Decorated Achilles veteran dies
An old sailor who became a television star reciting God Defend New Zealand in one of the navy’s more successful recruiting commercials has died, the Royal New Zealand Navy says.
Vince ‘‘Cyclone’’ McGlone, a gunner aboard one of three Royal Navy ships to pursue the German pocket battleship Graf Spee to its doom in December 1939, died on March 12 at age 97. One of the last survivors in the Battle of the River Plate from either side, he became better known last year for his gruff but strong reciting of the national anthem.
HMS Achilles was part of the Royal Navy’s New Zealand Division and, after the battle, was a founding vessel of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
‘‘I extend the navy’s deepest regrets and condolences to Vince’s family,’’ chief of navy Rear Admiral Jack Steer says.
‘‘Vince was a great character who loved to visit Devonport Naval Base and yarn with today’s generation of sailors.’’
Mr McGlone celebrated his 97th birthday last year in a galley named after him at the base, sharing colourful stories from his 14-year career in the navy.
He was raised one of three children in Kingsland and enlisted as a boy sailor just shy of his 16th birthday.
Mr McGlone was promoted to ordinary seaman two years later and posted to the HMS Diomede as a gunner.
He was made an able seaman soon after and boarded HMS Achilles, the cruiser on which he would experience the glory and brutality of war.
Achilles was patrolling South American waters when it opened fire on the Graf Spee, a battleship far superior in its fighting capabilities, about 6.20am on December 13, 1939.
In the 82 minutes that followed Mr McGlone said he and his fellow gunners fired in excess of 220 broadsides at the enemy ship, forcing her to retreat into the neutral port of Montevideo.
Her captain scuttled the ship four days later, choosing to preserve the lives of his 1000 sailors rather than re-engage in battle.
Mr McGlone’s memories were marred by the casualties. Achilles lost four crew members and many more were injured. He said he was just four feet away when a control tower was hit, killing his shipmates.
‘‘The Spee should’ve blown us out of the water. We were laid down to go 32 knots and in the battle we got up to 35. They weren’t expecting that speed and so we put them off their aim.’’
He said the Spee burnt for three days after the battle as they celebrated the triumph aboard the Achilles.
‘‘Unfortunately there was no open bar on the ship.’’
Mr McGlone wore six medals – the Atlantic Star, the Pacific Star, the British War Medal, New Zealand War Medal, New Zealand Occupational Medal and Japanese Occupation Medal.
He lived alone in Torbay since his wife Patricia died five years ago. He has six children and 12 grandchildren.
Navy treasure: The eldest navy veteran Vince ‘‘Cyclone’’ McGlone celebrating his 97th birthday last year with chief of navy Rear Admiral Jack Steer.
In service: The eldest navy veteran Vince ‘‘Cyclone’’ McGlone during his service years.
Go to aucklandcityharbour news.co.nz and click Latest Edition to view the God Defend New Zealand navy recruiting commercial.