939, in a hotel room in Buenos Aires. Langsdorff finished his letter to the Nazi ambassador to Argentina, lay down on a German battle flag, and shot himself.

(This first appeared several years ago.)

Langsdorff had been the commander of the Admiral Graf Spee, which had been prowling the South Atlantic the week before, and now was resting on the bottom of the harbor at Montevideo, Uruguay. Many a captain has chosen to atone for the loss of his ship by going down with it. Langsdorff had suicide with a pistol two days after he had ordered his ship to be scuttled.

"I can now only prove by my death that the fighting services of the Third Reich are ready to die for the honor of the flag," he wrote.

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