Recall that in the early 1910s Canada considered contributing three Queen Elizabeth class battleships that would be owned and crewed by Canadians but serve in the Royal Navy. Winston Churchill’s response to this entreaty was “Well, we’ll take your money, but you can’t have any ships.” The Canadians sensibly declined this gracious offer. The Kiwi reply was “Hey, that sounds like a great idea! Can we also purchase the optional all weather primer? And do you offer any kind of extended warranty or service plan?” Three years and 1.7 million pounds later the battlecruiser New Zealand joined the Royal Navy.
New Zealand displaced 19000 tons and carried 8 12″ guns, disposed of in two centerline and two wing turrets. Like all battlecruisers, New Zealand could make a decent speed (26 knots), but lacked the heavy armor of dreadnought battleships. New Zealand and other battlecruisers were designed to hunt and kill armored cruisers and to act as forceful scouts for the main battlefleet. New Zealand’s two sisters were named Indefatigable and Australia. The Australians, presumably having more refined negotiating skills, managed not only to purchase the Australia but also to own it, and HMAS Australia served both in the Royal Navy and as the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy. The Royal Navy kindly allowed the HMS New Zealand to visit New Zealand in 1913, at which point roughly a third of the entire population of the country toured the ship.
New Zealand fought in most of the major battlecruiser engagements of the Grand Fleet in the First World War, including the Battle of Dogger Bank and the Battle of Jutland. At Dogger Bank Admiral David Beatty moved his flag from the battered Lion to New Zealand during the battle. David Beatty, much like Douglas MacArthur, had more of a gift for public relations than for military command. At Dogger Bank the disorder produced by sloppy signalling allowed some German ships to escape. At the 1916 Battle of Jutland the problem was more severe, and was exacerbated by the poor marksmanship of the vessels under Beatty’s command.
In April 1916, HMS New Zealand rammed HMAS Australia, severely damaging the latter. It is not known whether this was caused by residual Kiwi bitterness. However, the damage did keep HMAS Australia out of the Battle of Jutland. The German purpose at Jutland was to lure a portion of the Royal Navy into the teeth of the High Seas Fleet, and thus destroy part of the Grand Fleet without having to fight the whole. The German battlecruiser squadron under Admiral Hipper sortied into the North Sea in order to draw out the British battlecruisers. This operation was a partial success. The British did take the bait, and committed David Beatty’s six battlecruisers to interception of the German ships. The British also, however, committed four Queen Elizabeth class battleships (Malaya, Barham, Valiant, and Warspite) to the intial interception, and backed these two squadrons with the entirety of the Grand Fleet, including twenty four additional dreadnoughts and 3 more battlecruisers. In a sense the German plan worked too well; the British took the bait, but with too much force.
The fighting began on May 31 when the respective battlecruiser squadrons engaged each other. The Germans had five battlecruisers and the British six, including New Zealand. The Germans also had much better fire control than the British, and quickly scored hits on three of the British ships, including Beatty’s flagship Lion. The effectiveness of the German fire was enhanced by the fact that damage control aboard the British battlecruisers was wholly inadequate. Indefatigable, following New Zealand in line, was the first to explode and sink. A short time later Queen Mary, ahead of New Zealand in line, also exploded in sank, causing Admiral Beatty to remark “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today”. New Zealand, remarkably, took almost no damage. Poor signaling by Beatty had delayed the arrival of the four Queen Elizabeth class battleships, but when they arrived the pressure on the battlecruisers was reduced considerably. Eventually, the entire High Seas Fleet would find itself committed against the entire Grand Fleet. New Zealand fired more shells than any other British dreadnought in the battle, and scored hits on several German ships.
The rest of the war was uneventful for New Zealand, although she did participate in the Second Battle of Helgioland Bight. In 1919, after the war, Admiral Jellicoe chose New Zealand as his flagship for a tour of the Dominions, and she once again visited her namesake country. Jellicoe would later serve as Governor-General of New Zealand. In 1922 New Zealand was decommissioned, and in 1924 she was scrapped in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty.
Quiz for next week:
1. Which two US battleships or battlecruisers were not named after US states?
2. Which two US states have not given their names to US battleships?