Timeline of New Zealand’s Involvement in WW2

So far I’ve just roughed out a skeleton on which to hang the detail of the Kiwi involvement in WW2.

Sep 1939 – Mar 1941: Enlistment and Training

3 Sep 1939

Britain and NZ declared war on Germany (Cody, 1953).

12 Sep 1939

Enlistment began in New Zealand (King, 1981).

13 Dec 1939

The Battle of the River Plate where the Royal Navy defeated the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee off Montevideo, Uruguay (King, 1981). Kiwis comprised the majority of the crews of the light cruisers Achilles and Leander.

1940 – 1941: North Africa

5 Jan – 13 Feb 1940: First Echelon

The 6,600 men of the First Echelon sailed for Egypt on 5 Jan and arrived at Maadi Camp on 13 Feb (King, 1981).

2 May 1940: Second Echelon

The Second Echelon sailed on 2 May, but was subsequently diverted to England before finally reaching Egypt (King, 1981).

10 Jun – 17 Sep 1940: Italians

On 10 Jun 1940 Italy declared war on on the UK (Lucas, 1982). They captured Somaliland (11 – 19 Aug 1940), then invaded Egypt (13 Sep 1940), occupying Sollum (13 Sep 1940) and Sidi Barrani (17 Sep 1940).

Nov 1940 – Jun 1942: Fiji

3,000 New Zealanders garrisoned Fiji from Nov 1940 until Jun 1942, when relieved by American troops (King, 1981).

6 Dec 1940 – 25 Feb 1941: Western Desert Force

On 6 Dec 1940 the British Western Desert Force launched a counter-offensive against the Italians (Lucas, 1982). The British captured Sidi Barrani (11 Dec 1940), Sollum (17 Dec 1940), Bardia (5 Jan 1941), Tobruk (22 Jan 1941; actually it was the Australian Division), , and Derna (30 Jan 1941).

The British also recaptured Somaliland (29 Jan – 25 Feb 1941)

27 Feb – 28 Apr 1941: Deutches Afrika Korps

On 27 Feb 1941 the German Afrika Korps made its first appearance in clashes with the British (Lucas, 1982). The Germans then proceeded to capture El Agheila (24 Mar), Mersah Brega (31 Mar), Benghazi (3 Apr), Derna (7 Apr). On 10 Apr the British Army withdrew to Tobruk, and large numbers are cut off and captured by German tanks (11 Apr). Tobruk was encircled and Bardia captured (13 Apr). As the siege of Tobruk continued other Axis forces invaded Egypt and captured Halfaya Pass (27 Apr) and Sollum (28 Apr).

Mar-Apr 1941: Greece

Mar 1941

After a years training in Egypt, the 2 NZ Division started for Greece (King, 1981).

6 Apr 1941

Germans invaded Greece and Yugoslavia (King, 1981; Lucas, 1982).

Subsequently 2 NZ Division, along with other Commonwealth forces, were evacuated to Crete (King, 1981).

May 1941: Crete

20 May 1941

German invaded Crete from the air (King, 1981).

1941 – 1943: North Africa (continued)

5 Apr – 16 May 1941: Ethiopia

On 5 Apr 1941 , the British captured Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) from the Italians (Lucas, 1982). The Italians surrendered in Ethiopia on 16 May.

15 – 27 May 1941: Operation ‘Brevity’

British launched a limited campaign to position themselves for a future offensive (Lucas, 1982). They presumably make some head way, but the Germans evicted them from Halfaya Pass on 27 May.

15 Jun – ?? 1941: Operation ‘Battleaxe’

General Wavell launched Operation ‘Battleaxe’ on 15 Jun 1941, but was soon replaced by General Auchinleck (1 Jul) (Lucas, 1982).

22 Jun 1941: Barbarossa

The Germans and their allies invaded the U.S.S.R. (Lucas, 1982).

18 Nov 1941 – 5 Jan 1942: Operation ‘Crusader’

The British launched Operation ‘Crusader’ on 18 Nov 1941 (Lucas, 1982). The British captured Sidi Rezegh (19 Nov), made a sortie from Tobruk to link up with the Crusader force (21 – 26 Nov), had their own armour trounced by German panzers (23 Nov), but captured Bardia (23 Nov), had to cope with a German flying column in Egypt (24 Nov), captured Duda (26 Nov), fought off German attacks on the Sidi Rezegh to Tobruk corridor (30 Nov) , in the area south of Sidi Rezegh (6 – 8 Dec), and a German counter offensive (13 – 17 Dec), captured Derna and Mechili (19 Dec), Barce (23 Dec), Benghazi (24 Dec), and Bardia again (2 Jan 1942), and attacked Halfaya Pass (5 Jan).

