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The Battle of the River Plate was immortalised in a film in which Peter Finch played the dashing and very courteous Captain Langsdorf. In this account, however, we learn the true nature of events which led to loss of one of the most beautiful battleships ever constructed - the Admiral Graf Spee.

In a work which oozes careful and meticulous research, author Richard Woodman has provided both the historian and the casual reader with an excellent account of the end of a once great ship. It just so happened that the Graf Spee was already at sea when war was declared in 1939. Acting with all the courtesy of an officer of the old "Imperial" German Navy, Langsdorf executed an amazing string of heavy blows against the British Empire by attacking her shipping. Each vessel mentioned is also portrayed by sketch. Yes, it is true that he never sank a warship, but it is also true he never killed a single sailor on any of the merchant ships he encountered.

At the beginning of this colossal adventure, time was on Langsdorf's side. At the end, however, that time ran out and, acting on instructions from Hitler himself, Langsdorf scuttled his ship outside Montevideo harbour and then returned to his hotel room where he committed suicide - having never given a Nazi Salute in his life. The time was December 1939 and, although gutted by explosion and fire, it was not until 1950 that the mighty Graf Spee finally disappeared below the waves - having continued to slowly sink into the muddy seabed which became her grave.

For those who think they already know this story, there is much new information and, therefore, much to be learned from reading this full account. Furthermore, this author has made it all so very riveting, it really is a book which is hard to put down until finished.

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on 15 June 2014
This is a detailed and fascinating account not only of the battle itself, in which the German commerce raider Admiral Graf Spee was critically damaged by a squadron of British cruisers at the start of WW2, but of the events leading up to it. The text is clearly presented and embellished very pleasingly with line drawings of the various ships involved. Less pleasing, to my taste, is the intrusion of heavily emphasised biographic panels that might have been better placed in an appendix. There is a small but interesting collection of photographs, and helpful maps of the raider's cruise. It is perhaps pedantic to complain of sloppy syntax and the odd conspicuous misprint.
The "grand delusion" of the subtitle is apparently the notion that modern warfare could continue to be waged in the chivalrous manner displayed by the German Captain Langsdorff in his dealings with the crews of ships he was required by circumstances to sink. This is exemplified in particular by the extraordinary empathy developed between him and one of his captive merchant captains, although it was only an extreme example of the high regard in which he was generally held by his prisoners. A minor delusion may have been of the special threat to shipping posed by pocket-battleship raiders: as his own supply ship's commander noted, Langsdorff's overall tally, with his magnificent ship and thousand-plus crew, could have been matched by forty men in a submarine.
Despite minor faults, this book is heartily recommended.
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on 14 April 2009
Reasonable account of the short-lived wartime career of the Graf Spee which covers the main bases. Good narrative coverage of the cruise of the Spee, the battle of the River Plate and its aftermath, and a nice touch is provided by sketches of the ships involved. However, contrary to the claims on the dust jacket the book offers little new in the way of analysis or explanations of the main controversies, so if this is what you are after you should check out Grove's earlier book.
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on 8 December 2009
This was a very enjoyable book to read, and it was well written. Just having watched Powell's 1955 film though (which is referenced in the book) I can't help but be amazed that the books structure and tone matches the film very closely.
I can't say I learned much more about the action or strategy, however it was interesting to learn more about the central characters and their fates.
Finally I do think the analysis was well considered and thought provoking.
A good read and worth purchasing
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on 17 January 2014
This book is merely a synopsis of other books on the same subject,in fact the author makes a glaring error in describing HMS Exeter during the battle has having X and Y gun turrets out of action.Exeter carried 6 x 8 inch guns in 3 turrets,she did not have an X turret.
A good description of the battle,but nothing new.
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on 18 December 2013
A very interesting account of this very famous battle.It follows the film closely but is at variance on one crucial point.It would appear from the book that the captain of the graff spee deliberately sought battle with the british cruisers in direct disobedience of his mandate to harry and sink merchantmen and to avoid conflict with war ships if at all possible
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on 20 February 2015
I really was enjoying this read but unfortunately before I finished it It disappeard and kindle reader has ceased to work so now I should have 3 books and can't read them
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on 23 October 2014
a good read
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