Union Steamship Co of Australia and New Zealand

The Union and New Zealand Steamship Company of New Zealand Limited was a New Zealand based fleet which operated passenger and cargo services between New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific.   It had close links with the Canadian-Australasian Line.

Incorporated in 1875, this Company was, as its name clearly shows, not an Australian one, although one of the "tributaries of the Union Steam Ship river" is known to have been an erstwhile Sydney-sider moving to Otago in the early 1840s and commencing a small steamer service in the 1860s.

Despite not being Australian, however, its intimate links with this country from as early as 1877, its Australian-basing and conditions of employment and the interwoven nature of Second World War service warrants its inclusion in this site. The Company entered the war owning forty-seven ships and acquired three during the war. Passenger numbers associated with the war were about 900,000, of which 95 per cent were service personnel. One ship became an Armed Merchant Cruiser, one a Hospital Ship, and five - Wairuna (scuttled early 1946), Hauraki (captured 12/7/42), Kalingo (sunk 18/1/43), Awatea (sunk 11/11/43) and Komata II (sunk 8/12/40) - became war casualties.

Most of the Company's vessels remained in the New Zealand trade during the war, however a number were visible on wider oceans as part of the Allied cause. Awatea, (13,482 gross tons) in mid 1940 brought Hong Kong evacuees from Manila to Sydney and later in the year carried New Zealand troops to Colombo. Requisitioned by the British Ministry of War Transport in 1941 as a troopship, she operated as far afield as Canada and the Far East, but her service ended on 11 November 2023 off Algiers, sunk by German bombers despite brave resistance. Similarly, Maunganui (which had served as a troopship 1914-1919), of 7527 gross tons, was requisitioned by the New Zealand Government in 1941 for conversion to a hospital ship, then operating between New Zealand, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East until 1945 when she relocated to the Pacific for the final stages of the campaign against Japan.

Wahine (4436 gt), Rangatira (6152 gt) and Matua (4166 gt) periodically operated as troop- and evacuee-ships during the 1941-1945 Pacific Campaign. Monowai, of 10852 gross tons and built in 1925, served on many oceans. Taken over in October 1939 by the New Zealand Government, she was converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser, operating initially in the South Pacific on convoy escort duty. Undamaged despite a submarine gunfire attack off Suva in January 1942, she sailed in April 1943 to Liverpool, United Kingdom, there to be converted to a Landing Ship, Infantry. Participation in the 1944 Normandy landings was followed by cross-Channel trooping, then transport of released Russian prisoners of war to Odessa and finally carriage of Australian soldiers in 1946 home from Asia, before refit and resumption of peace-time service.

As the Second World War started, the Company's vessel Taroona was operating as part of the jointly-owned Bass Strait ferry service.  Its wartime story is told under "Tasmanian Steamers Pty. Ltd" in the "Australian Fleets" section of this site.

Niagara, Aorangi, Limerick and Underwood are four of a number of ships which although not owned by the Union Steam Ship Company, were under their management. This site mentions them because of their close connection and their 1940s contribution.

Niagara (13415 gross tons, built 1913, owned by Canadian-Australasian Line Ltd) could accommodate about 700 passengers. Following a successful trans-Pacific career, she sank after hitting a mine off the New Zealand coast, near Whangarei, on 19 June 1940. Aorangi (17491 gross tons, built 1924, owned by Canadian-Australasian Line Ltd) could take about 950 passengers and, like Niagara, operated trans-Pacific. In 1941 she was requisitioned by the British Ministry of War Transport. Serving as a troopship, initially to Fiji and Canada but later between the United Kingdom and the Far East, she also carried out evacuation tasks in 1942. Later being used as a depot ship and casualty clearing station during the 1944 Normandy coast invasion by the Allies, she was returned to her owners in 1946 and resumed the Vancouver mail service. Limerick (8734 gross tons, built 1925) was at the start of the Second World War owned by Irish County Steamers but managed by the Union Company. She became one of the numerous casualties off the Australian coast when, while en route to Sydney in convoy, she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine off Cape Byron on 26 April 1943. Underwood (1990 gross tons, built 1941) was requisitioned in the United Kingdom on completion of building, to utilise her heavy-lift capability. She was sunk by an E-boat as she approached the English Channel, on 6 January 1944.