The fate of the Graf Spee

The Graf Spee was scuttled off Montevideo. Is it still there?

It is. One of the most famous German battleships of the Second World War, the Graf Spee was sunk on 17 December 1939 in the river Plate outside Montevideo in Uruguay. Facing what he thought to be insuperable odds, the captain, von Langsdorff, opted to scuttle his ship rather than face the might of the Royal Navy in open combat.


Initially, the wreck of the Graf Spee stood proud on the water, but it gradually sank into the mud of the estuary until only the very tip of the mast showed above the waterline. The first salvage efforts were carried out soon after the scuttling, by Allied intelligence teams who sought to strip out the ship’s advanced radar and communications equipment.


In more recent years, further efforts have been made, with one of the Graf Spee’s gun mounts being raised and restored in 1997, and – most famously – its eagle figurehead being salvaged in 2006. Its telemeter, or range finder, is also displayed on the seafront in Montevideo. A thoroughgoing operation to raise the Graf Spee and restore it as a floating museum, funded in part by the Uruguayan government, was begun in 2004 but suspended five years later, leaving the wreck’s current status unclear. It remains, therefore, in the estuary of the river Plate.