New Zealand’s Great War started in a de­cep­tively soft fash­ion with a tame ad­ven­ture in the South Seas, as re­ports.

Michael Field

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

A now-for­got­ten Royal Navy pay­mas­ter stand­ing on a wharf un­der a white flag of truce and de­mand­ing that Ger­many sur­ren­der Samoa marks the open­ing act in the cre­ation of New Zealand’s mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

And if it wasn’t quite the open­ing Kiwi shot in the Great War, it could have been.

Lieu­tenant Ed­ward Church wasn’t quite alone that Satur­day morn­ing, Au­gust 29, 1914. Over his shoul­der, in Apia Har­bour, was the dread­nought HMAS Aus­tralia.

In a cou­ple of other ships waited 1363 men from Wellington and Auck­land – along with a mil­i­tary band, a cou­ple of den­tists, and New Zealand’s first war cor­re­spon­dent.

But Church had a prob­lem – there were no Ger­mans to re­ceive his sur­ren­der-or-else de­mand. Just lots of Samoans, Chi­nese, and as­sorted palagi from ev­ery­where but Ger­many. The Ger­mans, this time, had de­cided not to fight.

Colo­nial Wellington had long as­pired to take over Samoa but in 1900 lost any op­por­tu­nity when, in a three-na­tion deal, what be­came Western Samoa went to Ger­many, Amer­i­can Samoa went to the United States, and Bri­tain picked up other rem­nants, such as the Solomon Is­lands.

Samoa was not es­pe­cially im­por­tant in 1900 but ac­quired im­por­tance when the Ger­mans in­stalled a pow­er­ful ra­dio trans­mit­ter in the hills above Apia, to com­mu­ni­cate with Berlin and the Ger­man Pa­cific naval fleet.

With the dec­la­ra­tion of war, Bri­tish Sec­re­tary of State Lewis Har­court sent New Zealand Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral Earl Liver­pool an ur­gent tele­gram ask­ing ‘‘if your min­is­ters de­sire and feel them­selves able to seize Ger­man wire­less sta­tion at Samoa, we should feel that this was a great and ur­gent im­pe­rial ser­vice’’.

There was lit­tle knowl­edge in Wellington of what to ex­pect in Samoa. The gov­ern­ment asked London for de­tails of the Ger­man forces and de­fences. ‘‘For in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the de­fences of Samoa, see Whi­taker’s Al­manac,’’ was the un­help­ful re­ply.

Thanks to an ex­ten­sive com­pul­sory mil­i­tary train­ing sys­tem, New Zealand was war-ready quickly, and a 1363-strong force – in­clud­ing a field ar­tillery bat­tery, en­gi­neers, ma­chine-gun­ners, doc­tors and nurses – was ready to go.

It was led by Man­iototo farmer Colonel Robert Lo­gan, 51. He had no op­er­a­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of the army; he was sent to ad­min­is­ter Samoa, not to fight for it.

If the land forces were ready and ca­pa­ble, the na­tion’s naval forces, a fleet of three age­ing P-class Bri­tish cruis­ers, were woe­fully in­ad­e­quate. All the more so as the main threat in the Pa­cific was the Ger­man fleet com­manded by Graf Max­i­m­il­ian von Spee, based in Qing­dao, north­ern China.

With his flag­ship SMS Scharn­horst and another dread­nought, Gneise­nau, Spee could have despatched the New Zealand fleet in seconds.

The only su­pe­rior force to Spee was across the Tas­man, in the form of Rear-Ad­mi­ral Sir George Patey, com­man­der of the Royal Aus­tralian Navy on the 19,200-ton bat­tle­ship HMAS Aus­tralia.

When war broke out, Aus­tralia, ac­com­pa­nied by the light cruis­ers Mel­bourne and Syd­ney, steamed out of Syd­ney Har­bour and made for the Bis­marck Group, where Patey be­lieved he might trap Spee.

