Uruguay released a stamp issue to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate --December 13th 1939--, which ended with the scuttling of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.
The German vessel operating in the Atlantic Ocean had sunk nine Allied merchant vessels before been finally tracked down by a group of three Royal Navy men-o-wars: HMS Exeter, HMS Achilles and HMS Ajax. The Battle of the River Plate ensued during which the Graf Spee was damaged and forced to dock for repairs in Montevideo.
However in compliance with international law she was forced to leave within 72 hours and faced with what was believed to be overwhelming odds, Captain Hans Langsdorff scuttled the ship rather than risk the lives of his crew.
HMS Exeter seriously damaged crippled back to the Falkland Islands and was replaced by HMS Cumberland thus giving the idea that a reinforced flotilla was awaiting for the German battleship.
It was the first major victory, and boost of morale, for the Royal Navy since the beginning of the war and thus celebrated in London and released to the rest of the world.
“Commemorating means sharing memory to preserve it from oblivion” said Architect Eduardo Montemuiño, during the ceremony on board Uruguay’s Navy school vessel “Capitán Miranda”.
“We are here not to celebrate because too many young people were killed at the time of the battle, but if we value memory, we must also value the objects and places which represent it”.
Stamps are rapidly becoming a “technology from then past”, but nevertheless are an appropriate format to commemorate since for “many, many years, when communications were so much slower than today, they were an essential part of everybody’s life”
Commander Orlando Mara from “Capitan Miranda” underlined that the ceremony also recalls “true gentlemen of the seas”: out of nine merchant ships sunk by the German battleship, none of the crews had been killed. “Life at sea is tough, but those who choose it, must be so”.
Finally Tourism and Sports minister Hector Lescano stressed the significance of the “historic and intangible heritage” and their tourism value.
“Historic heritage is as important for tourism as are the natural beauties of the country”, said Lescano adding that the war episode highlighted in the stamps “had an impact on the belligerent countries, but also for the Uruguayans”.
“The Battle of the River Plate is fully present in the collective memory of Uruguay”.
The issue consists of four stamps, each depicting the ships involved in the battle and the cost of the set is 37 pesos, equivalent to 2 US dollars.
The first sets were handed out to the participating officials and to Hilde Lahn, widow of one of Graf Spee crewmembers who opted to live and raise a family in Uruguay. She was present at the ceremony with her two daughters.
Besides local officials there were representatives from the UK and German embassies.