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World War: Conquering Heroes

4 minute read

Into the estuary of the Rio de la Plata last week plowed the British light cruisers Ajax and Achilles. Ajax, steaming slowly past the still visible hulk of the scuttled Admiral Graf Spee, turned into Uruguay’s port of Montevideo. Achilles went on up the estuary to Buenos Aires on the Argentine side. Each cruiser explained she came only to make a 48-hour courtesy call, give her crew shore leave, take on supplies and repair wear & tear sustained during many weeks at sea, not battle damage. Uruguay and Argentina each welcomed its visitor, though the Argentines left party-throwing to the B. A. British colony, especially to New Zealanders, whose Navy’s pride Achilles is.

In Montevideo, enthusiastic native thousands pressed through a police cordon to get a good look at Ajax’s two smashed gun turrets, to mend which she must go home to Britain. They goggled at the gap where a German shell tore through the cabin of Commodore (now Rear Admiral and Sir) Henry Harwood, smashed his bathroom, wiped out his wardrobe.

Sir Henry strode ashore (in borrowed regalia) to wreathe Montevideo’s monument to General José Artigas, hero of Uruguay’s war for independence in 1814-20, and to give the press his version of the historic Battle of Punta del Este.*

Police in Buenos Aires were all set for some fancy brawling between the conquering Achilles crew and interned sailors of the Spee, who have the run of the city until midnight, when they must go to their quarters in the naval arsenal. Instead of brawling, the former foes fascinated their hosts by fraternizing warmly in sailors’ night spots, swapping stories of their battle, toasting each other.

» Less happy than the Spee’s crew were members of the Spee’s, tender-ship Tacoma, interned last week at Montevideo.

Five of them got hold of one of the Spee’s motor launches one night last week and tried to escape. They were captured after sunrise near the Spee’s grave.

Happier than the Tacoma’s crew were five Chinese laundrymen off the Spee, who were found asleep below decks on the Tacoma when Uruguayan naval authorities boarded her. They, looking innocent, were not interned. They hoped for the same treatment which Uruguay gave to 108 Chinese crewmen of the German merchantmen Anatolia and Nienburg, who mutinied, refused to sail out of Montevideo when war was declared. Last week Uruguay shipped them on the Italian Oceania to Genoa, whence another Italian vessel will take them to Shanghai.

» The 16,732-ton Hamburg-American liner St. Louis last week duplicated the Bremen’s feat of eluding the British blockade, slipping safely down through Norwegian coastal waters into the Baltic and “a home port,” from Murmansk. The 8,000-ton Johannlschulte, one of 16 other German refugees at Murmansk, was less lucky. In a blizzard and raging sea somewhere off Trondheim, she lost her propeller, foundered. Her crew of 36 was rescued by the Norwegian Queen Maud.

» At Boston, Second Officer Wilhelm Harren of the German tanker Pauline Friederich, which took refuge there four months ago carrying $250,000 worth of lubricants, last week filed a libel action in Federal court, demanding that the vessel be sold to satisfy his claim of $98.60 in back wages, and more for the hungry crew. Wilhelm Harren of Hamburg announced he was through with the Nazi regime. His spokesman: Boston Attorney Hyman Katz.

*U. S. newspapers with Allied bias last week compared the Spee’s inglorious scuttling with the work of two Australian marine engineers who arrived in Manhattan with accounts of how they and a crew of twelve scuttled an obsolete 10,000-tonner (one of six) in a channel of Scapa Flow After plugging the nose of the vessel into a mudbank, they left her with engines racing forward, slid overside on ropes in time to escape blasts set off in her hold by electric impulse from shore. Workmen had replaced steel plates with wooden planking in sections of the ship’s bottom. The hull settled into place to help block a Scapa inlet and avert another submarine slip-up shot like Lieut. Commander Günther Prien’s on the Royal Oak.

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