The Home Front Volume I
CHAPTER 10 — War Comes to the Pacific
War Comes to the Pacific
Malaya was expected to hold. Its defences had been publicised, its jungle reported impenetrable to troops. But in 1942 as January followed December it was clear that the British were retreating, the expected stand was not made, aircraft did not arrive to drive the Zeros from the skies, and day by day the miles lessened between the fighting and the last bastion, Singapore.
The Japanese octopus was also striking into Burma and southward, seizing islands almost in clusters. Every few days unfamiliar place-names studded the news, then disappeared, as they were raided, invaded, and fell into the oblivion of occupation. In the news of 12 January, Japanese forces had landed at Tarakan on the north-east of Borneo and in the northern Celebes, and they were claiming Kuala Lumpur. Rabaul was seized on 23 January, soon becoming a base for strikes at settlements in New Guinea and the Solomons. On Saturday 31 January 1942 their spearhead was reported 18 miles from Singapore’s causeway, and by Monday the British had withdrawn to Singapore Island. British forces had also left Moulmein in Burma, while the Japanese had landed at Ambon (Amboina), and raided Salamaua, Wau and Bulolo in New Guinea, and Kupang (Koepang) in Timor. By 4 February, Surabaja in Java was being bombed, so was Port Moresby, capital of Papua; the Salween river on the border of Burma had been crossed.
Regard for the Japanese as fighters was drastically revised. Various voices warned that they must not be judged by their long-drawn-out battle in China, and that their military resources, particularly in the air, had been underestimated. The end of Allied reverses had not come, warned John Curtin,1 Australia’s Prime Minister, on 31 January: Japan was fanatical, very efficient and armed with mountains of supplies and equipment. With this reappraisal came awareness that once again, as in Norway, in France, in Greece and in Crete, the Allies were failing through their own inefficiency, notably in the air; now the failure was on a long finger of Asia that pointed towards Australia and New Zealand. Malaya focused alarm more page 331 than did the Philippines or Borneo or the Celebes, more even than Sumatra and Java. Singapore had been an article of faith and with it fell much other faith. It appeared that official optimism in 1941 about the defences of Malaya, justifiable only as an attempt to discourage attack, had not deceived Japan, while the British had believed their own bluff. As early as 23 December the Evening Post, a paper not usually over-critical of established values, declared that ‘telling the public only what the public wish to hear is a common democratic fault for which the public themselves are partly to blame. Wishful thinking has become a sedative; and politicians, even soldiers too, have been tempted to feed the public on this “dope” and to risk … a rude awakening … the soothing pre-war assurances about the defences of Malaya and Pearl Harbour are now totally disbelieved … the pendulum may now be swinging from unwarranted optimism too far towards pessimism. But the indignation of the public … is understandable.’
Two weeks later the Press set forth the immediate errors that were plaiting the maypole of disaster. ‘No one who sifts the official and unofficial reports of the fighting in Malaya can escape the conclusion that the advance preparations were badly made, that land, sea and air strategy was imperfectly co-ordinated, that the military and civil authorities were at loggerheads and that preliminary intelligence work was faulty.’2 Muffled news further exasperated the Press, which on 17 January complained that for almost a week the daily communiqués from Singapore had told little or nothing. ‘Dr Goebbels at his worst has seldom been more puerile and dishonest than British officialdom in its versions of what is happening in Malaya’. The public knew well enough that things had gone badly wrong; its anxiety was only increased when official news services and commentaries tried to cushion the impact of the truth by wrapping it round with euphemisms, excuses and evasions; these shook faith in official news and damaged public morale. The Dunedin Evening Star on 24 January gave a few samples of not-so-old propaganda: ‘An attack on Singapore from the mainland would now prove as costly as direct assault from the sea’; ‘Great camps have been built for British and Indian troops now fully trained for jungle warfare’; ‘Bombers and fighter aircraft of the Empire are now using aerodromes and sites covered a few months ago by dense vegetation’.
The inactivity of the American fleet was bewildering. Very properly, the United States navy did not reveal the extent of damage at Pearl Harbour, did not say that of the eight big ships in ‘battleship page 332 row’ Japanese bombers had sunk six and damaged the other two.3 On 17 December a report from Colonel Knox,4 Secretary of the Navy, said that the battleship Arizona and five other warships had been lost; three of the five were destroyers and one was the training ship Utah. Other vessels, including the battleship Oklahoma, were damaged; some were already repaired, others would be in dock for several months; about 2900 men had been killed and 890 injured, but harbour facilities and oil-tanks were not damaged. He also said that the entire United States Pacific fleet, consisting of a battleship, aircraft-carriers, light and heavy cruisers, destroyers and submarines was ranging the ocean in search of the Japanese fleet.5 Alert readers might have wondered why there was only one battleship in the chase, but more wondered why, since the fleet was not seriously damaged, it did not appear in the South China Sea, or at Singapore, now bereft of Prince of Wales and Repulse.6 Reports that Washington and London were resolved to defend Singapore, hailed hopefully,7 were succeeded by railings at inaction. Above the title ‘Make it snappy, Sam’, cartoonist Minhinnick showed his Lincoln-like Uncle Sam, blueprint for victory under his arm, racing towards production-shops against Death, with his sickle and hour-glass.8 Next week Uncle Sam had a huge gun, ‘USA war power’, its barrel sharply depressed towards ‘Pacific coast local action’, while in the distance a rising sun, with a cloud of ships and aircraft, showed ‘Jap progress in Malaya’; the caption was ‘Raise your sights, Sam’.9
In mid-January Knox warned against expecting a naval showdown in the near future: ‘I do not mean to imply that the Pacific Fleet is idle. You will hear from it again and again when and where careful strategic considerations dictate.’ The British and American navies had to maintain their fighting strength in all seas, and he emphasised that the chief enemy was Germany; as soon as Germany was destroyed, the whole Axis fabric would collapse.10 The New Zealand Herald contrasted his caution with pre-Pearl Harbour assur- page 333 ances and noted New York press references to Darwin as an American base. But Darwin’s value depended on the retention of New Guinea, the Solomons, New Hebrides, Fiji and Java. While it was suicidal to send ships into narrow seas without air cover, the United States should be able to send considerable fighter aircraft to the Far East, a theatre quite as important as the Middle East. To win the war with reasonable quickness, America must hold the Dutch East Indies. ‘The great essential is speed. Darwin will not be secured if the United States concentrates most of its energies “mopping up” submarines in the Eastern Pacific.’11
Repeatedly, the Herald and other papers12 protested against the British and American view that Germany was the enemy of importance. Malaya was not a side show, to be dealt with at the Allies’ leisure after Hitler’s overthrow; Australia and New Zealand were entitled to more than comforting words, they should have practical evidence that the Pacific would be protected while there was yet time.13 Churchill’s confidence in the eventual outcome was cold comfort: ‘the people of the Dutch East Indies do not ask for eventual redemption from the invader—they ask passionately to be saved from him now.’14
In Britain there was a surge of indignation at yet another defeat due to air inferiority and inadequate preparations. Churchill, Minister of Defence, first Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the Commons as well as Prime Minister, was inevitably a target: he had chosen the men who had made mistakes, if he had not made them himself. Australia, now alarmingly exposed, and with many troops lost in Malaya, complained angrily of trust betrayed and war mismanaged.
