The Battle of the River Plate
Clive Coultass recounts tales of derring-do and chivalry in the making of this Second World War naval epic
The Powell and Pressburger film The Battle of the River Plate , issued in Britain in 1956, and the following year in America under the title The Pursuit of the Graf Spee, was based on the real episode in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War.
In spite of the pre-war treaty restrictions on its naval strength, Germany had equipped itself with a number of fast warships which were ideally suited for harassing Britain's mercantile communications. The Admiral Graf Spee was one of a class of three, known popularly in Britain as 'pocket battleships', vessels of compact size, in theory sufficiently heavily armed and armoured to brush off combat with enemy cruisers, and fitted with Diesel engines which gave them an extraordinary range and also the ability to reach maximum speed very rapidly. No British battleship could catch them, although the Royal Navy's three battle-cruisers were capable of doing so.