Events In History
17 December 1944Major Major, mascot of 19 Battalion, dies of sickness
Major Major, No. 1 Dog, 2NZEF, and member/mascot of 19 Battalion since 1939, died of sickness in Italy. He was buried with full military honours at Rimini. Read more...
19 August 1944Kiwi pilot's sacrifice saves French village
As his damaged Hawker Typhoon fighter-bomber rapidly lost height, Pilot Officer James Stellin struggled to avoid crashing into Saint-Maclou-la-Brière, a village of 370 people. He succeeded, but at the cost of his own life. The villagers gave him a hero’s funeral and have honoured his memory ever since. Read more...
16 August 1944CORSO formed
CORSO was set up to support aid efforts in war-torn nations. It became increasingly involved in the developing world and also spoke out about poverty in New Zealand. Read more...
15 March 1944NZ forces capture Castle Hill at Cassino
The 6th NZ Brigade attacked the Italian town of Cassino as part of the Allies’ advance on Rome. By the time the NZ Division was withdrawn in early April, 343 New Zealanders had lost their lives. Read more...
24 May 1943Turning point in Battle of the Atlantic
In the Battle of the Atlantic, one of the most important campaigns of the Second World War, 24 May 1943 was a crucial date. Thousands of New Zealanders took part in this long and bitter struggle. Read more...
11 November 1942Troopship Awatea goes down fighting
New Zealand's finest pre-war passenger liner, the Union Steam Ship Company's Awatea, was sunk by German and Italian bombers after landing Allied troops on the North African coast. Read more...
15 October 1942NZ coastwatchers executed by the Japanese
Seventeen New Zealand coastwatchers and five civilians who had been captured in the Gilbert Islands in August-September 1942 were beheaded at Betio, Tarawa. Read more...
17 August 1942Attack on the Nino Bixio
118 New Zealand prisoners of war died when the Italian transport ship Nino Bixio was torpedoed in the Mediterranean Sea by a British submarine. Read more...
12 June 1942First US troops arrive in Auckland
Between 1942 and 1944 about 100,000 American servicemen were stationed in New Zealand as part of the Allies' counter-offensive against Japan. This American ‘invasion’ led to a considerable clash of cultures. Read more...
8 December 1941New Zealand declares war on Japan
New Zealand's declaration followed the surprise attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japan also attacked Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaya. Read more...
2 October 1941NZ pilot saves Scottish village
In October 1941, New Zealand Spitfire pilot Carlyle Everiss heroically sacrificed his life to save the Scottish village of Cowie from serious damage. Read more...
20 May 1941German paratroops assault Crete
The Battle for Crete raged for 12 days before the Allies were driven off the island. Casualties were high on both sides. More than 650 New Zealanders were killed and 2000 taken prisoner. Read more...
14 May 1941NZ minesweeper sunk off Bream Head
The minesweeper HMS Puriri was the second victim of mines laid off the Northland coast by the German raider Orion. Five of its crew were killed. Read more...
24 April 1941Sinking of the Hellas
Disaster struck during the evacuation of Allied forces from Greece when a large number of civilians and Commonwealth troops, including New Zealanders, were killed while they were boarding the Greek yacht Hellas at the port of Piraeus, near Athens. Read more...
27 November 1940Liner sunk by German raiders off East Cape
The 16,712-ton New Zealand Shipping Company liner Rangitane was intercepted and sunk 550 km off East Cape, with the loss of 15 lives. Read more...
20 August 1940Turakina sunk by German raider in Tasman
It was the Tasman Sea's first naval battle. The New Zealand Shipping Company freighter Turakina was intercepted and sunk by the Orion nearly 500 km off the Taranaki coast with the loss of 36 lives. Twenty survivors were taken prisoner. Read more...
19 June 1940Niagara sunk by German mines off Northland
The Second World War arrived in New Zealand with a bang when the trans-Pacific liner Niagara was sunk by a German mine off the Northland coast. All 349 people on board were rescued. Read more...
