rainbow warrior

Salvage of the Rainbow Warrior

This article summarises Gavin Apperley’s official report on the role the Navy had both in salvaging the Rainbow Warrior and in preserving evidence for police forensic evidence. It is reprinted from Navy Today July 2005, when it was written to mark the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.

On Thursday the 10 July 1985 the British registered Greenpeace vessel RAINBOW WARRIOR was sunk in Auckland harbour by French saboteurs of the DGSE. Greenpeace

Photographer Fernando Pereira was killed when the limpet mines exploded. The Navy’s initial response was just 2 hours after the explosions, when LDR Schmidt of the Operational Diving Team entered the wreck and recovered Pereira’s body. The Diving Team also conducted a search of the hull and wharf for any other explosives; none were found.

The police declared the wreck a crime scene; they wanted it recovered for forensic examination, they even wanted to examine the seabed under the ship. Beginning the following Monday the ODT, under the command of LT Hugh Aitken, conducted a survey of the wreck, reporting a huge hole in the engine room, and the extensive damage around the propeller and propeller shaft. In the subsequent two weeks the naval dockyard team assessed various options for salvage, while the Divers began clearing the interior of the ship, moving some 30 tons of equipment and fittings out of the wreck.

The salvage task was a daunting one; RAINBOW WARRIOR had sunk onto her starboard side, burying the huge (2.4 x 1.5m) hole in her hull in the soft mud of the seabed. But the impact of the two limpet mines was immense, shock blast and shrapnel damage had spread far into the ship. When eventually salvaged a full inspection revealed she could never be made seaworthy again.

Many preparations went on in the next two weeks, before the Master of RAINBOW WARRIOR signed a salvage agreement with the police on 24 July; the next day CDRE Tempero (Commodore Auckland) signed an Admin Order placing Gavin Apperley, Construction Manager at HMNZ Dockyard, in charge of the salvage. The Navy’s resources, including the ODT were placed in support of Apperley’s team; the Ministry of Transport’s Oil Pollution Unit was also available (led by Gerry Wright, a former naval officer).

LTCDR Brian Ward, then Assistant Queen’s Harbour Master and in charge of the Support Team of PHILOMEL sailors, saw the salvage in three main phases:

  • PHASE ONE, 19-28 July The removal of all accessible items in the RAINBOW WARRIOR, a thorough survey of damage and, commencing patching of stern damage.
  • PHASE TWO, 28 July-19 August Patching, Engine Room Patches placed, test pumping and attaching air bags.
  • Phase three, 19-22 August Raising the ship, moving her south along Marsden Wharf and finally moving her to Calliope Dock.

Even though the trawler had been sunk in shallow water and next to a wharf, the salvage was not simple. First were structural limitations of the wharf itself, then there were the structural limitations of the ship. RAINBOW WARRIOR was old, suffered corrosion in key decks and bulkheads and had been rather carelessly converted by Greenpeace so that few of her internal bulkheads were in fact watertight (because cable runs and other alterations had been made without regard for basic ship fitting).

The salvage effort began with the divers; they had to clear the interior, block shrapnel holes and cable runs, and guide the suction hoses to rid the hull of mud; even the ship’s drawings had to be recovered from underwater. And all this had to be done with police evidence in mind. It was of course winter : the days were short, the water cold – and polluted with diesel from the bomb-damaged fuel tanks – while the wind would blow up a nasty chop that pounded into the basin beside Marsden Wharf.

But after several approaches, it became inevitable that the Dockyard would have to fabricate a patch to cover the main hole in the engine room, and the divers would have to attach it over the hole. But because the ship could not be moved, the patch would have to be applied with the ship still on her side and barely a foot of clearance under her for the divers to operate in.