On 28 January (New Zealand time), admitting that things had gone badly and would go worse, Churchill, opening a three-day debate on the war, demanded a vote of confidence: ‘It looks as if we are in for a very bad time, but provided we all stand together and use our utmost strength it looks also, more than it ever did before, as if we are going to win.’ He explained that, facing Germany and Italy, Britain had never had enough arms to provide effectively for the Far East. Apart from Britain’s own large needs, all that Russia had asked for had been sent, and though there were more than 60 000 men at Singapore, the Nile Valley had priority in aircraft, artillery and tanks. These supplies had helped the Russians to turn page 334 retreat into attack, and whereas in November Rommel15 had been threatening Tobruk prior to advancing on Egypt, the British offensive had regained Cyrenaica, though they had yet to hold it, and Rommel’s army was not destroyed.16 Churchill took on himself ‘the fullest personal responsibility’ for the disposition of arms and for diplomatic policy. ‘Why should I be called upon to pick out scapegoats and throw the blame on generals, airmen and sailors—to drive away loyal, trusted colleagues, and submit to the clamour of certain sections of the British and Australian press?’ As for Japan, it had been British policy at almost all costs to avoid disagreement unless certain that America would come in; hence they had stooped to closing the Burma Road in 1940. ‘It seemed utterly irrational to suppose that the Japanese, having thrown away the opportunity of attacking us in the autumn of 1940, when we were much weaker and all alone, should at this period plunge into a desperate struggle against the combined forces of the Empire and the United States.’ Japan now had naval superiority in the Pacific and would inflict many heavy and painful losses on all nations with possessions in the Far East, but ‘we should not allow ourselves to be rattled by this or that place being captured, because once the ultimate power of the United Nations has been brought to bear the opposite process will come into play and move forward remorselessly….’17
Although Churchill had shouldered responsibility for Malayan errors, especially for the disposal of arms and for diplomacy, both Auckland papers directed bitter reproaches across the Pacific. The New Zealand Herald, its irritation at American slowness increasing, attacked the United States in an editorial that probably topped New Zealand press censure of Allied policies. Why, asked the Herald, if the eastern defences had always been inadequate, were the peoples concerned repeatedly assured that all was well, and troops from India, Australia and New Zealand sent to Britain and the Middle East? Why had the Allies adopted a policy towards Japan that made war inevitable, thus exposing half the human race to the savage attack of a well-armed adversary? ‘The consequences are now falling, not on London or Washington, but on their wards and friends in the page 335 populous lands of the Orient.’ Churchill himself had been wary, seeking to avoid disagreement with Japan. ‘Mr Churchill does not say so, but the conclusion cannot be escaped that the primary responsibility for provoking war with Japan rests upon President Roosevelt.’ No doubt American assurances of support had induced both Dutch and British to join in the sanctions that had given Japan three choices: to surrender, to suffer economic strangulation, or to fight. ‘Mr Churchill makes it plain that the Allies banked on Japan flinching. Instead she called their bluff and found them unprepared. They had no right to accept such a palpable risk without adequate cover.’ The heaviest responsibility fell on America, which had taken the diplomatic initiative and had the means to back it, but Churchill should have satisfied himself that Pacific Commonwealth countries were not being helplessly exposed, and he now revealed that their defence was fourth in his strategic priorities. In these, Britain and the Atlantic were properly first, and the Soviet second, which staunch and tenacious China might well question, while the defence of the Nile Valley was rated more important than that of Singapore, Tobruk and Benghazi and the desert of Cyrenaica preferred to Hong Kong or the riches of Malaya. Without the Libyan offensive, Malaya might have been saved; a fair and proper distribution of Allied forces was still wanting.18
The Auckland Star on the evening of 29 January struck a glancing blow in the same direction. It was ‘utterly irrational’ to suppose that Japan would submit indefinitely to economic sanctions. It was hard to believe that this aspect was not considered; probably Britain was depending on the United States and Japan struck before there was firm and precise agreement. No one had dared to suggest that the British government and its leader were so wrong that both should be replaced, and as every critic held that it would be a national disaster if Churchill’s leadership were lost, it was certain that he would be given an overwhelming vote of confidence in the Commons. Despite present misgivings and a growing feeling that Churchill took too much on himself, ‘there can be no doubt that if a vote of the British peoples everywhere could be taken, it, too, would be overwhelming. They would be miserably ungrateful people if it were not.’ Churchill had said that though Japan would inflict page 336 more losses, in the end with hard fighting and unity the Allies would win. Everyone believed this, cold comfort though it was, and none should waste time railing at fate. All should do everything possible, with existing means, to defend New Zealand, while the government must demand more and better weapons.19
The Churchill mana did not fail in Britain, where he won his vote of confidence 464:1; nor did it fail in New Zealand, where his irreplaceable leadership was valued everywhere.20 Outside Auckland, papers were less critical, accepting that Britain’s difficulties were enormous and its priorities understandable; there was approval of the Commons’ full ventilation of war matters, in contrast to New Zealand’s secret sessions; there was hope that the news from Makassar Strait might be the start of better things. Some, however, firmly stated that Churchill was overburdened and should admit others to share the load. Thus the Press, while fully endorsing his priorities given the shortage of munitions, questioned the causes of that shortage; production had vastly increased, but there was evidence that reforms in policy and method could have raised it much higher. Churchill’s explanations did not cover the muddles and blunders in this field, or the official statements, complacent and foolish, on Malaya, which had misled everybody but the Japanese. ‘It is saying far too much to say that he nowhere, in the Cabinet or on his staffs, needs wiser and stronger heads to match his own.’21
Newspaper lamentations over foredoomed Singapore had much in common. Several recalled the Maginot Line and the fall of France.22 Japan’s massive gains, in territory and war materials, all in ten weeks, were held up to view, plus the immediate threat to the oil wells of Sumatra, with hope and doubt that American aid would come in time. Quick victory was seen as Japan’s only chance, therefore the Allies had to hang on everywhere till their real strength came to bear. New Zealand must at once intensify its own defences, though not all papers were quite as definite as the Dominion on 14 February: ‘It is not now a question of whether we will be attacked, but when.’
Singapore finally yielded on 15 February 1942. Churchill, announcing this in a worldwide broadcast, said that this was another occasion to show that British people could meet reverses with renewed strength, drawing from the heart of misfortune the vital impulses of victory. Darker trouble had been passed before, in the awful page 337 summer of 1940 when Britain stood alone, and in 1941 when it seemed that Russia and its resources would fall. He assured Australia and New Zealand that Britain would strain every nerve for their safety. The good must be viewed with the bad, side by side; America was in the war and Russia was not destroyed, but was already driving back the foul invader. Disunity was the only crime that could destroy the Allies. Whoever was guilty of it would be better with a millstone hung on his neck and cast into the sea. He spoke strongly of Russia, which in dire straits had kept its unity, kept its leaders, and struck back.
In Australia, which had lost thousands of men in Singapore, there was sharp complaint against those who had mismanaged so greatly. In England some Labour critics spoke of Churchill’s ‘stupifying magic’. ‘Fine words don’t win battles. Whenever we suffer a reverse we are treated to a superb example of mastery of the English language. The nation is being drugged with high-sounding phrases.’23
Fraser, approving Churchill’s speech as ‘true, realistic and unflinching’, had his own eloquence. It would be idle and wrong to suggest that danger was not nearer; there was ample cause for well-grounded concern, but no room for foolish or frantic panic.
We will neither wince nor tremble, we will not fall into undignified complaining or weeping or grizzling or growling, or indulge in stupid; uninformed, unhelpful carping criticism about those who have had the higher direction of our joint war effort and who, with the forces and means at their disposal, could not possibly overcome the huge handicap of time and material which confronted them. New Zealand will face courageously whatever situation will develop. It will do so with calm assurance and dignity as well as with courage. Our danger, which I do not minimise, will decrease in ratio to the effort we all make to build up resistance to any possible attack and contribute to the programme of victory now being planned in the Pacific.24
There were other troubles to digest in this mid-February. The battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen broke out of Brest, where they had been the target of many expensive and supposedly damaging raids, and sped north, harried but successful, to Norwegian waters, thereby arousing gloomy comparison with the Repulse and Prince of Wales. Already the Japanese had attacked page 338 Sumatra, capturing the great oil centre Palembang on the 16th; the Burma retreat was quickening; Darwin was bombed on the 19th. Gains in Cyrenaica had been short-lived: Rommel since 21 January had struck back, and was now uneasily held at Gazala 50 miles west of Tobruk. The only good news was about the ‘sweeping advances’ of the Russians towards the old Polish frontier.
