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Graf Spee's Raiders, A Book Review

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by belasar, May 30, 2013.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

    May 9, 2010
    Likes Received:
    Graf Spee's Raiders: Challenge to the Royal Navy, 1914-1915, by Keith Yates, Naval Institute Press, 336 Pages, Photos, Maps, Postscripts, Appendix, Selected Bibliography, Index

    This is a book about World War One and a little out of our wheelhouse, but sometimes you have to try something a little different to clear your palate. Saying this, there are echo's of WWII that come though and re-inforce the idea that in so many ways the two conflicts were really one long war separated by a long truce.

    In the decades leading up to First World War Germany was scrambling to take her place as an Imperial power on the world stage, but finding that Britain, France and America has left only meager scraps to colonize. With their usual tuetonic determination, they made the best Empire they could out of what was left, a few patches of Africa, an enclave in China and a host of small islands in the Pacific.

    Colonial Empires need protection and Admiral Graf Spee's Kreuzergeschwader was effectively it. Based in Tsingtao China, Spee's 5 ships (Armoured Cruisers Sharnhorst and Gneisenau and Light Cruisers Emden, Nurmberg and Leipzig, plus one off Africa (Light Cruiser Konigsberg) and two in the Caribbean (Light Cruisers Dresden and Karlsruhe) had to be ready to defend it from the Germany's likely enemies, Britain, France, Russia and a Japan looking to seize her Pacific island empire.

    Germany and Spee had little illusion that when war was to come, the Kreuzergeschwader could hold back the combined fleets of all her enemies, but his ships were relatvely new, fast and crewed by well trained officers and sailors, enjoying the well earned respect of the Royal Navy squadrons hemming him in. Spee intended from the start to cut himself away from his home port (Tsingtao) and conduct operations aimed at disrupting enemy commerce and shipping. This was aided by a well thought out plan to provide his raiders from supply ships (Etappen) generated by the German Navy to provide coal, food, ammunition and almost as importent, information.

    Once war begins he sends his dogs of war to sea and for about 6 months Graf Spee and his Raiders give the Royal Navy and her allies a rough time striking at isolated outposts and capturing many merchantmen. Spee's ships quickly capture the imagination of world and the ire of Winston Churchill who was charged with stopping them from embarrassing his beloved Royal Navy before they can finally be hunted down and destroyed.

    The cruise of Emdem, the most successful raider, is given prominence, as were the Battles of Colonel and Falklands by Spees main group, the mystery of the sinking of Karlsruhe, the next best raider and the long hunt to finnish the Konigsberg in a African estuary (the first naval air-sea operation) are all given their place. The effect Graf Spee's ships had in various capitols is also considered and much of the British Admiralty's troubles in bringing Spee to heel is another aspect of the book.

    Well written, fast paced and filled with enough background, you are transported to another age where a modern day pirate could earn the respect of his victims and show that the First World War was more than a mechanical slaughter of men. You know going in that all of Spee's ships are doomed, many of their crew's will not survive and yet you almost cannot help but cheer for them and perhaps one of the last example's of a bygone way of war.


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