The Nazi eagle of battleship Graf von Spee to become a dove of peace
The man-sized, 350 kilos bronze eagle holding the Nazi emblem in its claws, rescued from the remains of the German battleship scuttled in the River Plate will be turned into a dove of peace, to be located somewhere along the Uruguayan coast where the mighty River Plate becomes the Atlantic Ocean.
The announcement was done on Friday by Uruguayan president Luis Lacalle Pou who said the casting of the two meter tall eagle, –with its wings extended and finely detailed feathers–, into a dove of peace will be done by Pablo Atchugarry, a world famous Uruguayan marble sculptor.
In times of division, violence, war in the world, we want to set a sign of peace, Lacalle Pou told reporters in Montevideo. He added it would be a long and hard process to recast the statue, which is expected to be completed around November, but with no exact location for the peace dove yet determined.
The German navy pocket battleship Graf von Spee took refuge in the port of Montevideo in December 1939 chased by three Royal Navy vessels. However Uruguayan authorities of the time gave the vessel a very brief time to remain in port, 72 hours, and its captain Hans Langdorff, a few miles after leaving Montevideo scuttled the battleship in Uruguayan waters of the River Plate. A few days later Langsdorff committed suicide in Buenos Aires wrapped in an imperial German navy flag.
At the time, December 1939, the victory in the battle of the River Plate was celebrated by London as a great victory for Britain and the Royal Navy, a breath of fresh air at the start of the war when German Nazi seemed invincible.
However in recent years rescuers have submerged in the relatively shallow waters of the River Plate and recovered several pieces of the battleship such as anchors, a cannon, the telemeter and the latest the eagle. Still waiting is a bronze plate with the coat of arms of the Graf Von Spee family, (distinguished rich Junkers from Prussia) which also adorned the hull of the vessel.
It must be said that at the time, following the loss of the battle ship, the Royal Navy, and the US navy (not at war at the time), sent teams of divers to try and recover pieces and/or equipment of the vessel which was considered a state of art piece of German technology.
But back to our times the presidential announcement should put an end to the litigation between the rescuers of the eagle, –among which marine archeologist from the Falkland Islands, Mensun Bound–, and the financer of the recovery expedition, Alfredo Etchegaray who has been demanding the Uruguayan government since the Nazi emblem saw the light again in 2006.
However under Uruguayan law the proceeds of such recoveries in Uruguayan territory or waters belong half and half to the state and the salvager, with a caveat, the share for the rescuer is half the VALUE of whatever is recovered, not the piece in itself (for example one of the wings of the eagle). This was ratified by a long lawsuit that reached the Uruguay Supreme Court, which confirmed government property and means the salvager will recover half the value, once the Uruguayan government decides to sell, auction or whatever it wishes to do with the piece, in this case the eagle.
It must be said that back in 2006, when the eagle was exhibited in Montevideo, Israel and German diplomacy politely suggested to Uruguay to hide the Nazi emblem, which was then covered by a blanket. So after a short public exhibition the eagle ended in a Uruguayan navy depot, where it remains quietly and far from media headlines until this Friday’s announcement.
Finally let’s recall that the Battle of the River Plate involved the German pocket battleship and HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and New Zealand’s HMS Achiless. Exeter heavily damaged had to leave for the Falkland Islands, while captain Langsdorff believed more RN vessels were waiting for him to leave Montevideo, and thus probably the reason to save the crew and scuttle his vessel.
Sculptor Pablo Atchugarry is the brother of a deceased Uruguayan Senator, spent years training in Italy and recently opened a park museum with many of his works close to the Atlantic sea side resort of Punta del Este. Precisely in this area, where the River Plate meets the Atlantic ocean is where most surely the peace dove will be located, among other reasons here also is where the first cannon fire exchange between the Royal Navy and Graf von Spee took place in 1939.