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Trapped in the harbour of Montevideo, Uruguay, by the three British warships named in this song, the damaged German “pocket” battleship Admiral Graf Spee was ordered scuttled by her captain, Hans Langsdorff, on December 17, 1939. Two days later Langsdorff shot himself as a matter of honour.
Thus the first significant Allied naval victory of the war inspired this parody of one of 1939’s biggest musical hits, Kennedy and Carr’s “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way).” Anthony Burgess wrote years later that he’d heard the Graf Spee ballad sung by a British sailor in a London pub on Christmas Day, just one week after the event. Submariner Cyril Tawney first heard of the song in 1958, but it wasn’t till 1983 that he was able to secure a copy.