World War Two (battles and campaigns)
What were the main battles or campaigns of World War Two that New Zealanders were involved in?
Entry last updated: 13/01/21
World War Two took place between 1939 to 1945. This war involved almost every part of the world. It became the deadliest in history, and resulted in the deaths of 50 to 85 million people. New Zealand fought as part of the Allies (Great Britain, France, United States, Soviet Union, and China) against the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan).
Battles and campaigns of World War Two
Europe and Asia-Pacific were the the two major fronts where the war was fought.
Some of the main battles and campaigns of the war that New Zealanders were involved in include:
Battle of the River Plate 1939: A source of pride for New Zealanders, this was the first time a New Zealand unit, HMS Achilles opened fire on an enemy, the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee.
The Battle of Britain 1940: New Zealanders fought in Britain to defend it against German invasion.
The Battle for Crete 1941: New Zealand soldiers stationed in Crete, along with British, Australian, and Greek troops tried for 12 days to defend the island from an airborne assault from Germans.
The North African Campaign 1942 to 1943: One of the most important campaigns fought by New Zealand in Africa was the battle of El Alamein.
Operation Crusader 1941 This was the first desert battle fought by New Zealand Division against the Afrika Corps in Libya, and Egypt.
The Pacific War 1940 to 1945: New Zealand, Australia, and the United States fought Japan in Singapore, areas around Japan, and the Solomon Islands.
The Italian Campaign 1942 to 1945: This was where the 2nd New Zealand Division fought against Italy and Germany in Orsogna, Cassino, and Faenza.
Tips: To find information on individual battles or campaigns, use a keyword such as ' Al-Alamein ' or 'The Italian Campaign '. Try searching the different websites we mention in this entry.
Here are some reliable sites with facts, images and stories about where the battles were fought and what it was like for the soldiers and other people involved.
Britannica School is part of EPIC, a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. It is put together especially for New Zealand school students and helps to answer questions like this.
- Select a level (you can move up or down a level if you need to).
- Enter search words 'World War Two' into the search box.
- The article World War II has information about some of the major campaigns of the war.
- Make sure you explore the links to the Primary sources, Images & Videos and Related Resources on the page.
This is another EPIC database that provides an overview of world history including World War Two. There are two ways to search this database.
- Scroll down the page to Wars and Conflicts and select World War II.
- Use keywords such as 'World War Two' or 'Battle of Crete' or' Battle of Britain'.
- Remember to explore all the content available under On this page. You will find biographies, images, videos, audio, articles, primary sources and recommended websites.
Tips: To get to the EPIC databases you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can log on to AnyQuestions between 1 and 6 pm Monday to Friday, and one of the librarians will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.
This history site belongs to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the world's oldest public broadcasting organisation. It has useful links to articles about World War Two.
- Enter keywords 'World War Two' into the search box.
- World War Two: History's most savage and devastating war summarises World War Two.
- You could also use keywords like Hiroshima, The Blitz or Pearl Harbour to find related information on WW2.
Tips: Websites that have .com or .co in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About the BBC page on the website. That will tell you what the company’s mission and values are.
This site has informationfrom World History Group magazines. It contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in their various magazines.
- Search for 'World War Two' to find lots of articles.
- For example, the article Blood, Oil, and the Axis has detailed information about a World War Two campaign in Iraq.
Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About Us link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are.
Tips: Some websites have advertisements (or ads) which ask us to buy something or tell us to ‘click here’. It’s best to ignore these ads and focus on the information we’re looking for.
New Zealand websites
Here are some websites to learn more about the war from a New Zealand perspective.
NZHistory is a great website for information about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.
- Select Topics from the top of the screen.
- Choose New Zealand at War, then Second World War.
- Select a topic eg Battle of the River Plate to learn more about a specific campaign.
Tips: We like sites that are from government or other reputable organisations, because we can trust the information. You can sometimes tell these sites by their web address – they might have .govt or .edu in their address – or by looking at their About us or Contact us pages.
This website is owned by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Te Ara answers all questions about the people, environment, history, culture and society of New Zealand. Information is well-researched and reliable.
- Enter 'Second World War' into the search box.
- The article Second World War gives a good overview of New Zealand's part in the war.
- Select a heading eg Defeat in France, 1940 to read more about specific battles and campaigns.
Te Ara includes a section called Dictionary of New Zealand Biographies which contains life stories of people from various streams in life like arts, sports, literature, war and more.
- You can search here for famous New Zealand war heroes like Bernard Freyberg and Charles Upham and the battles they fought in World War Two.
Tips: A website’s address (URL) can give you a hint about how reliable it is. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.
DigitalNZ is a search site that focuses on all things New Zealand, especially history. It connects you to reliable digital collections (newspapers, articles, audio, video etc) from different websites.
- Enter 'World War II Battles Campaigns' into the search box.
- Select the type of collection you want to see by choosing images, videos, or more to choose articles, newspapers, or books.
- Each item has a description and a link to follow to read it.
- Select the article Veterans at El Alamein commemorate battle.
- You will find a brief paragraph about the article.
- You then can decide whether you want to read about it in more detail from the Radio New Zealand website.
Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it's better to leave out small words like the, a and of and just choose the main ones, eg world war two battles. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.
There have been many books written about World War Two - check out your local public or school library to see what they have.
Some suggested titles are:
100 events that shaped World War II by Peter Darman
Air force blue : The RAF in World War Two : spearhead of victory by Patrick Bishop
ANZAC heroes by Maria Gill.
SCIS no: 1929329