National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Seizing German-Held Samoa

The New Zealanders land in Apia (NAM1996.286)

On a quiet beach in Samoa in August 1914, New Zealand forces went ashore in that century’s first amphibious assault and began what is often referred to as the ‘quiet invasion’.

On the night of 6 August 1914, 48 hours after Britain’s entry into World War I, His Excellency the Earl of Liverpool, Governor-General of New Zealand, received from the Secretary of State for the Colonies a secret cabled despatch, part of which reads as follows:

“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…”

The radio transmitter located in the hills above Apia was capable of sending long-range Morse signals to Berlin. It could also communicate withGermany’s large naval fleet (over 90 warships). Britain wanted this threat neutralised and so the day after the despatch, New Zealand pledged their support.

NZ troops raising the flag in Samoa on 30 August 1914 (NAM 2007.547)

Very quickly a force of nearly 1400, mainly Territorials (Reserves) was assembled. The ships landed at Apia on 29th August and without any resistance took the inland wireless station and settled into life as an occupying garrison.

The New Zealand troops were mainly involved in assisting the civil administrators including the maintenance of postal and telegraph services, a small railway line, hospital services and engineering works.

The German administrators and merchants in Samoa were sent to New Zealand where they were interned on Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

Over the next 8 months in Samoa there were some invasion scares including the arrival of a German battleship but no hostilities eventuated and by April 1915 the garrison was replaced by a smaller force of around 300 men.

German-held Samoa became just the 2nd territory (after Togoland, Africa) to fall to the Allies in World War I.

A relatively unknown World War I story of New Zealand’s involvement in Samoa at the start of the war is the subject of the National Army Museum’s latest exhibition “Samoa: A Great and Urgent Imperial Service” which opens on 29th August in the Thornton Gallery