Events In History


The Battle for Crete

  • The Battle for Crete

    It remains the most dramatic battle ever fought by New Zealand forces. Over 12 brutal days in May 1941 the Allies opposed a massive German airborne assault on the Mediterranean island of 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 11 – Further information

    This web feature was originally written by Megan Hutching and Ian McGibbon and produced by the NZHistory team.

US Forces in New Zealand

  • US Forces in New Zealand

    The first American soldiers landed on New Zealand soil in June 1942, beginning an 'invasion' which would have a profound impact on both visitors and hosts over the next 18 months.

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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 Waitematā Harbour. Two days later, Marines landed in

  • Page 8 – Economic impact

    The presence of thousands of well-paid Americans in New Zealand as part of a large army which needed provisioning sparked a minor economic boom that had some long-term effects

  • Page 10 – The end or a beginning?

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

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 – 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 seeds from

  • Page 6 – Forced marches

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

  • Page 8 – Liberation

    The prospect of liberation was 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 the

  • 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 in which New Zealand POWs were held during the Second World War

  • Page 11 – Further information

    This web feature was written by Megan Hutching and Ian McGibbon and produced by the NZHistory team.BooksD.O.W.

VE and VJ days

  • 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 August, with understandable relief and enthusiasm.

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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 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 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


  • 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 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

The North African Campaign

  • 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 important land campaign of WWII. But victory came at a heavy price: between 1941 and 1943, 14,000 Kiwis were killed, wounded or became prisoners of war.

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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.

The Italian Campaign

  • 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 far-flung theatres of war across the globe

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  • 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 eastern

  • Page 2 – Prelude

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

  • 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

  • Second World War - overview

    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 that we have lived in ever since.

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  • 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 those involving New Zealand.

  • Page 7 – Further information

    This web feature was written by Ian McGibbon and produced by the NZHistory team.LinksOfficial histories of the New Zealand's participation in the Second World War - (NZ

War in the Pacific

  • War in the Pacific

    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 conflict fought on a vast scale over huge distances. For the New Zealanders, this was a war fought close to home.

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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

Māori and the Second World War

  • Māori and the Second World War

    Despite some opposition, nearly 16,000 Māori enlisted for service during the Second World War. By 1945, 28 (Maori) Battalion had became one of New Zealand's most celebrated and decorated units. But Māori contributed to the war effort in many different ways, at home and overseas.

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  • Page 2 – Response to war

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

  • Page 4 – Achievements

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

Military mascots

  • Military mascots

    New Zealanders have one of the highest pet-ownership rates in the world. Wartime was no different. Take a tour through this menagerie of military mascots: dogs, cats, donkeys, monkeys, pigs, goats and birds. There's the famous bull terrier Major Major, along with the less well-known, but very cute, slow loris adopted by 1 RNZIR in Borneo.

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  • Page 3 – Second World War mascots

    Second World War mascots, including the dogs Major Major and Colonel Ben and Rommel the cat

Battle of the River Plate

  • 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 New Zealand unit to engage the enemy in the Second World War. More than 80 years later, the Battle of the River Plate still holds a special place in this country’s naval history.

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  • 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 ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee.

  • Page 6 – After the battle

    The aftermath of the battle and the return of HMS Achilles to New Zealand.

Royal NZ Navy's Bird-class ships

  • 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 – working up or fitting out in Scotland. These little Bird-class minesweepers would see dramatic action in the Pacific War.

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  • 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 8 – Further information

    Links and books relating to New Zealand Bird-classs minesweepers

The Second World War at home

  • 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 controlled people’s lives and, for many, there was the constant threat of terrible loss.

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  • Page 2 – It's war again

    ‘The war to end all wars’

  • Page 3 – War work

    Ballot boys

  • 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 the

  • Page 5 – Hello and goodbye

    Yankee visitors

  • 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 lastTwo days stand out as signposts on the path to peace in 1945. The first was VE Day – Victory in Europe – declared on 8 May, a day after Germany surrendered.

  • 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 9 – Further information

    This feature was compiled by Imelda Bargas and produced by the NZHistory team.

HMNZS Leander

  • 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 quieter than the Achilles, the Leander was to see dramtic action in the Pacific War.

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  • Page 2 – Leander-class light cruisers

    Facts and stats about Leander-class light cruisers

  • Page 3 – Leander goes to war

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

  • Page 4 – Pacific attack

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

  • Page 5 – Recovery and repair

    Leander was hit just abaft the ‘A’ boiler room. Almost 500 kg of high explosive killed everyone in the boiler room. The blast, venting up through the boiler room duct, blew

  • Page 6 – Last days

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

  • Page 7 – Further information

    Links and books relating the to the HMNZS Leander

The Royal New Zealand Navy

  • The Royal New Zealand Navy

    Seventy years old in October 2011, the Royal New Zealand Navy is today an integral part of the New Zealand Defence Force. But its 1941 establishment was the result of a long process of naval development.

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  • 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.

Links - military history

Anzac Day

  • Anzac Day

    First observed in 1916, Anzac Day - 25 April - commemorates those killed in war and honours returned servicemen and women. The ceremonies held at war memorials around the country, and in places overseas where New Zealanders gather, are rich in tradition and ritual.

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  • Page 6 - Another war and peaceAnzac Day came to have a wider focus and the commemorations became more popular in the years after the Second World

First World War art

  • First World War art

    During the First World War official and unofficial New Zealand war artists produced a wide range of works depicting this country's war effort. These works later became part of New Zealand's National Collection of War Art.

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  • Page 4 - Establishing a collectionFollowing the end of the war, attention turned to where New Zealand's official First World War art collection would be stored. Plans for a National War Memorial Museum in

The Battle of Britain

  • The Battle of Britain

    2011 marks the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Britain, which was fought between July and October 1940. New Zealanders played a key role in this vital struggle, flying the Hurricanes and Spitfires of Fighter Command, or serving in other roles in the air, at sea and on the ground.

    Read the full article

  • Page 9 - Roll of honourList of New Zealand aircrew who died while serving with RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, July-October 1940. Includes link to full list of those who


  • 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 at 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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