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Vice Admiral Sir Peter Phipps, KBE, DSC & Bar, VRD RNZN

Vice Admiral Sir Peter Phipps, KBE, DSC & Bar, VRD RNZN

Royal New Zealand Navy – Chief of Naval Staff & First Naval Member

Sir Peter Phipps is often referred to as the founding father of the Royal New Zealand Navy. He progressed through the ranks from Ordinary Seaman to Vice Admiral, and had a distinguished World War ll record. On his retirement from the RNZN he held the position of Chief of Defence Staff (now CDF).

He joined the Canterbury Division of the Naval Reserve as an Ordinary Seaman in 1928. He was commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant in 1930 and was mobilised at the outbreak of war and travelled to the United Kingdom in 1940. His first command was the minesweeper HMS Bay, which operated as part of the 24th Minesweeping Anti-submarine Group. In September 1940, 50 aircraft attacked the convoy that HMS Bay was helping to escort, and she suffered bomb damage. Sir Peter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bringing his damaged ship home safely.

He took command of HMNZS Scarba, one of four minesweeping trawlers purchased for New Zealand. They arrived in Auckland in August 1942. Sir Peter became commanding officer of HMNZS Moa which sank the Japanese submarine I-1 in the Solomon Islands. Sir Peter was awarded a Bar to his DSC. For heroism at Guadalcanal, the United States of America awarded him the Navy Cross, their second highest award for valor.     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.

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.

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. 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.

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 flag rank, 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.

Phipps was knighted for his services in the 1964 Birthday Honours. On his retirement in 1965, he was created vice-admiral. He died in a car crash on 18 September 1989.

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