Enemy at the gates

16:00, Feb 04 2014
WW2 bombing
FORGOTTEN ERA: Animator Chris Keenan and historian Dave Veart tell the stories behind Auckland’s World War II coastal defences.

Few people realise Aucklanders once lived in fear of being bombed during World War II.

The threat felt very real after German mines laid in the approaches to the Hauraki Gulf in 1940 sunk the Trans-Pacific liner the Niagara off Northland's coast.

Now, a short film, Armed, Ready. And, Waiting, combines 3D depictions of guns and aircraft, created by film-maker and animator Chris Keenan, with the storytelling skills of historian Dave Veart.

War Women
WAR WOMEN: Women from the auxiliary army corp did everything from driving trucks to using the plotting system of the Hauraki Gulf.

The Shore pair's film was made for the Department of Conservation and screens daily at North Head in Devonport.

Most Kiwis know about the war in Europe and the Pacific but many don't realise that New Zealand was also under threat of attack.

Our enemies flew overhead, entered harbours, laid mines and sunk ships along our coasts.


A Japanese spotter plane flew over Auckland taking photographs of potential targets in 1942.

It's a forgotten history and the pair want to keep alive the stories behind coastal defences in places like North Head and Motutapu Island.

"People were terrified. They really expected the Japanese to to try to come up over the horizon," Mr Keenan says. "The average 20-year-old has no idea what was happening in 1942 and just how threatened the country was."

The 10-minute short-film uses computer aided design to bring World War II guns and aircraft back to life.

Mr Keenan created real scale guns using old manuals still kept in archives to add authenticity.

An extraordinary defence network was eventually created to defend Auckland including radar, an underwater mine system and a

complex ship monitoring system.

But in 1937 Motutapu Island defences were the only protection against invasion.

The three guns were high tech, firing about 12 shells a minute, and could take out New Zealand's entire naval fleet today, Mr Keenan says.

Any attack would have aimed to take out Motutapu's guns before bombing Auckland into submission, he says.

At the peak of Motutapu battery's operation 1200 people were stationed there.

Men looked after the guns and women did everything but pull the trigger, Mr Veart says.

Women from the auxiliary army corp drove trucks, used the plotting system and operated radar and communications systems.

Auckland was armed, ready and waiting but nothing happened.

The short film screens in the fire command post at the North Head summit that was once the main control centre for the Hauraki Gulf defence network. It runs daily from 8.30am to 4pm.

Go to doc.govt.nz  for more information about North Head.

North Shore Times