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Nazi wreck puts Berlin at odds with salvager

AFP · 12 Mar 2010, 08:06

Published: 12 Mar 2010 08:06 GMT+01:00

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"We always proposed a serious historical and cultural destiny" for the remains of the Graf Spee while "contemplating fair compensation" for the work and investment made to recover its remains, Alfredo Etchegaray, the businessman, told AFP.

During a visit to Montevideo this week, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his desire was "to prevent the remains of the symbols of the Nazi regime from becoming commercialized."

"What we want really is to reach a constructive deal," he said, adding that Germany was prepared to support the presentation of the remains "in a historical context, like a museum."

In 2006, divers hired by Etchegaray recovered an imposing Nazi bronze eagle measuring 2.8 meters (nine feet) wide by two meters high and weighing 350 kilogrammes (770 pounds) from the stern of the Graf Spee.

Two years earlier, they had come up with a 27-tonne rangefinder used to direct the ship's cannons. And in 1998, a 155 millimeter (six-inch) gun from the ship's secondary armament was salvaged.

The underwater salvage group planned to bring up more cannons and other pieces of the Graf Spee, but were barred from doing so by a Uruguayan government decree.

After the recovery of the Nazi eagle, with its outspread wings and swastika, Germany sent a note to the Uruguayan foreign ministry claiming ownership of the Graf Spee and opposing continuation of the salvage work.

Etchegaray, who had received permission from the Uruguay government to undertake the salvage work, has spent $2.5 million over the past 25 years scouring the Rio de la Plata estuary for sunken ships.

The Graf Spee was scuttled by its captain just outside Montevideo harbor where it had gone for repairs after the first major naval battle of World War II.

The Nazi warship was used to raid commercial shipping in the Atlantic until it was intercepted by two British cruisers and one from the New Zealand navy off Montevideo.

Etchegaray claims the wreck was sold in 1940 by the then German ambassador Otto Langmann to Uruguayan Julio Vega Helguera, who concluded the deal as an undercover agent for the British government for the sum of 14,000 pounds.

The sale is recorded in the diplomatic dispatches preserved in the Public Record Office in London, a copy of which was provided to AFP by Etchegaray.

"The British took only eight items from Graf Spee" to examine their technology and design, he said.

Etchegaray said that in 1973 Uruguay issued a decree claiming ownership of all shipwrecks in its waters.

Story continues below…

"For the past four years I have been proposing a museum... or an auction with a prequalification of interested parties and a guarantee of a historic-cultural destination for the (eagle)," he said. "We all want a deal that is constructive and sensitive for the remains of the Graf Spee," he said.

The Graf Spee, halfway between a battleship and a heavy cruiser, was designed to outrun larger ships that might have sunk it, and outgun smaller but faster vessels.

But after capturing and sinking nine British cargo ships without loss of life following the outbreak of war, Captain Hans Langsdorff allowed himself to be trapped by the British force on December 13, 1939.

In the ensuing Battle of the River Plate, Graf Spee's 11-inch guns crippled the British heavy cruiser Exeter but the German ship suffered irreparable damage from the other two cruisers, the Ajax and Achilles.

Taking refuge in Montevideo, the Graf Spee was ordered to leave within 24 hours by the Uruguayan authorities. Facing destruction by the British ships waiting off the mouth of the Plate, Langsdorff blew up his vessel in the middle of the estuary on December 17.

Langsdorff, praised as a considerate gentleman by the crews of the British ships he had captured, shot himself two days later in a hotel room in Buenos Aires, after laying the flag of the old imperial German navy on the floor.

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Your comments about this article

09:52 March 12, 2010 by Edmond Schindler
I agree with jmforge.

In the hands of the Salvage company and Uruguay at least the public at large can benefit in some capacity from the remains of the ship.

Germany would most definitely suppress this Historical finding in some manner. Hiding the truth doesn't mean it never happened, it's a cowards way of dealing with a dirty past, although a typical response to embarrassment.
12:30 March 12, 2010 by William Thirteen
yes, trying to hide it in plain sight - those devilish germans!
13:00 March 12, 2010 by AirForceGuy
It took 60+ years for Germany to 'become interested' in the Graf Spee, only after someone else became interested? Not a very sincere move by the German Foreign Minister! Germany only wants to 'rewrite' history at it sees fit and deny the truths of its past!
13:12 March 12, 2010 by DavidtheNorseman
The Graf Spee is of great historical interest as a naval vessel and for its part in WWII (which is fast becoming ancient history).

