Tuesday, 1 July 2008

The Rout of the 'Deutschland' - Euro2008

Fernando's Torrefic 37th minute goal effectively put the lid on any German aspirations to lift the European cup yesterday (30 June). Bamboozled by the pixies in red, Germany were sweet pickings when they got hot under the collar. Notwithstanding a condescending press, Spain, rather suavely, practically streaked past the Germans to the finish line.

A sombre, chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, had not even a half-smile for Spanish cap Casillas - the only goalkeeper to achieve so much - when he went to receive his glittering reward.

The battle on land had been won.

But at sea, their histories were hopelessly intertwined. The German warship the Deutschland was a ghostly presence skirting Spain's borders at sea during the Spanish Civil war. Built at Kiel the Deutschland was commissioned on 1 April 1933. Her maiden voyage was from Germany's only deep sea port, Wilhelmshaven, in the North near Bremen, back to Kiel mid-May 1933.

After the outbreak of the Spanish civil war on 17 July 1936 Deutschland set off from Wilhelmshaven for Spanish waters on 24 July. The intention was to evacuate refugees, and Germans. After anchoring briefly at San Sebastian in Northern Spain contact was made with both Republican and Nationalist harbours, refugees taken on board and passed on to the 26 merchant vessels chartered for evacuation purposes.

After an elaborate voyage which entailed visits to Bilbao, Gijon, and Corunna, the Deutschland visited Cadiz, Almeria, Ceuta and Malaga - before anchoring in Barcelona and thence returning to Wilhelmshaven on 30 August 1936, its operation complete - however, not without being perceived by the Republicans as a hostile presence.

On 24 May 1937, on its fourth operation in Spain, the Deutschland anchored at Palma, Mallorca in the Mediterranean. Since Republican aircraft straffed the town the Deutschland left Palma and arrived at Ibiza.

On 29 May 1937 at 1840 four Republican destroyers and two light cruisers - Libertad and Mendez-Nunez were seen approaching and immediately afterwards two aircraft were reported astern 'out of the sun'. Two 50 kg bombs struck the Deutschland. The anti-aircraft guns were not manned - a serious lapse after the close shave at Mallorca. The casualty list - 31 dead 110 wounded. By the time the Deutschland reached Gibralter - a British outpost in Southern Spain- she had 35 seriously wounded.

On 1 June 1937 British authorities arranged a military funeral for the German dead in the late afternoon, but on order from Hitler the bodies were exhumed on the 11th - the coffins being brought alongside the Deutschland by a smaller boat and placed under one of its turrets with an honour guard - and the vessel set sail homewards for Wilhelmshaven.

The Deutschland berthed at Wilhelmshaven in the evening of 15 June 1937 where the coffins were conveyed by lorry in a torchlit procession to the military cemetery. On the 17 June 1937 a mass burial was held in Wilhelmshaven, attended by Hitler and many thousand onlookers. No doubt Germany and Spain will meet once more on the football field, but though they are competitors on the field, they share a common past - as the 'Deutschland' (the name for Germany in the German language) will testify.

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