The Royal New Zealand Navy
Chapter 1 — Genesis of Royal New Zealand Navy
Genesis of Royal New Zealand Navy
NEW ZEALAND is rich in naval traditions that reach back for nearly two centuries. On his first voyage to the Pacific in 1769–70 Captain Cook, RN, in HMS Endeavour, circumnavigated these islands and disproved the belief that the country was part of a fabulous Terra Australis. Seventy years later came Captain William Hobson, RN, whose treaty with the Maoris, signed at Waitangi in February 1840, established British sovereignty in New Zealand. That sovereignty was affirmed in the South Island six months later when Captain Owen Stanley of HMS Britomart hoisted the Union flag at Akaroa. Hobson was New Zealand's first Governor and was succeeded in September 1842 by Captain Robert Fitzroy, RN. In 1848 came Captain J. L. Stokes in HMS Acheron and Commander Byron Drury in HMS Pandora on the first detailed survey of New Zealand's coasts and harbours.
In those times New Zealand and Australia were included in the vast East Indies and China Command of the Royal Navy established in 1816. Even more extensive was the contiguous Pacific Command, established in 1819 under Commodore Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, who was Nelson's flag captain at Trafalgar. From the eighteen-twenties onward ships of the East Indies Command made occasional visits to New Zealand to show the flag and enforce some semblance of law and order at the Bay of Islands. The Australian Station, which included New Zealand and many of the South Sea Islands, was established as a separate command in March 1859. Ships of the Royal Navy played a notable part in the Maori Wars, especially in the eighteen-sixties when a flotilla of gunboats operated on the Waikato River and landing parties took part in combined operations elsewhere.1 Two of the earliest naval Victoria Crosses were won in the fighting of 1860 and 1864.
The problem of naval defence received much attention in Australia and New Zealand during those years. The New Zealand Premier (Sir Robert Stout) in correspondence with Rear-Admiral Tryon, Commander-in-Chief Australian Station, informed him that ‘my Government feel aggrieved that New Zealand should be without direct protection from the Australasian Squadron. …’ The Agent-General in London was instructed to negotiate with the Admiralty for a first-class cruiser to be stationed in New Zealand waters. The vessel was to ‘remain an ordinary Queen's ship’ but her disposition was to be ‘controlled by the Governor on the advice of his Ministers.’ Nothing came of this scheme, but at a conference of colonial premiers in London in 1887 an agreement was concluded for the better protection of seaborne trade in Australian and New Zealand waters. In addition to the existing squadron, an auxiliary force of five third-class cruisers and two torpedo-gunboats was to be provided by Britain, the Australian colonies and New Zealand paying interest on the cost of building and sharing the cost of maintenance of these ships. Two ships were to be stationed in New Zealand waters. New Zealand's part in this scheme was set out in the Australasian Naval Defence Act 1887, her proportional share of the cost being £20,000 a year for ten years. The five cruisers of the auxiliary force were the Katoomba, Mildura, Ringarooma, Wallaroo, and Tauranga. Successive flagships on the Australian Station from the eighteen-eighties to 1913 were the Nelson, Orlando, Royal Arthur, Euryalus, and Powerful.
An event that was to have an important bearing on New Zealand naval policy in later years was the official opening (in which the Australian squadron took a major part) on 16 February 1888 of the Calliope graving dock constructed by the Auckland Harbour Board at Calliope Point on the Devonport shore. In 1892 the Admiralty acquired from the Harbour Board about four acres of reclaimed land adjacent to the dock.
1 The torpedo-boats, built by Thorneycrofts, were 170 feet in length and had a fair turn of speed. They were fitted with ‘dropping gear’ to discharge their small torpedoes which had a maximum range of 400 to 500 yards at 15 knots.
2 Popularly known as the ‘Navals’, the officers and men wore uniforms of naval pattern, and ranks and ratings were given naval designations. The volunteer ratings were mainly watersiders and other port workers, and nearly all had seafaring experience. The New Zealand Naval Volunteer Artillery, which was remarkable for its esprit de corps, was disbanded in 1911–12 when the Territorial Forces scheme came into effect.
