Timeline: NZ-US military alliance dates back to 1918

The arrival of USS Sampson marks a complete thaw in NZ-US military relations (Reuters)
The arrival of USS Sampson marks a complete thaw in NZ-US military relations (Reuters)

The USS Sampson is on its way to quake stricken Kaikoura, becoming the first US naval vessel to visit these shores since 1983.

The non-nuclear powered ship was supposed to take part in today's international fleet entry into Auckland Harbour to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the New Zealand Navy

The arrival of USS Sampson, a guided-missile destroyer, marks a complete thaw in military relations between the US and New Zealand, after they turned cold in the mid-1980s thanks to New Zealand's nuclear-free policy.

Timeline: NZ-US military alliance dates back to 1918

Relations have warmed considerably under the John Key-led Government. More than 100 Kiwi soldiers are currently in Iraq at the invitation of the US to train local Iraqi troops in combating the Islamic State (IS), while Kiwi troops have also been in Texas this year helping to train US soldiers for a peacekeeping mission to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

A century ago it was also the New Zealanders doing the training, when Kiwi soldiers showed their US counterparts how to fight in the trenches of France during the last year of WWI in 1918.

There was a US invasion of sorts in WWII, when 150,000 US Marines arrived in New Zealand in 1942 to train for their invasion of the Pacific against the Japanese Empire.

Some 17,000 New Zealand soldiers fought alongside US forces in the Pacific, but the Kiwis and Yanks didn't always get along.

In 1943 hundreds fought each other in a mass brawl in Wellington. The infamous Battle of Manners St started after some Americans refused to let Maori servicemen into a shared soldiers club, and saw dozens injured on both sides. Officials tried to keep the incident secret from the public at the time.

Relations have fluctuated since WWII. Some New Zealand serviceman witnessed US nuclear testing during the 1950s, while Kiwis and Americans fought side-by-side once again during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

New Zealand's involvement in the Vietnam conflict saw huge anti-war protests in Auckland and Wellington, signalling a breakdown in local support for the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States) military alliance.

That intensified throughout the 1970s and '80s as various US navy vessels visited our shores, each met with an ever-growing flotilla of anti-nuclear protesters.

The US ships stopped coming for good when the David Lange-led Government passed its anti-nuclear legislation, signalling an end to the NZ part of the ANZUS alliance.

The two countries have maintained cordial military relations since the ANZUS break-up.

The US Air Force has continued to operate missions out of Christchurch Airport to Antarctica, while the US agreed to sell New Zealand a squadron of high-tech F-16 jetfighters until the Helen Clark Labour Government cancelled the order in 2002.

Relations suffered further under Ms Clark's Labour Government, when it refused to send combat troops to support the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Mr Key's National Government has enjoyed a far smoother ride with the US since.

The visit of USS Sampson could be the first of many more, as long as the US can confirm its ships are indeed nuclear-free.