In post-Singapore comment in New Zealand papers several themes interwove: the great need in the Pacific was for aircraft; New Zealand must quicken its own defences and insist that the government demand aircraft, guns, etc; there should not be easy acceptance of soothing assurances from authority. Some papers, such as the Evening Post and Evening Star, accepted without further outcry the repetition in Malaya of exaggerated self-confidence instead of forethought, and echoed Churchill’s demand for unity, pointing to Russia where Hitler had found no quislings and had been beaten back. Others were more critical, reiterating the need for better work in high places. The New Zealand Herald said that drift, muddle and complacency must end; to regard questioning of the highly placed as almost sacrilege was often an excuse for failing to face facts; intelligent criticism was the very breath of democracy.25 The Press held that Churchill’s demand for unquestioning faith asked more than most people would readily or reasonably give. ‘Faith in his leadership is unshaken. But that leadership is in the main moral; there is not the same faith in the leadership of those who organise and direct the Commonwealth’s war effort…. The British peoples can accept disaster with fortitude; they cannot accept bad leadership with fortitude, and there is no reason why they should learn to.’26 The Standard, which on 8 January had said that the Pacific war was merely part of a greater struggle and Japan merely Hitler’s puppet, on 26 February had an article from London saying that on every street corner puzzled men were beginning to consider that Britain, far from winning the war, was fast approaching the danger of losing it through political ineptitude in high places. Churchill’s government was cluttered with discredited politicians, privilege, red tape, muddle and inefficiency.
Changes in the British War Cabinet met the edge of such criticism and gave room for hope that things might now go better. During late February and March articles from overseas on the recent disaster continued to appear, telling of selfish citizens, lack of Service coordination, the paralysing effects of routine and the tropical way of life, of blundering and red tape and unreality, of English soldiers three days off the ship struggling in full battledress, in contrast to page 339 Australians in shorts, boots and tin hats and to the Japanese, who travelled light and fast, co-ordinated all effort, improvised, infiltrated, and used guerrilla methods. Roughly, this could boil down to criticism of pompous, impractical British officialdom. On 7 March an article in the Auckland Star concluded: ‘The root of all these troubles lies “at Home”. An English officer simply cannot view any crisis but from the windows of Whitehall. An Australian, New Zealand, or Dutch commander, given a free hand early, would have saved Singapore.’27
Was there any general reaction or activity after Singapore? There was no immediate mobilisation flurry, because three weeks earlier 27000 men, married but without children, had been called in a Territorial ballot and were already being taken into camps which had been growing rapidly since December 1941; but in the first weeks of March 1942, within a month of Singapore’s fall, it was announced that 17 500 men, aged 18–28, married and with children, would be called up on 25 March at very short notice for Territorial service. There was no clamour to reclaim the troops from the Middle East;28 J. A. Lee, who had always held that there were too many men overseas, urged that one of the New Zealand Division’s four brigades should be brought back29 but there was no supporting outcry. Newspapers were directed by the censor early in April not to emphasise that Australian forces were returning to their own country.30 Naturally, it was not known that Roosevelt had agreed early in March to send a division to New Zealand while 2NZEF remained in the Middle East.31 Construction of defence works—camps, aerodromes, coastal fortifications—was strongly accelerated; on 6 March a Defence Construction Council was set up, with James Fletcher,32 a building contractor who had proved his ability in this field, as Commissioner of Defence Construction, to organise and push forward all defence works, deciding the priority of projects, with wide powers to control supplies of materials, plant and labour and to ensure co-operation from everyone. A week later, a 54-hour week page 340 for defence construction was established, with provisions for transferring needed men from other districts, and for flat rates of pay.33
But for most people not called to camps or construction jobs, life was not broadly changed: commercial, social and public affairs went on as usual. Schools held their swimming and athletic sports, still publishing lists of winners; cricket and bowling and yachting interclub championships were won; stock sales were held; Scout Week took place throughout the country; ladies held garden parties for kindergartens; members of Parliament opened school fund-raising fêtes; the Prime Minister opened new rooms for the Hard of Hearing League;34 Wellington’s sixth school swimming pool was opened.35
Cinemas were showing much comedy and little war. For instance, Auckland was seeing Las Vegas Nights, ‘the happiest musical medley that ever sparkled from the screen’; Gloria Swanson in Father Takes a Wife, with supports including the latest pictures from the Singapore front; Spencer Tracey, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Margaret Lockwood in Quiet Wedding (‘all Auckland is talking about this delightful comedy’); Wallace Beery in Barnacle Bill; Laurel and Hardy in Great Guns; Abbott and Costello in Hold that Ghost, plus a March of Time newsreel, Norway in Revolt; My Life is Yours, with Lew Ayres as Dr Kildare, had a special first half showing Australia Prepares (‘a good chance for comparison with ours’), U-boats in the Atlantic, Moscow and Odessa, and the AIF facing Japs in Malaya. In the large Civic theatre was Dive Bomber, in colour with Errol Flynn, ‘the Allies’ answer to the devastation of Pearl Harbour … hell-diving heroes of the air and the girls whose hearts fly with them.’36
Business enterprise was carrying on. At Wellington in the Wainuiomata Valley private enterprise was developing a new housing scheme: 16 houses had already been built and there was talk of space on the flat for 5000 homes.37 There were also advertisements such as: ‘Can you spare an hour? Time is precious these days what with war work and additional domestic cares. But one owes it to oneself, as well as one’s family and friends to keep up personal appearances …’ with an hour a week at James Smith’s beauty salon for cleansing, rejuvenating facials and lustre-restoring hair treatment.38 And again, ‘Morale is a woman’s business. The way you page 341 look affects so many people … a woman’s beauty stands for courage, serenity, a gallant heart. But you’ve less time to spend on beauty care, so learn to make the most of it. Come to Milne and Choyce ….’39
Another advertisement, for National Savings, asked: ‘Would you rather pull your weight in the country’s war effort or pull a rickshaw?’ It showed a farmer-type New Zealander jogging in the shafts before a gross, bemedalled Japanese officer, while two soldiers, with rifles and bayonets, grinned in the background.40 This drew protest from the Dunedin Manufacturers’ Association as more likely to lower morale than to strengthen it, ‘as it presented a picture no New Zealander would visualise or tolerate’.41
Probably the most widespread feeling was that, though things were bad, they were bound to get better because the Allies had both might and right on their side; not the might of surprise and swift blows, but the massive strength of America, once it got into its war stride, plus the redoubtable Russians and the tough Chinese. ‘We must hang on and do the best we can till the tide turns’ might sum it up.42 The Wanganui Herald on 4 March remarked, ‘The war mood of a large portion of the public of New Zealand may be said to range between lively apprehension of imminent catastrophe and near apathy, according to the tone of the latest news. Observers have not noted a general line of thought on the war, except that it will probably be won by the Allies “somehow and sometime”.’
