Survivors of the first major naval battle of the Second World War will gather at Britain's National Memorial Arboretum to unveil a memorial commemorating the event. The Battle of the River Plate took place 75 years ago (December 1939), and less than a dozen veterans are still alive from this, the only episode of the war to take place in South America.
The remaining River Plate veterans will come together on Saturday, April 12 to unveil the Battle of the River Plate Memorial – the 300th at the Arboretum.
Located in the Royal Naval Review Area of the National Memorial Arboretum, this new memorial will be a lasting tribute to those who lost their lives in the battle and to the ships which fought it – His Majesty’s Ships Ajax, Achilles (Royal New Zealand Navy) and Exeter as well the German Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee.
Peter Danks, chairman of the HMS Ajax and River Plate Veterans Association, said how proud he was of the memorial.
“We are very proud to be unveiling our memorial which will ensure that all who took part in the Battle of the River Plate will be remembered always, and the fact that it’s the 300th memorial to be dedicated at this wonderful place gives our ceremony even greater significance”, said Peter Danks.
The Battle of the River Plate took place on December 13, 1939, when ships from the Royal Navy’s South American Division took on the might of Germany’s Graf Spee which had been attacking British merchant ships in the South Atlantic.
Commodore Henry Harwood, commanding Hunting Group G, ordered the cruisers HMS Ajax, Achilles and Exeter to an area east of the River Plate – an estuary between Argentina and Uruguay. On the morning of December 13 Exeter investigated smoke and signaled, “I think it is a Pocket Battleship”.
The Graf Spee initially fired on Exeter while Ajax and Achilles closed in causing significant damage to the German vessel. Graf Spee first took refuge in the port of Montevideo, but forced by Uruguayan authorities and British diplomacy had to abandon port. Fearing a mightier British fleet was on its way, Captain Langsdorff decided to scuttle the vessel in the River Plate. (Defense News).-