At the Imperial Conference of 1902 a new naval agreement was reached whereby the Admiralty undertook to maintain an Australian squadron of one armoured cruiser, two second-class cruisers, four third-class cruisers and four sloops,1 to be employed in time of war anywhere within the bounds of the Australia, China, and East Indies stations. The cost of the squadron was to be shared in the proportions of Britain one-half, Australia five-twelfths, and New Zealand one-twelfth, with the proviso that the Australian payment should not exceed £200,000 a year and that of New Zealand £40,000 a year. This contribution was authorised in New Zealand by the Australian and New Zealand Defence Act 1903. Provision was also made for recruiting seamen to serve in one of the small cruisers, and two annual nominations for cadetships in the Royal Navy were allotted to New Zealand.
Hitherto British naval policy had proceeded on the basis of the two-Power standard, namely, an adequate superiority over the next two strongest Powers, in those days France and Russia. The addition of a third European fleet more powerful than either of these two would profoundly affect the security of the British Empire. In 1901 an alliance between Britain and Japan was signed. In 1902 the British Government embarked upon the policy of settling its differences with France. The military and naval defeat of Russia by Japan produced profound changes in the European situation. Germany felt herself enormously strengthened by the Russian collapse, and her self-assertion in many spheres became pronounced.
Following the Imperial Conference of 1907 at which Australia announced her intention to proceed with the development of her own Navy, New Zealand offered to increase her contribution to the Royal Navy to £100,000 a year for ten years from May 1909. This decision was implemented by the Naval Subsidy Act 1908.
1 Australian Squadron, 1904: Euryalus, armoured cruiser, 12,500 tons; two 9.2-inch, twelve 6-inch guns; 21 knots. Challenger, second-class cruiser, 5880 tons; eleven 6-inch guns; 20 knots. Cambrian, second-class cruiser, 4360 tons; two 6-inch, eight 4.7-inch guns; 19 ½ knots. Pegasus, Pioneer, Prometheus, Psyche, and Pyramus, third-class cruisers, 2200 tons; eight 4-inch guns; 19 knots. The Powerful (14,500 tons; two 9.2-inch, sixteen 6-inch guns) later replaced the Euryalus and in 1907 the Encounter (sister to Challenger) joined the squadron.
At a conference in London in July 1909 to discuss the problem of Imperial defence it was agreed that there should be a Pacific Fleet, consisting of the Australian unit, an East Indies unit and a China unit, with HMS New Zealand as its flagship. Part of the China unit was to be stationed in New Zealand waters, the ships to be manned as far as possible by New Zealanders. Australia went ahead with the development of her own unit, which by 1914 consisted of the battle-cruiser Australia, three light cruisers, three destroyers, and two submarines.
The march of events in Europe and the extraordinary increase in the German Fleet provided for by the Navy Law of 1912 compelled the concentration of British naval strength in Home waters and precluded the formation of the proposed Pacific Fleet. The New Zealand joined the battle-cruiser force of the Grand Fleet, in which she served throughout the war of 1914–18 and took part in the actions of Heligoland Bight (28 August 1914), Dogger Bank (15 January 1915), and Jutland (31 May 1916).
In 1913 Mr (later Sir) James Allen, Minister of Defence in the Massey Ministry, attended the Imperial Conference in London at which the problem of naval defence was again discussed. The Admiralty preferred that New Zealand should continue her annual subsidy, but finally agreed to a plan for the establishment of the New Zealand Naval Forces. In a letter to the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr Winston Churchill), Allen said he was guided by the principle of using national sentiment and local patriotism to give the people of New Zealand a personal interest in naval defence which could not be created by the payment of subsidies.
Accordingly, it was decided that New Zealand should train her own men and that the Admiralty should lend her a seagoing training ship (HMS Philomel) and the necessary complement of officers and ratings. The ship would be under the administration of the New Zealand Government and at the disposal of the Admiralty if needed. It was also arranged that the Admiralty would station in New Zealand waters two small cruisers (Psyche and Pyramus) which had formed part of the Australian Squadron.