In talk and in newspapers people debated whether Japan would invade New Zealand. Some said that Australia and all the islands north of it would have to be taken first, others saw New Zealand as an early target, a base for cutting United States–Australia communications. Some said that New Zealand was too remote and, lacking oil, minerals and rice, of no use to the Japanese; others held that even mutton would not deter them.43 The long pause at Rabaul, the thrust through Burma, showed that Japan was not coming our way, argued some;44 others said that this was merely wishful thinking.45
Diagnosing the errors of Malaya—accepted as lack of forceful leadership, staff work and knowledge of the country, lack of vigorous training for actual combat and of skilful, resolute use of the men page 342 and material available—produced anxiety to avoid similar errors in New Zealand. There were proposals that Territorial training should be overhauled, that officers should hold rank on their present merit, not on seniority, and preferably should be less than 45 years old; that repelling of invasion should be strenuously rehearsed.46 There were many references to Major-General Bennett,47 who had emerged from Malaya with a fighting reputation and who urged new ways of war, believing that every Australian was a natural guerrilla. There were wishes that New Zealand’s military leaders would be as outspoken. ‘We have plenty of drab radio talks from politicians but when it comes to defence matters we want to hear direct from the men whose job it is’, wrote one newspaper correspondent; another: ‘We all want to hear from our military leaders. Sunday night radio soporifics are not good enough for martial times.’48 Truth, comparing talks by Bennett and Fraser, repeated that people would rather hear from the heads of the fighting services than from politicians.49
There was complaint that the public did not know what was going on, Parliament’s secret sessions and the time spent on trifles drew comment.50 A cartoon by Minhinnick showed Fraser outside a door labelled ‘Parliament. Secret session as usual’, saying ‘Tell you what I’ll do—I’ll let you look through the keyhole for a few minutes, but I’ll have to keep the key in!’51 At the same time the spreading of rumours, many derived from enemy broadcasts, was reproved by mayors, editors and others.52 On 3 March, W. E. Barnard, reproving rumour-mongers as ‘dangerously silly people’, said that disturbing hearsay reports flew about because the authorities did not sufficiently take the community into their confidence. Secret sessions were necessary but afterwards more information should be given. In England there were secret sessions but also Churchill openly reviewed the whole field of the war, members could criticise and their criticisms were reported in the press. He thought that New Zealand radio should discredit Tokyo’s misrepresentations and use a wide range of speakers in whom the public had confidence: Coates, the only ex-soldier in the War Cabinet, seldom spoke on the air, page 343 and J. A. Lee also had military experience.53 The Wanganui Herald, on 4 March, endorsing this, said that the country sometimes seemed ‘a huge whispering gallery’. The Press said that Parliament had almost ceased to inform the public, while the official Publicity Department was better called non-existent than incompetent.54 Minhinnick’s cartoon ‘Moths flourish in the dark’ showed a dismal-faced Home Guardsman Fraser taking tattered trousers, ‘Public Confidence’, from a box labelled ‘Secret Sessions Complex’ amid a cloud of moths called ‘Rumour’, ‘Enemy Radio’ and ‘Axis Lies’.55 Dr D. G. McMillan MP complained that this cartoon was subversive and that for purely personal and political reasons certain newspapers were trying to undermine the government.56
Government publicity, fearful of informing the enemy, relied much on broadcasts and statements by ministers from material more soothing than informative, prepared by departments. These repeatedly assured that the government was coping with the situation and doing everything possible. They were in generalised terms without many concrete examples, and often had a party-politics flavour: Webb, Minister of Labour, spoke of taking off his hat to various industrial workers who were toiling like Trojans, even while strikes in meat works and stoppages in coal mines were disconcerting the public. No New Zealand ministers worked on their speeches as Churchill worked on his. They relied on their natural style, which did not match the war situation, and the public waited in vain for words that would fill them with strong confidence and purpose. Months earlier the Press had deplored that ministers did badly what an announcer could be left to do well, seizing all occasions instead of choosing essential ones, ‘and they alone, it seems, do not know how commonplace and wearisome they have made them.’57
There was a flare-up of political discontent. Sidney Holland again pressed for coalition, backed in this by allies such as the Farmers’ Union executive, which also called for the complete abolition of racing in wartime.58 There were murmurs against the 40-hour week, although regulations at Christmas time had made overtime much cheaper. The NZRSA, which perceived that Fraser had the strongest and coolest head in the field, was making its representations not through public meetings but directly to government for a broadbased war administration. These representations, secretly submitted page 344 to RSA branches on 23 March, were the starting-point of negotiations that produced a re-organised and enlarged war administration on 24 June 1942.59
There was again the odd call for leadership, linked often with demands for weapons. What, asked the Dominion on 16 February, would each and every one do to help should there be an attack? Some were guarding vital points or watching the coast, some preparations were being made; but the great mass of the public seemed only vaguely conscious of its danger and of individual responsibility. New Zealand needed someone with the passion of Mr Sumners60 calling on the United States Congress to rouse the nation to its danger: ‘“My God, are we going to let the hope of the ages perish from this earth because of our own unworthiness, and because, like France, we insist upon business as usual?”’61 An article in the Dominion remarked on the lack of urgency: ‘Time seemingly is thought to be on our side—tons of it. We still find time to argue about hours and wages, time to walk out of a coalmine because somebody might get wet, time for weekend sport much as usual, time for a not-too-quick one after a not-too-heavy day’s work.’ Everywhere was a deadening sense of frustration. ‘We want to be fired with a flaming zeal to be up and doing. We want to be taken more fully into the Government’s confidence on how each of us individually can help in a positive way to confront these Japanese.’ Emphasis was on passive defence, on EPS, which was coming to mean Everyone Play Safe and was eroding the fighting spirit.
The talk everywhere goes like this: ‘Have you dug a trench’?— ‘Do you keep your bath full?’—‘Have you laid in a week’s provisions?’ … Is that all a country with the traditions of Gallipoli, the Somme, Crete, Libya has to talk about at an hour such as this? … We want, Mr. Prime Minister, to be roused with words and acts that are positive…. The real but dormant spirit of New Zealand is a fighting spirit. We want to give these insolent Japanese a run for their yen that they’ll have cause to remember. That spirit can be stimulated by giving us something active to do and by proclaiming the doctrine of the offensive. Too many people are wagging their heads in resignation.62page 345
Awareness that Home Guard uniforms, boots, rifles and other equipment were still inadequate sharpened anxiety. What use were men without weapons? Some urged that the government must demand aircraft, tanks and guns from Britain and America; some urged that New Zealanders should contrive their own tools of destruction. Thus a man complained that for nearly two years he had been trying to interest the Army in anti-tank landmines that could be made by thousands in any foundry; ‘official dry rot is not confined to Malaya …. It seems the army slogan is “Civilians, keep out.”’63 A prominent member of the Chamber of Commerce, M. G. C. McCaul,64 complained in several newspapers about preoccupation with slit trenches and protection for civilians; people must insist on an efficient, adequate Army, complete with tanks and aircraft, or share the blame for wilful blindness and complacency.65 The Auckland Chamber of Commerce urged the government to strengthen the Home Guard and see that local manufacture of arms and equipment increased.66
This feeling crystallised in the ‘Awake New Zealand’ movement. At Hamilton late in February the Home Guard commander, Major T. H. Melrose,67 launched a campaign to arouse civilians to more active and belligerent defence. He spoke of Cromwell, the obscure farmer who raised an ‘iron army’, of stubborn Boer commandos, of Yugoslav resisters and Russian guerrillas. He urged a Home Guard vastly increased, with red tape thrown away and ingenuity rampant. Its men must have weapons, from sharpened slashers to flame-throwers, bombs, trench mortars and any destructive devices that could be contrived with the materials and machine-tools locally available.68 A Hamilton businessman, P. O. Bonham,69 promised to give £200 and would raise £1,000 within a month; by 16 March donations totalled £2,250.70 The readiness of some people to respond to such a movement was suggested by a letter in the Dominion from a woman who wanted weapons and assurance that New Zealand would never surrender, recalling Churchill’s Dunkirk promise to fight on the page 346 beaches and the hills. ‘There are hundreds of women living alone, carrying on farm work, business, etc., who have gladly dug their own slit trench; some are first class shots, but their only weapon of defence against paratroops is the wood axe…. Give the women weapons, they can fight. The Japanese will never have the chance to take the women and children alive.’71
On 11 March came the British government’s revelations of Japanese atrocities at Hong Kong: of British soldiers bound and bayoneted, of women both European and Asian raped and murdered, of prisoners crowded into insanitary, dysentry-ridden camps. These horrors, reinforced by others from the capture of Nanking in 1937, had a good deal of prominence. The Auckland Star in an inflammatory special article urged every man and woman to get some weapon, practise with it, and die fighting: ‘to die of a hot, sharp twisting bayonet plunge through the belly, when trussed like a fatted rooster, would not be as good a death as being shot in half by a tommygun…. Put the wind up our women so that they will die fighting like cats rather than painfully and lingeringly of an Eastern disease ….’ There should be Molotov cocktails to fling at the invaders and one for the final explosion that would leave no wife or screaming child to suffer. ‘Stop thinking you are too fat, too old, too comfortable, too superior! Join the Home Guard! Push your husband out the front door and send him running to join it….’ All who could should get a rifle and learn to use it. Maybe the Americans would be here to prevent disaster, maybe they would not. ‘Remember the barbarities of Hong Kong and get ready to fight and to die fighting.’72
