Overall, 20 New Zealanders lost their lives in the Battle of Britain and a further 40 were killed later in the war.
The most intense aerial combat was over the south east of England - Number 11 Fighter Group - commander by the New Zealander Keith Park. Park was a World War One veteran having served first in the army on Gallipoli. Park's genius for tactical deployment is credited by many as the key to victory over the Luftwaffe.
Today, one a handful of The Few remain, but they and their comrades are forever remembered on 15 September each year - the day the battle reached its zenith.
The young men of the nation rushed to sign up and by January 1940 the first members of the Expeditionary Force were sailing to war. Preceding the Army were the early flyers of the RAF and the sailors of New Zealand. Indeed it was the Air crews who saw the first combat of the war, flying missions over Germany as early as the first week of September and the sailors of HMS Achilles fought the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939.The imperative of protecting the Suez Canal and the oil fields of the Gulf meant the First Echelon the 2NZEF arrived in Egypt just as the first NZEF had done in 1914. However, Hitler's invasion of the Low Countries and France cleared the way for the Germans to launch operation Sealion - the invasion of Britain herself. Therefore the 2nd Echelon was diverted to Britain where the officers and men, based as they were in Southern England, awaited the enemy, all the time being anxious observers of the Battle of Britain fought in the skies above.
With the RAF victory in the skies above England, attention for the Army again turned to the Desert. Italy was now in the war and the threat to the Canal was rising. For most of the 2nd NZEF, the desert was to become their home. 1941 was to bring the New Zealand Division into sharp contact with the enemy.
On 13th December 1939 the Royal Navy spotted the enemy off the coast of South America. The Exeter, Ajax, and Achilles engaged the enemy, eventually forcing the German ship to enter the neutral territory of the River Plate.
The battle was brief but violent, beginning at 6.20 am. By 6.23 the Exeter had taken fire and serious casualties. However, the attention Exeter was receiving allowed the Ajax & Achilles to attack. Despite causing significant hits on these ships, the German commander decided to run to the west, hoping either to outrun the pursuers or to seek shelter in the River Plate. Once inside neutral waters, the chasing ships could not fire. However, under international law, the German ship had to leave within a few days or be interned for the duration of hostilities.
Faced with an impossible tactical position, Captain Langsdorf opted to scuttle the ship rather than face certain destruction and needless loss of life if he attempted to flee the confines of the river. In addition, Berlin was clear than under no circumstances could the Reich afford to allow the British to capture the ship in a "workable condition".