Hans Langsdorff, born 20-03-1894 in Bergen on the island Rügen, was the eldest son of a family with legal and religious traditions rather than a naval tradition. During the First World War the then-Lieutenant Langsdorff received the Iron Cross 2nd Class at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, and subsequently worked in minesweepers for the rest of the war. He received the Iron Cross 1st Class sometime during the remainder of the war, but the exact date is unknown. In 1936 and 1937, while on board the new Admiral Graf Spee while on the staff of Admiral Bohen, Langsdorff participated in the German support of the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War. On 01-01-1937 Langsdorff was promoted to Captain, being given command of Admiral Graf Spee in October 1938. On 21-08-1939 Admiral Graf Spee left port with orders to raid enemy commercial shipping in the South Atlantic following the outbreak of the Second World War. For the first three weeks of the war the ship hid in the open ocean east of Brazil while the German government determined how serious Britain was about the war. On 20-09-1939, Admiral Graf Spee was released to carry out its orders. Over the next ten weeks, Langsdorff and Admiral Graf Spee were extremely successful, stopping and sinking nine British merchant ships, totaling over 50,000 tons. Langsdorff adhered to the Hague Conventions and avoiding killing anyone, his humane treatment won the respect of the ships’ officers detained as his prisoners. However Langsdorff’s luck ran out on the morning of 13-12-1939 when his lookouts reported sighting a British cruiser and two destroyers. ‘Admiral Graf Spee’ now suffered engine fatigue that reduced her top speed to 23kn. After Langsdorff had committed his ship to the attack it became apparent that the destroyers were in fact light cruisers, the HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles in addition to the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter. Naval analysts claim that Langsdorff then committed a grievous tactical error. His ship outgunned all his opponents, having 11 inch main guns, to Exeter’s 8 inch and Ajax and Achilles’ 6 inch guns. Exeter was severely damaged and forced to withdraw within half an hour. But she had sent an 8-inch shell into the German warship that won the day. This shell destroyed steam boilers needed to operate the ship’s fuel cleaning system. Langsdorff learned that he had 16 hours of pre cleaned fuel in his ready tanks, with no hope of replacement or repairs to the system at sea. Soon, the two light cruisers got into range and scored 20 hits on Admiral Graf Spee, including the food stores and bakeries. Graf von Spee was killed in action on 08-12-1914, age 53, in the battle for Falkland, together with his two sons, Otto and Heinrich. Spee’s flagship was the Scharnhorst. Simultaneously, Langsdorff and the British commodore decided to break off the action, Langsdorff heading for the neutral port of Montevideo in Uruguay to make repairs. The Uruguayan authorities followed international treaties and, although granting an extra 72 hours stay over the normal 24 hours, required that Admiral Graf Spee leave port by 20:00 on 17-12-1939 or else be interned for the duration of the war. The crew was taken off by Argentine barges. Shortly thereafter, the Germans blew up the Admiral Graf Spee. Langsdorff was taken to the Naval Hotel in Buenos Aires, where he wrote letters to his family and superiors. He wrote on the 19-12-1939: I can now only prove by my death that the fighting services of the Third Reich are ready to die for the honor 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 honor of the flag.
I shall face my fate with firm faith in the cause and the future of the nation and of my Führer.
Death and burial ground.
He lay on Admiral Graf Spee’s battle ensign and shot himself, on 12-12-1939, age 45. Hans Langsdorff was buried in the German Section of the La Chacarita Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was honored by both sides in the battle for his honorable conduct.