Search billions of records on


Part of the Acorn Archive

Hearts of Oak



Prisoners taken from the merchant ships,



Back to the TREVANION page


In ten weeks the raider had destroyed nine British ships

totalling 50,089 tons

without the loss of a single life.

Neither the GRAF SPEE nor the ships of the Royal Navy were so fortunate.


SS Clement – crew arrived safely by ship’s boats.

Master and two others set on SS Papalemos to Cape Verde.


Graf Spee

61 Prisoners held on ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE

during the Battle of the River Plate.


Prisoners in the Petty Officer's Flat

SS Newton Beach - Robinson (Captain), Prior & Bell

SS Ashlea - Pottinger (Captain), Miller, Strong & Guthrie

SS Huntsman - Thompson (Captain), Edwards, Beazley & McCorry

MV Trevanion - Edwards (Captain), Venables, Doye & Martinson

MV Africa Shell - Dove (Captain)

SS Doric Star - Stubbs (Captain), Ranson, Comber, Ray & Hutton

SS Tairoa - Murphy (Captain), Walker, Angell & Cummins

    and deck boys : Dixon, Farmer & Leedale.

SS Streonshalh - Robinson (Captain), Mallinson, McDonald & Jefferies


Steonshalh crew, in the After Section

Gatenby, Stuart, Dunn, Sanderson, Robertson & Roberts

Barker, Blenkiron, Brewster, Burton, Dixon, Dobson, Foulis, Idle, Laurenson, Leck, Locker, Marshall, Netherton, Purvis, Raine, Richardson, Vasey, Verrill, Wale, Wilson, & Wrightson


305 British Merchant Navy officers and men,

including 67 Lascars

 held on the ALTMARK.


463ft x 68ft x 27ft

7,021 grt tanker

Geared turbines; 22 knots.

Built 1938  Blohm & Voss, Hamburg.

Joined ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE, near the Azores, 28th August 1939.

Following the Battle of the River Plate, ALTMARK remained in the South Atlantic for a month before returning to Norwegian waters in February 1940. Knowing there were many British merchant seamen aboard, HMS ARETHUSA attempted to search the ship, but was prevented from doing so by the Norwegian torpedo boats KJELL and SKARV. Winston Churchill then ordered the destroyer HMS COSSACK, to violate Norwegian neutrality. On February 16th 1940, COSSACK entered Jössing Fjord near Bergen. A crew boarded ALTMARK and rescued the seamen. They were then taken back to Leith.


Captain W.U.McCall, Royal Navy, Naval Attache at the British Embassy, Buenos Aires

writes in his DESPATCH No. 4 ( SECRET ), dated 21st December 1939 ….

The treatment of the prisoners on board the Altmark was harsh in the extreme, more reminiscent of the days of slave-trading than of the present time. The treatment received by the Indian prisoners on board was very much more lenient than that meted out to the remainder. This was for political reasons, and the Indians were told that when they eventually reached Germany, they would be allowed to proceed home via Italy. The Officers were loud in their complaint of their treatment. Their flats were so over-crowded that they had no room between mattresses, which were covered with lice and vermin. They could only bath on the upper deck in a water ration of one quart of brackish water a day, which then had to be reserved for washing clothes. To wash in were only twenty bowls for the common use of Masters, Officers, and white and Lascar crews. There was little soap. Eating utensils were improvised out of condensed milk tins and the bottoms of large tins for plates. The food was insufficient and very poor in quality. The lavatories were open oil drums in the trunk ways leading to the flats, which always polluted the atmosphere. The Masters were humiliated by being made to empty the lavatories in the presence of British and Lascar crews. They only got exercise if the weather was perfect, and then for an hour and a quarter per day. Smoking was prohibited in the first two weeks, and afterwards limited. The punishment for breaking this rule was three days' confinement on bread and water.

There are now over three hundred prisoners on board the Altmark and the Captain has announced his intention that rather than give up his ship he will, if attacked, blow it up with all the prisoners on board.


Captain Dahl of the Altmark was a reserve officer of the old school, who had been a prisoner of the last war in England, and bore us a grudge. He was a stern disciplinarian, feared, respected and disliked. The crew were merchant service; a hard-bitten, discontented lot. On board the Altmark the Admiral Graf Spee maintained a Naval guard, between the ship's crew there was constant friction amounting sometimes to free fights.


The conditions on board Admiral Graf Spee were very different. The prisoners were treated with consideration, were given the same food as the ship's company, allowed every opportunity for exercise on the deck and no restrictions were placed upon them in talking with the Officers or men. Captain Langsdorff was described as a very courteous, charming gentleman. A man of high though socialistic ideals. He told the British Captains that as they were going to be interned in Germany there was no reason why he should not talk freely with them.


The Masters and the officers and crew released from the GRAF SPEE were brought back to Britain on the HIGHLAND CHIEFTAN, during the week following the 21st December 1939.



Raymond Forward