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Howard Kippenberger

Howard Kippenberger
Howard Kippenberger

A decorated soldier who became commander of the New Zealand Division in the Second World War, Kippenberger was New Zealand’s most popular military leader, and perhaps its most talented.

Born and raised south of Christchurch, Howard Kippenberger spent just two months on the Western Front during the First World War before being returned home with a severe shrapnel wound. After the war Kippenberger turned to the law for a career and practised as a barrister in Rangiora during the 1920s and 1930s. During these years he was active in the Territorial Force and intensively studied past military campaigns in order to master the theory of warfare. In 1939, when war was declared on Germany, Kippenberger was given command of the 20th Canterbury–Otago Battalion, and he again sailed for war.

Kippenberger commanded his Battalion through the ill-fated Greek campaign with great coolness and determination. He emerged from the battle for Crete with his reputation enhanced, having earned a DSO for his decisive battlefield commanding. However, he developed his full potential as a military leader while commanding 5th New Zealand Infantry Brigade in the North African desert campaigns of 1942 and 1943, where he added a bar to his DSO. Eventually, Kippenberger succeeded Bernard Freyberg as commander of the entire New Zealand Division, only to be forced to retire from this role after losing both his feet to a German anti-personnel mine at Cassino in March 1944.

Kippenberger was New Zealand’s most popular military commander, and perhaps its most talented. On his return to New Zealand in 1946 Kippenberger was appointed editor in chief of the War History Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs. In recognition of his war service Kippenberger was made a CBE in 1944, and in 1945 he was appointed a CB and made an officer of the US Legion of Merit. Knighted in 1948, Kippenberger symbolised New Zealand’s achievement, as well as the pain and the cost of New Zealand’s participation in the war.

Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by Glyn Harper

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Howard Kippenberger, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated