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Battle of the River Plate Commemorated

New Zealand Defence Force
Te Ope Kaatua O Aotearoa
Media Release
11 December 2009

70th Anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate Commemorated

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Achilles Arriving Home in Auckland

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HMNZS Achilles Welcome home

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Graf Spee on fire

Six veterans of the Battle of the River Plate will be joining the Royal New Zealand Navy this weekend for the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the battle.

Bob Batt, Arthur Hunt, Alfred Evans, Graham Bennett, Vince McGlone and Eddie Telford are among the surviving crew members from the cruiser HMS ACHILLES, which in 1939 was part of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy. ACHILLES was New Zealand’s contribution to the cruiser squadron that attacked and defeated the powerful German raider, the “pocket “battleship, ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE on 13 December.

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During the battle ACHILLES suffered one near-miss from an 11 inch (280 mm) shell which damaged the ship, killed four ratings and wounded seven other men, three seriously. After the battle ACHILLES together with the other Royal Navy ships in the action, EXETER and AJAX pursued ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE towards the neutral port of Montevideo. The German ship, which had 36 killed and 60 wounded, was scuttled off the port four days later.

The victory at River Plate was the first significant naval engagement of WW 2 and an important morale booster early in the war. ACHILLES arrived back in NZ to a hero’s welcome in Auckland on 23 February 1940. As many as 100,000 Aucklanders lined Queen Street when the ship's crew marched through the city. The ‘Y’ gun turret of ACHILLES and Director Control Tower are today mounted at the entrance to the Naval Base at Devonport.

Media are invited to attend the commemoration service and wreath laying on Saturday 12 December in Wellington and Auckland as well as events in Auckland on Sunday 13 December..


A short history of the battle can be accessed at the Navy Museum website:

Battle of River Plate 70th Anniversary Programme

Please note that the surviving crew members will be in attendance at the commemorations in Wellington and in Auckland.

The commemoration will include the following events:

Saturday 12th December

9.00am Commemoration and wreath laying at the National War Memorial, Buckle Street, Wellington*

5.45pm Wreath laying at Y-turret, Devonport Naval Base, Auckland**

6.00pm Reception for veterans HMNZS PHILOMEL, Devonport Naval Base

Sunday 13th December

Dawn Karakia at Achilles Point, St Heliers (indications are that no vets will attend)*

10.30–11.30am Commemoration Service at Achilles Point, St Heliers*

12.30pm Reunion Meet and Greet and then lunch, Takapuna RSA

*open to the public


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