Dunedin’s WW2 defences

I wrote last week in an ANZAC Day post that there were armed sentries protecting the remote Fiordland power station at Monowai during World War 2. Defences were established all over the country, and the Dunedin City Council has posted archived photos and information that shows the extent of these were not just the gun emplacements and and radio station on Otago Peninsula.

DCC: World War Two – #FBF

World War II affected the average Dunedin citizen more intimately than other wars, with shortages and blackouts, especially after the entry of Japan. Slit trenches appeared in various parts of the city, as well as concrete pipe shelters in the parks. Air raid shelters were built in many buildings across the city.

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Air raid trench shelters and pipe shelters, upper Octagon, 1942.

It’s hard to see those trenches as being effective from an air raid, but it should be remembered that Pearl Harbour was attacked in December 1941 and Darwin in northern Australia was attacked by air on 19 February 1942  so concerns in New Zealand were understandable.

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The Emergency Precautions Scheme (EPS) was set up by the government in 1935 to coordinate a national response to natural disasters or enemy attacks. EPS began as an early version of Civil Defence but during World War II it shifted its focus to air raids, fires, and poison-gas attacks, as well as earthquakes.

Preparations included flour bombing exercises and blackout practices – A new experience for the city’s residents. During the war, nearly all civilian New Zealanders were involved in the EPS to some extent. Thousands of civilians prepared against attack, built trenches and shelters, planned evacuations and protection of school children, fire watched and policed the blackout.

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Queens Gardens air raid trench shelters and pipe shelters, 1942.

In late January 1942, enrollment in the Emergency Defence Corps (which included the EPS and Home Guard) was compulsory for all able-bodied men aged 18 to 65 who were not in the armed forces. There was some overlap between EPS and Home Guard, and men could be part of both. Women were asked to volunteer for the EPS, and once enrolled could not resign at will.

Some information courtesy of Te Papa, for more from Te Papa go to their EPS collections https://bit.ly/2JueIug #FBF

Otago coastal fortifications in WW2 (from Coastal fortifications of New Zealand)

  • Rerawahine, Otago Peninsula – 2x6in Mk 7 guns
  • Tomahawk, Dunedin – 2x6in Mk 7 guns
  • Harington Point, Otago Harbour – 2xTwin 6pdr guns, 2x6pdr H&N
  • Cape Wanbrow, Oamaru – 5in Mk 7 gun (USA)
  • Bluff – 6in Mk 7 gun

It’s hard to imagine all this from a safe and lucky post-war generation, but the gun emplacements can still be seen:

Tomahawk Battery

Constructed in 1942 and the installation of two 6-inch Mk-VII guns was completed in September 1942. The Tomahawk Battery was camouflaged to look like a beach house and shed.

Harington Point Gun Emplacements


Rerewahine Battery

Rerewahine Battery gun emplacement

Photo of one of the gun emplacements during a shoot, circa 1943

I know someone who worked there as a radio operator. She is now in her nineties.

I don’t know if the Armstrong Disappearing Gun at Taiaroa Head was commissioned for WW2, it was installed at the time of a Russian scare in the 1880s, and is still in place and functional.


  1. NOEL

     /  April 29, 2018

    The Octagon trenches were obviously from a WW1 manual with elbow rest below the rifle parapet. The other was also WW1 design.
    In Vietnam the trenches were much narrower with no elbow rest. When you had to dive to the bottom they were claustrophobic.

  2. lurcher1948

     /  April 29, 2018