World War II As It Happened
A MaritimeQuest Daily Event Special Presentation
Friday, December 15, 1939
Day 106

December 15, 1939: Front page of the Newcastle Journal and North Mail, Newcastle-on-Tyne, England.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
(The top story of the day was about the German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee and the Battle of the River Plate. These newspapers are an excellent example of how the press attempts to shape a story, having no real knowledge of a situation. It ia also an excellent example of how a government used propaganda and misinformation to shape an outcome of a situation.

The German counterintelligence services monitored all western newspapers and wire services. Since we have a free press, they often reported on ship movements, all information that the enemy eagerly digested. The Germans did not have a free press, it was controlled by the Nazi party and therefore only printed what the Nazi government wanted to be printed. It is important to understand this in the story of the Admiral Graf Spee.

While in Montevideo harbor the commanding officer, Kapitän zur See Hans Langsdorff, was getting information from the German government and the local press. The British government placed stories in the paper of a large British fleet, just over the horizon, that awaited Langsdorff and his ship. The press reports were propaganda designed to fool Langsdorff and the Germans into thinking that his ship and crew would be destroyed if he tried to leave the harbor. The scare tactic was just a rouse. Two of the ships which had been in the Battle of the River Plate, HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles, were still off the port, HMS Exeter had to make for port due to damage. The remaining ships had been joined by the cruiser HMS Cumberland, but there were no battleships or aircraft carriers near Montevideo. They were en route, but would not be there for several days.

The headline in the above newspaper is a prime example of what the Germans were reading and basing their decisions on. To the British reader this just appears to be a newspaper headline. It is not however, just a headline. It was a carefully placed message to the German government, which the reader, for the most part, was unaware of.

Langsdorff had to work only with the information he had available to him and was convinced that his ship would be sunk by the far superior force, which did not exist. The press had done their part and printed the propaganda, just as the British government wanted them to. Langsdorff and the German government had taken the bait that was fed to the press. They believed the ships were just off Montevideo and they knew that Langsdorff and Admiral Graf Spee could not outfight them. The ultimate outcome to the story will be played out in a few days. It was important to inform you about what you were seeing in the press and how it effected decisions. Keep in mind that the media still operates this way today.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of The Daily Mail, Hull, England.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
 
(Another example of a headline which was actually a message to the enemy. To be fair though, these were the two obvious choices that Langsdorff had.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of the Manchester Evening News, Manchester, England.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
 
(The headline in this paper is interesting in that the editor has chosen to state his opinion about what Langsdorff might do. In contrast the paper below takes the opposite view. Neither editor had any real information, so just published their opinions as news, which it was not. The editor of this paper probably chose the word Gauntlet carefully.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of the Derby Evening Telegraph, Derby, England.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
 
(The headline in this paper stands in contrast to the headline in the previous paper. How the editor came to the conclusion of the headline is unclear. It is an example of an editor making something up out of whole cloth. I say this because in the report at left "Nazis Astonished" the first line states "Nothing has yet been revealed in Berlin about the plans of Graf Spee." Therefore the headline was nothing more than the editors uninformed opinion, not news.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of the Press and Journal, Aberdeen, Scotland.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
 
(At least the editor of this paper did not publish his opinion on what might happen.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of The Sydney Sun, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of The Examiner, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
 
Note the report in column 1: "28-Year-Old Blonde Wife For Hitler"
(Just another example of reporters having not a clue of what they are writing about.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of The Lethbridge Herald, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of The Winnipeg Tribune, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of Het Volksdagblad, Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Dutch communist paper.)
(Click on the image for a readable version.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of the Biddeford Daily Journal, Biddeford, maine.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
 
(The U.S. press also running the British message to the Germans.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of the Fitchburg Sentinel, Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of The Helena Independent, Helena, Montana.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
 
Note the report in column 4: "Nazis Charge Mustard Gas Used in Attack on Battleship; Ask Probe"
(Here is an example of the German government using the free press to promote their propaganda. None of the belligerent powers in the Second World War used gas weapons.)
Also note the report in column 5: "French Battleship Will Join In Watch Over German Raider"
(Another message to the Germans that was not true.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of The Lowell Sun, Lowell, Massachusetts.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of the San Mateo Times, San Mateo, California.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
 
Note the headline: "Winnie Ruth Judd Captured In Yuma"
(The story in column 3, Ruth Judd Arrested At Phone. This was the end of her second reported escape since Oct. 1939.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of The Bakersfield Californian, Bakersfield, California.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)


December 15, 1939: Front page of the Hamburger Neueste Zeitung, Altona, Hamburg, Germany.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)
1. Die Luftkämpfe über den friesischen Inseln 10 britische Kampfflugzeuge abgeschossen.
(10 British aircraft shot down in dogfights over the Frisian Islands.)


December 15, 1939: A story from page 2 of the Hamburger Neueste Zeitung.
(Click on the image for a readable version.)



   
Page published Dec. 15, 2020