US Navy tragedy at Paekākāriki

20 June 1943

US Navy memorial at Queen Elizabeth Park, Kāpiti Coast
US Navy memorial at Queen Elizabeth Park, Kāpiti Coast (Jamie Mackay)

Ten United States Navy personnel drowned off the Kāpiti Coast, north of Wellington, during a training exercise in bad weather. As wartime censorship prevented newspapers from publicising the American presence in New Zealand, the incident was shrouded in mystery for decades.

On the morning of 20 June, more than 30 landing craft carrying Marines from the troop transport USS American Legion went ashore at Whareroa Beach, Paekākāriki, an area where US troops had major camps. One vessel carried a navy ‘beach party’ whose role was to establish landing positions and handle communications. After suffering engine trouble, this craft was being towed back out to sea late that night when it was hit by a huge wave. One of the survivors later recalled: ‘After about 5–7 minutes of being pulled through the pounding waves, we encountered the breaker that capsized our boat and dumped us into the cold, angry sea.’ An officer and nine enlisted men died. Read the full account here.

A memorial to the drowned men was unveiled during a Memorial Day ceremony at nearby Queen Elizabeth Park in 2012.

Documentary about the tragedy: Frank Zalot - a survivor's tale:

Community contributions

2 comments have been posted about US Navy tragedy at Paekākāriki

What do you know?

Sheena Boese

Posted: 03 Dec 2017

I am wanting to know if any of the 10 men who were drowned on that fateful night were engaged to a New Zealand lady, Lola Kassey. There is a possibility he may have been of Scandinavian descent, however not confirmed. If anyone has any information, could you please contact me as soon as possible. Thank you.

Eleanor Creon (Winfrey)

Posted: 15 Apr 2013

Very upset to find out the commander was the head of an inquiry for the death of my Dad, when he in fact was the one who said go on, when he was told not safe to continue.

Very proud and thankful for the memorial. My Dad, was Herbert Clifford Winfrey