Further to my blog about marking our history in Franklin, (as we are in the years of having notable historical events to recount), is a little info about connections to possibly one of the most famous kiwi warships, HMS Archilles – being the first NZ unit to engage the enemy in WWII.
When the cruiser HMS Achilles opened fire on the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic, at 6.21 a.m. on 13 December 1939, it became the first New Zealand unit to strike a blow at the enemy in the Second World War. With the New Zealand ensign flying proudly from its mainmast – as battle loomed, a signalman had run aft with the ensign shouting ‘Make way for the Digger flag!’ – Achilles also became the first New Zealand warship to take part in a naval battle.
The 82-minute engagement between the Graf Spee and its three smaller British opponents – Achilles, Ajax and Exeter – was inconclusive. All four were damaged, with the British ships suffering 72 fatalities (among them two New Zealanders) to the Graf Spee’s 36. But the German warship’s subsequent withdrawal to the neutral Uruguayan port of Montevideo, and its dramatic scuttling by its own crew on 17 December, turned the Battle of the River Plate into a major British victory – and a welcome morale boost for the Allied cause.
Achilles’ role in the battle was a special source of pride for New Zealanders, who welcomed the ship’s crew home at huge parades in Auckland and Wellington in early 1940.
The original Admirals Barge that was aboard the Archilles, was found on Waiheke Island and a Waiuku local managed to purchase the barge for restoration.
Franklin, as with other parts of the country and the world, has it’s share of history – albeit, younger than overseas, but history none-the-less! and here we have descendants of crew who served on the Archilles, as I can personally vouch for.