merchant navy

Events In History


The Merchant Navy

  • The Merchant Navy

    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 hours after the Second World War began. This is the story of the 'fourth service' at war.

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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 3 – Under the Southern Cross

    New Zealand's domestic shipping industry played a vital role during the war. A small tributary of the vast British shipping empire, it was largely confined to 'short-sea' (

  • 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, 1939-45

    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 7 – Merchant Navy timeline

    An outline of some of the key events relating to the war at sea and merchant shipping in the Second World War, with a particular focus on New Zealand involvement.

  • Page 8 – Further information

    This web feature was written by Neill Atkinson and produced by the team. Links Allied merchant seamen of World War II: this Canadian-based site contains


  • D-Day

    It was one of the largest amphibious landings in history. On 6 June 1944 a huge Allied military machine embarked on the invasion of German-occupied France. Thousands of New Zealand sailors and airmen were on active duty that day.

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  • Page 6 – New Zealanders at sea

    By 1944 more than 4700 New Zealanders were based in the United Kingdom and were serving in Royal Navy ships.

Merchant marine

  • Merchant marine

    On 3 September New Zealand honours Merchant Navy Day. Here we explore the little-known but vital role played by the merchant marine during the First World War, when these civilian seafarers often found themselves in the front line of the war at sea.

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  • Page 3 – The Otaki's epic battle

    Many Home boats were lost, especially in 1917-18 when Germany stepped up its submarine warfare against Allied commerce. One action stood out, an epic battle between the New

Prisoners of War

  • 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 than 8000 were held in captivity - one in 200 of New Zealand's population at the time.

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  • Page 2 - CaptureMost 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,

War oral history programme