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The Royal New Zealand Navy


page 541

Appendix VII

HMS New Zealand was a notable ship that achieved great fame in her short life of ten years. She was the gift of New Zealand to the Royal Navy, in which it was her fortune to serve throughout World War I in company with a host of great ships whose names had been written again and again in British naval history over more than three centuries. She added lustre to the naval traditions of New Zealand and will always be remembered with pride by the people of this island Dominion.

More than half a century has passed since the name of New Zealand was first given to a ship of the Royal Navy. She was one of a group of eight battleships laid down in the early years of the reign of King Edward VII. They were known as the King Edward VII class, but they might well have been called the Empire class. The first to be completed was the King Edward VII. The others were the Britannia, Dominion, Commonwealth, New Zealand, Africa, Hindustan, and Hibernia. They were the immediate predecessors of the famous Dreadnought, prototype of the modern battleship.

Their armament was a mixed one of four 12-inch, four 9.2-inch, ten 6-inch and twelve 12-pounder guns, and four torpedo-tubes. Their displacement was 16,350 tons, on a length of 425 feet. Reciprocating steam engines of 18,000 horsepower gave them a speed of 18 knots.

HMS New Zealand was built in Portsmouth Dockyard. She was launched in February 1904 and commissioned for service on 11 July 1905. She was renamed Zealandia in 1909, when it was decided to give her original name to the Dominion's gift battle-cruiser. She served throughout World War I.

In 1909 there occurred a naval and political crisis in Great Britain. Under her second Navy Act, Germany had expanded her naval programme and was speeding up the building of ships of all classes. There was opposition in the British Cabinet when the First Lord of the Admiralty put forward proposals for the building of eight Dreadnought battleships, six cruisers, and twenty destroyers. Unknown to the nation, the Sea Lords of the Admiralty tendered their resignations, a dramatic act that won the day. The programme was agreed to by Cabinet and accepted by the House of Commons.

It was at the height of this crisis that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Joseph Ward, on 22 March 1909, made his historic offer of ‘one first-class battleship and, if necessary, two,’ as a gift to the Royal Navy. This offer was warmly supported in New Zealand and gratefully accepted by the British Government.

The ship was designed as a battle-cruiser and built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Govan on the Clyde. She was laid down in June 1910 and launched as HMS New Zealand in July 1911. She measured 590 feet in length and 80 feet in breadth and had a displacement of 19,000 tons. Turbine engines of 44,000 horsepower driving four propellers gave her a maximum speed of 26 knots. She had no fewer than page 542 31 coal-burning boilers, which later on were converted to use oil-fuel. She was armed with eight 12-inch and sixteen 4-inch guns and two submerged torpedo-tubes. Her normal complement was some 800 officers and men.

HMS New Zealand was commissioned by Captain Lionel Halsey, RN, on 23 November 1912. Her officers at that time included three New Zealanders, all of them from Christchurch. They were Lieutenants David Boyle and R. C. Garsia and Midshipman H. Anderson. After being inspected by the King, the New Zealand sailed from Portsmouth on 8 February 1913 on a world cruise of more than 50,000 miles. She called at St. Vincent, Ascension Island, St. Helena, Capetown, Durban, and Melbourne on her way to New Zealand and arrived at Wellington on 12 April 1913.

The New Zealand and her ship's company were given a magnificent reception in the Dominion and gifts of many kinds were showered upon her. She steamed round both islands, called at or off every port, and showed herself at many isolated parts of the coast. During her stay of more than ten weeks in New Zealand waters, the ship was inspected by nearly half a million people.

After leaving Auckland on 25 June 1913, the New Zealand called at Suva, Honolulu, Vancouver, Panama, Callao, and Valparaiso. She steamed through the Strait of Magellan and thence to Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro, after which she visited the principal islands in the West Indies. She returned to England in November 1913. Nine months later, Britain was at war with Germany and HMS New Zealand had been in action in the North Sea.

