Battle of the River Plate

The Battle of the River Plate was the first naval battle in the Second World War and the only episode of the war to take place in South America.

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Battle of the River Plate

The Battle of the River Plate took place on December 13th 1939. The battle in the South Atlantic was the first major naval battle of World War Two.

Ships from the Royal Navy’s South American Division took on the might of Germany’s Graf Spee [German Cruiser Admiral Graf Spee wikipedia] which was successfully attacking merchant shipping in the South Atlantic. Great Britain’s South American Naval Division was made up of four cruisers.

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Chris Trueman BA (Hons) MA (2010)
History Learning


HMS Ajax ~ Leander-Class Light Cruiser

Leander-Class cruiser ordered from Vickers Armstrong of Barrow under the 1931 Programme On 1st October 1932 and laid down at Yard No 682 on 7th February 1933. The ship was launched on 1st March 1934 as the 8th Royal Navy warship to carry the name, first used in 1767- Her completion date was 15th April 1935 at a cost of £1.48M. She served with Renown during WW2, particularly at the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939 when the German battleship Graf Spee was badly damaged and later scuttled. After 1940 she was deployed mainly in the Mediterranean.

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HMS Exeter ~ York-Class Heavy Cruiser

York-Class cruiser ordered from HM Dockyard, Devonport on 15th March 1928 and laid down on 1st August that year. She was launched 13th July 1929 as the fifth RN ship to bear this name, introduced in 1680 for a 3rd Rate 70 gun ship. The last ship with the name was a Trawler hire for use as a minesweeper during WW1. Build was completed on 23rd July 1931 at a cost of £1,837,415. The ship had a firm relationship with the City of Exeter throughout her service. This was continued when given to a Type 42 Destroyer on launch by Swan Hunter in 1978.

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HMNZS Achilles ~ Leander-Class Light Cruiser

Leander-Class cruiser ordered from Cammell Laird at Birkenhead on 16th February 1931. The ship was laid down on 11th June that year and launched on 1st September 1932 as the 9th RN warship to carry the name. It was previously used for a cruiser sold in 1923. After completion on 10th October 1933 she served with the Home Fleet until 1935 and attended the Silver Jubilee Review by HM King George V. In November 1935 she refitted at Chatham for service with New Zealand Division and re-commissioned with a New Zealand crew from HM Cruiser Diomede on 31st March 1936. Before arriving in New Zealand in September 1936. she worked-up in the Mediterranean during the Abyssinian crisis. This ship had a very long association with New Zealand and was formally transferred to the RNZN on its formation in July 1941. She was damaged by SS Rangatira on 14th April 1938 and had to return to UK for repair at Portsmouth. The ship re-commissioned in March 1939 and returned to New Zealand.

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