What happened in the battle after Exeter was ordered to withdraw?
At 0636 Graf Spee reversed her course and turned to the west behind smoke, allowing her a final opportunity to engage Exeter. After that she never turned back to face the British ships but continue to head west.
The light cruisers, who had now worked up to full speed, closed on Graf Spee, firing all sixteen of their 6 inch guns at the rate of 8 or 9 rounds per minute per gun. At 0715 Ajax was straddled by Graf Spee’s 11 inch guns which brought her mainmast down but otherwise did no serious damage.
By 0725 the light cruisers had closed to within the very close range of four nautical miles from Graf Spee. Harwood was concerned about ammunition expenditure and decided to open the range and shadow until nightfall when he would make a torpedo attack.
Ajax fired a salvo of torpedoes to deter Graf Spee from following as she turned away. At about the same time Graf Spee achieved an 11 inch hit on Ajax which put her two after-turrets out of action.
Instead of taking this opportunity to turn back on her pursuers and regain the initiative, Graf Spee continued westward towards Montevideo with the two cruisers turning again to pursue her. There were sporadic exchanges of fire between the two forces during Graf Spee’s retreat but neither side achieved a hit. Graf Spee entered Montevideo harbour just before midnight.