Let the Uruguayan salvage the ship with the provisio that nazi memorabilia be destroyed.

It would be a tourist draw as a museum (and thus a benefit to the local economy) and a testimonial to Uruguayan neutrality during WWII.
14:53 March 12, 2010 by Braam Kemp
Naturally Germany will be concerned over the exhibition of these world war two artifacts, as it will only again add fuel to the fires of hate that the very large amount of ignorant and hypocritical people around the world have for Germany.

"yes, trying to hide it in plain sight - those devilish germans!" Yeah, typical nonsense coming from you Englishmen, really. Full of hate on Germans and completely blind to your own history of incessant warfare, opression, murder and slavery. You probably pleasure yourself to the thought of the English armies sweeping across the globe. Educate yourself on how the British navy pulverized Zanzibar when it refused to accept the sovereignty of the British crown, and what England did to central Europe during the 30 years war.

You must be very obnoxious and awful human beings, William Thirteen and AirForceGuy

It is as if you think Germany was the first and only country to have ever waged war and kill people.

The Graf Spee definitely has an interesting history. I do not see the point in removing any Nasional Socialist imagery - it can just be seen everywhere else, in history books, on the internet, etc. Also, everyone will know that there would have been swastikas and eagles painted on everywhere. Removing the symbols won't mean pretty much anything. The symbols and designs of the Third Reich themselves aren't even evil though, they just have evil associations. People can check out the meaning of the Nasional Socialist flag and designs simply by going on Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, everything about World War 2 era Germany is viewed as inseparable from the Holocaust, the designs, the people, the little German kids, the war effort, etc. Very few peple know what the war was actually about, let alone what the word Nazi or National Socialism even means.

All thanks to the Anglo-American media dictatorship, Hollywood and worthless history eduaction at school.
15:15 March 12, 2010 by whatzup
Sure we know what the war was all about. It was all about the kind of unrepentant arrogance Mr. Kemp exhibits here. So the Nazi's acted badly, everyone else acted badly too so why pick on the poor germans Mr. Kemp wants to know. Everyone remembers the s**t the Nazi's did in World War II Mr. Kemp because they did it so well and on such a grand scale. And with incredible arrogance.
16:22 March 12, 2010 by dbert4
The Brits and the Americans haven't any room to criticize anyone else. The British empire was ruthless and the Americans aren't much better. And "Airforce Guy" bombing innocent civilians from 30,000 feet, whoooaa, what a tool you are!
19:23 March 12, 2010 by Joshontour
Mr. Kemp, I have lived all over the world and never met anyone who had a word of contempt about Germany or it's people. You must have quite an imagination. And talk about hypocrisy... out on side of your mouth you talk about people hating Germany and out the other side you spew hatred about the US and Britain. Typical behavior, I cannot ride the train one day without hearing Germans speak ill of America. Perhaps if you understood sarcasm you would realize that many of the post above support Germany in this cause... but you ... I do not even see the point you try to make, or what side of this issue you are on. I just see a hate filled rant about all things non-German.
20:10 March 12, 2010 by SilberFuchs
The Graf Spee has nothing to be ashamed about. It was a naval vessel engaged in combat on the open sea. The technology is interesting in that it had an advanced Seetakt radar system, two Arado 196 seaplanes, as well as a telemeter (rangefinder) salvaged in 2004 and displayed like a statue in Montevideo. Fascinating history, more of which is in great detail at


Although interesting, questionable activities and antrocities were on all sides during war, we do not need to degress into bitterness while new generations try to move on in the new millenia.
00:23 March 13, 2010 by dairiesman
All of the above comments fail to acknowledge the humanitarian behaviour of Captain Hans Langsdorff, who, according to historical accounts, acted as a professional and compassionate officer both to his comrades and prisoners alike - a characteristic seemingly absent in many aspects of warfare, past and present.
02:49 March 13, 2010 by whatzup
@SilberFuchs There may have been atrocities on both sides during the war but it was the germans who institutionalized them and committed them on a scale unheard of until then. Relativism is an insidious attempt to say "we weren't so bad because everyone did it." Well no one did it like the germans, nobody else was in the same league. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous and dishonorable.
06:33 March 13, 2010 by nepo77

Thats true, were pretty much the best in everything we do. Stop being so jelios and get some history in your brain so you learn all the other holocausts of the past. And i will just ignore the 5 million dying EVERY YEAR in Africa as a result of US imperialism. Retard!
09:29 March 13, 2010 by mixxim
The european jews who run israel, a country which exists because their loving God, chose jews above all others (esp arabs) said it belongs to them!!!! Israel is the cause of all the middle east terrorist problems but survives because no one can criticise - esp Germans!

