M V RANGITATA

The New Zealand Shipping Company was formed in London in 1873. In 1881 they began to outfit ships with refrigeration for New Zealand meat and after a series of mergers and consolidations provided service between New Zealand/Australia and Canada and England. By 1973 ownership of all ships was transferred to P&O line and NZSCo ceased to exist.

 

The RANGITATA, a 16,737 ton diesel-driven ship, was built for The New Zealand Shipping Company in 1929 along with its sister passenger/cargo ships, the RANGITANE and the RANGITIKI. These "Rangi" ships dominated the London-Wellington trade for the next ten years, the three vessels providing four-weekly service between England and New Zealand and making the voyage in 32 days via the Panama Canal.

The RANGITANE was lost in WWII, but the RANGITIKI and the RANGITATA served as troop transports from 1941 to 1945, and by 1949 both had returned to peacetime service. During this period, RANGITATA of course transported the 3104th Signal Service Battalion from Hoboken, NJ, to Liverpool, England.

Both the RANGITIKI and the RANGITATA was sold and scrapped in 1962.

On December 4, 1939, RANGITATA was requisitioned as a personnel carrier and served as a passenger transport ship until 1941 when it was converted to a troopship with a capacity of 2,600 troops. It was returned to civilian control August 15, 1946.

During its 33 years of service on the seas, RANGITATA built a rich history only some of which have been recorded. There are interesting incidents, however. For instance, in 1937 "RANGITATA" carried Anzac troops to England for the coronation of King George VI, and it is also interesting that in 1957 Sir Anthony Eden, the former Conservative Prime Minister, took a cruise on RANGITATA and even presented a prize to the winner of a boxing match held on the ship's deck.

While it was in regular passenger service, RANGITATA always called at Pitcairn as it sailed between England and New Zealand/Australia. An invariable management policy, this gave the passengers a break during the long Pacific voyage and also gave the Pitcairn a trading-sales opportunity for their curios.

During its WWII service, RANGITATA also experienced its share of danger. In November 1940, convoy HX48 consisting of 38 ships including RANGITATA was bound for Britain when it was attacked by the German pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer". The RANGITATA escaped but was rocked by torpedo fire. As one person aboard described it:

"It was lunch time on Sunday, several days after the Rangitata had sailed out of New York Harbor. Lisa was enjoying the special lunch which the crew had prepared to mark a special day. Suddenly there was a loud crash which shook the Rangitata and sent dishes and cups skittering across the table. Lisa thought the ship had exploded. Although they had all been warned many times about the possibility of attack by German U-boats, Lisa did not think of that as a possibility. She had supposed that U-boats always sneaked up on ships that passed in the night. The idea of U-boats attacking in broad daylight, and on Sunday, did not occur to her. The emergency bell started ringing short continuous rings, which meant passengers were to go to their emergency stations. Along with everyone else, Lisa stood up and was struggling to put on her overcoat and Mae West. Lt. Hanson came up behind her and calmly and politely helped her with her coat. Then with a quick salute, he was gone to attend to his duties as commander of the American Navy personnel on board."

This was not the only dangerous voyage made by RANGITATA during those early years of the Battle Of Britain. The menace was not only from Nazi surface vessels but also from Nazi U-boats. During this time RANGITATA participated in the massive effort to evacuate children from Britain.


 

On one such voyage out of Liverpool in August of 1940 (?), the convoy was attacked by a U-boat and a torpedo narrowly missed RANGITATA, striking the ship next to it, the Dutch Ship Volundam. Escaping from the attack, RANGITATA found itself alone on the high seas the next morning and was forced to complete its voyage across the Atlantic alone. The children were subsequently delivered safely in Auckland, NZ. The report of the chaplain is shown below:

After the war, the MV RANGITATA was fitted out as a war bride ship, but so far there appears to be little documentation about this phase in the life of RANGITATA except that she was still serving in that capacity in 1946.

On August 23, 1947, the first draft of 118 immigrants to New Zealand arrived in Auckland aboard the "RANGITATA".

       "We were a day late reaching Wellington because the wharfies wouldn’t work on Labour Day. Well, they didn’t that late October day in 1946, anyway. So the New Zealand Shipping Company’s old Royal Mail Ship Rangitata, still fitted for her World War II troopship role, spent the extra day at sea giving us pallid English immigrants our first snowy Southern Alpine glimpse of this ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, the Maori name for New Zealand, Aotearoa."

In 1961, the PARTHIA was purchased by the New Zealand Shipping Company and renamed REMEURA to replace the RANGITATA and RANGITIKI which were sold for scrap in the following year.

The name "RANGITATA" is familiar to those who live in New Zealand and Australia. About 80 million years before the arrival of man, New Zealand separated from the ancient continent of Gondwana. This landmass that separated from Gondwana was known as the Rangitata land mass and forms what we now know as New Zealand. Thus the name "RANGITATA" is often associated with mountains, rivers, buildings, businesses, and even ships. One example is the Rangitata River, which is one of New Zealand’s most exciting stretches of white water. Fed by the enormous catchment of the upper Rangitata basin, this massive volume of water winds its way down the valley and offers Grade 5 rafting at all water levels.

 
Pictures of MV RANGITATA appear on advertising posters, schedules, and even stamps. Following are two advertisements of the New Zealand Shipping Company featuring RANGITATA. The first appeared in 1940. The second was published in 1950 and shows RANGITATA's normal route between England and New Zealand:
 
 
 
Finally, RANGITATA appears on a postage stamp (below). It was issued by the tiny island of Tristan da Cunha. Only 8 miles in diameter and lying in the Atlantic ocean some 1,500 miles from the nearest land, the island is surrounded by high sheer cliffs ranging up to 1,800 feet high. It's main feature is a volcanic peak that is covered in snow all year long. There is a very small community of some 300 people on one side of the island, and the rest of the island is utterly uninhabitable. One ship visits Tristan da Cunha every year in January. One can but wonder whether or not RANGITATA ever passed by. Click here for further information about Tristan da Cunha. (Use your browser's "Back" button to return.)