Monday, July 14, 2008

Strong Medicine - Combat Information Center analysis, facts and figures about military conflicts and leaders: "Strong Medicine

The launching of H.M.S. Dreadnought in 1905 touched off a naval arms race that saw something like 125 battleships and battlecruisers laid down before the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Of these, almost a third were built by Britain. In a show of imperial unity, several dominions and colonies offered to help defray the cost of this great shipbuilding program. In this way, two new battlecruisers of the Indefatigable Class were laid down in 1910, sponsored by Australia and New Zealand, and named, appropriately enough, in their honor. Of these, Australia became the nucleus of the new Royal Australian Navy. New Zealand , on the other hand, was presented to the Royal Navy, because the Dominion could not afford to man and operate her; in fact, New Zealand had to go into debt to find the £1,684,990 to pay for the ship, a loan that was not finally paid off until two world wars had past.

Displacing some 22,000 tons at full load, H.M.S. New Zealand was an imposing vessel, toting eight 12-inch rifles at speeds up to 26 knots. Shortly after she was commissioned, in November of 1912, the Royal Navy thoughtfully sent the new battlecruiser on a good will visit to New Zealand, to show the folks what all that debt had gotten them.

While touring New Zealand in April, May, and June of 1913, the ship was visited by a delegation of Maori chiefs. The chiefs pronounced some traditional Maori blessings on her, and also presented a number of gifts. One of these was a ship’s wheel made from native woods and inscribed with the defiant war cry of the famous Maori chief Rewi Maniapoto, "Ake! Ake! Ake! Kia Kaha! –We will fight on, for ever and ever and ever!” In addition, the ship’s captain was given a green stone tiki pendant and a traditional Maori piu-piu, a black and white flax war kilt, and told that if he wore these in battle the ship would never come to harm.

New Zealand’s captains followed these instructions. And no harm befell the ship at the battles of Helgoland Bight (August 14, 1914) and Dogger Bank (January 24, 1915). Indeed, at Dogger Bank, when Vice-Admiral David Beatty came aboard New Zealand after having to abandon his flagship due to damage, he found Captain Lionel Halsey wearing both the tiki and piu-piu.

At Jutland (May 31-June1, 1916), New Zealand’s skipper, John Green, wore only the tiki, for he was little too plump to look good in the piu-piu. Nevertheless, Green kept the piu-piu close at hand, hanging in the ship’s conning tower. Even so, the talismans provided excellent protection; of six ships in the Battle Cruiser Fleet, two blew up under enemy fire, Indefatigable and Queen Mary, while Princess Royal, Tiger, and Lion, were heavily damaged, suffering several casualties, Lion only surviving by chance and raw courage. In contrast, New Zealand took a single hit, and lost only one crewmember, a pet canary.

The battlecruiser returned to visit New Zealand in 1919, carrying Admiral Lord Jellicoe on a good will tour of the Dominions. She was shortly afterward decommissioned, and was scrapped in 1922 as part of international arms reduction efforts.

Battlecruisers were known for the weakness of their armor, but H.M.S. New Zealand was clearly much better protected than most. And the tiki and piu-piu? Well, they’re preserved at a museum in New Zealand, but are apparently not currently on exhibit."

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