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The Occupation of Samoa was the takeover and subsequent administration of the Pacific colony of German Samoa in August 1914 by an expeditionary force from New Zealand called the Samoa Expeditionary Force. It was New Zealand's first action in World War I. On 7 August 1914, the British government indicated it would be a great and urgent Imperial service if New Zealand forces seized the German wireless station near Apia,[3] one of several radio stations used by the German East Asia Squadron. Since the days of Seddon, New Zealand had aspired to control Samoa, and in 1913 General Godley had discussed the seizure of German Samoa with British military authorities.

A 1,370-man force sailed on 15 August 1914. The convoy stopped in Fiji to collect guides and interpreters and rendezvous with the battlecruiser HMAS Australia, cruiser HMAS Melbourne and the French cruiser Montcalm. The escorting "P" class cruisers Philomel, Pyramus and Psyche were no match for Admiral Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron with the armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau. Defence Minister James Allen recalled that the government was concerned about the German Fleet, but McGibbon[4][5] stated that there was no basis for the assertion in the 1923 history and subsequently by Michael King that the force narrowly escaped disaster, with the German cruisers being well to the north rather than only 15 miles (25 km) distant.

The force landed at Apia on 29 August 1914. Although Germany refused to officially surrender the islands, no resistance was offered and the occupation took place without any fighting. The first seizure of a German colony had taken place four days earlier at Togoland, captured as part of the West Africa Campaign, nullifying claims that German Samoa was the first enemy territory to fall to British imperial forces.[6] The German cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau hastened to Samoa after Admiral von Spee learned of the occupation. He arrived off Apia on 14 September 1914, three days after the departure of the Dominion cruisers and transports. Von Spee was informed that approximately 1,600 New Zealand volunteers were on Upolu, poorly trained and miserable in their woolen winter-weight uniforms, and that he could easily recapture the colony. However, he realised that a landing would only be of temporary advantage in an Allied dominated sea and instead sailed to Tahiti. He then rejoined the rest of his fleet and headed for South America.[7]

After escorting the Samoa force, the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force sailed to Port Moresby and met the Queensland contingent aboard the transport Kanowna. The force then sailed for German New Guinea on 7 September, for the another takeover of a weakly defended German colony.

The story that Francis Fisher then Minister of Marine recalled (as published by Downie Stewart in 1937) that the government asked London what defences there were in Samoa and was told by the British Colonial Secretary to consult Whitaker's Almanac was not supported by a search of papers in Archives New Zealand.[8] The authorities in Melbourne advised that Samoa had a German-officered constabulary of about 80 men and a gunboat, which could have been augmented by seamen off merchant ships.

The force occupied German Samoa until 1920. New Zealand then governed the islands as Western Samoa Trust Territory from 1920 to independence in 1962 as a League of Nations Class C Mandate and after 1945 a United Nations Trust Territory.[9]

External links[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. B. G. Längin: Die deutschen Kolonien. Hamburg/Berlin/Bonn 2005, p. 304. (german)
  2. B. G. Längin: Die deutschen Kolonien. Hamburg/Berlin/Bonn 2005, p. 304. (german)
  3. New Zealand Electronic Text Centre
  4. McGibbon, p. 65
  5. Blue-Water Rationale: The Naval Defence of New Zealand 1914–1942 by I. C. McGibbon, p. 21-22 (Government Printer, Wellington, 1981) ISBN 0-477-01072-5
  6. McGibbon, p. 65
  7. Gray, J.A.C. Amerika Samoa, A History of American Samoa and its United States Naval Administration. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute. 1960, p. 185
  8. McGibbon, p. 64
  9. "Imperialism as a Vocation: Class C Mandates". http://www.jamesrmaclean.com/archives/archive_vocational_imperialism.html. Retrieved 27 November 2007. 

References[edit | edit source]

  • McGibbon, Ian The Shaping of New Zealand’s War Effort August–October 1914 (The Occupation of German Samoa, pages 63–65) in New Zealand’s Great War: New Zealand, the Allies and the First World War edited by John Crawford and Ian McGibbon (2007, Exisle, Auckland) ISBN 0-908988-85-0
  • Leary, L P New Zealanders in Samoa (1918, William Heinemann, London)
  • Smith, S J The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914–1915 (1924, Ferguson and Osborne, Wellington) Semi-official, with a forward by Prime Minister Massey.

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