Underlying each of the decisions were many hours of calculations by the Constructor and his team. For all its size and apparent strength a ship is a dynamic object, but when filled with a 1000 tons of water and weakened by shock or blast , the structure can easily buckle or collapse . The Dockyard team knew that a wrong move could break up the ship, worse, an error could cause casualties among the salvage team. The Dockyard staff were assisted by the Ministry of Transport, who made their Apple III computer (in Wellington) available to assist with calculations.

For the divers it was continuous hard work. LT Aitken reported that, “The salvage was a challenging task, conducted in conditions of nil visibility and often involving a (high) degree of difficulty. “

The Divers used surface supply breathing apparatus, which meant they had a continuous air supply. In the relatively shallow depths, they didn’t have to worry about decompression tables, and the SSBA meant they enjoyed hard-wired communications with the surface. They quickly developed an excellent working relationship with the Police, the Auckland Harbour Board and the Fire Brigade (who provided additional pumps to assist the salvage).

Early on the decision was made to hire salvage airbags from Salvage Pacific Ltd in Fiji, these bags each with a five ton lift capacity, were mounted along RAINBOW WARRIOR’s starboard side to give additional buoyancy and to control the lift. That meant more work for the ODT who had to bolt and weld on the steel eyepieces to fasten each air bag to the hull of the ship. In addition, the Ministry of Transport loaned Captain G.C. Wright to assist and oversee the large capacity MOT pumps. “Always helpful, always cheerful, CAPT Wright became a strong member of our team,” LTCDR ward reported.

LTCDR Ward’s Support Team did all the surface tasks imaginable: working on and in the RAINBOW WARRIOR to make the accessible structure watertight, operating the pumps, even cooking for the whole salvage team. Few across the harbour in PHILOMEL understood the adverse conditions they were working in- for example the supply of dry socks became a bone of contention when the Supply Depot, not understanding the nature of the salvage work, told the salvage crew to wash and dry their own socks.

In mid-August, as more of the ship was being pumped out and made watertight it became apparent that the Navy’s Rover gas turbine pumps were not up to the task. The Fire Brigade supplemented the pumping effort at short notice, in time for the final lift. When the final lift took place it was a cacophony of diesel engines: the five big MOT salvage pumps, the Fire Brigade’s three pumps, five more from the Harbour Board and even the scream from the two Rovers, and the roar of air compressors supplying the divers and filling the salvage air bags.

At 0245 on 21 August the final lift began, by dawn RAINBOW WARRIOR was partially afloat and almost upright, she was moved south and the pumps rearranged for the harbour crossing. At 1245 on 22 August RAINBOW WARRIOR was docked in Calliope Dock; as the water drained down the full extent of the bomb blasts could be seen. A Royal Navy underwater explosives flew in to assist with the Police examination; finally the Dockyard was tasked with sealing the ship and making her watertight for eventual disposal. On 25 September the RAINBOW WARRIOR was undocked and the Navy’s part in her salvage came to an end.

Today the RAINBOW WARRIOR lies in Matauri Bay, Northland, accessible to sports divers. Her salvage was an interdepartmental and commercial team effort, led by the Naval Dockyard and involving many from PHILOMEL.

The salvage of the RAINBOW WARRIOR is an event the Navy can look back on with pride.

Our thanks to Navy Today for the use of this article. The Defence Library also supplied Gavin Apperley’s report of the salvage.

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The Gulf War (1991)

The Gulf War began when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990.  Immediately condemned by the international community, Iraq was sanctioned by the United Nations and given an ultimatum to withdraw by January 15, 1991.  As the fall passed, a multi-national force assembled in Saudi Arabia to defend that nation and to prepare for the liberation of Kuwait.  On January 17, coalition aircraft began an intense aerial campaign against Iraqi targets.  This was followed by a brief ground campaign commencing on February 24 which liberated Kuwait and advanced into Iraq before a ceasefire took effect on the 28th.


