Hein Dick was a crewman on the Graf Spee who was interned in Argentina after the Battle of the River Plate. During his time in the country he married an Argentinean, but just before the end of the war Argentina declared war on Germany, and as a result all of the internees had to go home when the conflict ended. Hein thus spent several years in post-war Germany before finally managed to return to his wife in Argentina, where he lived for the rest of his life. This biography has been written by his son Enrique, and covers his father's entire life.
The book falls into two halves. After an introduction as we fellow Hein and his comrades on the way to Argentina, the first half looks at his life in Germany and time in the Kriegsmarine. He was soon posted to the Graf Spee, and was on the ship for some time before the outbreak of the Second World War. We follow the ship on its successful commerce raiding cruise, through the battle of the River Plate and to its eventual scuttling in the mouth of the river. Hein was in Turret A during the battle, and only really experienced it as a series of rumbling noises, so was surprised to see the damage to the ship after the fighting ended.
The second half of the book looks at Hein's time in internment in Argentina, his experiences in post-war Germany, and his eventual return to Argentina. I found both halves of the book interesting, but for me the second half was best, covering an entirely unfamiliar topic. The German sailors weren't prisoners of war, and Hein's group was allowed to live in their own almost independent community in the Argentinean interior. There is almost a feel of the 'Swiss Family Robinson' to this part of the book, as the sailors built their new homes from scratch, produced their own food and explored their new surroundings. They were supported by the local German community, and many, including Hein, married local girls.
This didn't stop the Argentinean authorities from deporting Hein at the end of the war, so we get a view of live in battered post-war Germany. This must have come as a great shock to Hein, who hadn't seen Germany since 1939, when it was largely untouched by the conflict. It took several years for Hein to get permission to return to his wife in Argentina, but after his return he established a successful business.
The post-war period also saw a number of reunions of the survivors of the Graf Spee, and as time went by an increasing number of men from the Allied ships involved in the battle. The accounts of these reunions are also of great interest, demonstrating the way in which time softened the attitudes of the veterans, but also becoming the venue for arguments over issues such as the insignia used on the graves of Captain Langsdorff and other sailors who had died after the battle.
This is a high quality biography that covers an interesting and unfamiliar topic, and comes highly recommended.
1 - Escape to Buenos Aires
2 - The Early Years
3 - In the Kriegsmarine
4 - Illustrious Name, Illustrious Ship
5 - Life Onboard
6 - All in a Day's Sailing
7 - War Breaks Out
8 - Battle Stations
9 - From Buenos Aires to Capilla Vieja
10 - Internment: The Worst of Times, the Best of Times
11 - Prisoner of War
12 - Return to Germany
13 - Return to Argentina
14 - The Final Years
Author: Enrique Dick
Publisher: WIT Press