December 18th 1939
Monday December 18th
Today has been a day of great excitement. For Germany “one woe doth tread upon another’s heel so fast they fall”*. It has seen the end of the glorious Battle of the River Plate which was fought last Thursday December 14th. One of the Germany’s dreaded “pocket” battleships the Admiral Graf Spee armed with 11 inch guns was engaged by His Majesty’s cruisers Exeter, Ajax and Achilles commanded by Commodore Harwood. A running battle took place during which the Exeter was severely damaged and several of the guns on the smaller cruisers put out of action, but they hung on and harried the Gras Spee so badly that she was obliged to put into Monte Video for shelter. The exploit was a miracle of audacity and accurate gunfire for not only were the cruisers much less heavily armoured than the pocket battleship, but they only carried 6 and 8 inch guns respectively.
The Graf Spee staggered into Monte Video and asked to be allowed to repair. She was given 72 hours to do so, which was a threefold extension of the time allowed by International Law, after which she must submit to being interned or come out and fight.
Fortunately the Royal Navy was spared the task of shooting at a sitting bird, for after violent protests against everybody, calling upon all her gods to witness that Uruguay was favouring the British, she came out and sank herself in the main shipping lane where she might, even in death, be as much trouble to as many people as possible. What was otherwise a noble encounter was spoiled by this typical act of petty spite. The Germans are such bad losers.
But this is not all. The Admiral announces that on December 13th the submarine Ursula sank a German cruiser of the Koln class (either the Koln, the Karlsfuhe, or the Konigsburg) in the mouth of the Elbe and earlier in the week HM submarine Salmon sank a submarine, sighted the Bremen but had to abandon an attempt to sink her because of aircraft attack, but managed to damage as well the Leipsig and another cruiser.
Talk about the King of Spain’s beard** – Hitler’s whiskers must be more or less burnt away. Fritz is feeling so spiteful that he has attacked any trawlers and unarmed fishing boats and sunk six. But about £8,000,000 worth of German ships have gone down to the bottom. And the men theirs and ours – “O the pity of it, the pity of it.”
*Misquoted from Hamlet, Act IV, scene vii 'One woe doth tread upon another's heel, So fast they follow'.
**'Singeing the King of Spain's Beard' is the derisive name given to the attack in April and May 1587 in the Bay of Cádiz, by the English privateer Francis Drake against the Spanish naval forces assembling at Cádiz. Much of the Spanish fleet was destroyed, and substantial supplies were destroyed or captured. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singeing_the_King_of_Spain%27s_Beard