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Peacekeeping in the Gulf

Peacekeeping Operations post Gulf War 1991 accounts by:

GULF BOARDINGS Lieutenant Commander C.J Griggs

IRAQ BLIMEN MISILES Chief Petty Officer Maika

IRAQ CHEMICALS Petty Officer A.D Smith

IRAQ LANDMINE COUNTRY Chief Petty Officer Maika

IRAQ MEDIC Petty Officer A.D Smith

THE ARLEIGH BURKE Warrant Officer G.R Davis

USS KLAKRING Warrant Officer G.B Davis


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Return to the Past – Operation VALERIAN (1995)

In May 1995, Jacques Chirac running for the Presidency of France promised that if elected, he would end the moratorium on testing of nuclear devices.  He won the election and announced on 13 June that between September 1995 and May 1996 there would be a new series of eight tests at Mururoa Atoll.F[49]F France was pursuing its status as a world power and retaining option of having an independent nuclear deterrent. The last of the underground tests had been conducted in 1991 and the moratorium instituted on 8 April 1992.F[50]F


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1947 Mutiny

Demobilization after a major war is always a very difficult process for armed forces. Servicemen and women who enlisted for the duration of the war were anxious to be demobilized as quickly as possible and disturbances involving such personnel have been quite common in the past. Regular military personnel also often find the change from wartime to peacetime a most unsettling experience. The New Zealand Armed Forces were certainly not exempt from the problems associated with demobilization and reorganization after the end of the Second World War.


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A bargain fleet of Frigates

In October 1956, the government announced its intent to maintain a modern six-frigate naval force.  Two purpose-built Type 12 fast anti-submarine frigates were ordered for the Navy.  These were to be the initial replacements for the ageing Loch-Class frigates. (more…)

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CMT and the RNZN

After a successful referendum in 1949 which was overwhelmingly in favour of reintroduction, the National government passed the Military Service Act 1949. All 18-year old men were obliged to register when they turned 18. Of the 80% that were fit for service, were to be posted to one of branches of the armed services. Usually, the trainee had the choice of which branch they would want to complete their compulsory military service.  While the bulk of those eligible went into the Army for their training, the RNZAF had had 950 trainees per annum and the RNZN 330 men choose naval service to fulfil their obligations. (more…)

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Formations of the RNZNVR (1947-1991)

The development of a Naval Reserve System began in the nineteenth century. The Royal Navy had undertaken in the early 1850s a major change in peacetime manning as the situation had reached crisis. A Royal Commission was held in 1858 which reported at the beginning of 1859. One of the commission’s recommendations was the formation of a Royal Naval Reserve to provide manpower for the Navy in a time of war. The legislation was passed in 1859.


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Malayan Emergency (1948-1960)

Dates 1948 – 30 July 1960


Malayan Communist Party (MCP) vs. British and Commonwealth armed forces


Defeat for communists and one of the 20th century’s most successful counter-insurgency operations. By 1954 the communist leadership departed for Indonesia which would lead to the Confrontation in the 1960s. At the peak of the emergency in 1951 the MCP fielded near to 8,000 men.[1] The emergency was declared over with the death of 7,000 communist insurgents.[2] New Zealand’s contribution to the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve had ‘little real impact on the Emergency which was in its closing stages.’[3] (more…)

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Look to the East – NZ’s changing strategic focus

The South East Asia Commitment

Following the Korean War, the strategic situation in the Asia Pacific region changed.  In conjunction with her allies, New Zealand was committed to the concept of forward defence.  New Zealand had signed the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, and the Manila Treaty, which established SEATO, in 1954.  As well, the Commonwealth was committed to the defence of Malaya, which from 1949 had been enduring a terrorist campaign, known as The Emergency. (more…)

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Nuclear Testing

Includes articles on:

Key Dates for Nuclear Testing

Background to Operation GRAPPLE 

Summary 1957-1958 Movements GRAPPLE testing

French Nuclear Testing

Involvement of HMNZS Lachlan in the French Nuclear Testing Programme at Mururoa June 1973 – Operation PILASTER

