HMS Philomel has the distinction of being the first ship commissioned into the New Zealand Naval Forces and was in service from 1914 until 1947 and the name continues in the shore establishment at Devonport. The ship spent most of World War One in the Middle East, mainly in the Persian Gulf as part of a Royal Navy force protecting British interests and ensuring the continued supply of oil from the region and the safety of the Suez Canal.
One of the ironies of World War One was that more New Zealanders went to war in HMS Pyramus than the Dominion’s own ship, HMS Philomel. Like Philomel, Pyramus was an old ship, but it still played its part in places as far afield as East Africa and the Persian Gulf.
HMS Prize was one of the many memorable Q-Ships used to combat the U-boat threat that was rife in the North Sea. The short but successful life of this captured German Schooner will always be remembered for her action against U-93 in April 1917 and for her commander, Lieutenant Commander William Sanders, VC, DSO, and crew.
As part of the effort to combat the submarine menace the Royal Navy built 550 motor launches and 124 coastal motor boats. The officers and motor mechanics for these vessels largely came from the Royal Naval Motor Boat Reserve, in which there were about 200 New Zealanders.
The treatment and transfer of severely wounded from the battle site to somewhere they can be properly treated often requires transport by sea. This is done in hospital ships and during the First World War New Zealand provided two of these vessels, funded by a combination of Government finance and voluntary donations.
The SS Otaki belonged to the New Zealand Shipping Company and in March 1917 fought a nearly successful action with the German raider SMS Moewe. Its captain, Archibald Bisset-Smith was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for the action and several other officers and crew were also decorated.
The SS Wahine was a passenger ship of the Union Steam Ship Company engaged pre-war on the Wellington/Lyttelton run. It was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1915 and served first as a despatch vessel in the Mediterranean during the Gallipoli Campaign and from 1916 until the end of the war it was a minelayer in the North Sea, laying 11,378 mines.
The New Zealand Training Ship Amokura, formerly HMS Sparrow, was purchased by the New Zealand Government in 1905 with the aim of training boys for a life at sea. The first trainee joined on 19 March 1907 and the last was discharged on 16 December 1921. Some of these joined the Royal Navy, many more the Merchant Navy and a small minority did not seek a career at sea.
In order to transport troops overseas the New Zealand Government chartered a number of merchant ships and converted them for troop carrying. This was a continual requirement throughout the war, with 111 charters being made. The dangers experienced by troopships were highlighted when a British transport was sunk in 1915, with amongst those lost being ten New Zealand Army Nurses.
In late 1916 the German raider SMS Wolf sailed from Germany to disrupt and sink allied shipping. During the course of an epic voyage lasting 15 months the ship brought the nature of global naval warfare to New Zealand when it laid mines off the coast that claimed two ships.
SMS Mowe was a merchant raider of the Imperial German Navy which operated against allied shipping during World War One. Disguised as a neutral cargo ship to enable it to get close to targets the Mowe was effective at commerce raiding ending up as the most successful German Raider in either the First or Second World Wars.