HMS New Zealand (1911)

HMS New Zealand was a warship built as a gift to Britain from the people of New Zealand. As Britain was building up the strength of the Royal Navy at the start of the 20th century, the nations of the British Empire were invited to assist. The Prime Minister of New Zealand at the time, Sir Joseph Ward, announced in 1909 that his country would fund a battleship as an example to other countries.

The resulting vessel was a battlecruiser of the Indefatigable class, a sister ship to HMS Indefatigable, and to HMAS Australia, which was funded by the people of Australia. HMS New Zealand saw action against the German fleet in all three of the major North Sea battles, contributing to the sinking of two cruisers.

The keel of New Zealand was laid at Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering’s yard on the Clyde in June 1910 and she was completed in November 1912 at a cost of £1,783,190.

Although roughly the same size as the dreadnought battleships of the day, she, Australia and Indefatigable, had lighter defensive armour but better manoeuvrability.

New Zealand was taken on a cruise for a ten-month tour of the Dominions in 1913 before joining the 1st Batttlecruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet in the Baltic Sea in 1914, where she took part in the Battle of Heligoland Bight. Walter Cowan was her Captain in 1914/1915.

She became flagship of the 2nd Batttlecruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet on 15 January 1915 and the following week saw action in the Battle of Dogger Bank (1915). She became the flagship of Admiral David Beatty when his flagship, HMS Lion, was seriously damaged during the battle.

During a sweep through the North Sea on 22 April 1916 New Zealand and HMAS Australia collided in the fog. The latter suffered sufficient damage to be put out of action for several weeks, but New Zealand returned to the fleet on 30 May, a day before the start of the Battle of Jutland, which was then the largest of the great battleship engagements. She fired 420 12 in (305 mm) shells (the most of any vessel in the battle) and was hit by an 11 in shell that struck Turret X, without causing casualties or major damage.

During both Jutland and Dogger Bank the captain of HMS New Zealand wore a Māori grass skirt and greenstone Tiki presented during the tour of New Zealand to ward off evil, which no doubt helped to enhance her reputation as a lucky ship.

She rejoined the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron in September 1916, then underwent a refit at Rosyth in November 1916 before attachment to 1st Battlecruiser Squadron. She was involved in the second Battle of Heligoland Bight on 17 November 1917.

Following the war, in 1919, Admiral Jellicoe took a Royal Navy fleet on another tour of the Dominions to give a report on their defences, and chose New Zealand as his flagship. She was particularly popular in New Zealand where crowds flocked to visit her as they had done in 1913, when it was estimated more than a third of the country’s population went aboard during the 11 weeks she was there. Jellicoe was popular too, and he later returned to New Zealand as Governor-General, 1920-24.

New Zealand was decommissioned in 1922 and broken up for scrap in 1923. A medal awarded to officers and crew in 1913 is now a rare collectors’ item.

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