Operation VALERIAN


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The Vietnam War (or the ‘American War’ as the Vietnamese now refer to it) ran from the early 1960s until 1975. From 1964-1973, New Zealanders were deployed in to South Vietnam, with a combat force in action from 1965 – 1971. In addition to the Army units, a joint service New Zealand Services’ Medical Team was deployed to provide civilian aid as a Military Public Health Programme to the town of Bong Son in Binh Dinh province from May 1967 – December 1971. (more…)

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Breaking of the ANZUS Pact (1984-1987)

The 1980s were noteworthy in that the RNZN and our armed forces became the unwilling participants in our most significant departure from our traditional alliances. This was purely political. The generation that was now forming the Labour government was brought up on anti0-veitnam war, anti-nuclear politics.  But it must be remembered that any history of this period is subject to much revision and disingenuous actions. (more…)

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Scientific Support

Articles on:

Antarctica – New Zealand’s involvement

Antarctic Support 1956-Today

HMNZS Endeavour’s Antarctic Voyage 1971

RNZN Ships that Visited Antarctic and When

Personal Reminiscence from Rob Smith (more…)

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Home Waters

Articles on:

Cape Brett Lighthouse and Radar Station

Deguassing in NZ during the Second World War


German Mines Laid in the Hauraki Gulf

Naval Auxiliary Patrol Service (NAPS)

The Loss of HMZS Puriri 1941 to a Mine

RNZN Involvement in Practice Landings by American Forces in 1943

Submarine Sightings in New Zealand waters 1944


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English Channel and France

It was one of the worst tragedies of the Second World War – 833 sailors were killed when HMS Royal Oak was sunk close to land in an audacious attack by a U-boat. A survivor hailed from Hull, says David Turner, author of a recently-published book, Last Dawn, which examines the tragedy. (more…)

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Fleet Air Arm

Our research makes it clear that 12 Fleet Air Arm and Royal Marine prisoners were murdered by five Japanese Army officials in Singapore in July 1945. The deaths of Major Maxwell and S/Major Smith RM and Sub Lieutenant Tomlinson on 20th July were corroborated by witness statements. This is consistent with the deaths of the Rimeau prisoners and a number of Chinese and Malay guerrillas on 10th July. The legend of the ‘Palembang Nine’ stems from SO(l) Singapore 640/53/E dated 12 July 1946, which summarises local investigations. (more…)

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RNZN Fairmile Deployment to the Solomon’s

The RNZN Fairmile Motor Launches were developed in 1939 by the Admiralty and the Fairmile Marine Co from the Fairmile ‘A’ model. In the RNZN service they were known as Fairmiles. From 1940 to 1944, Allied nations built over 600 Fairmile ‘B’s for use by their navies. The hull was supplied prefabricated and local timber was used for the hull planking, decking, hardwood keel, stem and sternposts.  The vessel was designed for a wide range of tasks and was highly seaworthy but did have a noticeable roll when at sea.  In 1941, the War Cabinet approved the letting of the contract for construction of twelve Fairmile B class patrol craft to the boatbuilders, the Lidgard Syndicate. The contract was issued in December 1941, and the last of the vessels was delivered in December 1943.


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New Zealand in the South Pacific – The Strategic View (1919-1945)

The wartime experience reinforced the naval approach adopted by New Zealand, and it underlay preparations between the wars.  Britain would provide the strategic basis, while New Zealand prepared to assist with protecting the sea lanes behind this shield.  New Zealand authorities had long regarded a Pacific battle fleet as the answer to this strategic problem – an approach encouraged by Jellicoe’s proposals to this effect in 1919. Instead a second best strategy was adopted: the main fleet to Singapore strategy, which formed the basis of New Zealand’s naval strategy between the wars.


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Campbell Buchanan and the sinking of Japanese Submarine I-1

Leading Signalman Campbell Howard Buchanan was in England 1n 1940 serving onboard submarines for a year before joining HMNZS KIWI (Lt Cdr Gordon Bridson RNZNVR of Auckland commanding) as commissioning crew.

