Events In History


The Battle for Crete

  • Page 1 – The Battle for Crete

    It remains the most dramatic battle ever faced by New Zealand forces. Over 12 brutal days in May 1941, the Allies fought off a massive German airborne assault on Crete. They almost succeeded.

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  • Page 2 – Overview

    The Battle for Crete in May 1941 is the most dramatic battle in which New Zealand forces have participated. For 12 days, with British, Australian and Greek troops and Cretan

  • Page 3 – The battle: days 1-3

    On 20 May 1941 the German attack began, focusing on the airfield at Maleme and the Canea area. Landing among or near concealed Allied defensive positions, the German glider-

  • Page 4 – The battle: days 4-6

    On 23 May New Zealand forces retreated from Maleme to the new line at Platanias. Troops stationed in the Galatas-Canea area had a relatively quiet day. So did those at Retimo

  • Page 5 – The retreat: days 7-9

    The Germans continued to advance eastwards across the island. British forces withdrew to a line east of Galatas. Freyberg realised that the loss of Crete was inevitable and

  • Page 6 – The evacuation: days 10-12

    The first ships left Sfakia for Egypt. The Germans finally entered Retimo, leaving the Australian defenders stranded. The garrison at Heraklion was evacuated by sea. Evacuation

  • Page 7 – Capitulation and capture

    The remnants of Creforce surrendered to the Germans. Those taken prisoner at Sfakia were marched back over the White Mountains to a prison camp near Galatas. Others escaped and

  • Page 8 – The controversies

    The Battle for Crete is the most contested event in New Zealand's military history. The nature of the battle, with a relatively clear sequence of events leading to an

  • Page 9 – Kiwi stories

    Selected audio extracts of New Zealanders involved in the Battle for Crete.

  • Page 10 – Further information

    This web feature was originally written by Megan Hutching and Ian McGibbon and produced by the NZHistory.net.nz team. In 2011 it was revised by Gareth Phipps. Links

US Forces in New Zealand

  • Page 1 – US forces in New Zealand

    Seventy years ago, in June 1942, the first American soldiers landed on New Zealand soil, to begin an 'invasion' which would have a profound impact on both visitors and hosts

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  • Page 2 – Overview

    Overview of US forces in New Zealand during the Second World War.

  • Page 3 – Arrival

    The invasion began in Auckland on 12 June 1942 when five transport ships carrying soldiers of the US Army sailed into the harbour. Two days later Marines landed in Wellington

  • Page 8 – Economic impact

    The presence of thousands of well-paid Americans in the country and a large army to service brought about a minor economic boom in New Zealand and some long-term effects on

  • Page 10 – The end or a beginning?

    The end of the American invasion was a gradual process which started in the last months of 1943. For some New Zealanders it was a relief to see the men go; for others it was

The Merchant Navy

  • Page 1 – The Merchant Navy in the Second World War

    3 September is Merchant Navy Day, which was first officially commemorated in New Zealand in 2010. The date marks the sinking of the first Allied merchant ship in 1939, just

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  • Page 2 – The longest lifeline

    An island nation half a world away from its main trading partner, New Zealand in the mid-20th century was overwhelmingly dependent on sea transport for its prosperity and

  • Page 4 – The Battle of the Atlantic

    Although it was waged half a world away, few military campaigns were as vital to New Zealand's interests as the Battle of the Atlantic. A German victory, which would have

  • Page 5 – No grave but the sea

    For the Merchant Navy the cost of victory was high: between 1939 and 1945 almost 5000 Allied and neutral merchant vessels (over 21 million tons' worth) were sunk, and around 60

  • Page 6 – Roll of honour

    This roll lists the names of seafarers who died while serving on New Zealand merchant ships and New Zealanders known to have been lost while sailing under the flags of other

Prisoners of War

  • Page 1 – Prisoners of War

    During the Second World War New Zealanders became prisoners of war in large numbers. Most Kiwi POWs were soldiers captured in Greece, Crete and North Africa. In total, more

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  • Page 2 – Capture

    Most of New Zealand's Second World War POWs were captured in the European theatre in the early stages of the war. Only about 100 New Zealand servicemen fell into Japanese hands

  • Page 3 – Incarceration

    The incarceration of most New Zealand army POWs began in transit camps where facilities were rudimentary in the extreme. Generally little more than holding pens, they were

  • Page 4 – Daily life

    POW camps tended to be rather bleak places. They could not, for security reasons, have trees and other greenery growing in them although many prisoners did receive seed from

  • Page 6 – Forced marches

    As the war drew to a close, POWs in the more eastern of the German camps were often gathered together at short notice and marched off under guard in a westerly direction

