HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association


FAQ 10

Why did the British not fly air-reconnaissance on the morning of 13th December?


Using the aircraft, Harwood had been tasked to carry out an important reconnaissance of the south Brazilian coast where it was suspected that a German U Boat base was being prepared.  


Exeter’s two Walrus amphibious aircraft were not sufficiently worked up to be recovered safely in the open ocean sea state and so it was planned not to fly them due to the risk of them being damaged.  


This left Ajax’s Seafox float plane, whose crew were well practiced in recovery during rough weather, as the only aircraft available for reconnaissance, though its remaining engine hours available were being tightly controlled.


A flight with Ajax’s Seafox was planned for later in the day. The arrival of the Graf Spee on the early morning of 13th December was an inspired and well calculated prediction. Whilst Harwood planned for and rehearsed the forecast event the British did not have confidence that Graf Spee would actually appear that very morning.  Captain Woodhouse summarised the thoughts by saying, “Even if you are looking for a needle in a haystack, you are still surprised when you put your hand on it.”

046 Aircraft take-off Alexandria Harbour

Ajax's earlier Seafox

Exeter's walrus

Exeter's Walrus


Later Seafox