“Battle of the River Plate” 70th anniversary Dec 12, 2009 16:22:12 GMT 12
Post by kiwithrottlejockey on Dec 12, 2009 16:22:12 GMT 12
War veteran's memories echo down the years
By DAVE EAMES - The New Zealand Herald | 4:00AM - Friday, December 11, 2009
Sixty-five years on, Vince McGlone remains every inch the sailor despite
hearing problems from unrelenting gunfire. — Photo: Steven McNicholl.
Eighty-two minutes of gunfire left Vince McGlone with a lifetime of hearing problems — not just deafness, but background noise, as well.
"It's not just a gentle little whistle, it's like a great diesel engine moving through your head."
The 93-year-old, from Torbay on Auckland's North Shore, was one of more than 300 Kiwis serving aboard the HMNZS Achilles when — accompanied by the HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter — it encountered the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, in the early days of World War II.
The ships had for days been following the Graf Spee, which had been picking off merchant vessels in the South Atlantic.
Finally, early on the morning of December 13, 1939, they found her about 400km off the coast of South America.
The Achilles was the first ship to open fire, turning its guns on the Graf Spee at 6.20am — a full minute ahead of the Ajax.
"And we never let her [the Ajax] forget it."
Though Mr McGlone did not take part in the fighting — his 10cm guns were too small to be effective — he watched from the gun director control tower as shells exploded all about him.
"The Yanks had a saying, there's no atheists in a foxhole. I changed it to, there's no atheists on a ship in action."
The unrelenting noise of battle also did for his hearing — and he still wears hearing aids.
After a pitched battle, the Graf Spee turned and headed for Montevideo, Uruguay.
After waiting it out in port for a few days, she was scuttled in the mouth of the River Plate on December 17.
The German crew were taken prisoner, the ship's captain — Hans Langsdorff — committed suicide.
Despite heavy damage to the trio of navy ships, the Battle of the River Plate is considered one of the Allies' early victories of the war.
This weekend marks the 70th anniversary, and though 12 Achilles crewmen remain alive, only six are fit enough to make the celebrations.
Mr McGlone — who went on to serve in a number of other major battles, including Okinawa — will be the oldest of the group, which will be attending services in Wellington and Auckland over the next three days.
Today, 65 years on, he remains every inch the sailor. He remembers his serial number — NZD1130 — and the former Mount Albert Grammar boy remembers the exact length of his service.
"From 15/1/32 to 18/6/44."
He keeps a battered notebook full of navy facts and figures in his chest pocket, and there's a faded, inky tattoo just visible on his left arm, peaking out from below his rolled up shirtsleeves.
On his return to New Zealand, Mr McGlone trained as a carpenter and joiner, working in Kaikohe and Auckland.
He never left the country again, and to this day has never held a passport.
"My passport was my white cap."
He has ignored the suggestions of family members that he take a cruise ship holiday, insisting "I have done hundreds of thousands of miles cruising".
And until today — when he will fly with his fellow returned servicemen to Wellington — he has never taken a commercial airline flight, either.
"I am quite happy where I am."
70TH ANNIVERSARY PROGRAMME
- Afternoon tea with Chief of Defence Force at Defence House, Wellington.
- Dinner, hosted by Chief of Navy. Navy personnel and guests, Wellington.
- Commemoration and wreath laying at the National War Memorial, Wellington.
- Wreath laying at Y-turret, Devonport Naval Base.
- Reception for veterans at HMNZS Philomel, Devonport Naval Base.
- Dawn karakia at Achilles Pt, St Heliers (indications are that no veterans will attend).
- Commemoration service at Achilles Pt, St Heliers.
- Reunion meet and greet at Takapuna RSA.
- Reunion luncheon at Takapuna RSA.
Old battlers gather to mark 70th anniversary
By HELEN MURDOCH in Nelson - The Press | 5:00AM - Saturday, 12 December 2009
Nelson's Arthur Hunt was a 19-year-old seaman when he took part in the Battle of the River Plate.
This weekend, the 89-year-old veteran will join five crewmates for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the battle, which marked New Zealand's first active engagement in World War II.
Hunt and his crewmates will be hosted at a remembrance ceremony at the National War Memorial in Wellington today and a ceremony in Auckland tomorrow.
The powerful German pocket battleship, the Admiral Graf Spree, had sunk several merchant ships in the Indian and South Atlantic oceans when she was hunted down in December 1939 off the River Plate by an Allied force of three ships that included New Zealand's HMS Achilles.
New Zealand Defence Force spokesman Andrew Cutler said Hunt, who is now profoundly deaf, was a 16-year-old "seaman boy" when he first joined the HMNZS Achilles.
Cutler said Hunt's action station on the vessel was in the forward magazine, two to three decks below the forward guns.
"His job was to put the shells and charges into a hoist that lifted them to the guns.
"The battle went on for 82 minutes and the Achilles fired around 200 broadsides — so it would have been very intense."
In a recorded oral history, Hunt said he heard the Graf Spree had been sighted on December 10, 1939, Cutler said.
"Three days later I was taking empty cocoa mugs down from the bridge when I heard the alarm," said Hunt in the history.
"Before I reached my action station there was a huge spout of water on the starboard side — the battle had begun."
The victory at River Plate was an important morale booster early in the war.
The warring vessels sighted each other off the River Plate estuary, between Uruguay and Argentina, at dawn on December 13.
The British split their ships to divide the Graf Spree's fire. In the ensuing battle the German battleship's fuel system was damaged, forcing it to seek shelter at Uruguay's neutral port, Montevideo.
The Achilles and other Royal Navy ships in the action, the Exeter and Ajax, shadowed the Graf Spree to the port, where its captain scuttled the vessel four days later.
The Achilles arrived back in Auckland on February 23, 1940 to a hero's welcome — as many as 100,000 people lined Queen Street when the ship's crew marched through.
In Dunedin, the River Plate commemorations will be combined with the annual service to mark the sinking of the HMS Neptune off Libya in December 1941, in which 150 New Zealanders died.
Some related Wikipedia webpages about the battle and the ships that took part....
• Battle of the River Plate
• German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee
• HMNZS Achilles
• HMS Exeter
• HMS Ajax