The Standard printed ‘a stark exposure of the barbarous atrocities which have been the stock-in-trade of the Japanese army’, stressing that the bayoneting and raping at Hong Kong could be repeated in New Zealand. ‘Fight, work and save as never before. We are in the battle zone and the victory must be ours … or else.’73
All this fanned the ‘Awake New Zealand’ movement which, blessed by the RSA and the Chamber of Commerce but without political bias, had spread through the Waikato and sprung up in distant places. It sought to kindle a spiritual fighting force within people and to make both public and government aware of the urgent need for total war, with every fit man trained to fight, all factories and workshops fully engaged on arms and equipment, and people page 347 roused to individual action without waiting for compulsion by the government.74
Reports from some small towns gave grass-root detail. At Te Aroha a meeting of 600 people recorded emphatic protest at the long failure of the authorities to arm and equip the Home Guard, and subscribed £491, calling on people to act for themselves, to support Major Melrose’s movement, and to improvise weapons. Hand grenades from Hamilton were shown and 5000 of them were to be the first step, a local firm setting up half its workshop for this purpose.75 At Te Kuiti, on similar lines, a crowd of 500 subscribed nearly £400.76 A Rotorua meeting on 22 March donated more than £1,000 and was told of the keenness at Hamilton: a group of Te Pahu farmers had offered to come to town three days a week to make munitions; other farmers, some with trade skills acquired before going on the land, had offered to work on munitions at night and between milkings; it had been suggested that as butter was now less important some factories should close and calves be left to run with the cows till the next season, freeing farmers and dairy factory workers for training or war work.77 By 20 March Levin had raised £800 and its signalling equipment, and hand-grenade throwers and trench mortars, locally made from scrap, were approved at Foxton.78
What was probably a fairly typical course of activity occurred at Hastings. On 9 March a ‘rally for unity’ meeting called for the honouring of Fraser’s promise of universal service, with all fit men trained in arms and all women’s organisations directed to war activities. A week later the Hastings Chamber of Commerce urged a national government, publicity to combat subversion and defeatist rumours, and support for ‘Awake New Zealand’.79 A Hawke’s Bay Weapons Council was organised and it speedily made contact with both the Army and the Home Guard, examined the possibilities of a local engineering workshop, and sent to Hamilton for drawings and samples of weapons.80 There was an immediate start on making camouflage nets and suits, staple-drawers from old rasps and Molotov cocktail belts from sugar bags. A member of the War Weapons Council, Mrs J. R. Stevenson, told a meeting of women that the Japanese wanted to frighten people from their homes. They should ‘stay put’ and fight if necessary—‘a broken beer bottle would make page 348 an excellent weapon.’81 In fact, weapon-making remained simple. Truth, six months later, commenting on Hawke’s Bay zeal, told of knuckle-dusters and daggers made from old car springs, of 100 staple-drawers, 50 camouflage suits and thousands of camouflage nets for helmets and trenches, many made by Maoris from green flax.82
At Auckland on 7 March, Brian Kingston, prominent in the National Service movement83 that had been suppressed in June 1940, called a meeting at which speakers from Hamilton urged all-in effort. Kingston himself said that while the government had done well in many ways, such expressions of public feeling might encourage it to require stronger effort towards improving defences. There were resolutions demanding the immediate mobilisaton of a citizen army and of industrial resources to equip it, speeded by a moratorium on rents, interest, etc.84 A few days later at a larger Auckland meeting with locally-made weapons displayed on the platform, Mayor Allum85 called for shoulder-to-shoulder effort, with all feelings of politics, class or creed set aside, saying that the Prime Minister joined him in approval of the people’s desire to take part in the defence of their city. Trade unions advocated production councils, Auckland engineers had already set up a special committee to bring all facts forward and there was stirring talk of citizens’ defence in all aspects. The Mayor, again stressing government approval, thereafter set up a committee to consider local defence matters and to improve war production, inviting communications from all citizens or manufacturers with constructive proposals.86
An example of weapon-making may be given. One R. Mackrell of the EPS demolition squad at Onehunga, a handy man with tools, was asked to make a mortar of the type widely used by the Home Guard in Britain. By the end of February he and his helpers were making about 12 mortars a week out of the 2½-inch piping used in refrigeration plants. The mortar had a spade grip by which it could be dug into the ground, and as it weighed only about 161b it could be carried by one man, with a second man carrying its bombs, which were being made by the same group.87 Major Melrose decided that these could be made at Hamilton and by mid-April the Mayor of Hamilton had presented its Home Guard with eight page 349 trench mortars, plus ammunition and an auxiliary trailer from the research members of ‘Awake New Zealand’.88
There was less activity at Wellington, seat of government. However, a Lower Hutt meeting of about 150 persons, ‘where the loudest voices got the best hearing’, criticised many things—the public’s ignorance of the running of the war and of the need for complete mobilisation, the faults of ministers, race-day trains and vegetable supplies—and resolved to support the government in a total war effort mobilising every fit man and woman.89 In the South Island there were a few scattered outbreaks: Oamaru’s Borough Council, speaking of the need for national awakening, for quadrupled munitions and longer hours, called a public meeting.90 Gore on 24 March launched its ‘Awake New Zealand’ campaign by subscribing £1,000 at one meeting.91
The ‘Awake New Zealand’ movement was eyed askance by many. Inevitably, its drive for do-it-yourself defence implied criticism of government action or inaction. The sensitive Standard complained of irresponsible politically-motivated criticism of the government’s defence preparations by Holland and others who did not know what was being done: ‘Mass meetings and resolutions are not going to help defend this country.’92 The Labour member for Invercargill, W. Denham,93 wanted the Prime Minister to explain that the criticism, far from being valuable and constructive, was querulous, fretful and might play into the hands of the enemy.94 Truth suggested that the campaign’s munitions proposals encroached on areas that could be run only by the government.95 R. H. Nimmo, no Labour party man, and a pillar of the Chamber of Commerce which in some areas endorsed the ‘Awake’ campaign, wanted caution before criticism of the war effort. After visiting military camps he believed that the government had done a very good job and Service chiefs were experts, with information that the public would not have.96 Wisely, Fraser accepted assurances from Hamilton that the movement’s belligerence was not directed at the government and he went there himself to strengthen the alignment. On 30 March, after seven page 350 hours with delegates from the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua and the King Country, Fraser declared that he had enjoyed every minute of his day, and that it was a splendid movement, an inspiring example of democracy.97 The Standard meanwhile trimmed its course, explaining on 26 March that while well informed public opinion was of tremendous value in a war, it was most difficult for the government to decide where publicity should end and censorship begin. The ‘Awake’ agitation showed the result of saying too little; the government could have given more publicity to what had been done but it had preferred to work and not talk. ‘The lesson to be learned from the recent campaign is that governments cannot afford to hide their lights under a bushel.’98
In mid-April the movement spread to Taranaki, beginning with Inglewood’s County Council.99 By the end of May Bonham, chairman at Hamilton, had toured Taranaki, finding keen interest and a great deal being done for the Home Guard, ‘in fact, more had been done there than in the Waikato, and several Taranaki schemes would be submitted to the Hamilton Battalion for adoption.’100 Early in May, ‘Awake’ began at Whangarei, where £550 was subscribed within a fortnight.101 At about the same time, advertisements from Hamilton proclaimed that New Zealand was unmistakeably faced with invasion, that thousands had banded themselves together ‘to Awaken this country to a sense of its danger, to the need for the sacrifice by all, and to see that offensive weapons are manufactured to the limit by the full utilisation of all untapped resources’, and that growth had been such that it was lately decided to launch a nation-wide campaign asking all organisations and persons actively to support the movement, so that all New Zealanders, with God’s powerful help, would stand four-square against the real and terrible danger.102
By this time the Prime Minister was becoming a little dubious. His Waikato friends, he said, had started out with excellent ideas and he had hoped that their efforts would be confined to the Waikato where good work was being done in a particular way; he had the highest respect for those behind the movement, of which he would express no opinion, though he thought it was well intentioned; time could not be wasted squabbling and the best way to win the war was to get whole-heartedly behind the war effort.103page 351
Also, by this time the Director of Publicity (J. T. Paul), close behind whom stood the Prime Minister, and Army were giving more information. Articles in the Auckland Star from 2 to 16 May told of the arming of the North, and on 17 May Puttick told the nation clearly, if not with the flair of MacArthur or Bennett, that New Zealand’s defence had come a long way in a hurry, that there had been need to keep quiet about it at first, but now the Army could afford to be less hush-hush about its achievements.
