Now It Can Be Told: Ark Royal & Graf Spee

The War Illustrated, Volume 2, No. 32, Page 478, April 12, 1940.

As a previous page under this heading indicated (Vol. 1, p. 511) this section is reserved for stories of historic incidents of which new and fuller details become available at later dates. Here are important additions to the records of the "Ark Royal" and of the scuttling of the "Admiral Graf Spee".

At the moment when new sidelights of the "Great German Victory of the River Plate", as Dr. Goebbels tried to call the scuttling of the "Graf Spee", were being flashed round the world, Britain effectively gave the lie to another of the Nazi Propaganda Minister's inventions. The aircraft-carrier "Ark Royal", which took a leading part in the hunt for the "Graf Spee" and which the Nazi radio has "sunk" regularly for months, returned to her home port unscathed after her aircraft had reconnoitred 5,000,000 square miles of ocean.

Now that the "Ark Royal" is home again the whole story of why the German thought the aircraft-carrier had been sunk and actually decorated the aeroplane pilot, Lieutenant Adolf Francke, with two Iron Crosses for the "sinking", can be explained.

While the "Ark Royal" was in the North Sea early in the war she was attacked by three Dornier flying boats. One was shot down and the others fled, but very soon after some Heinkel bombers appeared.

The Nazis were given a warm reception by the "Ark Royal", and then suddenly Lieut. Francke made a power-dive on the ship. He started from 4,000 feet and pulled out at about 1,000 feet, letting go a 1,000-lb. bomb. The bomb fell 15 feet from the ship's bow, but the only damage that was done was to break a few pieces of the ship's crockery.

Although the crew of the "Ark Royal" have great contempt for Dr. Goebbels' and Lord Haw-Haw's lying, they are sorry for Lieut. Francke. They say he must be "the sickest man in the German air force".

During her cruise of many thousands of miles the "Ark Royal" was attacked by a U-boat and two torpedoes passed only 100 yards from her stern. Besides playing a leading part in the hunt for the "Admiral Graf Spee", she was directly responsible for the capture of the valuable German merchant ship "Uhenfels" and the scuttling of two other German ships, the "Watussi" and the "Adolf Woermann".

But now she is home again, and the news of her arrival has been broadcast to the world, the "Ark Royal's" crew have lost one of their favourite amusements. Every night they used to listen to Lord Haw-Haw "sinking" them, and when he asked, "Where is the 'Ark Royal'?" they with delighted grins shouted in chorus, "Here!"

'Graf Spee's' Boys Had Had Enough of War

The reason why the 4,000,000 German pocket-battleship "Admiral Graf Spee" ended her piratical career in the South Atlantic with an ignominious scuttling in the mouth of the Plate River is revealed in an Admiralty report issued on March 27. The crew of the battleship, says the report, refused to fight.

The "Admiral Graf Spee" had been repaired at top speed from the morning of Thursday, December 14, onwards, says the report. On Saturday, December 16, it was thought that repairs would be completed some time on Saturday night or early on Sunday morning.

The Uruguayan officials were so confident that the "Graf Spee" would make a break some time during that night that they prohibited all Allied ships from leaving the port.

But during the afternoon of the Saturday, while repairs were going ahead at full speed, a factor arose which the German command had not taken into account. The crew of the battleship refused to take their ship to sea.

Between 3 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. the crew were mustered on deck at least eight times and harangued by one officer after another. Then a final appeal was made to the men by Captain Langsdorff himself, but still the men refused to return to duty. During the musters on deck the crew broke ranks, shouted and behaved in a manner bordering on the mutinous.

On the Saturday (December 16) barge-loads of provisions had been embarked by the "Graf Spee", but soon after Captain Langsdorff's return to his ship the orders were reversed and the stores transferred, along with lifebelts and other gear, to the German merchant ship "Tacoma". From noon onwards about 900 of the "Graf Spee's" officers and men were also transferred to the "Tacoma", but no one guessed the significance of the action.

Previously the officers protested against the scuttling order, and called for volunteers from the crew to go out and fight. Only 60 stepped forward; the rest stood sullen. The crew of boys had had enough of war.

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