  • Page 8 – Liberation

    The prospect of liberation was a key to POWs' morale. But a great many had no intention of passively awaiting the arrival of Allied forces, an attitude that was reinforced by

  • Page 9 – Repatriation

    Attention was given to the problem of repatriating POWs long before 1945. A New Zealand repatriation unit was established in the United Kingdom under the command of Major-

  • Page 10 – The camps

    A list of Prisoner of War Camps where New Zealand POWs were held during the Second World War

The North African Campaign

  • Page 1 – The North African Campaign

    The second battle of El Alamein, which began 70 years ago this month, was the turning point of the war in North Africa. For New Zealand forces, this was longest and most

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  • Page 2 – Background

    Fighting in North Africa stemmed from the area’s strategic importance to the Commonwealth. Italy’s decision in June 1940 to enter the war on Germany’s side seriously

  • Page 3 – Operation Crusader

    As British forces crushed the Italians in Abyssinia, elements of the Deutsches Afrika Korps (German Africa Corps) began arriving in Libya and the 2nd New Zealand Division

  • Page 4 – El Alamein

    The New Zealand Division fell back to the Alamein Line, where it took part in the first Battle of El Alamein. They suffered heavy casualties at Ruweisat Ridge and El Mreir

  • Page 5 – Tunisia and victory

    The New Zealand Division enters Tunisia fighting fierce battles at Tebaga Gap and Takrouna. In May 1943 Axis forces in North Africa surrender and the New Zealanders begin a

  • Page 6 – The North African Campaign timeline

    Timeline showing key events of the Second World War, particularly New Zealand's involvement in North Africa.

  • Page 7 – Kiwi stories

    Selected audio extracts of New Zealanders involved in the North African Campaign.

VE and VJ days

  • Page 1 – VE and VJ days

    After over five years of rationing and anxiety about loved ones overseas, New Zealanders greeted the coming of peace in Europe in May 1945, and then victory over Japan in

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  • Page 2 – VE Day

    Germany surrendered in the early afternoon of 7 May 1945, New Zealand time. The news became known the next morning, with huge headlines in the morning papers. But the acting

  • Page 3 – VJ Day

    VJ Day, like VE Day, showed public regulation at work. Again the preparation had been considerable, and this time celebrations went more smoothly

The Italian Campaign

  • Page 1 – The Italian campaign

    Tens of thousands of New Zealanders fought their way up the boot of Italy from 1943 to 1945 as part of the vast multinational force assembled to roll back Axis aggression in

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  • Page 2 – Prelude

    The Allied decision to invade Italy arose from a combination of opportunism, misplaced hopes and coalition compromise.

  • Page 3 – Into action at the Sangro River

    The 'Div' was soon in action at the end of November. The New Zealanders were assigned the task of joining the Allied effort to breach the Gustav Line by attacking its

  • Page 4 – Cassino

    The Division was to enjoy only a brief respite before being called upon to participate in a new attack on a strong point which would prove the most tragically elusive prize of

  • Page 5 – Faenza, Trieste and home

    After a period of rest and recuperation, the 'Div' was back in action again in July as part of the Allied effort to breach the Germans' new so-called Gothic Line running from

  • Page 6 – Italian campaign timeline

    A brief outline of the key events of the Italian Campaign, particularly focusing on the involvement of New Zealand.

  • Page 7 – Kiwi stories

    Discover the stories of some of the New Zealanders who served in the Italian Campaign, 1943–1945

Second World War - overview

War in the Pacific

  • Page 1 – New Zealanders in the Pacific War

    Thousands of New Zealanders fought in the Pacific War, which was sparked by the Japanese bombing of the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. It was a

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  • Page 2 – The war against Japan

    United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it as 'a date which will live in infamy'  -  7 December 1941, the day the Japanese bombed the American naval

  • Page 3 – Changing fortunes

    In 1942 the Battle of the Coral Sea (7-8 May) and Battle of Midway (3-6 June) between the Japanese and United States navies left the United States with superior numbers of

  • Page 5 – Soldier's stories

    New Zealanders who served in the Pacific War had diverse experiences. They were involved in fighting in the jungle, some spent time in Japanese prisoner of war camps, others

  • Page 6 – Pacific War Timeline

    Key dates for New Zealand military involvement in the Pacific during the Second World War

Maori and the Second World War

  • Page 1 – Maori and the Second World War

    Despite some opposition, nearly 16,000 Maori enlisted for service during the Second World War. By 1945 the 28th (Maori) Battalion had became one of New Zealand's most

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  • Page 2 – Response to war

    Maori leaders offered men for both home defence and overseas service, and Maori requests for their own military unit followed, although not all wanted a Maori battalion.

