Branch: Kaiserliche Marine / Reichsmarine / Kriegsmarine
Born: 20 March 1894 in Rügen, Germany.
Died: 19 December 1939 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Kapitän zur See
Oberleutnant zur See
Leutnant zur See
Oberfähnrich zur See
Fähnrich zur See
Iron Cross 2nd Class
Iron Cross 1st Class
Admiral Graf Spee
Takes command on 1 November 1938
Ends command on 17 December 1939
Hans Wilhelm Langsdorff became a German naval officer, most notable for his command of the Panzerschiff (pocket battleship) Admiral Graf Spee during the Battle of the River Plate. Hans Langsdorff held the rank of Kapitän zur See.
Hans Langsdorff was born on 20 March 1894 on the island of Rügen in Bergen. Hans Langsdorff was the firstborn son in a family with legal and spiritual traditions instead of a naval tradition. In 1898, the family moved to Düsseldorf, where they were neighbours of the family of Graf Maximilian von Spee, who was to become a German naval hero while losing his life and whole command in the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914. Influenced by his respected neighbours, Hans Langsdorff went into the Kiel Naval Academy against his parent's wishes in 1912. During World War I, the then Kapitänleutnant Hans Langsdorff received the Iron Cross 2nd Class at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, and afterwards worked on minesweepers for the rest of the war. Hans Langsdorff received the Iron Cross 1st Class sometime during the remainder of the war, but the exact date is unknown.
In 1923, whilst stationed at the navy office in Dresden, Hans Langsdorff met Ruth Hager. The two got wedded in March 1924, their son was born 14 December 1924 and was called Johann Langsdorff. In October 1925, Hans Langsdorff was posted to the Defence Ministry in Berlin, Germany to organise relations between the naval forces and the regular army. In 1927, Hans Langsdorff was posted to the command of a torpedo boat flotilla, and in April 1930 Hans Langsdorff was promoted to Korvettenkapitän. In 1931, Hans Langsdorff was recalled to Berlin, Germany as his administrative abilities had become well known and valued. Following the rise to power of the National Socialists, Hans Langsdorff requested duty at sea in 1934, but was instead appointed to the Department of the Interior Ministry.
In 1936 and 1937, whilst aboard the new Admiral Graf Spee as part of the staff of Admiral Bohen, Hans Langsdorff took part in the German support of the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War. On 1 January 1937, Hans Langsdorff was promoted to Kapitän zur See. He received command of the Admiral Graf Spee in October 1938.
On 21 August 1939, Admiral Graf Spee left port with orders to raid enemy mercantile shipping in the South Atlantic Ocean following the outbreak of World War II. For the first three weeks of the war, the ship hid in the open sea east of Brazil whilst the German government ascertained how serious Britain was about the war. On 20 September 1939, Admiral Graf Spee was free to carry out its orders.
Over the next ten weeks, Hans Langsdorff and Admiral Graf Spee were exceedingly productive, stopping and sinking nine British merchant ships, totalling over 50,000 tons. Hans Langsdorff stuck to to the Hague Conventions and avoided killing anyone, Hans Langsdorff civilised treatment won the esteem of the ships' officers detained as his captives.
Hans Langsdorff's fortune ran out at first light on 13 December 1939 once his observation post reported seeing a British cruiser and two destroyers. Admiral Graf Spee now suffered from engine fatigue that decreased her top speed to 23kn. Afterwards Hans Langsdorff committed his ship to the attack it became evident that the destroyers were as a matter of fact the light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles in addition to the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter. Naval analysts claim that Hans Langsdorff then committed a atrocious tactical mistake. Hans Langsdorff ship outgunned all his adversaries, having 280 mm main guns, to HMS Exeter's 200 mm and HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles's 150 mm guns. HMS Exeter was seriously damaged and coerced to withdraw within half an hour. But she had sent an 8-inch shell into the Admiral Graf Spee that won the day. The shell destroyed steam boilers required to operate the ship's fuel cleaning system. Hans Langsdorff ascertained that he had sixteen hours of pre cleaned fuel in his ready tanks without any hope of replenishment or repairs to the system at sea. Soon, the two light cruisers got into range and scored twenty hits on Admiral Graf Spee, including the food stores and bakeries. At the same time, Hans Langsdorff and the British commodore selected to break off the action, Hans Langsdorff was aiming for the neutral port of Montevideo capital of Uruguay to make repairs.
The Uruguayan government abided by international treaties and, whilst granting an extra seventy-two hours stay over the normal being 24 hours, called for that Admiral Graf Spee leave port by 2000 hrs on 17 December 1939 or else be interned for the length of the war. Hans Langsdorff wanted orders from Berlin, Germany and was given orders that the Admiral Graf Spee was not to be interned in Uruguay which was sympathetic to Britain Hans Langsdorff could try to take the ship to the friendlier Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina whilst it was thought that the channel was not sufficiently deep for the Admiral Graf Spee, Hans Langsdorff could take the Admiral Graf Spee out to engage the British forces again although the British propaganda was trying to persuade people that a large British force already lay in wait for Hans Langsdorff though in fact it would not be able to arrive for five days, or Hans Langsdorff could scuttle the Admiral Graf Spee. Nevertheless, on reaching the limit of Uruguayan territorial waters the Admiral Graf Spee stopped, and Admiral Graf Spee crew was taken off by Argentine barges. Not long after charges were planted which blew up Admiral Graf Spee and she settled into the shallow water.
Hans Langsdorff was taken to the Naval Hotel in Buenos Aires, where he wrote letters to his family and superiors. He wrote on the 19 December 1939.
I can now only prove by my death that the fighting services of the Third Reich are ready to die for the honour of the flag. I alone bear the responsibility for scuttling the pocket-battleship Admiral Graf Spee. I am happy to pay with my life for any possible reflection on the honour of the flag. I shall face my fate with firm faith in the cause and the future of the nation and of my Führer.
Hans Langsdorff lay down on Admiral Graf Spee's battle ensign and shot himself, preventing any allegations that he had avoided additional action through cowardice. Additional motivation was Hans Langsdorff's desire to go down with the Admiral Graf Spee. Hans Langsdorff was talked out of such an action by his officers, who won over him that his leadership was still necessary in seeking amnesty for his crew. When the fate of the Admiral Graf Spee's crew was determined, Hans Langsdorff killed himself over Admiral Graf Spee's battle ensign, as a symbolic act of going down with the Admiral Graf Spee.
Hans Langsdorff was laid to rest in the German part of the La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was honoured by both sides in the engagement for his honourable behaviour.
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