How long will this comment be allowed to stay here?
09:49 March 13, 2010 by ColoSlim
Agree with silber Fuchs the article is concerned with interest in the vessel not only as a piece of the third Reich but as naval history. All naval gun ships are killing machines but that aside are of interest for their technology.
10:12 March 13, 2010 by mixxim
I look forward to seeing this ship in restored condition for the public to visit. Does this make me a Nazi?
14:43 March 13, 2010 by agalland
Even as an American i feel like i must come down on the side of those who are critisizing American and Britian in their comments, for a lot of what they say is true .

I am not absolving certain factions in Germany for the atrocities they committed during in WW2, but their is more than enough blame to go around to paint both sides as guilty.

Britian does have a history of imperialism ,and conquering foreign lands and subjugating their people and claiming it for themselves.

America is also guilty of throwing its weight around internationally nowdays and commiting fire-bombing atrocities ,and many other during the war

If we want to be specific, lets go back to The league of nations ,and the treaty of versaillesand pinpoint that as the set-up for success for Adolf Hitler. Had America and britian not agreed to the crushing reparations placed upon Germany ,maybe he wouldnt have been lended a sympathetic ear.

We are all guilty when it relates to WW2 and i think it is high time the german people stop feeling guilty ,and stop apologising for something that was not soley their fault.

Hitler and the nazis did exist , and it was a significat time in history ,so lets stop trying to stamp out every trace of their existence.

Recognize it for what it was ,and make it available for all to see and study.

Their is plenty fo revisionism that needs to be done anyway,for as we all know history truely is written by the victors..
15:00 March 13, 2010 by whatzup
So how would you like to revise history agailand? That the camps were only resettlement centers or that the germans didn't really start the war? Perhaps we can then posit that the Nazi's weren't really bad guys, they were just misunderstood? And then of course - all sides were equally to blame for the 2nd world war. The victors didn't have to fictionalize this particular period of history, they just had to survive it. Which they did just barely, it was indeed "a very closely run thing".
19:43 March 13, 2010 by DavidtheNorseman
Sorry agalland, the First and Second World Wars were started by a Germany determined to murder her neighbours and steal their stuff. They lost badly (no big suprise). As Gen. Pershing said they failed to realize how badly they lost WWI (he being in favour of levelling the Rhineland at the time so they got a better understanding or he said the Allies would have to do it all over again in 20 years).

The Graf Spee is an interesting historical monument to the history of warship design and German engineering. Strip it of its filthy Nazi memorabilia and let it be shown as a German thing.

Mixxim you are a nutter. Israeli jewish people are back in the land God gave them and they are only trying to sell you grapefruit, oranges and high tech as well as keep on breathing. The insane Mahdi's around about them who have 500 times the space are the ones causing us all the grief. Islam is the religion which teaches that all other people are only fit for slavery or death.
20:22 March 13, 2010 by wood artist
I find this whole adventure sad, in so many ways.

I completely understand the German sensitivity to the display of Nazi era icons. It makes perfect sense. However, I don't believe it is in anyone's best interests to censor history. The ships of that day carried those symbols, and we all know it. To pretend they didn't means we ARE willing to try to re-write or re-shape history, and that means we can never learn from it.

I've been to many of the camps, and they are most effect tools to learn, precisely because they make no attempt to justify anything. They simply let you see what life was like and explain the things that happened. The camp museums leave it to the viewer to form opinions, letting the facts speak for themselves.

Is this ship a fascinating relic of the times? Certainly. At this point in time, it represents neither an allied victory nor a German defeat. It provides a glimpse of another time, both technologically and socially/politically. Given what we now know about what really happened, it also demonstrates the implications of perception.

By all means show the ship as it was. Tell the real story behind what happened. Allow everyone, German and non-German to learn from it. Don't change a thing from what is real. Have some faith that most people will find it a positive. Understand that some will try to make something of it, and allow them that freedom. True freedom comes that way.

