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For the drummer with the same name see Peter Phipps (drummer)
Sir Peter Phipps
Born 7 December 1908
Died 18 September 1989(1989-09-18) (aged 80)
Place of death Marlborough, New Zealand
Allegiance Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand
Service/branch Naval Ensign of New Zealand.svg Royal New Zealand Navy
Years of service 1928–1966
Rank Vice Admiral
Commands held Chief of Defence Staff
Chief of Naval Staff
HMS Royalist
HMNZS Philomel
HMNZS Scarba
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Cross & Bar
Navy Cross (United States)
Vice Admiral Sir Peter Phipps, KBE, DSC & Bar, VRD (c. 1909 – 18 September 1989) was a founding father of the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN). For heroism at Guadalcanal, the United States of America awarded him the Navy Cross, their second highest award for valor. Phipps was the first New Zealander to reach the rank of vice admiral in the RNZN. He was also the first Chief of Naval Staff and the first Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force.

War careerEdit

Phipps began his military career in 1928 when he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an ordinary seaman. He was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in 1930 and as a lieutenant in 1934. In 1940, after the outbreak of war, he traveled to the United Kingdom where he was given his first command. This was the minesweeper HMS Bay which operated in the English Channel. Fifty aircraft attacked the convoy that Bay was helping escort and she was bombed. Phipps was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bringing his damaged ship home.

Promoted to Lieutenant Commander, he took command of HMNZS Scarba, one of four Isles class minesweeping trawlers purchased for New Zealand. They carried out convoy duties en route to Auckland where they arrived 4 August 1942.

Commander of the MoaEdit

Phipps then became commanding officer of Moa, which, with her sister ship Kiwi, sank the Japanese submarine I-1 which was supporting Operation Ke during the Guadalcanal Campaign in the Solomon Islands. Both ships were patrolling at Guadalcanal and Kiwi's depth-charge attack brought the submarine to the surface. She attempted to escape but was rammed by Kiwi while Moa continued to illuminate with star shell. Moa pursued and pressed home the attack upon the submarine, which eventually ran aground on a reef. Phipps was awarded a Bar to his DSC and the United States Navy Cross[1] for this action.

In April 1943, Phipps was wounded when Japanese aircraft sank Moa at Tulagi Harbour. The ship sustained a direct hit from a 500-pound bomb and sank within four minutes. Five ratings were killed and seven were seriously wounded.[2]

Phipps then became the Senior Officer of the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla in the Solomons. He represented the New Zealand Government at the surrender of the Japanese forces in Nauru and Ocean Island.

Post war careerEdit

After the war, he commanded the training base HMNZS Philomel, where in April 1947 he had to deal with a mutiny of sailors from the base and several ships, over low pay and poor working conditions.[3] He then became the executive officer of the cruiser Bellona. Between 1953 and 1955, he went overseas and served in a senior position in the Admiralty. He then took command successively of the cruisers Bellona and Royalist. When Phipps went to take command of Royalist in 1955, diplomat Frank Corner found that Phipps agreed that the Royalist was completely unsuitable for New Zealand's requirements, and Phipps regarded her purchase as an unmitigated disaster.[4]

Phipps’ later career was a series of firsts for a New Zealander – he was the first NZ naval officer appointed to the New Zealand Naval Board (1957), the first to reach the rank of Admiral (eventually reaching Rear-Admiral), the first to be appointed to Chief of Naval Staff (1960) and the first Chief of Defence Staff (1963), following the establishment of the Ministry of Defence.[5]

Phipps was knighted for his services in 1964. On his retirement in 1966, he was created Vice-Admiral. He died in a car crash on 18 September 1989.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. Full Text Citations for award of the Navy Cross
  2. Official Naval web site Vice Admiral Sir Peter Phipps
  3. Frame, Tom; Baker, Kevin (2000). Mutiny! Naval Insurrections in Australia and New Zealand. St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. pp. 185–206. ISBN 1-86508-351-8. OCLC 247938372. 
  4. Unofficial Channels: Letters between Alister McIntosh and Foss Shanahan, George Laking and Frank Corner 1946-1966 (page 186) edited by Ian McGibbon (1999, Victoria University Press, Wellington NZ) ISBN 0-86473-365-8
  5. New Zealand Navy Museum Phipps, Vice Admiral Sir Peter
  6. Navy's Founding Father Saluted. The Dominion 18 September 1989


Further readingEdit

  • Harker, Jack (2000)The Rockies: New Zealand Minesweepers at War. Silver Owl Press. ISBN 0-9597979-9-8
Military offices
New title Chief of the Defence Staff
Succeeded by
Lieutenant General Sir Leonard Thornton

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