By Au­gust 11, the New Zealand force was ready to sail. Two Union Steam Ship Company ves­sels, Mo­er­aki and Monowai, had been req­ui­si­tioned, and at 7pm, to an emo­tional farewell, they dropped their lines and sailed – out to the lee of Somes Is­land, where the troops found them­selves sit­ting for three days in the ship’s dirty holds in cold southerly con­di­tions.

On the Fri­day, the ships re­turned to the wharf and the troops were sent on a route march through the Wellington sub­urbs.

The Evening Post ran an ex­tract from a let­ter a lo­cal man had re­ceived from Apia: ‘‘The Ger­man fleet from their China sta­tion will be here next week and things will be pretty lively.’’

The sol­diers sailed on Au­gust 15, and two days later met up with the three New Zealand cruis­ers. They were head­ing to Fiji, but when Patey heard that so many men were un­pro­tected, the fleet was or­dered to New Cale­do­nia, where it could meet up with the Aus­tralian ships.

The soli­tary news­pa­per re­porter with the force, Mal­colm Ross, found him­self in New Cale­do­nia with an op­por­tu­nity to file a story to New Zealand, but a pa­tri­otic self­cen­sor­ship came into play.

‘‘One might have sent news of the ex­pe­di­tion from here but, so far as I was con­cerned, I de­cided to play the game and send noth­ing. The news might fall into the hands of the en­emy and, so far as our ex­pe­di­tion was con­cerned, give away the whole thing.’’

On Au­gust 26 the con­voy reached Suva, where Lo­gan met some Samoans who ad­vised him of what to ex­pect.

Soon after the Kiwi troops sailed from Suva on Au­gust 27, Op­er­a­tion Or­der No 1 told them where they were headed.

‘‘The ob­ject of the Ex­pe­di­tion is the cap­ture of the Ger­man Pos­ses­sion of Samoa, with spe­cial ref­er­ence to the cap­i­tal of Apia, and the wire­less tele­graph sta­tion.’’

The sol­diers were is­sued with 150 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion each.

On Satur­day, Au­gust 29, the naval force ar­rived off Apia.

James Ah Sue, owner and ed­i­tor of the weekly Samoanis­che Zeitung news­pa­per, re­ported: ‘‘Soon after day­break, smoke was ob­served on the hori­zon . . . The ap­proach was cer­tainly im­pos­ing. Un­doubt­edly never such a naval dis­play had been seen in the South Seas.’’

Church was sent ahead with a flag of truce to de­mand un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der. When he couldn’t find a Ger­man, an Aus­tralian com­mer­cial trav­eller was sent to find the Ger­man gov­er­nor, Erich Shultz, who wasn’t about to put up a fight.

‘‘We re­alised from the out­set that sur­ren­der was in­evitable, be­cause of the prim­i­tive de­fences of the place,’’ Schultz said later.

‘‘Our forces con­sisted of 20 sol­diers and spe­cial con­sta­bles, and our for­ti­fi­ca­tions of one gun. This was re­li­giously fired ev­ery Satur­day af­ter­noon, and took half an hour to load.’’

With no re­sis­tance of­fered, the Kiwi sol­diers climbed down rope lad­ders into mo­tor launches, mo­tor surf­boats and ship’s boats for the land­ing. The un­pow­ered craft were towed in lines through the reef en­trance to­wards a sandy strip of beach near Matautu Point.

By mid-af­ter­noon, the Ki­wis had seized the main area of Apia. Late in the af­ter­noon, a de­tach­ment of Auck­lan­ders, guided by some of the Fiji Samoans, set out for the ra­dio sta­tion.

About mid­night, the small col­umn emerged from the bush into a clear­ing in which stood the great steel mast of the big Tele­funken plant. It had been booby-trapped, and it took the sol­diers sev­eral days to dis­arm the ex­plo­sives and then get the ra­dio work­ing.

Later on Satur­day, Schultz re­turned to Apia and pre­sented him­self to Lo­gan, who ex­pressed his re­gret that the gov­er­nor was to be ar­rested and shipped out to New Zealand.