It was 2 NZ Division who occupied Bardia on 23 Nov 1941 (Lucas, 1982).

General Ritchie replaced General Cunningham in command of 8th Army on 26 Nov 1941 (Lucas, 1982).

6 Jan 1942 – 1 Jul 1942: Rommel’s counter-stroke

Rommel counter-attacked from Agedabia on 6 Jan 1942 (Lucas, 1982). The British parried and took Agedabia (8 Jan), Sollum (12 Jan) and Halfaya Pass (17 Jan). Rommel tried again at El Agheila (21 Jan) and captured Agedabia (23 Jan) and Derna (4 Feb). After a two week pause the Germans attacked yet again (14 Feb). The third German offensive attacked the positions at Gazala (26 May). They gapped the British minefields (2 Jun), successfully besieged the Free French in Bir Hakim (2 – 10 Jun), overrun the British 150th Brigade (3 Jun), fought the ‘Knightsbridge’ tank battle (12 – 13 Jun), forced the British to withdraw from Gazala (14 Jun), took Sidi Rezegh (16 Jun), forced the British back over the Egyptian border (17 Jun), captured Tobruk (18 – 21 Jun) and Bardia (21 Jun), and invaded Egypt (24 Jun), took Mersah Matruh (27 – 28 Jun), and reached El Alamein (1 Jul).

Auchinleck took command of the 8th Army on 25 Jun 1942 (Lucas, 1982).

Mar 1942

Japanese recce planes flew over Auckland and Wellington (King, 1981).

May 1942

Japanese recce planes flew over Auckland (King, 1981).

3 NZ Division took part in mopping up operations at Vella Lavella in the Solomon Islands (King, 1981).

2 – 3 Jul 1942: First Battle of El Alamein

The First Battle of El Alamein (2 – 3 Jul 1942) resulted in a German withdrawal (Lucas, 1982). The 8th Army counter-attacked along the Ruweisat Ridge (4 Jul), took Tel el Eisa (10 Jul), but were held on 26 Jul.

Montgomery took over command of the 8th Army on 18 Aug 1942 (Lucas, 1982).

31 Aug – 7 Sep 1942: Battle of Alam el Halfa

The 8th Army attacked on 31 Aug 1942 (Lucas, 1982). The 2 NZ Division tried to cut the German lines of communications (3 Sep), but failed and the Montgomery stopped the battle (7 Sep).

1 – 30 Oct 1942: Second Battle of El Alamein

The Second Battle of El Alamein (1- 24 Oct 1942) started in the Deir el Munassib sector (1 Oct), but the main infantry attack went in on 23 Oct (Lucas, 1982). British operations stopped on 25 Oct, but the Germans counter-attacked. British aircraft sank the German fuel tankers approaching Africa, and the British ground forces attacked ‘Snipe’ position (27 Oct). Australian attacks in the north being to crumble the Germans (30 Oct).

17 Sep 1942 – Sep 1943: Retraining and re-equipping

4 NZ Infantry Brigade told they were converting to armour on 17 Sep 1942, and subsequently began training for their new equipment (Dawson, 1961). The conversion happened slowing, and it wasn’t until a year later that the new 4 NZ Armoured Brigade was trained, equipped (with Shermans), and ready for action.

2 Nov – ?? 1942: Operation ‘Supercharge’

Infantry attacks for Operation ‘Supercharge’ began 2 Nov 1942 (Lucas, 1982). 9th Armoured Brigade made a sacrificial attack (3 Nov), the Battle of Aqaqir Ridge and the failed Panzer counter-attack put pressure on the Germans (3 Nov), who withdrew on 4 Nov.

8 Nov 1942: Operation ‘Torch’

Allied troops landed in French North Africa as the first step in Operation ‘Torch’ (Lucas, 1982).

3 Dec 1942

The NZ government decided to keep 2 NZ Division in the Mediterranean, at the expense of operations in the Pacific (Phillips, 1957).

12 May 1943: Axis surrender in Africa

All organised Axis activity in Africa ceased on 12 May 1943 (Lucas, 1982).

At some point, presumably after operations ended in May 1943, the Divisional Cavalry exchanged their Honey tanks and Bren carriers for Staghounds (Phillips, 1957). The infantry also received the Piat and 4.2″ mortar. By the end of the re-equipment period the anti-tank regiment had a mix of 6-pounders and 17-pounders.

15 Jun 1943: First Furlough Draft

The first furlough draft of 2 NZ Division sailed from Egypt (Phillips, 1957). 6,000 officers and men were going home for the first time in two years.

10 Jul 1943 – 8 May 1945: Italian Campaign

10 Jul 1943

Allies invaded Sicily (Phillips, 1957). Both British (8th Army) and American (7th Army) were involved.

