The New Zealand Expeditionary Forces
The Great War 1914-1918 & the Second World War 1939-1945
The Few
The key to Operation Sealion was the destruction of the RAF. Only then could the German High Command risk sending troops across the Channel. For 16 weeks from July to October 1940 the fate of the war and with it the freedom of millions rested on just 2945 aircrew of the RAF. Among them were 129 New Zealanders - three quarters being pilots, the remainder air gunners and observers. After Britain, only Poland had more air crew engaged than New Zealand

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.

Remember Them

Remember Them...
Our Nation lost 2 sailors killed on the Achilles (out of 4 deaths); our first Army casualty from enemy action occurred in the Western Desert; and the Air Force toll was rising.

Remember Them

The Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force Sails
The German invasion of Poland on September 1st 1939 ended the fragile peace of the late 1930's. War was declared on September 3rd 1939. Just as we did a generation before, the New Zealand Government declared war within minutes of the declaration from London.

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.

The Battle of the River Plate
The German warship Admiral Graf Spee had sailed from German in August 1939, in preparation for war. By late September the pocket battleship had sunk its first Allied commerce in the Atlantic. Stopping the Graf Spee had become a matter of the utmost importance.

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".