Before the outbreak of war, Prime Minister W.F. Massey had made it clear that New Zealand’s main contribution would be supplying troops to the major theatre of conflict. After 5 August 1914 preparations to do this were rapidly made. But before New Zealand could commit its troops to Europe, any direct threat in the Pacific region had to be removed. The first objective was to capture German Samoa.
The Germans had established a wireless station at Apia in Samoa. On 6 August the British informed the New Zealand government that the capture of German Samoa would be a ‘great and urgent Imperial service’. Australian intelligence advised that the station was protected by a German-officered constabulary of around 80 men and a gunboat. This was no match for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) of 1374 men, led by Colonel Robert Logan, which achieved its objective without resistance on 29 August. This was the second German territory, after Togoland in Africa, to fall to the Allies in the First World War.
On 23 August Japan declared war on Germany, assuring the Allies of naval dominance in the Pacific. The Japanese quickly set about capturing German territories north of the Equator.
After a delay while an adequate escort was provided, the main body of the NZEF left New Zealand on 16 October 1914. Originally it was intended that it would fight in France. This changed when the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) entered the war on the side of the Central Powers on 5 November.
New Zealand and Australian troops disembarked in Egypt to complete their training. From here they were sent to the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, in April 1915. More than 2700 New Zealanders died during this unsuccessful campaign.
After their evacuation from Gallipoli, New Zealand troops were sent to the Western Front (France and Belgium). The Gallipoli campaign and the birth of the Anzac legend have captured the imagination of generations of New Zealanders. But it is on the killing fields of the Western Front that most New Zealanders saw action and where most of them died – almost 12,500 in total.
In addition, a mounted rifles brigade participated in the Sinai–Palestine campaign. A small number of New Zealanders served with British naval and air forces, while others sailed in British and locally owned merchant ships.
New Zealand’s wartime strategy was to sustain the NZEF as its main contribution to the war effort while also keeping up the food production that was so vital to the survival of Britain. Reinforcement drafts left New Zealand at regular intervals throughout the war.