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Book Review
River Plate 1939
River Plate 1939, The Sinking of the GRAF SPEE
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Model Shipwrights

River Plate 1939, The Sinking of the Graf Spee is a new book from Osprey Publishing LTD. It is their 171st title of their Campaign series, and chronicles the very early Second World War high seas drama of catching and killing the KM (Kriegmarine) “pocket battleship” Graf Spee.
    Days before the outbreak of World War II a handful of German commerce raiders put out to sea to prey on Allied merchantmen. Amongst them was the Panzerschiff ('armoured ship') Graf Spee, a formidable warship that boasted the firepower of a battleship but the size, speed and range of a cruiser. When World War II commenced, under the command of Captain Langsdorff the Graf Spee began a hunting spree across the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean that eventual took her to the River Plate in search of her next victim - an Allied convoy. Instead she found three Royal Navy cruisers under the command of Commodore Harwood, eager to put an end to the 'pocket battleship' that had been terrorizing Allied merchant ships.

    Featuring full colour artwork, archive photographs and meticulous research, this comprehensive volume explores the thrilling story behind the Battle of the River Plate, an engagement that unquestionably demonstrated the effectiveness of British seapower and diplomacy on an international stage.
    - Osprey

Author Angus Konstam presents this story through 96 pages. The book is illustrated by Tony Bryan. Three formats are available: Paperback; eBook (ePub); eBook (PDF). Each has a different IBSN. Osprey's in-house code is CAM 171.

River Plate 1939, The Sinking of the Graf Spee is 96 pages long and divided into 9 chapters of several sections:
    The Strategic Situation
    Opposing Plans
      German plans
      British Plans

    Opposing Commanders
      German commanders
      British commanders

    Opposing Forces (German and British)
    The Campaign
      Breakout into the Atlantic
      Passive waiting
      The first victim
      Off the African coast
      A return to Africa
      Sojourn in the Indian Ocean
      The African hunting ground
      Hunting the Graf Spee
      Enemy in sight!
      A two-pronged attack
      Giving chase
      The pursuit
      The final act

    The Battlefield Today
    Further Reading

The Strategic Situation and Opposing Plans explains the uniqueness of this war story, looking back to the privateers. It explains the reason for commerce raiders and the reason for the pre-Hitler design of the Panzerschiff. How each belligerent viewed commerce raiding and the countering thereof is considered.

Five commanders are profiled. Kapitan zur See Hans Langsdorff, KMS Graf Spee is the only German commander. His career parallels with Commodore Henry Harwood are very interesting as the two men had very similar expertise and experiences.

Those subjects are the first 20 pages. The next 11 pages examine the ships and and the organization of the forces that chased Graf Spee. Technical data for the four combatants is presented, as well as the other ships that were tasked yet did not directly participate in the battle.

The Campaign is 40 pages, 18 of which are a the naval battle. It is quite detailed for it includes Graf Spee's movements, the ships it encountered and their fates, radio signals, and a host of other data.

For the battle story, ranges, headings, salvo dispersion, and damage inflicted are recounted. Being that there were just four ships involved, it is relatively easy to identify which ship did what.

Finally, Graf Spee's retreat to the Montevideo harbor, diplomatic fight and ultimate conclusion of the campaign is examined. The Battlefield Today is interesting as it discusses the hulk, recovered artifacts and current plans for the wreck.

Graf Spee could not have operated as she did without the support of the specifically equipped supply ship Altmark. Altmark's activities are also followed, including her fate after the end of the Graf Spee.

River Plate 1939, The Sinking of the Graf Spee is a thorough and well researched and presented account of that early war naval event that kept the world on edge for the first months of the war. The text is engaging and enjoyable to read. I found a few typos, the most significant one being on page 93. It states that the hull was broken in front of the bridge, while elsewhere in the text it records the hull was broken behind the aft main gun turret.

Art, Photographs, Graphics
Osprey includes a fine gallery of photographs to support the text. All World War two photos are black-and-white although there are some recent color photos of recovered artifacts. A good selection of photos spotlight battle damage to the German and British ships.

Artwork is excellent with color battlescenes by artist Tony Bryan, 3-D 'bird's-eye-views', and maps.


    a. The Sinking of the SS Doric Star, 2 December 1939: Graf Spee launches a G7 torpedo to sink the tenacious SS Doric Star, still afloat after being hammered with scuttling charges and 6-in. gun fire.

    b. The Battle of the River Plate, 13 December 1939: Ajax's Fairey Seafox overflying Ajax and Achilles, with Graf Spee on the horizon.

    c. The Scuttling of the KMS Graf Spee, 17 December 1939: a Fairey Seafox keeps an eye on the Panzerschiff as it is wracked by demolition charges, while the crew sails to waiting vessels to take them ashore.


    The Pursuit Into Montvideo, 13 December 1939, 6.30PM To Midnight: keyed to 10 events.


    1. The Graf Spee's breakout into the Atlantic Ocean, 21 August-9 September 1939

    2. The cruise of the Graf Spee, 9 September-26 October 1939

    3. The cruise of the Graf Spee, 26 October-13 December 1939

    4. Allied hunting groups in the South Atlantic, 8 October-13 December 1939

    5. The battle of the River Plate, 6-7am, showing the tracks of the four ships, keyed to 12 actions.

    6. The battle of the River Plate, 7-8am, showing the tracks of the four ships, keyed to 14 actions.

    7. The estuary of the River plate, 13-17 December 1939

Technical information is presented through tables of data of the ships: Built, Commissioned, Fate, Displacement, Propulsion, Armor thicknesses, Weapons, Gun shields, Aircraft, etc.. Further data includes:
    1. Comparison of warships' main armament, battle of the River Plate:
      11in. (28cm) C28; 8in. Mark VIII
      6in. Mark XXIII
      (Caliber, Shell weight, Shell types, max. range, Muzzle velocity, Strike velocity (at 15,000 yards), Rate of fire)

    2. Allied warships involved in the hunt for the Graf Spee: Seven task groups, their composition, cruising area.

Osprey's graphic support greatly enhances the excellent text.

For the first several months of the war, the powerful Nazi raider loose in the shipping lanes was a significant drama that gripped the world. Decades of doctrine and planning and experience coalesced during a few weeks in late 1939 as a lone German "pocket battleship" poached merchantmen and tied down Allied fleets tasked to stop it. River Plate 1939, The Sinking of the Graf Spee chronicles the drama, the subsequent gun and torpedo duel, and the fascinating conclusion to the drama, which absolutely ended differently than what anybody expected.

Despite a few typos, the text is very good and I am very happy with the book. The visual and informational graphics enhance the book.

Graf Spee models are available in many scales and this book can inspire modelers and help them assemble a better model. Artists and historians can benefit from this book, too. I recommend this book.

Please remember to tell Osprey and retailers that you saw this book here - on Model Shipwrights.
Highs: Detailed. engaging text. The visual and informational graphics enhance the book.
Lows: A contradictory typo.
Verdict: This book should be a must-have for modelers, historians and artists interested in Graf Spee.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: CAM 171
  Suggested Retail: $21.95
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Nov 06, 2016

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2020 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Historicus Forma or Silver Star Enterprises. All rights reserved.


The Osprey booklets are great, and the paintings and photos really bring these historical episodes alive. It has always amused me that the "Rio de la Plata" is typically rendered as "River Plate" in English - it really should be "River of Silver" or "Silver River"
APR 12, 2017 - 10:11 PM

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