naval officer in World War II
, Captain Hans Langsdorff (1890-1939) commanded the German pocket battleship Graf Spee
. During the Graf Spee's cruise, Langsdorff sank nine British
merchant ships totalling 50,000 tons of shipping.
On December 13, 1939, the Graf Spee was cornered by the British cruisers HMS Ajax, HMS Achilles and HMS Exeter off the coast of Uruguay. In the ensuing combat, which came to be known as the Battle of the River Plate, the Graf Spee was overwhelmed and forced into Montevideo's harbour. Realizing his situation was hopeless, Langsdorff decided not to attack the British squadron to force his way ouf of the harbour. After landing his crew and three hundred POWs captured on the cruise, Captain Langsdorff scuttled his ship and committed suicide. An extremely humane man, Langsdorff had ensured that not one British life was lost on any of the merchant vessels he had destroyed - a sense of honor that is truly rare in warfare.