The Scuttling of the Battleship Admiral Graf Spee at River Plate
An article from the Taranaki Daily News
Family Photos - kindly supplied by Karen Kivell (Taiapa)
Able Seaman Walter Kivell
Walter Henry Kivell born at Petone 1914.
Walter joined the Navy in his teens and was on board the Achilles in December of 1939 when the German Battleship Graf Spee was scuttled in the River Plate.
How through a cunning ruse, the Admiral Graf Spee tried to divert H.M.S. Achilles from the running fight as she fled into the River Plate to find refuge for her battlescarred hull at Montevideo, was revealed by Able Seaman W. Kivell, at present on leave from the Achilles, in the course of an interview with a Daily News reporter at Hawera.
Another little known feature of the engagement revealed by Able Seaman Kivell was that for several hours many aboard the Achilles were under the impression that they were fighting the Admiral Scheer, the Admiral Graf Spee's sister ship.
Able Seaman Kivell is a son of Mrs H.M. Wills Hawera.
Called from his bed in the forecastle to his station in the B gun turret, that is the second turret forward, shortly after 6 am on the day of the fight, Able Seaman Kivell said that he and his mates were told that the fight was with the Admiral Scheer, a sister ship of the Admiral Graf Spee and almost identical in appearance.
Like the majority of a warship's complement during an engagement, Able Seaman Kivell and his companions did not sight the enemy. Shut away in the armour- plated gun turret they went about their deadly work, taking orders from the control tower, and firing as ordered.
Throughout the day, and well into the night the men remained at their stations in the turret, each busy with his appointed task - all the while thinking that their efforts were intended for the Admiral Scheer. Then, late at night, as the Admiral Graf Spee was relentlessly pursued into the entrance to the River Plate, she wirelessed the Achilles, saying that she had sunk a British merchant ship, which had been in the vicinity some time in the forenoon - would the Achilles pick up the survivors? The message was cited as coming from the Admiral Graf Spee, and it was then that the men knew that they had been fighting the Admiral Graf Spee. But the Achilles did not turn back, the Ajax ensuring the message was false.
Describing the impressions of the fight, Able Seaman Kivell said that when the engagement opened the Achilles was firing at the enemy at a range of about seven miles, but later this was reduced to about five - a more effective range for the guns of the lighter British ships.
Speaking of the inglorious end of the German pocket battleship, Able Seaman Kivell said that the Achilles and other British vessels, in the belief that the Admiral Graf Spee would fight, were waiting outside the River Plate in battle formation. When the news was received that the Admiral Graf Spee had sealed her own doom, the Achilles and other vessels went closer towards the scene to see the ship burning fiercely after being blown up.
Able Seaman Kivell, who has 14 days leave from his ship is a married man with one child, and had been in the navy for a number of years prior to joing the Achilles. When H.M. S. Diomede left the New Zealand station in 1935 in the course of an errand during the Abyssinian trouble, Able Seaman Kivell was aboard , finally leaving the ship in England, where he joined the new Achilles. He has been on the Achilles ever since. Able Seaman Kivell had some of his schooling at Hawera. Although he subsequently worked at Stratford and Eltham, he entered the naval service from Hawera.
Walter also served on other ships including the Monowai, Philomel, Diomede, Tamaki, Gambia.
After his discharge from the navy Walter worked for New Zealand Railways. He was married to Thelma Smith and they had two sons, Walter James Henry Kivell and Stanley Trevor Kivell. Walter died of cancer in December 1983 at Auckland. The family resided at 10 Wellpark Avenue, Grey Lynn, Auckland.
History of the H.M.S. ACHILLES
HMS Achilles a Leander Class Cruiser built by Cammell Laird and laid down on the 11th June 1931, launched 1st september 1932 and completed 6th October 1933, served with the new Zealand Navy from 1937 to 1943, HMS Achilles served in the South Atlantic 1939 taking a major role in the battle of the River Plate against the Graf Spee, firing a total of 1242 6-inch shells in the action. receiving splinter damage from near misses. Loaned to the newly formed New Zealand navy (along with her sister ship HMS Leander) 1940 to 1943, returning to the home Fleet 1943 - 1944 and then to the Pacific Fleet in 1945. In 1948 she was sold to the Indian Navy and renamed Delhi. arriving there after refit in September 1948. In the 1953 film Battle of the River Plate she played her self in the film. She again saw service in the action to seize Goa by a small naval force in 1961. Seeing no further service until 1969 when she visited Australia, new Zealand and Fiji. after which she was based on harbor duty at Cochin finally being paid of in 1977.
History of the H.M.S. ACHILLES
Specifications for H.M.S. ACHILLES
Displacement: 7,030 tons Speed: 32.5kt Complement: 550
Armament: Eight 6 inch guns in pairs. Eight 4 inch anti-aircraft guns in pairs and eight 2pdr anti-aircraft guns in pairs as well as twelve 0.5 inch machine guns in fours. Eight 21 inch torpedo tubes in pairs and 1 aircraft.
Information kindly suplied by Flora Chisnall  
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