7 June 1940Fighter ace Edgar ‘Cobber’ Kain killed
Known to others as ‘Killer Kain’, the Hastings-born pilot's exploits flying Hurricanes for the RAF’s No. 73 Squadron in the opening year of the Second World War had made him a household name. Read more...
13 December 1939Battle of the River Plate
The cruiser HMS Achilles goes into action against the German 'pocket battleship' Admiral Graf Spee, becoming the first New Zealand warship to take part in a naval battle. Read more...
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Page 1 – New Zealand and the Second World War
The Second World War was the greatest conflict ever to engulf the world. It took the lives of 50 million people, including one in every 150 New Zealanders, and shaped the world
Page 2 – Fighting for Britain
New Zealand was one of the first countries to become involved in the global conflict precipitated by Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. Its 2176-day involvement
Page 3 – The Second NZ Expeditionary Force
Strategy determined that New Zealanders involved in combat with Germans would mostly do so at a distance from New Zealand. New Zealand's security, it was accepted, depended on
Page 4 – Counting the cost
The Second World War was New Zealand's greatest national effort to date. About 140,000 men and women were dispatched overseas to serve in fighting formations, 104,000 in 2NZEF
Page 5 – Opposition to war
Over 800 conscientious objectors were sent to detention camps in New Zealand during the Second World War
Page 6 – Second World War timeline
A brief outline of the key events of the Second World War, particularly focusing on the involvement of New Zealand.
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
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
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
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.
Page 1 – Battle of the River Plate
When HMS Achilles opened fire on the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee on 13 December 1939, it became the first NZ unit to engage the enemy in the Second
Page 2 – New Zealand's naval forces
New Zealand's naval forces and strategy before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Page 3 – The outbreak of war
The outbreak of the Second World War and New Zealand naval involvement in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Page 4 – Into the South Atlantic
HMS Achilles joins the Royal Navy's South America Division patrolling the South Atlantic in search of German raiders.
Page 5 – The battle
The British cruisers Achilles, Ajax and Exeter engage the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee in battle.
Page 6 – After the battle
The aftermath of the battle and the return of HMS Achilles to New Zealand.
Page 1 – The Royal NZ Navy's Bird-class ships
October 2011 marks the 70th anniversary of the formation of the Royal New Zealand Navy. In 1941 the new navy had three brand-new ships – the Moa, Kiwi and Tui –
Page 2 – 'Pocket corvettes'
The Birds were unusual. Although they looked a little like the Admiralty’s Isles-class minesweeping trawlers, their extended forecastles gave them more of a naval look
Page 3 – Early wartime duties
When the ships finally arrived at Auckland between April and August 1942, after lengthy voyages, they joined the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla
Page 4 – Moa and Kiwi bag a sub
On the night of 29 January Kiwi and Moa were patrolling along Kamimbo Bay, on the north-western corner of Guadacanal when Kiwi detected a submarine
Page 5 – The sinking of the Moa
On 7 April 1943, while refuelling from the American oil barge Erskine M. Phelps at Tulagi Harbour, in the Solomons, the Moa came under attack from Japanese aircraft
Page 6 – The Tui goes hunting
The minesweeper Tui’s turn to claim a scalp came in August 1943
Page 7 – Peacetime years
The RNZN downsized after the war, although it remained much bigger than the pre-war New Zealand Division.
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
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.
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
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
Page 4 – Second World War
Second World War Resources
- Page 4 - Second World War
Page 3 – Second World War mascots
Second World War mascots, including the dogs Major Major and Colonel Ben and Rommel the cat
- Page 3 - Second World War mascotsSecond World War mascots, including the dogs Major Major and Colonel Ben and Rommel the
Page 5 – Second World War
On 1 October 1941 an order-in-council changed the name of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy to Royal New Zealand Navy.
- Page 5 - Second World WarOn 1 October 1941 an order-in-council changed the name of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy to Royal New Zealand
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.Read more...
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.Read more...
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?Read more...
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-GeneralRead more...
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.Read more...
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.Read more...
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.Read more...
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.Read more...
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.Read more...
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