Captain Langsdorff, after making arrangements for his crew, retired to his room, and wrote his final letters. He then lay down on a German battle flag and shot himself in the head.
The letter left by Langsdorff, addressed to the German ambassador, Buenos Aires:
Dec. 19, 1939
After a long struggle I reached the grave decision to scuttle the Admiral Graf Spee, in order to prevent her from falling into enemy hands. I am still convinced that under the circumstances this decision was the only one left, once I had taken my ship into the trap of Montevideo. For with the ammunition remaining, any attempt to fight my way back to open and deep water was bound to fail. And yet only in deep water could I have scuttled the ship, after having used the remaining ammunition, thus avoiding her falling to the enemy.
Sooner than expose my ship to the danger that after a brave fight she would fall partly or completely into enemy hands. I decided not to fight but to destroy the equipment and then scuttle the ship. It was clear to me that this decision might be consciously or unwittingly misconstrued by persons ignorant of my motives, as
being attributable entirely or partly to personal considerations. Therefore I decided from the beginning to bear the consequences involved in this decision. For a captain with a sense of honor, it goes without saying that his personal fate cannot be separated from that of his ship.
I postponed my intention as long as I still bore responsibility for decisions concerning the welfare of the crew under my command. After today’s decision of the Argentine government, I can do no more for my ship’s company. Neither will I be able to take an active part in the present struggle of my country. I can now only prove by my death that the fighting services of the Third Reich are ready to die for the honor of the flag.
I alone bear the responsibility for scuttling the Admiral Graf Spee. I am happy to pay with my life for any possible reflection on the honor of the flag. I shall face my fate with firm faith in the cause and the future of the nation and of my Führer. I am writing this letter to Your Excellency in the quiet of the evening, after a calm deliberation, in order that you may be able to inform my superior officers, and to counter public rumors if this should become necessary.
Kapitän zur See Hans Langsdorff