Naval tragedy at Paekakariki

Tēnā tātou te iwi. Just recently we at NZHistory received a first hand account of an incident that occurred at Paekakariki in the winter of 1943. Ten United States naval personnel drowned in a training manoeuvre that went horribly wrong. The wartime need for secrecy might explain why this incident was kept quiet for so long. There were rumours at the time that something had gone wrong and some speculated that as many as a hundred men had drowned. Sixty-eight years after the event US Navy veteran Frank Zalot Jr one of the many thousands of US servicemen to spend time here has shared his account of what happened that fateful night. It is a remarkable story. Given what men had to endure in the Pacific theatre of war it seems especially tragic that ten men should lose their lives in this way.

Frank Zalot Jr’s story is part of the wider story of US forces in New Zealand. I think there is enormous potential here for schools looking for fresh ideas for their research topics. Those exploring the changing relationship with the United States as a consequence of the Pacific War will find this feature essential reading. At any one time between June 1942 and mid-1944 there were between 15,000 and 45,000 American servicemen in camp in New Zealand. Most spent time in New Zealand either before or immediately after experiencing the horrors of warfare on a Pacific island. American soldiers, marines, naval and merchant marine personnel had a stint in this country. The 'American invasion' (as New Zealanders affectionately called the event) brought a considerable clash of cultures. What gave the encounter its special romance was that the two peoples were sufficiently similar to communicate, but sufficiently different to find each other intriguing. The influx of so many young men from the other side of the Pacific (while so many young Kiwi men were overseas fighting) made for interesting times.

Tēnā koutou katoa.


Post your response here