New Zealand History/World War II

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New Zealand in World War II[edit | edit source]

New Zealand declared war on Germany at 9.30 pm on the 3rd of September 1939, thus entering World War II. New Zealand assisted Britain, as New Zealanders still felt loyal to their 'mother country'.

New Zealand provided men for service in the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The New Zealand Royal Navy was placed at Britain's disposal, and new bombers waiting in the United Kingdom to be shipped to New Zealand were made available to the Royal Air Force.

The New Zealand Army contributed the New Zealand 2nd Division to the war.

In April 1941, New Zealand's 2nd Division was deployed to Greece, to help the British and Australians defend the country from the invading Italians. The Germans soon joined in the fight, overwhelming the British and Commonwealth forces. Due to this factor, the British and Commonwealth forces had to retreat to Crete and Egypt by the 6th of April. The last New Zealand troops had evacuated Greece by the 25th of April, having sustained losses of 291 men killed, 387 seriously wounded, and 1,826 men captured in this campaign.

Map showing the positions of the New Zealand 2nd Division in the Battle of Crete.

Since most New Zealand 2nd Division troops had evacuated to Crete, they were very much involved in the defence of Crete against German soldiers in May 1941. By the end of the month, however, German soldiers had once again overwhelmed British and Commonwealth forces, and it was decided to evacuate to Alexandria by June. In battle, 671 New Zealanders were killed, 967 wounded and 2,180 captured.

On the 18th of November 1941, the New Zealand 2nd Division took part in the North Africa Operation Crusader campaign. Merged into the British Eighth Army, New Zealand troops crossed the Libyan frontier into Cyrenaica. Operation Crusader was an overall success for the British, and New Zealand troops withdrew to Syria to recover. The Operation Crusader campaign was the most costly the New Zealand 2nd Division fought in the Second World War, with 879 men killed, and 1700 wounded.

The New Zealand 3rd Division, which was active after December 1941, supplemented existing garrison troops in the South Pacific. However, New Zealand troops were eventually replaced by American soldiers, freeing up the New Zealand 3rd Division for service within the New Zealand 2nd Division, which was in Italy.

New Zealand participated in the war until its end in 1945.


In total, around 140,000 men served overseas for the Allied war effort. The war had a high cost on the country, with 11,625 New Zealand men killed, a ratio of 6684 dead per million in the population which was the highest rate in the Commonwealth.

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