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Ceremony to mark NZ's worst Naval tragedy

News: 14 December 2016

A ceremony to commemorate New Zealand’s worst naval tragedy, the World War Two sinking of HMS Neptune, will be held in Wellington this weekend.

HMS Neptune was a Leander-class light cruiser being prepared for transfer to the embryo Royal New Zealand Navy. In December 1941 Neptune sank after sailing into an uncharted minefield in the Mediterranean, costing the lives of 150 New Zealand naval officers and ratings.

The ceremony will complete the year-long celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy, which was named Operation Neptune in honour of the 150 brave sailors who lost their lives that day. 

As part of the ceremony an audio-visual presentation will be projected on to the front of the National War Memorial. The commemoration will be attended by the Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy,  Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating, Chief of Navy Rear Admiral John Martin, senior Defence personnel, VIPs and guests.

Operation Neptune provided the opportunity for the Navy to show New Zealanders the work it does and the value it provides. Naval ships from more than 15 nations joined the celebrations which culminated in an International Naval Review in Auckland in November.

What: HMS Neptune Commemoration Service

When: Sunday 18 December at 8.30pm

Where: Pukeahu National War Memorial, Buckle Street Wellington.


HMS Neptune

HMS Neptune was a Leander-class light cruiser being prepared for transfer to the Royal New Zealand Navy. At the time that she sank, 150 New Zealanders had already joined in preparation for the transfer.

On the night of 18 December 1941, a force of cruisers and destroyers led by HMS Neptune sailed to intercept an important Italian supply convoy en route to Tripoli, Libya. At around 1am on the 19th, 30km from Tripoli, the ships sailed into an uncharted deep-water minefield. Neptune triggered a mine, and then exploded two more as she tried to get clear of the minefield. Several attempts were made to assist the stricken cruiser, but when the destroyer Kandahar also hit a mine, Neptune’s Commanding Officer,  Captain Rory O’Conor,  flashed a warning to other ships to “Keep away”.

Neptune struck another mine shortly afterwards and sank within minutes. The disaster claimed 764 lives, including all the New Zealanders who had joined the ship. Only one crew member survived.

Navy’s 75th Anniversary

On 1 October 1941, His Majesty King George VI approved the designation “Royal New Zealand Navy” for New Zealand’s naval forces, which until then had been known as the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy, creating the independent maritime force that is the RNZN today. Since then, many thousands have served in the Navy.

This year the Navy has celebrated its achievements while increasing awareness of the importance of the RNZN in maintaining the security and prosperity of New Zealanders, and showcasing the Service as a worthwhile and fulfilling career.

For further information about Operation Neptune see

Updated on 16th December 2016