Campbell was just 22 years old when he died on 31 January, 1943. His death was the result of wounds he had received two nights previously during the sinking of the Japanese Submarine I1 by HMNZ Ships MOA (Lt Cdr Peter Phipps RNZNVR of Christchurch commanding) and KIWI in the waters off the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. (more…)

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Monowai’s submarine as remembered by Lieutenant S.W. Hicks RNZNVR

‘As the Signal Officer, I was Officer of the Watch at Action Stations and when entering and leaving harbour.  As we cleared the Suva Harbour entrance Captain Deverell ordered me to commence a zig-zag pattern.  I put the helm over to starboard, looked up the zig-zag book and started the clock.  We hadn’t gone very far on the first course when there was a huge double explosion two to three hundred yards on our port quarter.  This took us all by surprise as MONOWAI was not used to this sort of caper.  We lifted our skirts and took off as fast as we could which I must say was not much more than seventeen knots.  We taught our look outs, we thought very well, to report the bearing and then the distance and then the object of anything sighted.  All we got from the lookout on this occasion was, “It’s a …………… submarine.”  (more…)

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HMNZS Moa and Operation CLEANSLATE

In August 1942, American forces landed at Guadalcanal and after months of bloody fighting, the Japanese stopped contesting ownership of the island and evacuated their remaining forces in early February. For the Japanese, Guadalcanal was ‘Jigoku no shima’ (Hells Island) and to the Americans it was, ‘our time in hell.’

An operation was mounted code named Operation CLEANSLATE, where selected officers from the 43rd Infantry Division and from the Navy and Marines were moved on 17 February from Guadalcanal to Renard Sound, located at the southern end of Banika Island in the south of the Russell Island group. They were transported to their destination at night in the New Zealand corvette HMNZS MOA but when they went ashore the local natives informed them the Japanese had left. (more…)

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The Battle of Kolombangara

Once HMNZS LEANDER was repaired, she rejoined the Allied fleet in the Solomons. In July 1943 she joined an American Task Force to replace USS HELENA that had been sunk.

In July 1943, LEANDER was operating in the ‘Slot’[1] searching for Japanese vessels coming down the Slot to attack Allied transports and warships. On 12 July, the American Task Force 18 which Leander belonged to was ordered back up the Slot. (more…)

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Personal Reminiscence Petty Officer Brown – 25th Minesweeping Flotilla

‘Later in 1941, I was given a commission and my own ML.  I had been a cadet in the Merchant Service, having sailed around the Horn in a British Training ship, the JOSEPH CONRAD before the war as well as an ordinary seaman on other vessels.  After passing an Asdic Course I joined HMNZS TUI as ASPO, on her first spell in the Solomons.  The other ships were HMNZS MATAI, KIWI and MOA.  As is well recorded that KIWI and MOA sunk a 2,000 ton Jap Sub off Guadalcanal.  TUI sank several large Jap landing barges and MOA was sunk by Jap planes in Tulagi later.  It was just the luck of the draw as TUI was waiting to fuel after MOA. (more…)

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The Battle of Cape Matapan

It was called Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) by Benito Mussolini and his Fascist stalwarts, but the Italian navy, or Regia Marina, still understood it was an open question as to who would rule the Mediterranean in 1941. In fact, Operation GAUDO, a plan to sweep the Royal Navy from the waters surrounding Crete, was intended to demonstrate, after a number of one-sided encounters, that the Italians were still a force to be reckoned with. (more…)

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The Battle of Taranto

In 1940, British forces began battling the Italians in North Africa. While the Italians were easily able to supply their troops, the logistical situation for the British proved more difficult as their ships had to traverse almost the entire Mediterranean. Early in the campaign, the British were able to control the sea lanes, however by mid-1940 the tables were beginning to turn, with the Italians outnumbering them in every class of ship except aircraft carriers. Though they possessed superior strength, the Italians were unwilling to fight, preferring to follow a strategy of preserving a “fleet in being.” (more…)