The Evening Post pub­lished a story about the takeover on Au­gust 31. Date­lined London, the re­port said Apia had sur­ren­dered to the Bri­tish: ‘‘The New Zealand Ex­pe­di­tionary Force landed un­op­posed in the af­ter­noon.’’

Prime Min­is­ter Wil­liam Massey con­fessed that it had been ‘‘ much eas­ier than we ex­pected’’.

Lo­gan com­man­deered Schultz’s car on Sun­day morn­ing to drive from his new res­i­dence in the gov­er­nor’s house at Vail­ima, in the hills be­hind Apia, to the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ings.

There, he pre­pared to raise the new flag over Samoa. In the bay, war­ships from three na­tions were at an­chor. Formed up in a square out­side the white build­ing, the troops, in dusty brown uni­forms, pa­raded with an in­fantry band that had made the trip.

‘‘A naval of­fi­cer looked at his watch and, presently, the first guns of the Royal Salute from Psy­che boomed out across the bay,’’ Ross re­ported. ‘‘Then slowly, very slowly, inch by inch, to the boom­ing of the 21 guns, the flag was hoisted to the sum­mit of the staff, the of­fi­cers with drawn swords silently watch­ing it go up. With the sound of the last gun, it reached the top of the flagstaff, and flut­tered out in the south­east trade wind about the tall palms of ‘ Upolu.’’

With that, the navy left and the sol­diers set­tled in for the oc­cu­pa­tion – un­til the morn­ing of Mon­day, Septem­ber 14, when the Scharn­horst and the Gneise­nau showed up in Apia Har­bour.

Spee had been pa­trolling the Pa­cific, and while at Christ­mas Is­land, in what is now Kiri­bati, he learned that Apia had fallen.

It oc­curred to Spee that some ma­jor ships might still be at Apia. He de­cided to at­tack, fig­ur­ing that a bat­tle­ship like Aus­tralia would be in a dif­fi­cult tac­ti­cal po­si­tion trapped in the har­bour in the grey light of an early morn­ing.

‘‘The Aus­tralia is to be at­tacked by tor­pedo, the other ships by gun­fire at long range,’’ Spee or­dered. ‘‘In the ab­sence of the Aus­tralia, the Scharn­horst and Gneise­nau will ad­vance to­wards the har­bour from the north and north­east-byeast in or­der to pre­vent the es­cape of any shipping.’’

The gi­ant bat­tle­ships sailed into Apia Har­bour as the Kiwi troops, in­ter­rupted at their break­fast, ran down to the shore.

In an act of stu­pid­ity, two pla­toons of the 5th Wellington marched across the ex­posed Vaisigano Bridge as the Gneise­nau trained its big guns on them. Had the ship opened fire, the sol­diers would have been blown away.

Spee held his fire, how­ever, and sailed north­west from Samoa, stop­ping his jam­ming of Apia ra­dio long enough to al­low the New Zealan­ders to re­port his di­rec­tion. Once he heard them do this, he changed course and made for Tahiti.

He bom­barded Papeete, in­flict­ing mi­nor dam­age, be­fore sail­ing to the ro­man­tic Nukuhiva Is­land to meet the light cruiser Nurn­berg. Sail­ing on to South Amer­ica, Spee trapped sev­eral Bri­tish cruis­ers off Chile and sank them in the Bat­tle of Coronel.

Round­ing Cape Horn, he ran into tougher op­po­si­tion, and in the Bat­tle of the Falk­land Is­lands, the Royal Navy de­stroyed Spee’s fleet.

With that, Samoa dis­ap­peared from the Great War. The sol­diers were sent back to New Zealand. Many of them then swapped a bit of par­adise for a place called Gal­lipoli.


In­vad­ing force: New Zealand troops cross Apia Har­bour to land dur­ing their un­con­tested takeover of Ger­man-oc­cu­pied Samoa.

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