After the First World War New Zealand’s shipping lines rebuilt their fleets to replace those sunk during the war. The first batch of ships was characterised by plain, no-nonsense coal burners such as the Kent of 1918. At 8,697 tons and 14 knots, she was a massive floating freezer. In 1925 the first motor vessel, the Port Dunedin, entered the NZ–UK trade. Motor vessels did away with stokers and messy coaling. From now on most new ships would be motorised, and many steamers would convert from coal to oil. Oil tanks were built at most ports in the 1920s.
For the passenger trade, the pinups of the motor-ship era were the New Zealand Shipping Company’s three Rangi-class liners of 1929 (the Rangitiki, Rangitata and Rangitane). At nearly 17,000 tons, they could carry 100 first-class, 86 second-class and 413 third-class passengers. They could also carry a large amount of cargo, much of it insulated. Queen of the southern seas was Shaw Savill’s Dominion Monarch of 1939. At over 27,000 tons, she was by far the largest ship trading regularly to New Zealand, and reverted to the old Cape route. The Dominion Monarch could carry more than 500 first-class passengers, but like all the other ships listed here, she was a combination passenger–cargo vessel. Locally, the Union Company commissioned the stylish and extremely fast (23-knot) Awatea in 1936 for the trans-Tasman and trans-Pacific passenger routes. ‘Australia in three and a half days’, the posters promised.
The Second World War
The Second World War brought greater changes to shipping than the earlier conflict. Security was much tighter. To simplify loading, from 1940 most overseas ships were diverted to the major ports. In 1940–41 German raiders sank a few ships in and around New Zealand waters, from the little Chatham Islands supply ship Holmwood to the Shipping Company’s big liner Rangitane off East Cape. She was the largest ship ever sunk by a surface raider, but the greatest casualties again occurred in the waters around the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, where submarines and aircraft sank over half the pre-war conference lines fleets. New Zealand’s coasters were largely spared, but many were requisitioned for the war effort in the Pacific, supplying New Zealand and Allied forces.