Military history of New Zealand during World War II

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New Zealand entered World War II by declaring war on Germany on September 3, 1939. Politically, New Zealand had been a vocal opponent of European fascism and the national sentiment for a strong show of force was generally supported. New Zealand provided personnel for service in the RAF and Royal Navy and its own division, the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF).

In total, New Zealand provided nearly 200,000 personal for the Allied war effort, and armed an additional 100,000 men for Home Guard duty. The costs for the country were high, with the highest per capita casualty rate of any Commonwealth nation (twice that of Britain and four times that of Australia).


2NZEFF (New Zealand Division)

The 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) was formed under Major-General Bernard Freyberg and despatched to see active service in Greece, Crete, North Africa, Italy, and Yugoslavia.


During April 1941 the 2NZEF was involved in the defence of Greece against an invasion by Italian and German troops. During most of the campaign the New Zealand troops were being pushed back and all all units were evacuated by 1 May 1941

Total New Zealand casualities were 291 dead, 387 seriously wounded and 1826 captured.


See the Battle of Crete.

Most of the New Zealand and other allied troops evacuated from Greece were transported to Crete where Freyberg was appointed commander of all allied forces.

The German invasion by Paratroops and Glider forces started on May 20 and after heavy losses the Germans manged to secure Maleme airfied and fly in additional troops. The final evacuation of allied forces took places on May 31.

New Zealand casualities were 671 dead, 967 wounded and 2180 captured.

Charles Upham gained his first Victoria Cross during the battle.

North Africa

Between 1941 and May 1943 New Zealand forces were involved in fighting against Axis troops in North Africa.

Between 1940 and 1946, around 76,000 members of the First Echelon, 2 NZEF (Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force) main body trained at a camp near Maadi, Egypt at the base of the desert slopes of Wadi Digla and Tel al-Maadi. During that time this area belonged to the Delta Land Company which created Maadi in 1907. The rocky plateau was leased to the New Zealand Forces, and for the next six years became New Zealand's main overseas base.

  • Tobruk
  • Minqar Qaim
  • El Alamein


  • October/November 1943 New Zealand troops assembled in Bari
  • November 1943 crossed the Sangro River with a view to breaching the German Gustav Line and advancing to Rome
  • 2 December 1943 captured the village Castelfrentano
  • 3 December 1943 attacked Orsogna but were repulsed by the strong German defence
  • January 1944 withdrew from stalled front line
  • 17 February attacked Cassino but it was strongly defended and they withdrew in early April. Cassino was eventually captured on 18 May 1944 by British and Polish troops, with support of NZ artillery
  • 16 July 1944 captured Arezzo and reached Florence on 4th August, by the end of October they had reached the Savio River
  • 14 December 1944 captured Faenza
  • 8 April 1945 crossed the Senio River then began their final push across the Santerno River and Gaiana River and finally the Po River on Anzac Day 1945.
  • 28 April 1945 captured Padua
  • 1 May 1945 crossed the Izonso River to reach Trieste on 2 May 1945, the day of the German unconditional surrender in Italy


When Japan entered the war in 1941 the 3rd New Zealand division was raised and entered the Pacific war fighting in the Solomon, Treasury, and Green Islands.

Other Theatres


See also

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