Nine rare and valuable Victoria Cross (VC) medals awarded for acts of extreme bravery in combat have been stolen from a military museum in New Zealand.
The medal was awarded to 21 New Zealanders
The thieves managed to evade security patrols, cameras and an alarm when they broke into the Army Museum in Waiouru on North Island early on Sunday.
Defence Minister Phil Goff called the raid "a crime against the nation".
Military officials estimate the medals are worth millions of dollars, but say they will be difficult to sell.
The Victoria Cross, inscribed "For valour", is the highest honour in the British and Commonwealth military.
Such is the level of courage required for the award that it is estimated the chances of surviving an act worthy of the medal are one in 10.
A total of 1,355 VCs have been awarded since they were first instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856 following the Crimean war. Only 12 have been awarded since 1946.
Twenty-one VCs and one Bar were awarded to New Zealanders before the Victoria Cross for New Zealand was instituted in 1999.
The local police commander, Steve Mastrovich, said the thieves had set off the museum's alarm at 0110 on Sunday, but that when a security guard arrived minutes later there was no sign of them.
The thieves gained entry to the Valour Alcove, where the medals were kept, and left the museum via a fire escape at the back of the building, he said.
Mr Mastrovich said the audacious night-time raid appeared to have been "well planned and well executed".
"It was quite a stunning sort of offence really," he told a news conference.
Amongst the VCs taken in the raid were the VC and Bar awarded to New Zealand's most decorated soldier, Capt Charles Upham, for valour in Crete and North Africa during World War II.
Upham, who died in 1994, was only the third person, as well as the only combatant soldier, to have been awarded the medal twice.
Two George Medals, awarded to civilians for great bravery, and an Albert Medal, awarded for lifesaving, were also stolen.
Army Chief Maj Gen Lou Gardiner said the robbery was an attack on everything that soldiers had fought for in the last century.
"The value of these medals is what they symbolise and what they were awarded for," he said.
The Defence Minister, Phil Goff, described the theft as a crime against the nation.
"Every effort possible will be made to recover the medals. They will be almost impossible to sell within New Zealand and we will be working with Interpol to make it as hard as possible to market them internationally."
The museum's executive trustee, Lt Gen (retd) Don McIver, said the medals would be worth millions on the black market.