The ‘Awake’ stir was not profound. Although some people who envisaged invasion set strenuous words reverberating and fired some others with their vision, only small free-lance ardours of preparation ensued. The sums collected provided many Home Guardsmen with useful gear such as groundsheets and haversacks, but could do little for weapons. There were limits to the explosives that could be manufactured by amateurs with safety to the users, the Army was cautious about accepting them, and regular weapons were gradually coming. The real depth of the movement may be measured by the fact that in April 1942 regulations compulsorily transferred more than 25 000 men from EPS to the Home Guard where needed, although in some areas the Guard was already at full strength.
Even in these worst months the news was not all bad, discreetly managed to make the best of it. Frequently a Russian thrust countered the impact of Japanese advance. Thus on 7 January the New Zealand Herald’s single column ‘Push South still Continuing, Malayan Fighting, New Landings made’ was quite eclipsed by its large-lettered ‘Rapidity of Advance, Within Reach of Kharkov, Progress in Crimea’. On 13 January, with ‘Balaclava Captured’, the Japanese occupation of Kuala Lumpur looked less ominous; on 16 February when the fall of Singapore had central place on every cable page, the Evening Post also drew attention to ‘Sweeping Advances, Russians nearing old Polish Border’. Again, on 11 March, ‘Awful Atrocities at Hongkong’ and ‘Australia’s Danger is Graver Daily’ (with the third Japanese landing in New Guinea) were balanced by the headings, ‘Havoc in Ruhr, Intense RAF Raid’ and ‘Kharkov Surrounded on Three Sides, More Russian Gains’.104
In war, besides giving information, the task of news media is to maintain morale and hopefulness along with enough alarm and urgency to induce lively effort. Bad news which was obviously fully known to the enemy, like the sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, was promptly admitted; where such news was obscure, or page 352 might give information to the enemy, its release was often officially delayed,105 as in the Java Sea battle, and would sometimes then appear beside some more cheering reports. The balanced presentation of good and bad, as instanced above, could preserve morale while presenting sad facts, and by logical extension of this process good news could be inflated by various means such as multiple reports, optimism, and the plain difficulty of aircrew and seamen in knowing how much damage was achieved. In some cases, inflation could almost amount to invention. A notable example was the Battle of Makassar Strait, which provided much-needed relief in the bad last week of January 1942.
On 21 January about 16 Japanese transports were escorted from Tarakan (on the north-east coast of Borneo, taken on 11 January) south towards the oil port, Balikpapan. Dutch aircraft sank one in the afternoon of the 23rd, and another the next day. Shortly before dawn on the 24th four American destroyers, sent to make a night attack, found the convoy anchored off Balikpapan, both silhouetted and veiled by the burning oil field. The first torpedo fired by the Americans confused the Japanese commander who took his destroyers out into the strait to search for submarines, leaving the transports unguarded. The Americans sank four transports and a patrol boat that night; three days later the aircraft tender Sanuki Maru, the most valuable ship hit off Balikpapan, was severely damaged by bombers.106
Strategically, the Japanese claim that their advance was not halted for even a day was correct, but it was a gallant and skilful effort, the first United States naval surface strike in the Pacific, and it was very warmly received by a nation hungry for news of action and victory.107 America was not alone in this hunger. In New Zealand, overseas communiqués and foreign correspondents’ reports raised a lofty edifice of destruction, buttressed by appreciative editorials.
On 28 January the New Zealand Herald proclaimed ‘Greatest Sea Victory of the War, Over 50 Ships Sent to the Bottom’, some being ocean liners each probably carrying 3000 men. The Auckland Star editorial said that the over-confident Japanese, in sending their convoy into the Strait, had made perhaps the biggest blunder of the war. The Press was heartened by the first considerable offset to the depressing talk of Japanese success, showing that American ships page 353 and aircraft were out in the Pacific and capable of vigorous offensive action. Most papers on 30 January quoted the statement by the Batavian correspondent of the Daily Mail that the battle was emerging as the greatest sea action since Jutland, against an armada bent on the invasion of Java. Makassar Strait was soon dropped from the headlines thereafter but small references maintained the idea of success. Thus on 14 February most papers reported Lord Halifax108 at Washington saying, ‘What happened at Macassar foreshadows what the Allies will be able to do when their air and naval strength is built up, and that is coming as surely as night follows day.’ The Dominion’s ‘Background of the War’ column on 2 March spoke of such actions ‘draining away the life blood of Japan’s striking power’.
The theme of naval success was sustained on 2 February by Admiral Halsey’s109 surprise attacks on the Marshall Islands, bombing and shelling Japanese installations, aircraft and shipping, for the loss of 11 aircraft. Initial reports were brief, but they built up the idea of United States naval activity and of checks to Japan. Thus the Auckland Star on 3 February saw ‘a gleam in the darkness; up to the battle of Macassar Strait the Japanese did all the harrying in the Pacific. They received their first serious check there, and during the week-end they have had another.’ The New Zealand Herald said that naval initiative, far more important than any tally of material loss inflicted, was no longer with the enemy; the American Pacific Fleet had begun to assert itself. In mid-February under headings such as ‘Bases razed’, ‘Devastating raid’, more details were released by Washington, naming the islands and listing the destruction of 38 aircraft, four radio stations and 16 ships, including a 17 000 ton converted aircraft-carrier, two large submarines and a modern cruiser.
Post-war reckoning showed that actual damage was slight, but American naval historian S. E. Morison wrote: ‘It would not be fair to judge this raid by the meager material results’; it provided valuable combat experience, the over-optimistic reports of damage helped morale, and the audacity of Halsey in striking at Japanese territory gave his country its first naval hero of the war.110 In the New Zealand press, too, there were repeated references to the brilliance of the Marshall Islands action. Scholefield’s private diary on 13 February 1942 noted the balance of news. ‘The story from B.B.C. today discloses the success of the American fleet’s cruise across the Pacific, page 354 and comes just in time to be a counterpoise to the depression about the fate of Singapore and the sticky condition of Libya. Washington released its story of smashing visits to Pacific groups just about the time when B.B.C. told us about the dash of the heavy ships from Brest.’