HMS Philomel was commissioned at Wellington on 15 July 1914 by Captain Hall-Thompson, RN,1 who had been appointed Naval Adviser to the New Zealand Government. The old cruiser was manned for the most part by officers and ratings of the Royal Navy who had volunteered for service in New Zealand. It was proposed to enter sixty or seventy New Zealand boys to complete her complement. She sailed with her first entry of recruits at the end of July on a ‘shake-down’ cruise but was recalled to Wellington on the eve of the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914.
A few days later the Philomel, in company with the Psyche and Pyramus, sailed from Auckland escorting two transports carrying the troops who occupied German Samoa on 30 August. The three little cruisers left Wellington on 16 October as part of the escort for the convoy of ten transports carrying the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force for Egypt. From January 1915 the Philomel spent some months patrolling the Gulf of Alexandretta in the eastern Mediterranean. Several landings were made, and in one clash with the Turks the Philomel's casualties were three killed and three wounded, one being the first New Zealander killed in the war. The Philomel took part in the defence of the Suez Canal, in operations in the Gulf of Aden, and in patrols in the Persian Gulf. She returned to Wellington in April 1917 and was paid off.
In August 1919 Admiral of the Fleet Lord Jellicoe arrived in the Dominion in HMS New Zealand in the course of a world tour to investigate and report on the problems of the naval defence of the Empire. His report dealing with the defence of New Zealand was an exhaustive and remarkably prescient survey in three volumes.
He pointed out that it was not possible to consider the naval requirements of New Zealand without taking account also of the naval requirements of the Pacific and Indian Oceans as a whole. The total naval forces required for the Far East were on a considerable scale and no reasonable measure of defence could be given by a smaller force. The Home and Far Eastern theatres were so far apart that correct strategy demanded adequate strength in both quarters.
1 Admiral P. H. Hall-Thompson, CB, CMG; Naval Adviser, NZ, 1914–19; First Naval Member, Australian Commonwealth Naval Board, 1923–26; Vice-Admiral commanding Third Battle Squadron, Atlantic Fleet, 1927–28; commanded Reserve Fleet, 1929–30; retired 1932.
Advocating the establishment of an Eastern Fleet, Jellicoe emphasised that its strength in capital ships should not be less than, and as powerful individually as, the Japanese Fleet. The report apportioned the cost of provision and maintenance of such an Eastern Fleet at Great Britain 75 per cent, Australia 20 per cent, New Zealand 5 per cent. It was suggested that New Zealand should maintain as her part of the Fleet three light cruisers, six submarines and a depot ship, and a naval air school — the ships to be provided initially by Great Britain but replaced when obsolete by New Zealand. The regular naval forces were to be recruited for service in peace and war and naval reserve forces established to augment them in time of war.
The report stated that provision should also be made for fixed anti-submarine defences, boom defence vessels, and nets and controlled minefields for the principal harbours to be available in the event of war. A reserve of minesweeping vessels should be built up by fostering the fishing industry. The protection of seaborne trade was dealt with in detail and proposals for escorting ships in convoy were set out. The report also stressed the importance of wireless communications, direction-finding stations, and intelligence and coastwatching services. The report was a fair warning of what was needed for the defence of New Zealand, but in 1939 many things were lacking and had to be improvised at great cost.
The Government decided to give effect to the Naval Defence Act 1913 and adopted the more immediate recommendations of Lord Jellicoe, namely, to acquire and maintain a modern light cruiser, commission HMS Philomel as a training ship, and establish a Naval Board. It was provided by Order in Council dated 20 June 1921 that the force should be designated the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy.
2 HMS Chatham, light cruiser, 5400 tons; eight 6-inch guns; two torpedo-tubes: speed 25 knots (coal-fired boilers); completed 1912.
The New Zealand Naval Board was constituted by Order in Council of 14 March 1921, with the Minister of Defence as chairman, the Commodore as First Naval Member, and the Chief Staff Officer as Second Naval Member. The secretary to the commodore acted as Naval Secretary to the Board. In 1926 he was appointed permanent head of Navy Office, but was not then a member of the Board. The secretariat at first was not organised on departmental lines but was drawn from the staff of the Department of Internal Affairs. Control of expenditure was exercised by the appointment to Navy Office of an officer directly responsible to the Treasury.
