Admiral Graf Spee

Admiral  Graf Spee

In the final phase of the fitting-out, shortly before she was commissioned, the Admiral Graf Spee underwent sea trials. They began on December 5, 1935, with engine trials which were successfully completed. A month later, on January 6, 1936, she was officially commissioned into the German navy with Captain Conrad Patzig1 as her commander. January and February sea trials demonstrated that the ship was not as seaworthy as the Admiral Scheer. However, they were conducted with partially filled fuel and water tanks which had a negative impact on ship’s stability. In February, during the Neukrug measured mile tests, the ship reached 28.5 knots at 14 000 tons displacement and 53 650 HP. In comparison to her sister ship, the Admiral Scheer, the Admiral Graf Spee was less manoeuvrable which was noticeable especially during strong gusts of wind. With deeper draft the battleship lost a knot of its speed, and if the depth of the basin was deeper, the value rose to 2 or 3 knots. Different arrangement of machinery and auxiliary equipment within the hull caused vibrations stronger than on board the Admiral Scheer. Moreover, in bad weather and heavy seas the command bridge was constantly wet. As a consequence, a decision was made to rebuild the control tower of the Admiral Scheer and the Admiral Graf Spee and install additional wind shields protecting the bridge. It was also decided that the superstructure would be altered to expand the navigation spaces. The initial trials and crew training was completed on May 9, 1936 and shortly thereafter she became the flagship of the Kriegsmarine. Her first combat operation was a patrol in the Spanish waters along with the light cruisers Leipzig and Nürnberg escorted by 6 torpedo boats. The German task force left Wilhelmshaven on August 20, 1939, and after a few days replaced the patrolling Admiral Scheer and the Deutschland. Apart from that the ship was to provide cover for evacuation of German, Swiss and Austrian citizens. She took part in more such patrols in the Spanish waters, but in the meantime, in May 1937, she also represented Germany at the Spithead Naval Review on the occasion of the Coronation of the British King George VI. After the conclusion of the review, the ship returned to her patrolling duty.
Between March and May 1938 the Admiral Graf Spee underwent an overhaul at the Deutsche Werke shipyard in Kiel, where her superstructure was slightly modified. Two searchlight platforms on the sides of the bridge superstructure were removed and replaced by a single platform and searchlight on the face of the bridge superstructure. Yard arms of the navigation bridge were enclosed and the superstructure section housing the ship’s bakery, located between the funnel and the catapult, was removed.

Superstructure’s tower seen from the back.

In 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee and the Deutschland took part in the reintegration of the Lithuanian harbour of Memel (Klaipėda) into the Germany. The operation began on March 19, 1939 and two days later, on March 21, Adolf Hitler embarked on the Deutschland anchored at Swinemünde. In the afternoon the armada comprising Admiral Scheer, Deutschland and Admiral Graf Spee, escorted by the light cruisers Nürnberg and Leipzig, destroyers, torpedo boats and minesweepers left Stettin and headed for Memel. German warships anchored in the roadstead of the Lithuanian harbour on March 23. Following the reincorporation of the port into the German Reich, the German warships returned home. On April 17, 1939, the Admiral Graf Spee along with her sistership the Deutschland and the escort of light cruisers Köln, Leipzig and Nürnberg, the 1st and 3rd Destroyer Division and a submarine flotilla (15 U-boats) and the U-boat tender Erwin Wessner took part in the naval exercises in the Atlantic. German warships visited Malaga, Granada, Vigo and the capital of Portugal – Lisbon.