HMNZS OTAGO was commissioned at Southampton on 21 June 1960. The occasion aroused unprecedented interest in the Province of Otago, where, to mark their adoption of the ship, almost every local body sent messages of congratulation together with trophies or mementoes appropriate to the occasion, or gifts of money which were used to swell a fund devoted to providing sports gear and amenities for the ship’s company. On completion of trials the ship “worked up” at Portland under the supervision of the Flag Officer Sea Training and his staff, where a high degree of efficiency in both the personnel and technical fields was attained.
In early August the very intensive programme was broken by a visit to St. Peter Port, Guernsey followed by a brief but pleasant visit to Copenhagen. Neither of these ports had hitherto been visited by New Zealand warships.
The Portland phase was followed by a further period at Londonderry, where the ship took part, with other modern frigates of the Royal Navy and aircraft of the Royal Air Force, in advanced exercises with submarines (including a nuclear submarine). The ship’s final days in the United Kingdom were spent at London, where the ship’s company participated in a “Commonwealth week” and were honoured by a visit from Her Royal Highness the Princess Margaret, accompanied by her husband Mr Antony Armstrong Jones, to see the ship she had launched almost two years previously.
Passage to New Zealand was made via the Suez Canal, calling at Gibraltar, Malta, Aden, and Colombo. Christmas was spent at Singapore and the ship then proceeded via Fremantle and Melbourne, to arrive at the Port of Otago on 19 January 1961. Once again, their name-ship inspired great enthusiasm amongst the people of the province, and parties from the ship, including the Captain and senior ship’s officers, were kept busy touring the towns and country districts, thanking the local bodies for their personal interest in the OTAGO. A crowded week was thus spent at Dunedin, one of the highlights of which was a visit from His Excellency the Governor-General. A few days at the ship’s homeport of Auckland followed, part of which was spent acting as guard ship for the Auckland Regatta. On 6 February the OTAGO wore the flag of the Chief of the Naval Staff when attending the Treaty of Waitangi celebrations in the Bay of Islands. On conclusion the ship returned to Auckland and the ship’s company, some of whom had been abroad for over a year, proceeded on well earned leave.
HMNZS OTAGO visited Napier, Lyttelton, Nelson, and Wellington before returning to Auckland on 22 April 1962Nfor anti-submarine exercises (AUCKEX 5). These exercises, in which HMNZ Ships OTAGO and PUKAKI, HMAS QUIBERON, HM Submarine ANCHORITE, and aircraft of the RNZAF took part, were completed on 1 June. The ship then visited Wellington from 15-21 June 1962 to provide the guard for the opening of Parliament on 21 June, music being provided by the Cadet Band of the Christchurch Boys’ High School.
Self-refit took place from 26 June to 3 August 1962, and the ship sailed from Auckland on 8 August for Brisbane to take part in Exercise “Tucker Box”. This was an anti-submarine exercise organised by the Royal Australian Navy with Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal Navy participation. It was held in the Coral Sea and consisted of a series of submarine attacks on surface forces to test convoy defences. Control of the force was exercised from an Australian Maritime Headquarters and “Tucker Box” was so successful that it will probably become an annual event.
After spending the period 8 September to 19 October 1962 on leave and maintenance in Auckland, HMNZS OTAGO accompanied HMNZS ROYALIST for combined RAN/RNZN exercises in Australian waters and attendance at the Royal Australian Navy’s fiftieth birthday celebrations. The OTAGO then returned to New Zealand with the combined RN/RAN/RNZN force carrying out anti-submarine exercises en route. The ship was employed from 27 November to 13 December 1962 on Auckland anti-submarine exercises (Auckex 6) which were followed by Christmas leave. Maintenance was carried out from 15 to 29 January 1963 before taking part in local exercises and the Waitangi Celebrations.