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Malta Convoys

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Malta was the only base in the Mediterranean for the British forces. Malta consisted of two islands, Malta and the small island of Gozo. Valletta was the harbour and base for the RN. The civilian population was 275,000 living in 300 km2 of space. The land was capable of feeding one-third of the population but Malta, which had depended for its existence on peacetime service establishments, was virtually unproductive, and stocks of food and all war material had to come by sea. Above all, petrol, the bugbear of every Mediterranean commander, was at a premium. (more…)

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Alf Hargreaves aboard HMS Loch Killin that detected and sank U-1063

The skeleton of U-Boat 1063 marks another steel memorial laying on the seabed, logged as a wreck 14 miles from Plymouth, near the Eddystone Lighthouse, the leading light to the approaches of that great port in southern England.

On April 15, 1945, 29 young men perished in U-1063 when HMS LOCH KILLIN, a frigate of the 17th Escort Group, notched her third sinking since being commissioned brand-new from Burntisland in 1944. LOCH KILLIN was one of 36 anti-submarine and escort frigates of the Loch Class completed, the first in December 1943. They displaced 1453 tonnes, were 94 metres feet overall, the beam was 12 metres and draught 3 metres. The ships had twin screws, the four cylinder triple expansion machinery provided 5500 ihp giving a speed of 19.5 knots, although 20 could be exceeded with a clean bottom, but 17 knots was a more normal speed. The complement was 114.  (more…)

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Pacific Overview

Although many New Zealanders served with the Royal Navy in all theatres during the Second World War, our fleet after 1941 mainly operated in the Pacific.

Despite a willingness to be involved, and much effort, the Royal New Zealand Navy as such, did not see a great deal of action in the year following the entry of Japan into the war.  The Armed Merchant Cruiser, Monowai did actually meet the enemy in an encounter with a Japanese submarine off Suva harbour in January 1942.   Having fired a torpedo at the ship, the submarine surfaced for a gun engagement, but quickly realised the nature of Monowai and withdrew. (more…)

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Commissioned Gunner Eric J. Watts DSC RN Rate Officer DCT HMS Achilles personal account of his part in the Battle of the River Plate 13 December 1939

I had just turned in after dawn stations when the alarm sounded at about 0610-15. I arrived in the DCT in time I think to see the “Spey” [sic] (Graf Spee) open fire on the ship astern of my view. We [HMS Achilles] opened fire, followed by [HMS] Ajax who was ahead.  The [HMS] Exeter was already in action. A good number of salvoes were fired when the signal G.M.S.. Concentration was commenced. The Gunnery Officer giving P.I.I. until the operator A.B. Shirley, changed over from inclinating to P.I.I. , (delay here in view of the P.I.I. being starboard and inclinometer port side). Concentration did not appear too good. The Spey at every opportunity fired at Achilles with her secondary battery. Some of these shells seemed to burst in the air and on impact with the water. The Spey’s main armament was shared between ships. The Exeter received the full benefit, then Ajax, giving Achilles some salvoes in passing. These came very unpleasantly close. Our concentration was now effective. (more…)

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The Destruction of the Admiral Graf Spee (translation from Spanish)

She sailed at 1815, leaving harbour in a few minutes.

At 1845 GRAF SPEE waited in the channel for two launches that had been to Tacoma. No other ship was in sight except Uruguay. All married, were transferred to Tacoma.  SPEE shaped course to southward followed by Tacoma with her 1600 tons of fuel. Thousands of people lined the breakwater and high places to see her depart. Five aircraft (nationality not stated) flew over her but did not drop any bombs.  (more…)

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The Battle of the River Plate