  • Page 3 – Achievements

    The 28th (Maori) Battalion established a formidable reputation as one of New Zealand’s finest fighting forces.

Battle of the River Plate

Royal NZ Navy's Bird-class ships

The Second World War at home

  • Page 1 – The Second World War at home

    Nearly one and half million people spent the Second World War at home in New Zealand. For most, life changed: families and relationships were disrupted, government directives

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  • Page 2 – It's war again

    ‘The war to end all wars’

  • Page 3 – War work

    Ballot boys More families were hit with the unavoidable reality of the war in the middle of 1940.

  • Page 4 – Challenges

    Feeling threatened 'You wondered whether you'd go bush' From early in 1940, New Zealanders began to live in fear of attack or invasion, first by the Germans and later by

  • Page 5 – Hello and goodbye

    Yankee visitors For a year from June 1942 New Zealand became an important United States military base in the Pacific.

  • Page 6 – In dissent

    New Zealanders who publicly opposed the war were in a very small minority. They came from two main groups: communists and pacifists.

  • Page 7 – Back home

    Peace at last Two days stand out as signposts on the path to peace in 1945.

  • Page 8 – Interviewees

    This feature is based on the book by Alison Parr Home: Civilian New Zealanders remember the Second World War published by the Penguin Group in 2010.

HMNZS Leander

  • Page 1 – HMNZS Leander

    When the Royal New Zealand Navy came into being on 1 October 1941, its main combat units were two Leander-class cruisers: Achilles and Leander. Although its early war was

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  • Page 2 – Leander-class light cruisers

    Facts and stats about the Leander light cruiser ships

  • Page 3 – Leander goes to war

    By mid-1940 the Leander was escorting convoys in the Red Sea and Aden areas. In between escorting merchant ships, the cruiser further pummelled the Italian submarine Torricelli

  • Page 4 – Pacific attack

    After some early successes, the Leander's war came to an end when she was hit by a long-range Japanese torpedo

  • Page 5 – Recovery and repair

    The Leander was hit just abaft the ‘A’ boiler room. Four hundred and ninety kilograms of high explosive killed everyone in that boiler room and the blast, venting

  • Page 6 – Last days

    The Leander never fought under the New Zealand ensign again and was eventually scrapped in 1949


  • Page 2 – The grand plan

    The plans for the Allied invasion of France were conducted in great secrecy and over several months.

  • Page 3 – Supporting acts

    Massive supporting actions, including a complex plan designed to fool the Germans, assisted the landings at Normandy.

  • Page 8 – The battle for Europe

    The landings on 6 June 1944 were just the first part in a sustained campaign to break the war in Europe. For months after D-Day, planes flew over European cities, and the

Links - military history

Military mascots

The Royal New Zealand Navy


  • Fraser, Peter

    Peter Fraser, New Zealand’s wartime PM, led the nation for nine years. Respected rather than loved like Savage, many experts rate him our finest PM.

  • Savage, Michael Joseph

    Michael Joseph Savage, New Zealand’s first Labour PM, was probably also it's best-loved. His avuncular image hung in the homes of the Labour faithful for decades.

  • Cox, Geoffrey Sanford

    Just how did a boy born in Palmerston North come to witness first hand the impact of Stalinism, the rise of Hitler and the Spanish Civil War?

  • Freyberg, Bernard Cyril

    A First World War hero and commander of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Bernard Freyberg proved to be a charismatic and popular military leader who would later serve a term as Governor-General

  • Kain, Frances Ida

    As commander of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), Kitty Kain was one of New Zealand's most senior women military leaders during the Second World War.

  • Deere, Alan Christopher

    Alan Christopher Deere is possibly New Zealand’s most famous fighter pilot of the Second World War. He was also one of the luckiest – surviving several near death experiences to become one of the outstanding pilots of the Battle of Britain.

  • Clouston, Wilfrid Greville

    Wilfrid Greville Clouston was one of the first New Zealand air aces of the Second World War. He survived the Battle of Britain only to spend the majority of the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

  • Herrick, Michael James

    Michael James Herrick was one of five brothers to serve during the Second World War. He flew with distinction during the Battle of Britain and in the Pacific before being killed on air operations over Denmark.

  • Kippenberger, Howard Karl

    Leader of the 5th New Zealand Infantry Brigade in the North African desert campaigns of 1942 and 1943, Kippenberger was New Zealand’s most popular military commander, and perhaps its most talented.


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