Second World War - overview

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 the success of British arms, which would inevitably be concentrated in Europe. Only there could the British Commonwealth be defeated; and New Zealand's contribution, necessarily relatively small, could help prevent such an outcome.

As in 1914, the government immediately pledged to send an expeditionary force to assist the Commonwealth war effort in Europe, and the first of three echelons departed for Egypt in January 1940. Other New Zealanders were provided for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. New Zealand's naval vessels were placed under Admiralty orders, and its new medium bombers, which were about to be ferried to New Zealand, were made available to the RAF.

New Zealand's reaction to the outbreak of war was curiously muted. Even the departure of the First Echelon on 5 January 1940 excited little of the enthusiasm of the previous war. The 'phoney war' was shattered by the German onslaught in the west in May 1940. Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France all succumbed to the blitzkrieg tactics of the German forces, and most of the British Expeditionary Force was dramatically evacuated from Dunkirk.

On 10 June 1940 Italy entered the war on Germany's side. This sudden reversal of fortunes had an immediate impact in New Zealand. Sweeping new powers, including conscription, were introduced, and a War Cabinet of both government and opposition members was established. Following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, New Zealand declared war on Germany's Eastern European allies - Finland, Hungary, and Romania on 7 December 1941, and Bulgaria on 13 December 1941.

International relations

As with the First World War, the Second World War had important consequences for New Zealand's stance in the world, as it sought to bolster its interests in unfamiliar areas. For the first time it opened diplomatic relations with a non-Commonwealth power, establishing a legation in Washington in 1942. A similar step was taken in Moscow in 1944. Together with new high commissions in Canberra and Ottawa, they provided the basis for an independent approach to international issues.

Later in the war New Zealand took an active role in efforts to establish an effective international security regime, which bore fruit in the United Nations Organization created at the San Francisco Conference in April-May 1945.

How to cite this page

'The Second NZ Expeditionary Force', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 17-May-2017