(Photo courtesy Ian Farquhar)

 

When the First World War broke out in 1914 it didn't take long to clear the Germans out of the Pacific, New Zealand invaded German Samoa, Australia took New Guinea and the  Japanese took Tsingtao  and the Marshall and Caroline Islands. The German Navy left the Pacific heading back to Germany but was destroyed at the Falkland Islands.

For the next three years New Zealand troops headed off to Europe and the Middle East, while New Zealand and Australia became the breadbasket of Britain, with thousands of tonnes of food and supplies. Germany tried to starve Britain to submission using unrestricted submarine warfare. In a continuation of that policy Germany sent out raiders, disguised, armed cargo ships to take the war to the source of those materials, and so in June 1917 the SMS Wolf found herself steaming down the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand heading for the entrance of Cook Strait to lay mines.

On the night of 27/28 June 1917 she laid a string of 35 mines in nearly 100 metres of water off Cape Farewell with the mines set at four metres below the surface, deep enough for large ships, but too deep for smaller vessels of shallow draft. For nearly three months, no ship arriving from or leaving to go to Australia, hit one. But then in the early hours of 18 September, the Port Kembla, arriving from Australia with a full load of cargo heading for Britain, hit one on the very edge of the minefield, blowing a hole in her starboard side. She sank in less than half an hour. All aboard survived the sinking and were picked up by the Regulus later that day and taken to Nelson.

Port Kembla  Length 121 metres, beam 16 metres, depth 8 metres. She was carrying a cargo of foodstuffs to Britain including jam and frozen rabbits. Also Red Cross parcels, mail and 1200 tonnes of lead for munitions.

 

TV3 News item on Campbell Live
 

Ships bell being cleaned up

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