It was found difficult to administer the naval forces effectively while the first naval member of the board had also to carry out his duties as commanding officer of a cruiser. An effort to remedy this was made in 1936 by the appointment of a flag captain to the commodore in order to free the latter to attend meetings of the Naval Board. In 1938 the administration was reorganised and Navy Office was constituted a Department of State. The Naval Board now consisted of the Minister of Defence as chairman, a Commodore, Second Class, as First Naval Member and Chief of Naval Staff, a Captain RN as Second Naval Member, and a Paymaster Commander RN as member and Naval Secretary.
HMS Chatham was replaced in May 1924 by HMS Dunedin,2 an oil-burning cruiser. Included in her complement was a detachment of Royal Marines whose arrival marked the beginning of a long association of that famous corps with the New Zealand Naval Forces. The Admiralty tanker Nucula, of 6500 tons capacity, was hired to the Government to maintain a regular supply of fuel-oil. Two storage tanks with a capacity of 9280 tons were under construction at Devonport but were not completed till 1927. HMS Diomede was commissioned at Portsmouth on 21 October 1925 for service with the New Zealand Division and arrived at Auckland in January 1926.
1 Admiral Sir Alan G. Hotham, KCMG, CB; born England, 3 Oct 1876; served World War I; New Zealand, 1921–24; Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiralty, 1924–27; retired 1929; member of Port of London Authority since 1929.
The cruisers were manned for the greater part by officers and ratings on loan from the Royal Navy. The recruiting of New Zealand boys for continuous service proceeded steadily over the years, but their number increased slowly since for various reasons there was a continuous wastage. With two cruisers in commission it was possible to carry out tactical exercises and competitive training. Periodically, drafts of selected New Zealand ratings were sent to England for more advanced training and wider experience in ships and establishments of the Royal Navy. From time to time the New Zealand cruisers took part in seagoing exercises with ships of the Royal Australian Navy, to the great benefit of fighting efficiency.
Enrolments of officers and men of the Merchant Marine in the New Zealand branch of the Royal Naval Reserve had started in 1922, but the total number was small. The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (NZ) was inaugurated at Auckland in 1925. This service had a strong appeal to sea-minded lads, especially those with experience in yachts and small boats. The Auckland Division of the RNVR expanded quickly, and in 1928 the Wellington, Canterbury, and Otago Divisions were started. At the end of that year there were 405 continuous service ratings in the New Zealand Division and New Zealand reservists numbered 63 officers and 420 ratings.
In January 1925 the chief staff officer recommended to the Naval Board that a trawler fitted with suitable gear and a 4-inch gun be obtained for the purpose of training naval reservists in seamanship, minesweeping, and gunnery. He pointed out that minelaying by enemy raiders would be the greatest threat to shipping in New Zealand waters in war and that the nucleus of a minesweeping organisation, capable of expansion in an emergency, should be formed. The Naval Board accepted this proposal, which was approved by Cabinet in September 1925. A ‘Castle type’ trawler of 429 tons was purchased from the Admiralty for £5000 and commissioned as HMS Wakakura. By the time she arrived at Auckland in January 1927, the costs of purchase, repairs, alterations and additions, and delivery amounted to £24,832. From that time onward, hundreds of New Zealand lads of the RNVR were trained in the Wakakura. Many of them as commissioned officers and ratings had notable records of active service during the Second World War.
In 1927 Parliament passed an Act pledging a contribution to the cost of construction of the great naval base at Singapore. This took the form of an annual subsidy to provide for a total contribution of £1,000,000, the last instalment of which was paid during the year ended 31 March 1936. In 1927 also the Government announced that New Zealand would undertake responsibility for the maintenance of two modern cruisers when the Singapore contribution had been fully paid. From the time the Anglo-Japanese alliance ended in 1922 page 11 and the naval centre of gravity moved to the Far East, the establishment of a fleet base at Singapore became a cardinal point in British strategy. Such a base, it was held, would contribute to the security of New Zealand and Australia in the event of Japanese aggression. The importance of the Singapore base was specially emphasised at the Imperial Conference of 1937. But when the testing time came four years later, the Fleet for which the base had been built was not there to hold the ring. Without command of the sea and the air, the strongest base is of little import.
