"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

110 countries, and a German battleship

A reader from a country I've often wanted to visit clicked on this blog today, marking the 110th country to have had a reader--Uruguay, in South America.
Officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, and about the size of Florida, it has a little over three million people and a long history dating to the Portuguese in 1680, followed by the Spanish. The country gained its independence in 1828 after a four way struggle between Brazil, Portugal, Spain and Argentina.  Since then it's been through typical turmoil, including democracy, insurrection, dictatorship and military rule. But free elections  restored democracy in 1984.
Its flag first appeared with independence. The stripes represent the country's departments, and the sun a new nation. The design comes from both Argentina and the U.S.
Uruguay gets its name from the Uruguay River that forms its western border, and the name perhaps comes from a native people's language, meaning painted birds.
The country first caught my attention as a history-loving teenager when I read about the first sea battle of WWII between the German pocket battleship KMS Graf Spee and the British navy. Three cruisers, HMS Exeter, Ajax and Achilles--an inferior force to the battleship, engaged the ship which was damaged enough to flee to Montevideo, neutral Uruguay's capital for repairs. Forced to leave, still damaged, and believing false British intelligence that a larger force was waiting to do battle, the ship was scuttled within sight of land, as people on the shore watched.. 
The Graf Spee had been at sea for three months in the South Atlantic and Indian ocean, sinking merchant ships, without loss of life. The captain offloaded the crews before sinking the ships. The battle was a boost to British morale and a setback for one of Hitler's bold steps to control the seas. It's a story that continues to grab the imagination.
If you're interested, here are five You Tube war-time and documentary videos of the engagement--one British, two German,one in Spanish and one in Italian.



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