25 Jul 1943

Mussolini dismissed from power (Phillips, 1957).

3 Sep 1943

The Italian armistice was signed in Sicily (Phillips, 1957).

8 Sep 1943

The Italian armistice was announced to the Italian public at 1945 hours (Phillips, 1957)

9 Sep 1943

The American 5th Army stormed the Italian mainland at Salerno (Phillips, 1957). Allies also land at Taranto.

27 Sep 1943

British 13 Corps, 8th Army took Foggia (Phillips, 1957).

Oct 1943

3 NZ Division invaded the Mono and Stirling Islands in the Treasury Group (King, 1981).

1 Oct 1943

Naples fell to the US 5th Army (Phillips, 1957).

6 Oct 1943

Elements of 2 NZ Division began to sail for Italy on 6 Oct 1943, arriving 3 days later (Phillips, 1957). The transport vehicles only began to arrive on 29 Oct, and the last arrived at the end of November.

22 Oct

On the night of 22-23 Oct 1943 the British 5 Corps, 8th Army crossed the River Trigno (Phillips, 1957).

Nov 1943

3 NZ Division captured Nisson and other islands (King, 1981). Shortly after the division was disbanded.

1 Nov 1943

2 NZ Division began to move to Lucera to take up a role in Army reserve (Phillips, 1957).

9 Nov 1943

The British 5 Corps, 8th Army reached the River Sangro (Phillips, 1957). 78 Division was on the coast with 8 Indian Division to their west in the hills south of the river. The British line continued south with 1 Canadian Division in the mountains and 5 Division at Isernia (both from 13 Corps).

10 Nov 1943

First snow reported on the heights of Abruzzi (Phillips, 1957).

11 Nov 1943 – 17 Jan 1944

2 NZ Div began to arrive in Italy, was ordered to the Sangro Front (11 Nov), took responsibility for their sector of the front (14 Nov) and acquired 19 Indian Brigade at the same time, helped the Indians in the actions to clear the south bank of the Sangro, i.e. San Marco (15 Nov), Perano (18 Nov) where Kiwi tanks saw combat fir the first time, and the Hump (23 Nov), then launched their own attack across the Sangro (27 Nov) to Castelfrentano (2 Dec) and the bloody fighting at Orsogna (??) (Phillips, 1957). For more details see River Sangro and Orsogna.

18 Nov 1943: Perano

Kiwi tanks were in combat for the first time when they and the 19 Indian Brigade took Perano south of the Sangro (Phillips, 1957; Sinclair, 1954). The specific units were 19 Armoured Regiment and 3/8 Punjab Regiment.

23 Nov 1943: The Hump

In preparation for the NZ assault to come, 19 Indian Brigade attacked across the Sangro to the hilly ground in the angle between the Aventino and Sangro rivers – known as the “hump” (Phillips, 1957). 3/8 Punjab Regiment and two companies from 1/5 Essex Regiment were involved, supported by the fire of the three NZ field regiments and 3 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. Facing them was elements of 1 Parachute Division who were replacing 16 Panzer Division in this sector. The battle was fierce but the Indians eventually prevailed, thus securing the left flank of the Kiwis.

27 Nov 1943: Crossing the Sangro

On 27 Nov 2 NZ Div launched their attack across the Sangro (Kay, 1958; Phillips, 1957). They waded across silently, formed up on the marshy flats across the river, then attack up the Sangro ridge.

2 Dec 1943

Fighting their way up the Sangro Ridge for several days, and closing in on Castelfrentano for several days, 2 NZ Div finally took the village on 2 Dec 1943 (Burdon, 1953). 24 NZ Battalion entered before dawn and found it unoccupied.

12 Jan – 18 Feb 1944

1st and 2nd Battle of Monte Cassino (Battle of Monte Cassino Web Site)

15 – 23 Mar 1944

3rd Battle of Monte Cassino (Battle of Monte Cassino Web Site). Kiwis of 2 NZ Division attacked Cassino (King, 1981).

11 – 19 May 1944

4th Battle of Monte Cassino (Battle of Monte Cassino Web Site).

May 1944

Kiwis of 2 NZ Division were in action in Apennine Mountains (King, 1981).

12 – 21 Sep 1944

See Rimini Airfield

2 May 1945

2 NZ Division entered Trieste (King, 1981).

8 May 1945

Germany surrendered (King, 1981).


Battle of Monte Cassino Web Site
(2003). On-line
King, M. (1981). New Zealanders at War. Heinemann.

Lucas, J. (1982). War in the Desert: the Eighth Army at El Alamein. London: Arms and Armour Press.

Phillips, N. C. (1957). Italy (Vol. 1): The Sangro to Cassino. On-line http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita.html. War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. New Zealand.

Leave a Reply