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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

65 — The High Commissioner for New Zealand (London) to the Prime Minister — [Extract]

The High Commissioner for New Zealand (London) to the Prime Minister

13 December 1939

Further to Mr. Fraser's telegram of 5 December (No. 63), the Ministry of Shipping now advise that the ships allotted to the First Echelon are Dunera (capacity 1476) due Wellington 24 December, Otranto (1484) due 2 January, Orion (1500) due 2 January, Rangitata (535), Sobieski (1150) due 22 December, Empress of Canada (800) due 31 December.2 The New Zealand Naval Board are being advised by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of their responsibility concerning convoy arrangements, &c. The actual allocation of personnel to vessels will be the responsibility of the military authorities….3 So far as can be seen, all vessels will be available at the port of embarkation at least three days before the programmed dates of sailing in order to allow adequate time for embarkation, &c. The Sobieski belongs to the Polish mercantile marine and has been chartered by the Ministry of Transport as a troop transport. To prevent any inconvenience in administration a British Master and nucleus staff are being placed on board for liaison duties with personnel. Please telegraph as early as possible your agreement in general with these proposals.

2 The allocation was later changed. The six transports which conveyed the First Echelon to Egypt were Orion, 23,371 tons, Orient Line; Strathaird, 22,281 tons (which replaced Otranto), Peninsular and Oriental Line; Empress of Canada, 21,517 tons, Canadian-Pacific; Rangitata, 16,737 tons, New Zealand Shipping Company; Sobieski, 11,030 tons, Gdynia-America Line; Dunera, 11,162 tons, British India Steam Navigation Company. The Empress of Canada was torpedoed by a U-boat in the South Atlantic and sunk, 13 Mar 1943.

3 Details of messing scales and charges for troop transports, and of cargo and equipment to be carried, have been omitted.