On the other hand, Allied sources and New Zealand newspapers fully admitted their worst sea loss at this period when, between 27 February and 1 March, the Allied fleet was almost wiped out in the Java Sea, while the Japanese, with air support, more cohesion and better use of torpedoes, did not lose a fighting ship, though some were damaged and four transports sunk.111 On Saturday 28 February, evening papers said that a big battle was raging. By Monday reports were confused: one claimed an Allied victory but said that details were lacking; others suggested substantial losses by both sides. In most papers headlines announced multiple landings on Java and some, such as Dunedin’s Evening Star, published Tokyo’s ‘familiar exorbitant claims’ to have ‘virtually annihilated’ the Allied fleet, including five cruisers and six destroyers. Not much more was heard about this battle till 16 March when all papers carried the Admiralty communiqué listing 13 Allied warships sunk—five cruisers, seven destroyers and a sloop—complete with names, guns and tonnages. Editorial comment varied. ‘Battle lost, prestige redeemed’, stated the Evening Post.112 The Auckland Star paid tribute to gallant men but found the situation ominous. Japan’s naval supremacy in the whole area must now be overwhelming and unless American and British ships were speedily transferred to the Pacific, Japan would have alarming freedom of movement. Australia’s Prime Minister had lately renewed appeals to the United States for weapons, and it was hoped that Fraser was doing likewise.113 The Press squarely acknowledged a disaster: the squadron had failed in its desperate attempt to break up the Java invasion force and was itself trapped; if Japan should immediately invade Australia there would be little naval opposition. But this heavy loss should be viewed against the total losses of the Japanese war: American experts believed that half of Japan’s total cruiser strength had been sunk or put out of action.114
The theme of Japanese naval losses, with special mention of cruisers, had been popular, especially between 14 and 16 February and 21 and 23 February, and it was sustained in later reports.115 Post-war reckonings were different. Japan’s victories up to mid-April were page 355 ‘accomplished without the loss of a single major warship; except for 4 destroyers the Japanese fleet remained intact. It was an astonishing achievement.’116
On 8 March the Japanese easily landed in New Guinea, at Lae and Salamaua. The American carriers Yorktown and Lexington were in the area, intending an attack on Rabaul, but Admiral Brown117 decided to strike instead at the new landings before they were consolidated. On 10 March, from the Gulf of Papua, 104 aircraft took off, crossed the Owen Stanley Range at a 7500 ft pass, found plenty of shipping off Lae and Salamaua, and ‘the aviators had a field day “remembering Pearl”,’ with only one aircraft lost.118 As they left, Army aircraft from Townsville struck again. This double blow provided the most stimulating day yet in Allied air operations rooms and Roosevelt, in a message to Churchill, called it the most cheering thing in the Pacific so far.119 According to Morison, the usual over-optimistic reports of ships sunk or damaged were discounted at naval headquarters because Army Liberator aircraft from Townsville next day found everything still afloat; ‘but a check-up after the war showed that the carrier planes had sunk a large minesweeper, a 6000-ton freighter and a 8600-ton converted light cruiser.’120
This knowledge was for much later. On 19 March, hard after the desolating news of the Java Sea, came a United States naval communiqué, without any dates, announcing that American and Australian aircraft had smashed a Japanese invasion fleet, concentrated near Lae and Salamaua, with 12 warships, two of them heavy cruisers, among the 23 sunk or damaged. The naval losses off Java had been offset in a dramatic manner.121 Editors rejoiced.
There were frequent reports of growing Allied air power, battering at Rabaul, the main southern base, at Gasmata, Lae, Salamaua, and Timor centres, and destroying Japanese aircraft, while the defenders of Darwin, Wyndham and Port Moresby greeted their attackers with fierce salvoes. ‘It might not be long before the Allies’ aerial offensive north of Australia becomes an aerial crusade to drive the enemy from his scattered holdings in the Pacific islands’, the Auckland Star on 9 April quoted from the Sydney Morning Herald; Allied air power was increasing daily, while the enemy’s was shrinking; in a month page 356 at least 157 Japanese aircraft had been destroyed or seriously damaged between Timor and New Britain. ‘Don’t be over-depressed by news from outside,’ advised the Allied air chief, Lieutenant-General G. Brett,122 in the news of 11 April. ‘In the air we are belting the Jap and belting him hard.’123
On 20 April 1942 bold headlines—‘Bombs on Japanese Cities’, ‘Tokyo Admits Air Raid’—hailed Japanese reports of bombs on schools and hospitals in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Kōbe. American silence was rightly taken as evidence that the raiders came from carriers. This was confirmed by Washington on 11 May, with accounts of damage, such as some fires burning for two days. On 21 May, when the raid commander, Brigadier-General J. H. Doolittle,124 was decorated for a brilliant success, its effect on targets was retold, though there was still silence about the aircrafts’ take-off and landing. In fact, the strike was a riposte for Pearl Harbour: 16 long-range Army aircraft left the carrier Hornet about 650 miles from Japan, made their havoc and consternation without being hit, and flew on west. One crew, landing at Vladivostok, was interned and later escaped to Persia; the rest crash-landed or baled out over China and were saved by peasants, only eight of the 80 fliers losing their lives; three of them were executed by the Japanese for bombing non-military targets. Savage reprisals were taken against any Chinese thought to have helped them.125 In post-war British evaluation, ‘The effects of the raid were out of all proportion to the damage inflicted. It was no more than a nuisance raid but it was spectacular and daring. It caught the public imagination and gave a tremendous fillip to American morale which had had little encouragement during the four previous months.’ In Japan it created alarm for the safety of the homeland and contributed to determination to attack Midway Island and draw the American fleet to a show-down.126
All this, of course, was unknown to New Zealand in April 1942, but there was firmly grounded feeling that America was coming up to expectations, had shown skill and strength. In the pause while Japan concentrated for the invasion of Port Moresby early in May, Allied aircraft raided Japanese holdings north of Australia and reports page 357 of Japanese air and sea losses continued; correspondents began to use vague but comfortable phrases about the Allies having wrested the initiative from Japan. The optimistic General Brett, who stated ‘Everything is now on the up-and-up’, was widely quoted.127
The battle of the Coral Sea, 5–9 May 1942, was the first check to Japan’s southward advance. On 3 May the Japanese had landed unopposed on Tulagi, in the central Solomons, and two days later seized Deboyne Island off south-east Papua, to gain shore-based air cover for the invasion of Port Moresby, timed for 10 May. The Americans were expecting a major move and Admiral Fletcher128 heard of the Tulagi landing while his two-carrier force was refuelling about 500 miles to the south. The carrier Yorktown hurried north, arriving after the Japanese covering force had withdrawn, and at Tulagi its aircraft could only cripple a destroyer and sink some small boats while believing that they had done much more substantial damage.129 Thereafter the main Japanese and American forces in the Coral Sea sought each other for two days, during which a United States tanker and destroyer were sunk. On the morning of 8 May the opposing carriers, more than 200 miles apart, launched their aircraft at each other in the first sea battle fought in the air, the ships themselves not exchanging a shot. Both Yorktown and Lex- ington were hit, the latter more severely, but were still serviceable; the main Japanese losses were a light carrier sunk, a heavier carrier damaged and more than 60 of their 100 aircraft destroyed. This left insufficient air power for the attack on Port Moresby, which was given up, the Japanese withdrawing northwards. Some hours after the fight, exploding petrol fumes caused the more damaged Lex- ington to be abandoned in flames, though her men were saved. The Americans thus had both the heavier shipping loss and the strategic victory.130
