Kiwis In The Royal Navy

In the first half of the 20th century, the Royal Navy was the Empire’s Navy, and as the New Zealand Naval Forces developed like other Commonwealth navies, they were closely modelled on the RN – interoperability was essential.

 

In the first half of the 20th century, the Royal Navy was the Empire’s Navy, and as the New Zealand Naval Forces developed like other Commonwealth navies, they were closely modelled on the RN – interoperability was essential. Based on the experience of the First World War, New Zealand’s defence policies recognised that our nation could be a source of manpower even though economic uncertainty and the Great Depression militated against extensive de fence equipment purchases to expand our own national forces. Similarly, the Royal Air Force was seen as integral to imperial defence and thus to the defence of New Zealand’s own interests. It was accepted then that young Kiwis could enter into the RAF or the RN directly, in parallel with the development of New Zealand’s own naval and air forces.

When the Second World War broke out, the Commonwealth Navies deployed their own ships in the common cause. HMS Achilles promptly sailed from Auckland in 1939 for service on the South American station, for example. But it was soon recognised that the Dominions could also offer manpower to help man the thousands of new ships of all kinds, from battleships to landing craft, which were being built.

Naval historian Captain S.W.  Roskill described the Royal Navy’s great expansion as:

‘Young ‘hostilities only’ ratings were accepted in large numbers, on recommendations from sea for training as temporary officers; and many ratings from the Commonwealth and Colonies qualified in the same way…’

Like the other Commonwealth nations, New Zealand responded; HMNZS Tamaki had been commissioned to train young Kiwis some for service in the RNZN’s own ships, but most to be drafted to the UK. There, they would serve in RN ships, yet their contributions to the war at sea are nonetheless a proud part of our own nation’s war effort.

Englishman L. C. Reynolds captured the multinational flavour of the Royal Navy in 1944, as his Motor Gun Boat flotilla sailed on another mission in the Adriatic Sea:

‘We were a real Commonwealth show tonight. Peter Hughes from South Africa, Dickie Bird from New Zealand [commanding MGB 643], Ted Smyth from Ireland, Ken Golding from England and Corny from Canada.’

By June 1944 4,746 RNZN and RNZNVR personnel were serving with the RN; by war’s end a total of some 7,000 Kiwi navalmen had served for some period with the RN. In simple manpower terms this was the equivalent of another brigade in the field. In addition, a small number of Kiwis who had directly joined the RN in the years before the war were serving in senior positions. Captain Maxwell Richmond DSO, RN was Chief of Staff at Londonderry and is one Kiwi who later achieved Flag rank; CDR Richard Washbourn DSO, RN then in the Admiralty, another. [1]

 

[1] Richard Jackson, ‘Kiwis in the Royal Navy and the RAF’, The Summer of ’44, Wellington: NZDF, 2005, p. 2.