- Tonson, A.E.
- Colonial navies
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
TO UNDERSTAND how the Royal New Zealand Navy came into being it is necessary to look back to World War I and the preceding years, and to follow through the post-war years until the outbreak of World War II. The people of New Zealand, by then a Dominion, had appreciated the services rendered by the Royal Navy during many years past and now sought to share some of the burden of the costs of defence. In 1909 the Government of New Zealand therefore made an offer to the British Government to bear the cost of a first-class battleship of latest design, which resulted in the construction of the battle cruiser HMS New Zealand, completed in 1912 at a cost of 1,698,224 pounds sterling, and which saw service at the Battle of Jutland and in every action in the North Sea during World War I. Though the cruiser HMS Philomel was handed over to New Zealand in 1913 as a training ship, the war intervened and the vessel was required for overseas war service.
In 1919 Lord Jellicoe presented his report on naval defence, and following various conferences an Order-in-Council of 20th June 1921 made provision for New Zealand to maintain her own naval forces, and the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy came into being. HMS Chatham, a light cruiser under Captain A.G. Hotham, CMG, RN, reached the naval base at Auckland in January 1921, being followed in March by HMS Philomel, a third-class cruiser of eight guns, which began her service as a training and depot ship. Captain Hotham was appointed Commodore Commanding the New Zealand Station.
Two mine-sweeping Flower class sloops were also attached to the Station, these being HMS Veronica which had arrived in 1920 and HMS Laburnum which arrived in 1922. These were joined in April 1924 and January 1926 by the oil-burning D class light cruisers HM ships Dunedin and Diomede, these replacing Chatham and leaving New Zealand with two modern cruisers of efficient type. These ships were maintained with fuel oil by the Admiralty tanker Nucula, on hire to the New Zealand Government.
A system of dual control, with the navy using dockyard facilities owned by the Auckland Harbour Board, was not fully satisfactory and until the 1930s all major refits were completed in the United Kingdom. In 1936 the Navy purchased and took over the dockyard repair facilities, allowing for later extensive development, though the Auckland Harbour Board retained Calliope dock.
The cruisers were soon joined by HM trawler Wakakura, a Castle type minesweeper of 429 tons, which reached Auckland from Sheerness in January 1927, and this vessel was to give good service as a training ship for volunteer reservists and as a minesweeper. HM sloop Leith (Captain O. Bevin) relieved Veronica in November 1934 and in May 1935 HM sloop Wellington (Commander J.B.E. Hall) relieved the sloop Laburnum, and the latter vessel sailed for the Straits Settlements to become a drill-ship.
During 1936 Diomede returned to the United Kingdom, a part of the crew being transferred to HMS Achilles, armed with eight 6 inch guns, anti-aircraft guns, torpedoes and seaplanes, which after service in the Mediterranean finally reached Auckland in September and was attached to the New Zealand Station. In February 1937 Dunedin sailed for Britain, her relief, HMS Leander, a sister ship of Achilles, reaching Auckland in August 1937. Sir Ernest Davis, Mayor of Auckland, made a gift at the time of the ketch Viking, which proved useful for training recruits under sail.
Additional to the cruisers, sloops and trawler was HMS Endeavour, a surveying ship under control of the Marine Department and the Imperial Government, which did good service around the New Zealand coastline from 1937 to 1939, after which she returned to the United Kingdom. By the time of the outbreak of war in 1939 the New Zealand Division was firmly established, with personnel on the active list being backed up by the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. HM Ships Leith and Wellington, on loan from the Admiralty, were transferred to other stations after war was declared. HMS Nucula, the oil fuel supply vessel for the sloops and cruisers, attached to the New Zealand Division from 1924, was to be used as an oil hulk during the war years, being broken up when oil storage tanks were built.