History of the RNZN and the USN

Read about the United States Navy and its relationship with the New Zealand Navy from 1908 to the present day.

 

Peacetime Visits

In 1908, sixteen battleships of the United States Navy, the ‘Great White Fleet’ visited New Zealand. This was followed by a much larger fleet of destroyers and battleships that visited various New Zealand ports in 1925. Some of the battleships who visited in 1925 would be sunk or very badly damaged at Pearl Harbour in 1941.

Post the Second World War, USN ships continued to visit New Zealand ports, including USS Halibut, the first nuclear submarine to visit New Zealand in 1961.[1] The USS America, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier visited Wellington in November 1968, setting the record as the largest warship ever to visit New Zealand.[2]

 In turn, the RNZN also made many visits to the USN base at Pearl Harbour and took part in various exercises alongside RAN and USN vessels in the Pacific.

 First World War

There were about 500 New Zealanders serving with the Royal Navy during the First World War. They would serve in every theatre and as part of the RN, serve alongside the ships of the United States Navy after the United States entered in the war in April 1917.

Second World War  

1942

February-April – HMNZS Achilles and Leander joined with a RAN cruiser, a USN cruiser and destroyer as a short-lived ANZAC squadron. They would then come under the command of the South Pacific Area HQ in Auckland.[3]

In June, Commander of South Pacific Area Vice-Admiral Ghormley set up his HQ in Auckland.[4]

In July, fourteen picket boats were shipped to New Zealand by the USN. Eight were allocated to Auckland and six to Wellington. They were initially manned by USN personnel but then handed over to the RNZN. By December, eight had been shipped to the forward areas in the South Pacific. The three left in Wellington were sipped in April 1943 but the three Auckland boats remained in service until 1945.[5]

HMNZS Achilles and Monowai escorted the troopships with US Marines to New Zealand and Australia in June-July 1942. [6]

1943

In January, while serving with the USN cruisers USS Honolulu, Columbia, and Louisville in Task force 67, Achilles was attacked by one Japanese aircraft and hit with a 200kg bomb. This destroyed the ‘X’ gun turret. Repairs were carried out by the USN repair ship USS Vestal. Achilles was withdrawn from the Pacific theatre at sent to Britain for a major refit.[7]

HMNZS Leander served three times with the USN task forces. The USN was in desperate need of cruisers to replace those lost during the engagements around the Solomans Islands. She first joined Task Group 16.6 but had to leave for a refit in Auckland that had been delayed due to the request from the USN. In March 1942 she rejoined the USN in theatre and in June 1943 was part of Task Force 18. In July, Leander replaced USS Helena that had been sunk. However on 13 July Leander was torpedoed at the Battle of Kula Gulf. The USN provided two destroyers to protect the crippled ship on the voyage back to Tulagi Harbour. The resulting damage was so severe that Leander was decommissioned from the RNZN and subsequently replaced by the Gambia.[8]

Both cruisers were well regarded by the USN but when compared to the USN light cruisers, the two RNZN vessels had a larger turning circle and noticeably slower which could impede operations at sea.[9]

The corvettes HMNZS Kiwi and Moa sank a Japanese submarine but the Moa was sunk in April 1943. For the gift of two bottles of gin per gun, both Kiwi and Moa were equipped with 20mm Oerlikon guns supplied by the USN. Some thirty years after the war, Sir Peter Phipps stated that these guns enabled the two vessels to sink the submarine. [10]

Moa and Tui also engaged Japanese barges in the Solomans in support of the USN. However, the minesweepers also suffered three friendly-fire incidents when they were attacked by American forces.[11]

1944

The Australia-New Zealand Agreement signed in January caused the USN to be reluctant to use the RNZN vessels in its operations.[12]

Also in January, the USN requested that the RNZN transfer its Fairmile ‘B’ class patrol vessels to the Solomans Islands.  Organised into the 80th and 81st ML Flotillas, they came under direct USN control in the theatre. They were deployed to escort ships and anti-submarine patrols. In the fifteen months they served, there was no contact with Japanese forces. They returned to New Zealand in July 1945.[13]

In late 1944, the RN formed the Pacific Fleet for operations against Japan. The RNZN forces under the command of the USN were transferred to RN at this time. Note that several hundred New Zealand pilots made up a quarter of the Fleet Air Arm in the Pacific serving on the five carriers in the Pacific Fleet.[14] They would serve with carrier aircraft from the USN fleets.