Commanding Officers changed on 9 February 1963 and six days later the OTAGO, under the command of Commander .J. F. McKenzie, RNZN, sailed from Auckland for Singapore and Exercise JET ’62, calling at Townsville and Darwin en route. Each year the number of ships participating in “JET” exercises increases and the exercises carried out become more complex and comprehensive. Consequently, training value increases. Ships of the Indian, Pakistan, Royal Canadian, Royal Australian, Royal New Zealand, and Royal Navies took part and New Zealand provided two frigates, OTAGO and PUKAKI. This is the first time Canadian ships have been present. Ships of the Royal Ceylon Navy who were to have taken part in “Jet ’62” was withdrawn shortly after, the unsuccessful coup in Ceylon. “Jet ’62” included antisubmarine, surface, air, and minesweeping phases, and ranged from Trincomalee to Singapore. Results were reviewed in Singapore on 16 March, and OTAGO sailed via Fremantle and Hobart to arrive Auckland on 12 April 1963.
HMNZS OTAGO spent a short shakedown and work-up period in Sydney with units of the Royal Australian Navy in September and October. In January the ship left for Fiji to escort HM Yacht BRITANNIA.
HMNZS OTAGO left New Zealand in April 1963 for the Far East to relieve ROYALIST. En route OTAGO spent a month at Pearl Harbour working-up with the United States Navy, and achieved an outstanding pass mark of 91 per cent.
After leaving Pearl Harbour. OTAGO visited Kwajalein and Guam before reaching Singapore in June. While on the Far East Station OTAGO participated in exercise “FOTEX” and paid a successful visit to Bangkok in October. OTAGO sailed from Singapore in November and visited Fremantle and Adelaide before returning to New Zealand in December 1963.
HMNZS OTAGO completed an annual refit in May 1964 and after trials and working-up exercises in the Hauraki Gulf proceeded on a cruise round New Zealand and a series of anti-submarine exercises with other ships, three Royal Navy submarines, and RNZAF Sunderland aircraft. The exercises were curtailed on 24 June 1964 when OTAGO and HMNZS PUKAKI were ordered to sail south with all dispatch for search and rescue duties during an emergency air evacuation from McMurdo Sound.
Afterwards OTAGO returned to Auckland to prepare for passage to Pearl Harbour and the Far East Station. OTAGO carried out refresher training at Pearl Harbour and was graded “excellent”.
On 31 August 1964 while the ship was testing the main engines before proceeding to sea she moved forward from her berth, parted her lines, and collided with U.S. ships WALKER and JENKINS which were lying ahead. Repairs were completed at Pearl Harbour and OTAGO sailed for the Far East, where she has engaged in anti-infiltration patrols and exercised with the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve.
OTAGO left the Far East station in May 1965 returning to New Zealand in time to take part in antisubmarine exercises in the Hauraki Gulf in July. Other ships taking part were HM Submarine TACITURN, HMNZS TARANAKI, the research vessel RNZFA TUI and units of the fishery protection squadron, together with RNZAF aircraft and two United States Navy P3A Orion aircraft from Pearl Harbour. During October and November OTAGO was in the Devonport dockyard for the fitting of additional electronic equipment. In February 1966 she sailed for refresher training at Pearl Harbour and thence to the Far East station to relieve TARANAKI.
1966-67 OTAGO underwent what was described as her ‘half-life refit’ from Nov 1966 to Nov 1967. She recommissioned under the command of Captain Richard T. Hale on 24 Nov 1967. During the refit she had a large section of her bow replaced, the mast enclosed, and UA8/9 installed – among other things. At the time the refit was described as “more extensive than any of our ships has had carried out in New Zealand before
HMNZS Otago sailed from Auckland on 25 March 1968 to undergo refresher training at Pearl Harbour with the United States Navy Fleet Training Group. This was completed on 30 May with an overall grading of excellent. Otago then sailed for Singapore to begin service with the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve. During this period, the ship took part in the Far East Fleet exercises and paid visits to Hong Kang, Sasebo in Japan, and also to Chinhae and Inchan, in Korea, to coincide with the visit to New Zealand of President Park Chung Hee. Otago sailed for New Zealand on 22 November 1968.
HMNZS Otago left Auckland on 21 April 1969 and took part in Anzac Day ceremonies in Australia before joining in Exercise JUCEX 73 with ships of the Royal Australian Navy and with air force units from Australia, U.S.A., and New Zealand. Otago then called at Cairns and Darwin en route to Singapore, where in June, she participated in a month-long exercise with units from the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. During August, Otago visited Hong Kong, Yokosuka, and Maizura in Japan before sailing on 23 September 1969 from Singapore in company with HMS London and RFA Tidereach. On 6 October 1969, she began a refit at Auckland.