- Tonson, A.E.
- Colonial navies
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The war brought big changes to the New Zealand Division, and the once quiet naval base at Auckland became a hive of activity; the Naval Dockyard equipped some twenty-two merchant ships with guns, and some with depth charges. The armed merchant cruiser HMS Hector was transferred to the Station from February to June 1940, and in August HMS Monowai was commissioned as an armed merchant cruiser after being requisitioned from the Union Steam Ship Co. Ltd. Signal stations, examination services and coast watching stations were established at main ports and around the coastline.
In 1941, to ease accommodation problems with the influx of wartime recruits, a training establishment known as HMNZS Tamaki was opened on Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf. The shore and training establishments were HMNZS Philomel and Tamaki at Auckland, and later HMNZS Cook at Wellington and HMNZS Tasman at Lyttelton. A Navy Office was at Dunedin and at Waiouru was a Naval Wireless Telegraph Station, to be known later on as HMNZS Irirangi. A proposal that the New Zealand Division become known as the Royal New Zealand Navy was approved by the King in September 1941.
New Zealand naval men were sent overseas from 1940 onward, to serve in the Royal Navy in all parts of the world, some with temporary commissions as RNZNVR officers in ships and the Fleet Air Arm, earning a total of 420 awards. Those killed or who died numbered 356, with 7 listed as missing, while casualties numbered 106. In December 1939 the cruiser HMS Achilles joined Ajax and Exeter in a successful action of the River Plate against the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee, and for a while it was believed she was sunk. Four New Zealanders were killed during the battle and three were seriously wounded. It was largely the involvement of this vessel from the New Zealand Station which brought about the desire to have a change of name to that of the Royal New Zealand Navy, which resulted in 1941.
Another incident which really brought the war home to New Zealand was the loss of the steamship Niagara, through striking a mine off the coast of North Auckland in June 1940. Mines, later known to number 288, had been laid that month off the approaches to main New Zealand ports. In November 1940 the vessels Holmwood and Rangitane were sunk by German raiders in New Zealand waters. The need for a minesweeping flotilla had become an urgent necessity, and HM trawler Wakakura was supplemented by the fishing trawlers Humphrey, Thomas Currell, South Sea and Futurist, each armed with a 4 inch and an anti-aircraft gun. The ferry Duchess later joined the flotilla. New Zealand embarked on a programme of building its own steel minesweepers, and the first three, composite types of wood on steel frames, built in Auckland, were commissioned in March and July 1942. These were HMNZ ships Manuka, Rimu and Hinau, and along with HMNZ ships Hawera and Kapuni were used to sweep for magnetic and acoustic mines. Three minesweepers were built at Auckland, one at Wellington and ten at Port Chalmers, these being Castle-type trawlers built by Stevenson and Cook Ltd. Commissioned between May 1943 and June 1944 were HMNZ ships Aroha, Awatere, Hautapu, Maimai, Waipu, Pahau, Waima and Waiho, all armed with a 12- pounder gun. One vessel completed, the Waikato, was not taken over by the Navy.
Other vessels taken over and employed as anti-submarine minesweepers were HMNZ Ships James Cosgrove, Muritai, Viti, Matai, Gale, Breeze, Puriri and Rata, and three trawlers built in Scotland, HMNZ Ships Moa, Kiwi and Tui, all armed with a 4 inch gun. Others, such as Scarba, Sanda Inchkeith and Killegray, Isles class trawlers transferred from the Royal Navy, were armed with 12-pounder guns. The flotilla was increased in 1945 by the addition of Arabis and Arbutus, modern corvettes presented by the British Government. Twelve Fairmile motor launches built of kauri were also used as patrol and anti-submarine vessels, being known as the 18th ML Flotilla and doing excellent service with the United States forces in the South Pacific. Designed for short coastal patrols, they travelled 380,000 miles about the Pacific. Two casualties among the trawlers were the South Sea, sunk in collision, and the Puriri, sunk by mines.