HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association


FAQ 25

Why did the British first try to persuade the Uruguayans to force Graf Spee out of Montevideo and then tried to persuade them to keep her in?


The British Minister in Montevideo, Eugen Millington-Drake, initially wanted to get Graf Spee back to face the British force at sea.


On the evening of Wednesday 13th December, before  Graf Spee arrived in Montevideo, Harwood sent a signal requesting that diplomatic action be taken to keep her in Montevideo as he knew that the nearest reinforcements, the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and battlecruiser HMS Renown, could not arrive before Tuesday 19th December.


He also suggested that advantage should be taken of the international law that if a merchant ship left a port then a warship of a hostile nation should not be allowed to sail from the same port for 24 hours.


This signal did not reach Millington-Drake until the morning of Friday 15th December because of routing delays caused by the signalling system, messages had to go vis the Falklands. Hence the embarrassing change of policy which is well portrayed in the 1956 film, “Battle of the River Plate”.



Eugen Millington-Drake &

Commodore Harwood