Friday 2 November 2018

The Battle of the River Plate

To conclude the current round of WW2 Air and Naval Warfare, a nice simple sea battle beckoned. The Battle of the River Plate was always on the 'to do' list so I decided now would be a good time to tick this one off.

The ships used are 1/3000 scale from Navwar and General Quarters 3 rules used. The first sighting of Graf Spee was at a little over 20,000 yards, which at 1cm = 100 yards was just a little longer than the 6' (180cm) table I had planned to use. One turn of movement at a little over cruising speed would have brought them within my 18,000 yard limitation.

I therefore started the game on move 2 and gave the main batteries of Graf Spee one turn of fire before starting the game proper.

So this was the situation just prior to the salvo from Graf Spee. I decided to start the game using something approaching the tactics within the actual battle which seemed the most logical move to make. On the right the Ajax (left) and Achilles break away from Exeter to split Graf Spee's fire.  

Continued -

Graf Spee's opening salvo on Exeter proved to be extremely accurate knocking out 'A' turret and a hull box.

The next turn saw all ships accelerating towards each other.

Exeter and Ajax opened fire on Graf Spee but failed to score any hits.

The Exeter was not so lucky. Two more hits knocked out a 4" gun turret but more importantly suffered damage to Engineering reducing it's speed.

With only its forward turret able to fire on Exeter, the Graf Spee fired its aft 11" turret on Ajax along with its port 5.9" batteries but no hits were scored.

Ajax and Achilles had to close the distance rapidly to enable their 6" guns to penetrate Graf Spee's armour. Here Ajax takes the lead continually accelerating as Achilles moves to take position astern. 

In the damage control phase, the Exeter successfully repaired the engineering damage returning to full speed.

Graf Spee bracketed by fire from all 3 Royal Navy ships. Ajax scores two hits with one shell failing to penetrate the armour of the forward 11" gun turret but the second successfully destroys a 5.9" gun mount.

Ajax finds itself on the receiving end of Graf Spee's fire but again escapes unscathed.

Graf Spee is hit losing a hull box and a 4.1" gun mount as it fires on Exeter.

Exeter fires a salvo which proves to be it's last as 11" shells, already in the air, pour down on and around the vessel. Both it's remaining 8" turrets are destroyed leaving just it's port 4" turret still operational. Almost in an act of desperation, Exeter empties it's 3 starboard torpedo tubes all of which miss. 

Exeter's 8" shells rain down on Graf Spee knocking out another 5.9" turret. 

Ajax leading Achilles race towards Graf Spee at their maximum speed of 32 knots. With Exeter silenced, Graf Spee turns its attention towards Ajax knocking out it's port 4" gun mount and a hull box.

Exeter makes a full 180 degree turn bringing it's port 4" guns and torpedo tubes to bear.

Ajax and Achilles have dramatically closed the gap and are now in effective 6" gun range. A fact not lost on Graf Spee who again hits Ajax destroying 'Y' turret and 2 more hull boxes.

Ajax and Achilles take maximum advantage of being in armour penetrating range of their 6" guns and use rapid fire to target Graf Spee. Their fire proved devastatingly accurate knocking out both 11" turrets and the remaining 5.9" turrets. Graf Spee had effectively been disarmed. It failed a subsequent morale test meaning it would attempt to break off contact and head for home.

I finished the game at this point. Although only the Achilles was in a good enough condition to pursue the Graf Spee, the latter would have been hopelessly outgunned. I declared this to be a victory for the Royal Navy. 

On reflection, the Graf Spee should have done its best to maintain its distance from Ajax and Achilles using its heavier 11" guns to pick them off at long range. I underestimated how damaging the 6" guns could have been when in effective range. Not so much the calibre but more the number of barrels being brought to bear. 16 to Graf Spee's 6. That was partially cancelled out by the increased amount of damage an 11" shell causes compared to 6".

The game lasted 6 turns. A brief but enjoyable action.


  1. It started so well for Graf Spee. I like this small engagement because it has a small order of battle and is so replayable.

    1. With the early success I thought Graf Spee was heading for victory and it was unlucky to lose its 11" guns when it did. An enjoyable little action.

  2. I first heard of the Battle of the River Plate over 50 years ago, and read a book on it. The expression 'pocket battleship' was in vogue it the time, which tended rather to exaggerate the capabilities of that class of vessel. Over the years since I have discovered that the armour of these vessels was fairly comparable to any heavy cruiser: it was the 11-inch guns (complemented by the 5.9s) that made the difference. It seems to me that the single German against the three British were probably a fairly even match. That makes it a very interesting ship action to fight.

    1. I agree, this could easily have gone the other way. GQ3 gives Graf Spee a 'CA' classification compared to 'CL' for the 3 British cruisers.

  3. An interesting outcome and something to think about. I've played the same scenaroom before and with a similar result. You're right about the range factor being the key to Graf Spee knocking off or crippling one ship at a time, while staying relatively undamaged. The only problem is prioritising Exeter first which almost always means the light cruisers get close enough to inflict sufficient hits to force a withdrawal, especially if the main turrets get knocked out.

    1. Thanks Jim. Not an easy one for Graf Spee with all 3 British cruisers able to outpace it.

  4. An interesting action and tactical puzzle.