In October, the Devonport Naval Base was evacuated by the last of the American forces.[15] Upon their arrival in 1942, the base was greatly expanded to cope with the influx of USN vessels. Tunnels were dug into the cliffs for storage of fuel along with extensive dredging and land reclamation. The tunnel that goes through to the North Yard was built during the American presence.[16]

In the European theatre, New Zealand sailors served on many vessels that were part of Allied fleets. Men from the RNZNVR crewed landing craft for the D-Day landings and MTBs patrolling the English Channel.

1945

HMNZS Gambia (which replaced Leander), Achilles, and Arbutus operated in 1945 with the British Pacific Fleet in the final strikes against Japan.[17] Arbutus operated as a radar maintenance ship for the British Pacific Fleet. The Pacific operated with the USN fleets off Okinawa and in attacks against the Japanese mainland.

On 9 July, HMNZS Gambia fired the last shots of the RNZN for the war when she bombarded a shore facility. She was operating alongside the USS South Dakota and Indiana, HMS Newfoundland, and a flotilla of RN and USN destroyers.[18] She would be part of the Allied fleet present for the formal surrender ceremony in September 1945.

Post-War

1947

When the HMNZS Arbutus sailed to American Samoa, the USN gladly supplemented the exclusive diet of tinned pilchards with fresh vegetables, fruit and meat. The New Zealander’s were dismayed to hear that the food had come from New Zealand but more than happy to trade their tots of rum for a change to their diet with the ’dry’ American ships. [19]

Korean War

The next major opportunity for interaction was the Korean War. All six Loch-class frigates served in the theatre as part of the UN naval forces under the control of the USN and were based in the Japanese port of Sasebo.[20] They were under the command of a British Flag officer under a Commonwealth framework. [21]

HMNZS Tutira and Pukaki were the first vessels to serve with the UN naval forces. Both vessels were assigned to escorting convoys to the Pusan perimeter. Pukaki escorted the troopships for Operation Chromite, the landing at Inch’on on 15 September 1950 and then formed part of the protective screen.[22] Tutira and Pukaki were tasked to escort the troop carriers for the landings at Wonsan on 20 October 1950 and then patrolled south of the port.[23]

In 1951, as the front lines stabilised, the frigates were moved from escort and patrolling duties to providing fire support for the land-based forces, supporting commando raids along the coast, supplying the islands held by UN forces, and continuing the blockade of the North Korean coast.[24]

On the night of 19-20 February 1952 HMNZS Taupo supported by USN destroyers USS Endicott and Shelton in sank ten fully loaded North Korean sampans off the island of Yang-do as they attempted to launch an invasion.[25] The RNZN ships were employed in protecting the South Korean held islands along the west coast of the Korean Peninsula. At the conclusion of the fighting in June 1953, the frigates reverted to the Royal Navy’s Far Eastern Fleet and only made periodic visits to Korea for the purposes of patrolling to maintain the ceasefire agreement.[26]

1300 Officers and ratings served in the Korean theatre between 1950 and 1957 two of whom lost their lives. One of these was an Able Seaman R.E. Marchioni from HMNZS Rotoiti, was killed in action when landing a raiding party behind North Korean lines in August 1951.[27]

1960s and 1970s

To replace the HMNZS Endeavour, the RNZN purchased in 1961 from the USN a Patapsco-class tanker USS Namakagon and was commissioned as HMNZS­ Endeavour.[28]  It was decommissioned in 1971.

In 1965, HMNZS Royalist had “won a “E” for excellent for her outstanding general performance during a work-up with the USN’s Fleet Training Group at Pearl Harbour.”[29]

In the Vietnam War, the limited gun capacity of the RNZN frigates (2 x 4.5” guns) was “not considered suitable for extended naval gunfire support operations.” [30] Fairfax suggests that “they would not, as British vessels, have fitted in easily with an American-dominated naval theatre.”[31]

Rather the RNZN provided 27 personnel for a tri-service medical team that served in South Vietnam from 1967 to 1971.[32]

 In the 1978 defence review, the RNZN believed it would be better to adopt the USN standard 127mm gun and Harpoon missile system in preference to the RN standards. [33]

 1980s

The adoption of the nuclear-free policy by the Labour government in 1984 put a great strain in the relationship between the RNZN and the USN. No longer were nuclear-armed, -capable, or –propelled warships welcome.