In 1899 an agreement had been reached between the Admiralty and the Auckland Harbour Board whereby, in consideration of a subsidy of £2950 a year for thirty years, the latter undertook to provide facilities at Calliope Dock for the repair and refitting of HM ships. The machinery and other plant were to be maintained in an efficient state and replaced when obsolete. The Admiralty was to have free use of the dock and its equipment, subject to ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses, and the right to set up buildings on certain land owned by the Harbour Board. The works cost much more than had been estimated and in 1903 the Admiralty agreed to increase the subsidy to £5000 a year for thirty years. The Board undertook to provide additional equipment and give the Admiralty free use of two acres of land for a coaling depot.
In 1923 the New Zealand Government agreed to repay the Admiralty the annual subsidy of £5000. This arrangement gave the Government and the Admiralty more or less equal rights to the use of the dock. But by 1927 the machinery in the workshops was obsolete and the dockyard facilities in general were inadequate makeshifts. The cruisers had to be sent to England in turn every two years or so to undergo large refits.
A new agreement was reached at the end of 1935 whereby the Harbour Board transferred to the Crown the area of 8 ½ acres adjacent to the dry-dock occupied by the naval base, together with a section of the seabed in Stanley Bay. The Naval Board was to have the right to extend the wharves and other works by reclamation or other means. Ownership of the dock and its jetty was secured to the Harbour Board. The Calliope wharf was to be extended, the dock lengthened to accommodate cruisers of the Leander class, and additional docking facilities provided by the Harbour Board, which was to maintain the dock in an efficient state. Priority and free use of the dock were secured to HM ships. It was also agreed that the Government would pay the Harbour Board a capital sum of £101,780 for the property transferred, the works to be carried out by the latter, and the balance of subsidy payments accruing to 1939, as well as an annual maintenance charge of £400. The new agreement, which replaced those of 1899 and 1903 and preserved the Admiralty's page 12 rights of user and access, was given statutory effect by the Naval Defence Amendment Act 1936.
A three-year plan provided for the modernising and expansion of the Devonport naval base, including new stores and facilities for the refitting of ships, a naval armament depot at Kauri Point, a 12,000-ton oil storage tank on reclaimed land at Stanley Bay, and the construction of barracks and a shore training establishment. These works were completed by the middle of 1940 at a cost of more than £200,000. But by that time the urgent and increasing demands of war exceeded the capacity of the dockyard and base and a programme of major works was undertaken that was not completed till after the cessation of hostilities.
During the period of economic depression in the early nineteen-thirties New Zealand's naval expenditure was cut to the minimum needed to maintain existing services. No provision was made for expansion, and recruiting barely kept pace with normal requirements. A radical change in naval policy was recommended by the National Expenditure Commission set up to ‘review and report on public expenditure in all its aspects, to indicate economies that might be effected and generally, to make recommendations for effecting forthwith all possible reductions in public expenditure.’ In its report the Commission said that ‘if the present arrangements are to be adhered to’ the cost of naval defence ‘must inevitably increase substantially in the future.’
‘We believe,’ said the Commission, ‘that under Admiralty control the cost to New Zealand would be considerably lessened, but consider that any reduction in the amount of the vote must involve a change in policy. We are of the opinion that the present divided control cannot give the best results and that differentiation in the rates of pay in different divisions of the service is anomalous and expensive. We therefore recommend that negotiations be entered into with HM Government in Great Britain for Admiralty to resume control of the NZ Division of the Royal Navy, without any conditions as to the number of cruisers to be stationed in New Zealand waters, in return for a fixed annual subsidy the amount of which must be determined by the policy adopted by Parliament. We feel that reversion to Admiralty control would result in considerable economies which do not appear possible under the present system. If only one cruiser were maintained in New Zealand waters and the maintenance of the Wakakura suspended, a saving of about £200,000 a year might be effected; but the possibility of making the saving would depend upon the policy arrangement entered into between the NZ Government and the Admiralty as, undoubtedly, relief to New Zealand finance would be at the expense of the British taxpayer.’