22:00 March 13, 2010 by dbert4
" Israeli jewish people are back in the land God gave them "

Yeah, okay......there is other things to read in the fantasy section of your local book stor.y
13:42 March 14, 2010 by mixxim
Allah be praised, someone else with a brain out there. As for the boat its probably broke n rusty, the money would be better spent on education....
19:06 March 14, 2010 by agalland
Whatzup & Dave norseman.....As i have always said...people have a bad habit of seeing what they want to see,hearing what they want to hear,and believing what they want to believe, and you certainly prove that .

I dont believe you will find anywhere in my post where i said that germany didnt start ww2, or that they werent guilty of war crimes.

What i said was that the allies werent exactly gleaming examples of purity when it came to waging war....Anybody remember the russians?

Bomber(bomb the civilians) Harris.?..In a postwar examinaton of germanys infrastructure it was claimed that had the Bombing campaigns been dedicated to attacking the electrical grid ,and fuel producing facilities, the war could have been shortend by years.....But when you have some dinosaur in air command thinking that by killing civilians he can make a dictator cry uncle, you dont stand a chance of wining a war in a timely manner

As for the starting WW2, Germany did commit the first acts of aggression ,but i will repeat that the beginning ww2 is not as simple ,and black and white as Hitler invaded Poland.....the seeds of WW2 were sewn @ the end of WW1... Any competent historian will tell you that.

As for that sorry excuse for a commander Pershing....he is most certainly not worth any praise he recieves....He was quick to commit lives to certain death for a cause that was lost .

Even though it was deciced long beforehand the exact month,day,and hour that the armistice would begin ,Pershing still gave the order for aggressive actions aginst the enemy up until the very last hour of the war. A pointless waste of human life if ever here was one.

When public uproar over loved ones being sent into battle in the final hours prompted an investigation ,Pershing showed no remorse or regret except that the he was not allowed to continue fighting until utter defeat of the enemy had been accomplished.......That type of non-caring attitude as to the welfare of his troops in lost causes is very reminiscent ot Hitler himself, and gives an insight as to the very nature of the man...It is very easy to commit a life that is not your own

I stand by belief in historical revisionism.....I would like it revised to accurately describe what really transpired

I hesitate to use the words truth or facts ,because truth is a matter of perspective and facts are a matter of perception..

I believe Napolean said it best "what is history but a fable agreed upon"

If you go back and really inspect the historical record ,and not from a book they hand you in school, you will find that most history is a pack of lies, about events that never happened ,written by a person who never there.
20:40 March 14, 2010 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
This thread is a lot like watching monkeys fling feces at each other.
21:25 March 14, 2010 by Talonx
With only a few exceptions it sounds like alot of American's talking out their #sses. Stop posting you fools, you're making us all look ignorant.

Fact Check:

1.) Germany's public education system covers the Nazis for longer than they held power (>12 years). Japanese internment, the genocide of the Native American (according to the articles established post-WWII), and slavery are covered only about 2 years on average in most public schools in the U.S. Similar story for the opium trade in the U.K., or Stalin's mass murders in russia, or Mao's cultural evisceration in China. They don't hide things in Germany. This has been the case in West Germany since Willy Brandt and in the east since 1949.

2.) Germany did not start WWI. Austria was the first to declare war, and if you really want to get complicated go back to 1871 and talk European politics.

3.) Historical revisionism is not a term merely used to describe illegitimate reinterpretation of history, but also legitimate reinterpretation. Historical revisionism doesn't mean you just wipe out past conceptions of the past, but rather that you compare them along side more contemporary conceptions.
04:13 March 15, 2010 by agalland
LOL...yes i have found that most blogs,forums,and comment sections tend to offer an outlet for public opinion that is oft times better left unsaid.

Feces slinging monkeys ,and making of asses is most times the best that can be said about the individuals involved.

It typically doesnt take long for it to reach familiar levels of ridiculousness.

One of the wonders of the internet is that every fool (me included ) gets to spout off about everything they doesnt know squat about and publicly demonstrate the theory that it is better to keep you mouth shut and be thought a fool , than to open it and remove all doubt.
09:08 March 15, 2010 by Ich
The more Germany tries to repress its past, the more profitable Nazi "commercialization" will be. It's just supply and demand. The investment for raising a genuine piece of historical interest requires compensation, and the German government isn't going to underwrite the effort, for obvious reasons. The unfortuneate focus on swastikas obscures the more important lessons about WW2, how defeat in WW1 and the subsequent, protracted political-economic chaos and international isolation mutated and militarized the will to survive. This phenomena is ubiquitous. Unfortuneatly, there is a time to fight, and fight to the end-so the end, is the end of the fight.
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