At 6.14 am on 13 December, 1939, the first naval battle of WWII began off the mouth of the River Plate (Punta del Este), on the East Coast of South America. On the British side were the cruisers HMS AJAX, EXETER and ACHILLES and the other consisted of the German Armoured Cruiser, ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE. The search for GRAF SPEE had begun with the outbreak of war and ACHILLES, a New Zealand ship under the command of Captain W.E. Parry RN, had sailed from Auckland on 29 August.  (more…)

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Naval Volunteers

Robert Duke Hayward, trainee on AMOKURA

The development of a Naval Reserve System began in the nineteenth century. The Royal Navy had undertaken in the early 1850’s a major change in peacetime manning as the situation had reached crisis. In 1859 legislation was passed to form a Royal Naval Reserve to provide manpower for the Navy in a time of war. (more…)

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RNZN Established (1941)

By mid 1941 the New Zealand navy was largely independent of Britain and worthy of its own identity.  In September 1941 King George VI agreed to formalise this and the Royal New Zealand Navy Order 1941 No 1941/169 was duly enacted by order in Council from 1/Oct 1941.  This replaced HMS with HMNZS for ships of the Royal new Zealand Navy.  The Reserves similarly changed style at the same time from RNZNR to RNZNVR.  The practical effects were minimal, but it did have the effect in the future of giving the Navy as misguided birthday. (more…)

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Mau Uprising and the Navy

Brass knuckleduster as used in the Mau Uprising

Western Samoa was given to Imperial Germany under a treaty negotiated in 1899. German control of Western Samoa was limited to Apia and resisted by the Mau, an independence movement based on traditional governance. (more…)

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Napier Earthquake

HMS VERONICA arrived in Napier ahead of schedule on February 3, 1931. Though she wasn’t expected until the afternoon, she tied up in the harbour at 7:50 a.m. Shortly before 10:45, VERONICA’S captain, Commander H.L. Morgan DSO, met with the harbourmaster to organise his official visits of the day.  What happened next resounded all around the country.  It brought Napier to her knees and altered the course of VERONICA’S routine visit. (more…)

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Formation of the RNVR (NZ Division)

The development of a Naval Reserve System began in the nineteenth century. The Royal Navy had undertaken in the early 1850s a major change in peacetime manning as the situation had reached crisis. A Royal Commission was held in 1858 which reported at the beginning of 1859. One of the commission’s recommendations was the formation of a Royal Naval Reserve to provide manpower for the Navy in a time of war. The legislation was passed in 1859.


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HMS New Zealand’s Last Visit

In February 1919, HMS New Zealand was commissioned and despatched again to voyage to New Zealand. This time, she carried an illustrious passenger. Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Jellicoe sailed with HMS New Zealand. His mission was to visit the Dominions and report on their Naval Forces.  His extensive report was adopted in part by the Government dealing with a post-war economic recession and led to the formal establishment of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy. (more…)

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Shore Establishments in New Zealand

The association between Devonport and the Navy began on 21 February 1840, when Lieutenant Governor William Hobson, a Royal Navy Officer, arrived on board HMS HERALD, establishing Auckland as the New Zealand colony’s then capital.  By 1841 Hobson had established a permanent naval presence at Devonport, the Waitemata Harbour becoming a regular anchorage for RN warships. (more…)

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Post Cold War 1991-

By early 1940 it was obvious that the area at PHILOMEL was too small to be both a base and a training establishment, and the need to find a new training facility was underlined on 9 September, when the Admiralty asked New Zealand to step up its rate of training. (more…)

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Cold War 1946 – 1991

At the end of hostilities in 1945, the composition of the RNZN was reviewed.  It was decided to retain a core of two cruisers, however ACHILLES was considered too old and GAMBIA too large.

