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The Battle of the River Plate (Hardback)

The First Naval Battle of the Second World War

Frontline Books Frontline: WWII

By Gordon Landsborough
Frontline Books
Pages: 195
ISBN: 9781473878952
Published: 6th June 2016



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At dawn on 13 December 1939, smoke was seen on the horizon; HMS Exeter was told to close in and investigate. Two minutes later a dramatic signal was sent from the British cruiser – ‘I think it is a pocket battleship.’

It was. The Deutschland-class heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee, marauder of the South Atlantic shipping, had sailed into a trap. Three smaller British cruisers closed in on a German warship which, so Hitler had boasted, could out-sail any ship powerful enough to damage her, and out-gun any ship able to keep up with her – an invincible ship.

So began the Battle of the River Plate, story which has its duplicates in British naval history, but which nevertheless brought pride and inspiration into the hearts of a nation unwillingly at war once again.

A terrible battle was fought that day off the coast of South America, a naval encounter in the finest Nelson tradition – and true to that tradition, victory went to the men with the finest armament of all, courage.

This edition will be presented with an Appendix containing the official despatch detailing the Battle of the River Plate.

As featured on ARRSE.


I very much enjoyed this book for a variety of reasons not least of all as I am in contact with the grandson of Commodore Harwood who commanded the Royal Navy Squadron involved.

I found the book to be an excellent read which covered the sequence of events before, during and after the battle in short but concise individual chapters.

Other books on this subject have concentrated on the battle whereas the author, Gordon Landsborough, sets the scene where Commodore Harwood plots the most likely area where the Graf Spee is to be found and why. He then turns to the battle giving enough detail to follow the chase and conflict then concluding with the triumphant return of the ships and crews to their home ports.

I recommend this book.

The Ton Class Association

If your idea of the Battle of the River Plate is based on Peter Finch's portrayal of Captain Karls Langsdorf, commander of Admiral Graf Spee in the classic movie then this book has plenty to offer. The battle was the first major naval confrontation between the Royal Navy and the German fleet of World War Two. It has subsequently been portrayed as a David versus Goliath struggle between three minnows and a German titan of the oceans. How much of this story is hype based on wartime propaganda is where this book comes in. A reprint of a 1956 original, Frontline Books have created something rather special.

Warship World - September/October 2016 - PB

This was not only the first naval battle of WWII, but it was a victory for a small force of
British and Commonwealth warships against a significantly more powerful enemy. The author has produced a well researched work that carries monochrome images in support of a flowing text that carries the reader through this exciting story. Highly Recommended.

This is a really exciting and stirring story of British and Commonwealth sailors working together to defeat a theoretically superior enemy, far from their home bases.


Reviewed on Model Shipwirghts

Model Shipwrights

Gordon Landsborough’s The Battle of the River Plate – The First Naval Battle of the Second World War is an incredibly detailed accounting of the events surrounding the sinking of the Germany’s pocket battleship, Graf Spee. The author shows us more of what transpired other than just the naval battle. He takes us step by step through Graf Spee’s raiding campaign, the fateful decision to engage British forces in battle, the political fight leading up to the ships scuttling and finally the ending chapter in this saga where months after the battle, British forces track down and recuse their captive countrymen imprisoned on the German merchant ship, Altmark, as she made a final dash for her homeland. We are given a glimpse into what the merchantmen endured as the Graf Spee plummeted their ships as well their struggles as prisoners of war at sea. Landsborough opens a window for his readers to gain a little insight into what what Capt. Langdorff might have been thinking at the time and why he might have made the decisions he chose leading up to the final result of scuttling of the Graf Spee and eventually his suicide. The author also provides a picture of the British resolve in this story through Capt. Harwood’s recorded accounts and the unprecedented media documentation. The Battle of the River Plate – The First Naval Battle of the Second World War a well-written and captivating read an is sure to please anyone with a fascination of naval history, and pertinently the events surrounding the first naval battle of WWII.

MSC Review Connect

About Gordon Landsborough

Gordon Holmes Landsborough, (1913–1983), English publisher, author and bookseller, was in the forefront of change in the paperback publishing in England during the 1950s to 1980s. He was noted for his prolific output as an author and his books include Long Run to Tobruk and Benghazi Breakout.

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