Nothing came of the Commission's intrusion into the matter of naval policy. However pressing the economic problems were, it was no time to change horses in the turbid stream of international affairs. Hitler and his Nazis were even then taking control in Germany.
Shortly before the London Naval Conference of 1930 it was arranged that the Dunedin and Diomede were to be replaced on the page 13 New Zealand Station by two light cruisers of the Leander class which were about to be laid down. Up to that time it was Admiralty policy that the Navy's strength in cruisers should be assessed not merely by that of other navies but by the world-wide duties required of them in the protection of seaborne trade. The British delegates at the Washington naval conference had been firm on this point. Yet the London Naval Treaty of 1930 was one of limitation for Great Britain and left the other signatory nations with such margins for expansion as to constitute no real limitation for them. By January 1935 British cruiser strength, including that of Australia and New Zealand, had been reduced to fifty ships; the fleets of the United States, France, Italy, and Japan showed increases in cruisers, those of Italy having doubled; while Germany was completing her three ‘pocket battleships’, which were essentially large armoured cruisers. Moreover, sixteen of the fifty British cruisers had already passed the age limit and by the end of 1935, in which year six new cruisers were due for completion, six others had reached the age limit.
In June 1931 word was received from the Admiralty that the loan of two Leander class cruisers1 to New Zealand in 1934 would not be practicable, and it desired that New Zealand should continue to maintain the Dunedin and Diomede until relieved by the new ships about 1936–37. In October 1935, following representations by the British Government regarding the disturbed international situation caused by the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the Diomede was sailed from Auckland for service on the East Indies Station. Based on Aden, the cruiser spent some months on patrols in the Red Sea.
1 Leander, 7270 tons; eight 6-inch, eight 4-inch AA guns; eight torpedo-tubes; one aircraft; speed 32 ½ knots. Achilles, 7030 tons; eight 6-inch, four 4-inch AA guns (six 6-inch, eight 4-inch AA guns after 1943); other features as for Leander. Both ships completed 1933.
2 Admiral Sir Irvine G. Glennie, KCB; born England, 22 Jul 1892; served in destroyers, World War I; Captain, 1933; commanded HMS Achilles, 1936–39; comd NZ Sqdn Jun–Dec 1938; HMS Hood, 1939–41; Rear-Admiral destroyers, Mediterranean, 1941–42; Home Fleet destroyers, 1943–44; C-in-C America and West Indies Station, 1945–46; retired 1947.
3 Vice-Admiral J. W. Rivett-Carnac, CB, CBE, DSC; born England, 12 Dec 1891; served World War I (DSC); Captain, 1934; comd NZ Sqdn Dec 1938–Dec 1939: Rear-Admiral, 1943; Flag Officer, British Assault Area, Normandy, 1944; Vice-Admiral (Q), British Pacific Fleet, 1945–47; retired 1947.
Thus, when war came in September 1939, the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy consisted of two modern cruisers and one minesweeping vessel. Personnel numbered 82 officers and 1257 ratings, of whom New Zealanders comprised 8 officers and 716 continuous service ratings; there were 74 officers and 541 ratings on loan from the Royal Navy. In addition, the New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve numbered 70 officers and 600 ratings. In July 1945 the total strength of the Royal New Zealand Navy attained its wartime peak at 10,649 officers and ratings (including 518 Wrens), of whom 3790 officers and ratings were serving in the Royal Navy; the total figure included 70 officers and 500 ratings on loan from the Royal Navy. By the end of 1946 demobilisation had reduced the New Zealand personnel to 150 officers and 1480 ratings.
New Zealand's naval forces entered the war as a Division of the Royal Navy; they emerged as a truly national service. In September 1941 the King approved the proposal that the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy should henceforth be known as the Royal New Zealand Navy.
1 Admiral Sir Edward Parry, KCB; born England, 8 Apr 1893; entered RN Sep 1905; served World War I; Captain, Dec 1934; Chief of Naval Staff, NZ, May 1940–Jun 1942; Rear Admiral, Jan 1944; Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiralty, 1946–48; Chief of Naval Staff and Flag Officer Commanding Royal Indian Navy, 1948–51.