Access to the USN was drastically reduced and “cooperation with the RAN, a very US Navy-orientated service, was seriously strained.”[34]

In 1987, HMNZS Monowai took delivery of USN ‘Phantom HDX’ remote-operated submersibles for mine countermeasures.[35]

 1990s

After the Gulf War, in 1995 & 1996, HMNZS Wellington and Canterbury served as part of the Multinational Interception Force in the Arabian and Persian Gulfs to enforce UN economic sanctions against Iraq.[36] This was continued on by HMNZS Te Mana and Te Kaha. HMNZS Wellington, because of its shallow draft, was able to inspect the dhows that were suspected of smuggling contraband in and out of Iraq.[37]

In 1996, the RNZN took advantage of the reduction in the USN fleet by purchasing the Stalwart-class USS Tenacious, a towed-array general oceanographic surveillance ship. This was commissioned in February 1997 as HMNZS Resolution.[38]

The USN small-ship helicopter Seasprite was selected as the replacement for the Wasp helicopters aboard the ANZAC-class frigates. These aircraft are designed for transport and anti-submarine warfare roles.[39]

 2000 to present

RNZN officers have been serving aboard ships of both the USN and the Coast Guard in an exchange programme.

 

[1] Gavin McLean, ‘Naval Visits to New Zealand’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 354.

[2] Gavin McLean, ‘Naval Visits to New Zealand’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 354.

[3] W. David McIntyre, ‘Pacific War’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 407.

[4] ‘United States Troops in New Zealand’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 550.

[5] R.J. McDougall, New Zealand Naval Vessels, Wellington: GP Books, 1989, p. 102.

[6] S.D. Waters, The Royal New Zealand Navy: Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45, Wellington: War History Branch, 1956, p. 293.

[7] Grant Howard, The Navy in New Zealand: An Illustrated History, Wellington: Reed, 1981, p. 73.

[8] W. David McIntyre, ‘Pacific War’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 408-409. See also Howard, Navy in New Zealand, pp. 65-66, 70.

[9] R.J. McDougall, New Zealand Naval Vessels, Wellington: GP Books, 1989, p. 5.

[10] Grant Howard, The Navy in New Zealand: An Illustrated History, Wellington: Reed, 1981, p. 60.

[11] R.J. McDougall, New Zealand Naval Vessels, Wellington: GP Books, 1989, p. 5.

 

[12] W. David McIntyre, ‘Pacific War’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 409.

[13] R.J. McDougall, New Zealand Naval Vessels, Wellington: GP Books, 1989, p. 87.

[14] W. David McIntyre, ‘Pacific War’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 409.

[15] ‘United States Troops in New Zealand’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 552.

[16] ‘Naval Bases’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 352.

[17] Denis Fairfax, ‘Royal New Zealand Navy’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 465.

[18] Tales From Sea: The Royal New Zealand Navy in the Second World War,  Auckland: Royal New Zealand Navy Museum, 1995, p. 90.

[19] Grant Howard, The Navy in New Zealand: An Illustrated History, Wellington: Reed, 1981, p. 99.

[20] Denis Fairfax, ‘Royal New Zealand Navy’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 466.

[21] Ian McGibbon, ‘Korean War’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 267.

[22] Ian McGibbon, ‘Korean War’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 267.

[23] Royal New Zealand Navy in the Korean War, Auckland: Royal New Zealand Navy Museum, 1995, p. 3.

[24] Royal New Zealand Navy in the Korean War, Auckland: Royal New Zealand Navy Museum, 1995, p. 4.

[25] Denis Fairfax, ‘Royal New Zealand Navy’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 466. See also Gavin McLean, ‘Frigates’, p. 186 and Royal New Zealand Navy in the Korean War, Auckland: Royal New Zealand Navy Museum, 1995, p. 7.

[26] Ian McGibbon, ‘Korean War’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 270.

[27] Denis Fairfax, ‘Royal New Zealand Navy’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 466.

[28] Grant Howard, The Navy in New Zealand: An Illustrated History, Wellington: Reed, 1981, p. 91.

[29] Grant Howard, The Navy in New Zealand: An Illustrated History, Wellington: Reed, 1981, p. 106.

[30] Denis Fairfax, ‘Royal New Zealand Navy’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 467.

[31] Denis Fairfax, ‘Royal New Zealand Navy’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 467.

[32] Denis Fairfax, ‘Royal New Zealand Navy’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 467.

[33] Grant Howard, The Navy in New Zealand: An Illustrated History, Wellington: Reed, 1981, p. 161.

[34] Denis Fairfax, ‘Royal New Zealand Navy’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 468.

[35] Gavin McLean, ‘Mine countermeasures vessels’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 332.

[36] Denis Fairfax, ‘Royal New Zealand Navy’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 467.

[37] John Crawford, In the Field for Peace: New Zealand’s contribution to international peace-support operations 1950-1995, Wellington: NZDF, 1996, p. 77.

[38] Gavin McLean, ‘Hydrographic Surveying’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 230.

[39] Brian Lockstone ‘Helicopters RNZAF’, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History, Ian McGibbon (ed.), Auckland: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 218.