Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Graf Spee: The Fate of its Nazi Artifacts

On August 25, 2006, the New York Times ran this article:

A Swastika, 60 Years Submerged, Still Inflames Debate
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Aug. 24 — For more than 60 years, the scuttled wreck of the Graf Spee rested undisturbed in 65 feet of murky water just outside the harbor here. But now that fragments of the vessel, once the pride of the Nazi fleet, are being recovered, a new battle has broken out over who owns those spoils and what should be done with them.

The private syndicate that recovered them wants to put the pieces up for auction, with the money to be divided evenly with the government, as law requires. But Uruguayan officials, fearing that an auction might let neo-Nazi groups acquire the artifacts, threaten to suspend the syndicate’s permit and take control of the salvaging operation themselves.

“There are ethical limits on the promotion of Nazi symbols in museums, so who are the potential buyers of these icons if not neo-Nazis?” said Miguel Esmoris, director of the government’s National Heritage Commission. “We’re not against salvagers making a profit, but this is formally an archaeological site, and we cannot allow illicit trafficking in cultural and historical items.”

The first items recovered, a cannon and a rangefinder, in 2004, caused little debate, except when the rangefinder was used in a fashion show. There are other pieces, too. But the recovery of the vessel’s imposing nine-foot-high tailpiece, an eagle sitting atop a swastika, in February of this year and the announcement of plans to sell it ignited the current dispute.

Alfredo Etchegaray, a public relations executive, wedding and party organizer and amateur historian who leads the syndicate salvaging the Graf Spee, said that thus far his group had sunk $100,000 into the effort, excluding donated equipment and services.

British newspapers have shared the latest on the controversy, 4 years later.

Germany battles with Alfredo Etchegaray over salvage of Graf Spee
The grey hulk of one of the most famous warships of the Third Reich, the Admiral Graf Spee, was last seen sinking into the waters off Montevideo more than 70 years ago. Today plans to raise the Nazi pocket battleship — which played havoc with British merchant shipping in the early days of the Second World War — are causing an international row.

Alfredo Etchegaray, a Uruguayan businessman, has spent a quarter of a century and $2.5 million (£1.7 million) carrying out salvage operations on the battleship in the River Plate, where it was scuttled in 1939. He now faces the heavy guns of the German Government, as Berlin tries to reclaim the wreck, fearing it may fall into the hands of neo-Nazi enthusiasts.

Granted the salvage rights by Uruguay in 1985, Mr Etchegaray had already raised several artefacts, when last year — under pressure from Germany — Montevideo banned further salvage.

This week he accused Berlin of bullying the nation into handing back the ship, after a visit by the Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle. He said that Berlin wanted “to prevent the remains of the symbols of the Nazi regime from becoming commercialised”. Germany fears that relics already salvaged — such as a two-metre bronze eagle emblazoned with a swastika — might be auctioned.One idea it has proposed is to turn the former pride of Hitler’s fleet into a museum. “What we really want is to reach a constructive deal,” Mr Westerwelle said.

and there's an interesting article from the Swindon Advertiser (an England paper):
History: Time runs out for sailor
in which a local Swindon man is memorialized, having died in the war.

The battle of the River Plate in the South Atlantic on December 13, 1939 was the first significant naval battle of the Second World War. The German pocket battleship the Graf Spee, engaged in ambushing merchant ships en route for Britain, was attacked by three cruisers, the Ajax, the Achilles and the Exeter. However, prior to this battle, 300 British seaman, already taken prisoner by the Graf Spee, were transferred to the Altmark, a German fleet tanker.

The men should have been released into Norwegian custody when the Altmark sailed past Bergen but, in direct contravention of international law, the prisoners were hidden below decks in storage lockers.

Despite two searches by Norwegian officials, the whereabouts of the men was only detected when prisoners released from the scuttled Graf Spee informed the British government.

Among those on board HMS Cossack engaged in a daring raid to rescue the prisoners was a Swindon man, Edward Albert Head, the son of Francis and Winifred Head. Edward, known as Ted, enlisted on February 24, 1939, serving aboard the Cossack as an engine room artificer.

In the summer of 1939 Ted returned home to Swindon where he married local girl Rose Hulme, but the couple were soon parted when Ted rejoined his ship. To be closer to her husband, Rose made her home in Dunfermline where Ted joined her when on leave.

On April 13, 1940, just two months after the infamous Altmark incident, HMS Cossack formed part of a convoy to escort the battleship HMS Warspite.

The ships were on a mission to destroy German vessels left after the first battle of Narvik. During fierce fighting the Cossack was hit seven times, putting her steering gear out of action. While undergoing running repairs during the battle the Cossack continued firing and managed to silence a field gun shooting from behind Narvik. Nine members of the Cossack crew were lost, and 21 wounded, among them Ted.

Ted returned to Scotland and was nursed on the Ardgowan estate on the Firth of Clyde, used as a military hospital during both the First and Second World Wars.

Ted and Rose’s son was born on July 30, 1941 but, by the beginning of August, Ted was at sea again, this time aboard HMS Tonbridge. Engaged in netlaying off the East Anglian coast, the Tonbridge was bombed by German aircraft.

The engine room took a direct hit and 35 men, including Ted, were killed. The telegram informing Rose of her husband’s death was sent to her parents’ home at 188 Drove Road where she and Ted had begun their married life together. Her sister and brother-in-law travelled to Scotland to break the news to her.

Ted died on August 22, 1941, the day after his 26th birthday. His son, William Edward Frank, was just 23 days old. Ted had seen him once.

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