The preference was to have ships of a similar type, so the modern Modified Dido-Class light cruisers BELLONA and BLACK PRINCE were acquired in 1946.  These well equipped anti-aircraft cruisers were seen as a potential complement to the aircraft carrier force then proposed for the Royal Australian Navy.  In addition to the new cruisers, the RNZN had the corvettes ARABIS and ARBUTUS, with the smaller KIWI and TUI available for training duties.  The Fairmiles and HDMLs were retained in reserve. (more…)

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Second World War (1939 – 1945)

Now a days we often hear that the Second World War was one of those European affairs that we really had no need to be in and if we had of stayed home it would have gone on without us.   Certainly, despite rationing, throughout the war here in New Zealand we generally had enough to eat, however, then as now, we imported most of our manufactured goods.   Britain on the other hand did not have enough to eat, but did provide the vast majority of our manufactured products. (more…)

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Interwar Period (1919 – 1939)

During the 1930s modern vessels replaced the older ships on the New Zealand Station.  The two old Flower-Class sloops were replaced:  HMS Leith relieved Veronica in 1934, while HMS Wellington relieved Laburnum in 1935.  It was intended that HMS Auckland relieve Leith, but the Second World War intervened. (more…)

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The First World War (1914 – 1918)

Auckland Regiment, Gallipoli 25th April 1915.
Auckland Regiment, Gallipoli 25th April 1915.

New Zealand’s naval contribution to the First World War took many forms but the total numbers of New Zealanders serving in the Royal Navy never exceeded 500.

However, those men became involved in almost every aspect of the naval war.  About 200 joined the Royal Naval Motor Boat Reserve in 1916. some were already Royal Naval Reserves, while others with the requisite experience joined at this time.   (more…)

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1800 – 1900


Events during the Crimean War generated the recognition of New Zealand’s vulnerability to surprise raids by enemy cruisers. In 1860, a Naval Artillery Volunteer Corps with responsibility for harbour defence was established.  Four small spar torpedo boats were purchased for the seaward defence of the four main ports in 1884.  In 1887, the Government agreed to fund ships for the Australasian Auxiliary Squadron, to supplement the Royal Navy’s Australian Squadron, then stationed in Sydney.  Two ships from these squadrons would be stationed in New Zealand waters under the Governor’s direction. In 1909, the Government decided to fund a battle cruiser for the Royal Navy. Named HMS NEW ZEALAND, she fought throughout World War I (WWI: 1914-18).  In 1913, the Government passed the Naval Defence Act (1913) to establish the New Zealand Naval Forces.


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HMS Orpheus Disaster (7 February, 1863)

The worst maritime disaster in New Zealand’s history was the loss of HMS ORPHEUS, the Flagship of the Australian Station, on 7 February 1863. HMS ORPHEUS was 77 m in length, displaced 1733 tonnes, was armed with 20 8-inch guns and could support 259 officers and ratings.

In 1863, the colony of New Zealand was asking for naval support. The Colonial Office met some of the requests, especially those that involved little risk, primarily to calm the Governor. One request involved the posting of the Commodore of the Australian Station of the Royal Navy in New Zealand. The Commodore of the Australian Station, William Burnett, sailed for Auckland to consult with the Governor, in the new steam corvette HMS ORPHEUS. (more…)

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The Waikato Campaign (1863-1864)

The Royal Navy had a significant involvement in the Waikato Campaign in 1863. It had taken over a year of preparation before General Cameron felt confident to open the campaign against the Waikato tribes. When Cameron crossed the Mangatawhiri Stream on 12 July, 1863 unopposed, it was because Maori had not reached the position in order to defend the crossing. Cameron proceeded deliberately slowly and was in no rush. The final victory was primarily due to the participation of the Royal Navy both on land and on the Waikato River.


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The Royal Navy and the Treaty of Waitangi

Waitangi Day celebrations 1970

Captain William Hobson RN was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Zealand in 1840, with the task of negotiating for British sovereignty over the territory.  He arrived in the Bay of Islands on 30th January 1840 in the frigate HMS HERALD, commanded by Captain Joseph Nias, RN.  One of Hobson’s first duties was to conclude a treaty with Maori, the indigenous people.  Using HMS HERALD as his initial base, Hobson consulted with the British Resident, James Busby, and resident missionaries.  (more…)

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