Rust the deadly enemy for weapons of war

By Mike Barrington

Two mementos of New Zealand's military might are getting a facelift to fight their cruellest post-war foe - rust.

Restoration of a gun turret from the HMNZS Achilles - a Leander-class light cruiser famous for its role in the WW II Battle of the River Plate - and a 25-pound howitzer which Anzac troops used in France in WWI is under way at Maungatapere.

The turret, housing two four-inch guns with a range of 15km, and the howitzer have been standing in the weather since the late Graeme Craw acquired the former Maungatapere dairy factory shop and milk powder stores after the factory was closed in 1988.

Mr Craw's wife, Moira, their son Fenton and his wife Geraldine are now working to preserve the guns for exhibition in the Packard and Pioneer Museum the family has established on the site.

Achilles was commissioned in 1933 and served with the Royal Navy until transferred to the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1941.

About 60 per cent of her wartime crew of 680 men were New Zealanders.

In 1939, the Achilles, along with two other British cruisers, HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax, engaged the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee off the estuary of the River Plate close to the south-east coast of South America.

The Graf Spee's fuel system was crippled in the battle. She was taken to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay for repairs and when her captain was told he could stay only 72 hours, he scuttled his damaged ship rather than face the Achilles and Ajax waiting for his departure.

The Achilles was sold to the Indian Navy in 1948 and scrapped in 1978.

Her guns were returned to New Zealand and a turret housing two eight-inch guns is now on display at the Devonport naval base.

Packard and Pioneer Museum manager Richard Easton said the Maungatapere guns were being moved to the back of the museum site for sandblasting and painting with epoxy resin to rid them of rust.

The work was financed by a grant from the Four Winds Trust. More funding will be sought to enable further restoration, so the guns would be looking far smarter when they were put back on public display, in about a year.

- Northern Advocate

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