Kapitän zur See Hans Wilhelm Langsdorff (Iron Cross First Class, Iron Cross Second Class, Hanseatenkreuz) - 20 March 1894 – 19 December 1939
Men, Take Notice:
The dilemma faced by Captain Langsdorff, captain of Admiral Graf Spee the 'pocket battleship' that was the pride of the Third Reich's Kriegsmarine and scourge of British merchant shipping in the opening months of the Second World War.
The Graf Spee was renowned for being “faster than anything bigger, and bigger than anything faster”. Langsdorff zig-zagged across the Atlantic, sinking Allied merchant shipping all over the place, giving the impression that there was a large fleet of ships dedicated to this task.
Captain Langsdorff, however, was not a monster. Despite sinking over 50,000 tonnes of Allied shipping, in nine separate raids, Langsdorff ensured that not a single life - German or Allied - was lost in the process.
When he encountered Allied shipping, he would send a message to the unfortunate ship, telling them not to attempt to send out information by radio, with the threat of immediate sinking. Even when Allied captains defied this command and sent out messages, Langsdorff did not fire upon the ships, instead evacuating all souls on board to his supply ship, the Altmark, before scuttling the merchant ship peacefully. When faced with meeting the captains who had disobeyed his instructions, he personally commended them for making the right choice, despite the (perceived) risk to their own life.
Langsdorff's final engagement - the Battle of the River Plate. The battle itself was heroic enough and details can be found here. The most interesting part, however, came directly after the battle.
Graf Spee limped into Montevideo harbour in the neutral country of Uruguay, unseaworthy through the damage sustained in the fight against three Allied cruisers.
Intense political maneuvering in Montevideo by British and German diplomats followed. Graf Spee was able to be made just seaworthy but not able to restock her ammunition. Her magazine was severely depleted - about enough shells to last for about 20 minutes bombardment - against what he believed was a significant Allied presence in the international waters outside the estuary of the Plate. There was thus little chance that he could fight his way out of the Plate, let alone make it back to Germany.
Langsdorff tried to negotiate alternate solutions, but was ultimately forced to sail from Montevideo into international waters, towards the Allied fleet.
He therefore set sail. But while still in Uruguayan waters (and thus safe) he transferred almost all of his crew to German freight ships, and sailed out into the estuary of the Plate. A loud explosion was heard; Graf Spee burned and slipped under the water.
Langsdorff had scuttled his ship and escaped with his officers aboard a small craft. He had declined battle to prevent senseless loss of life, thus saving the lives of the 900 men under his command. His decision reportedly infuriated Adolf Hitler - who, like all tyrants, demanded of their subordinates obedience and self-sacrifice above and beyond.
Langsdorff wanted to go down with his ship, his negotiating skills were required to ensure that his crew received amnesty in Montevideo. After a couple of days, when Langsdorff had ensured that his crew were safe, he retired to his room, wrote letters to his wife and children, along with a suicide note, lay on the Imperial (not Nazi) ensign of his ship, and shot himself, symbolically going down with the vessel.
Langsdorff did not want to be accused of cowardice in refusing to face the enemy, and so had ended his own life, entwining his fate with that of his ship. He believed that “for a captain with a sense of honor, it goes without saying that his personal fate cannot be separated from that of his ship.”
It is evident that the British Naval officers of the time also agreed with this statement, for all those officers present in Montevideo at the time attended his funeral, and he was posthumously honoured by both sides in the battle for his gentlemanly conduct in battle.
– Winston Churchill
Right now I'm so mixed up I don't know if it's Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. What the Hell - some kind of hot bird is HERE