At dawn on 28 August 1914 a force of British destroyers, led by the small cruisers Arethusa and Fearless under Commodore R. Tyrwhitt, made a sweep into Heligoland Bight, where they ran into a number of German destroyers and light cruisers. In confused fighting that lasted all the morning, the Arethusa and the destroyer Liberty were badly damaged. One enemy destroyer was sunk and the cruiser Mainz disabled and set on fire. She was sunk later by Commodore Goodenough's cruisers which came to the assistance of Tyrwhitt's force.

The New Zealand was with Admiral Beatty's battle-cruiser squadron cruising about 40 miles to the north-westward. Shortly before midday, Beatty decided that it was high time for him to take a hand. His big ships went in at high speed, the Lion leading the Queen Mary, Princess Royal, New Zealand, and Invincible in that order. They came first upon the cruiser Koln and then the Ariadne, both of which were quickly sunk by a few salvoes. The other German ships escaped into the mist, thus ending an action in which the enemy lost three cruisers and more than 1000 officers and men.

Barely five months later, HMS New Zealand was again in action. At daybreak on 24 January 1915, Beatty's battle-cruisers intercepted a powerful German force off the Dogger Bank. The Germans turned for home at high speed, and two hours of hard steaming passed before the British ships got within range. The armoured cruiser Blucher, rear ship in the German line, was heavily hit by Beatty's ships before they shifted fire to the enemy battle-cruisers. The New Zealand, which was flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Archibald Moore, then engaged the Blucher and gave her such a hammering that she lost speed and turned away heavily on fire.

All three German battle-cruisers concentrated on Beatty's Lion, which was hit many times and fell astern out of action. A faulty signal made by Beatty at this time caused the other ships to turn away after the Blucher page 543 and the enemy battle-cruisers escaped. The Blucher fought bravely to the last and was finally sunk by torpedoes.

HMS New Zealand was one of the few big British ships that took part in all three major naval actions in the North Sea. In the Battle of Jutland, fought on 31 May 1916, she flew the flag of Rear-Admiral W. A. Pakenham, and her commanding officer was Captain John Green, who had succeeded Captain Halsey when the latter was promoted to flag rank.

When action was joined with Admiral Hipper's five ships, the New Zealand was fifth in the line of Beatty's six battle-cruisers. Barely twelve minutes after firing had begun, the Indefatigable, astern of the New Zealand, was hit several times in quick succession. Her magazines blew up and the ship vanished in an enormous cloud of flame and smoke, taking with her more than 1000 men. The only two survivors were picked up hours later by a German destroyer. Twenty minutes after the loss of the Indefatigable, a like disaster overwhelmed the Queen Mary. Twelve hundred and fifty-eight men died in one tragic moment, which spared only seventeen of the entire ship's company.

Throughout the battle, Captain Green wore the Maori piu-piu and greenstone tiki given to the ship by an old chieftain at Rotorua in 1913, with the injunction that they were always to be worn by the captain of the New Zealand when she was fighting. Captain Halsey had worn them in action in the Heligoland Bight and at the Dogger Bank. With the gift went a prophecy that the ship would one day be in action and be hit in three places, but her casualties would not be heavy.

At Jutland the New Zealand was hit only on her after turret and there were no casualties. The old Maori chief had been emphatic that the same officers and men would be in the ship in action, and he was right. The outbreak of war had prevented the ship paying off on her due date and many of her original ship's company were still in her at Jutland and later.

Much faith in the Maori mascots was shown by the seamen. More than a year after Jutland, on the last occasion that HMS New Zealand sighted enemy ships and went to action stations, a seaman was seen to mount the ladder to the bridge and take a quick look round. ‘It's all right. He's got them on,’ he was heard to tell his mates on the deck below, thus assuring them that the new captain was wearing the piu-piu and the tiki.

HMS New Zealand served with the battle-cruiser force of the Grand Fleet throughout the war. In 1919 she was recommissioned and hoisted the Union flag of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Jellicoe, who made a world cruise in her to report on the naval defences of the British Empire. The New Zealand was given a great welcome on her second visit to the Dominion, as was the great sailor who later became its Governor-General.

After her return to England, the New Zealand was paid off into reserve. Her fate and that of many another famous ship was sealed by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which set a drastic limit to the capital ship strength of the Royal Navy. HMS New Zealand was little more than ten years' old when she was dismantled and sold to shipbreakers.