In the autumn of 1939, the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee – the pride of the German Navy – commands the Atlantic, preying on Britain’s vital line of merchant shipping with devastating results. In the first three months of World War II, she has been responsible for sinking nine ships.
The British send two British cruisers (HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter) – accompanied by the New Zealand naval cruiser HMNZS Achilles – to confront her.
The fierce battle, with the Allied vessels commanded by Commodore Henry Harwood (Anthony Quayle), takes place on 13 December 1939, and the damaged Graf Spee heads for the neutral harbour of Montevideo in Uruguay in the early hours of 14 December with a weary, battered and discouraged German crew onboard.
The Germans are given only a short time to effect repairs, and the British do their best to make them believe a fleet of ships – including an aircraft carrier – awaits their departure.
Rather than chance the loss of his men, Captain Hans Langsdorff (Peter Finch) orders the Graf Spee scuttled.
The Battle of the River Plate – while undoubtedly a masterful depiction of the first major naval battle of the Second World War – is perhaps not a film for the casual viewer. But it’s an absolute must-see for history and naval buffs and lovers of realistic war films.
Ships used in the film included USS Salem as Admiral Graf Spee; HMS Sheffield as HMS Ajax; INS Delhi as HMNZS Achilles, and HMS Jamaica as HMS Exeter. HMS Cumberland featured as herself.
HMS Battleaxe and HMS Birmingham were used as camera ships.
Captain Bell – HMS Exeter
Commodore Henry Harwood – HMS Ajax
Captain Hans Langsdorff – Admiral Graf Spee
Captain Woodhouse – HMS Ajax
Captain Parry – HMNZS Achilles
Captain Dove – MS Africa Shell
Mr Millington Drake – British Minister, Montevideo
Dr Guani – Foreign Minister, Uruguay
Lieutenant Commander Medley
Dr Langmann – German Minister, Montevideo
M. Desmoulins – French Minister, Montevideo
Captain Varela – Uruguayan Navy
Captain Stubbs – Doric Star
Barnes – HMS Achilles
Shirley – HMS Achilles