Ironically, this effective success was received in New Zealand with more reserve than the papery triumphs of Makassar Strait or Lae. page 358 On Friday 8 May evening papers announced ‘very excellent news’: eight Japanese ships had been sunk near the Solomon Islands for the loss of three aircraft. They also told of the fall to Japan of Corregidor, last fortress of the Philippines, while most of an Arctic convoy had reached Russia and another had returned to Britain at the cost of the 10000-ton cruiser HMS Edinburgh.131 The Post reminded that Russian success offered the best hope for an early end to the war in Europe, and that in the Pacific ‘we must be patient, we must be prepared to endure. The activity of the United States navy on the flank of the southward-bound Japanese, as they move from island to island, and American submarine activity in Asiatic waters, may cheer us but must not hoodwink us concerning dangers ahead.’132 Next day, reports of the second stage of the sea battle added a Japanese aircraft-carrier and a heavy cruiser to those sunk, with another carrier believed a total loss and a second cruiser badly damaged. Tokyo was claiming to have sunk two American aircraft-carriers and a battleship, and to have crippled an Australian cruiser and a British cruiser of the Warspite-class. It seemed, said the New Zealand Herald in a familiar phrase, the greatest naval battle since Jutland. The American navy had again lessened Japan’s long-range strength, though an offensive from the Solomons could still be launched. ‘The Japanese, as they showed in the battle of Macassar Straits, do not mind suffering heavy initial losses provided they can achieve ultimate success. On the final outcome of the present engagement may depend the immunity of Australia and New Zealand from invasion.’133
The Press remarked on 11 May that neither Canberra nor Washington assumed that the battle was a decisive victory, or that the threat to Australia and New Zealand and their communications with the United States had sensibly diminished.134 The Star–Sun, the Otago Daily Times and the Auckland Star, also on 11 May, believed that the Japanese had been checked but until it was known what they had intended, and their real losses, it would be prudent to regard the battle as indecisive. On 15 and 16 May, in several papers, an article pointed out that the size of the Japanese force showed the strength of their outward drive. ‘The enemy’s long arm was not severed, nor, indeed, paralysed, but the clutching hand was badly mauled and forced to withdraw. It may well be that the arm will page 359 be strengthened for another blow, but most assuredly the Allied strength in those waters will be reinforced to meet it.’135
A week later, the Auckland Star remarked on the impression, fairly common in New Zealand, that the threat to the whole south-west Pacific was reduced by the Coral Sea battle,136 but itself maintained a wary note in both news and comment. During May there was speculation on Japan’s next move. Would the southern drive continue? Would Japan concentrate on China? Or press through India to meet the Axis? American intelligence was, correctly, expecting action in the north Pacific but, to encourage Allied attention elsewhere, late in the month Japanese submarines, carrying four midget submarines and a reconnaissance aircraft, entered the Tasman. On the night of 31 May 1942 midgets attacked ships in Sydney harbour, missing important targets but blowing up a depot vessel on which about 20 seamen were asleep. Two two-man submarines, destroyed or scuttled, were recovered from the harbour. Japanese headquarters claimed, inaccurately but with suitable rejoicings, that HMS War- spite had been destroyed.137
This ‘completely unsuccessful’ raid, which proved that ‘it can happen here’, made large headlines in New Zealand. During the next week there were reports of several cargo ships attacked in the Tasman, two being sunk. Finally, on the night of 8 June 1942, shells fired from submarines damaged a few houses in both Sydney and Newcastle. If these actions had not been eclipsed by much stronger tidings from Midway Island they would doubtless have raised lively alarm, but in their context they merely showed up the likelihood of nuisance raiding and caused blackouts to be sharply intensified. Commenting on this relative calm, the Auckland Star said that as most people had gained sufficient experience in the ways of war to judge fairly accurately the significance of enemy actions, they regarded the shelling of Newcastle and Sydney as ‘curious rather than important’. The submarines had achieved little beyond showing their presence and quickening Australian vigilance. The Star thought that most New Zealanders were mentally prepared for some kind of attack, if only of the tip-and-run variety, though many others were still trying to convince themselves that Japan had bigger fish to fry elsewhere.138page 360
In the first week or so of June, besides submarines in the Tasman, there was powerful news from several battle theatres. The Royal Air Force was making its first ‘thousand bomber’ raids, on Cologne and Essen; in Russia’s black summer of 1942 disaster was striking at Kharkov and the last agony of heroic Sevastopol was beginning; Rommel had broken out from Gazala in the attack that was to take Tobruk on 21 June and reach Alamein a few days later; Friday 5 June had small reports of Japanese attacks on Dutch Harbour in the Aleutians and on Midway Island.
Admiral Yamamoto139 had planned to seize Midway Island, threatening Hawaii, and thereby force a show-down with the American fleet before it recovered from Pearl Harbour. On 3 June a massive Japanese fleet attacking Midway Island was surprised by a smaller American force. The battle of Midway lasted till 6 June. American losses included the carrier Yorktown and many aircraft, but the Japanese, losing four carriers, 250 aircraft and the pick of their naval air pilots, with one heavy cruiser sunk and another damaged, had to retreat. It was, writes the official British historian,
the turning point in the war against Japan. The battle of the Coral Sea checked for the first time the Japanese advance. Midway put a stop to it. Though his fleet was still greatly superior to Admiral Nimitz’s140 in battleship strength, without his carriers Admiral Yamamoto no longer dared risk a fleet action in waters outside the range of his land-based aircraft. Japan’s attempt to expand her already over-stretched perimeter proved an irretrievable mistake. In reaching for the shadow of further conquests she lost the bone of naval supremacy, without which she could not hold the vast area she had already won.141
By 8 June newspapers were relishing the communiqué in which Nimitz said that a great victory was in the making and that while Pearl Harbour would not be avenged until Japanese seapower was impotent, they could claim to be ‘about midway to our objective’. He reported two, possibly three, Japanese carriers destroyed, with all their aircraft, and one or two other carriers damaged, along with three battleships and four cruisers, while one American carrier had been hit and some aircraft lost. Here was the longed-for sound of victory, and Coral Sea caution was brushed aside in exuberant headlines, though several papers in their comment showed slight reserve. page 361 The New Zealand Herald, the Evening Post and the Evening Star all perceived that the United States was holding to the essential Nelson principle of ‘the fleet in being’, while the Japanese navy, frittering away its strength in ‘buccaneering expeditions’, was ceasing to be.
The Press on 8 June thought that Japan’s Midway action was primarily defensive and that its southward drive was continuing, recent Allied bombing of Tulagi being evidence that the Japanese had established a base in the Solomon Islands. The Dominion rated Midway as an episode in a struggle over a wide area and expected more tentacles. The Auckland Star on 8 June said that reports of earlier Pacific naval action had been too optimistic. It mentioned the Makassar exaggerations and noted that after the first news of the Coral Sea battle Australian authorities had been at pains to ‘play down’ the success achieved there. Bearing in mind the difficulties of accurately determining damage, first reports of Midway should be met with some reserve, but it seemed certain that the United States navy had won success greater than could have been hoped for at this stage.
After a few days of Midway news details, a Washington communiqué revived Coral Sea publicity, making a glorious pair of victories. Previous withholding of Coral Sea information, it was claimed, had assured success at Midway and the loss of the Lexington could now be made known. Enemy losses, especially of aircraft-carriers, were tallied with much satisfaction.
Later, there was wide reporting of Brigadier-General Hurley’s142 warning on 17 June 1942 at an RSA meeting against the current wave of optimism as people talked of the Coral Sea, Midway and the RAF’s great raids. The Dominion also cautioned that much recent comment was more optimistic than known facts warranted: the enemy’s spearhead at sea had been blunted, especially in carrier losses; the immediate threat to supply lines had been removed and vital time gained, but it was too soon to claim that the initiative was passing from the Japanese; that would happen only when the United Nations began to attack enemy strongholds.143
Militarily, it was proper to release details of engagements well after they happened, so that they could not add usefully to enemy knowledge, but it was also necessary, for long-term public morale, that official sources should reveal losses. It often happened that losses, announced late, would be balanced by more comfortable news.
After the mid-June rejoicings, further Coral Sea and Midway stories and photographs gradually emerged, cheerful in the prevailing gloom. page 362 On 30 June, ‘analysis of reports’ gave the names of the four Japanese carriers sunk, plus two cruisers (though actually only one was sunk, the other badly damaged). In mid-July the United States navy released more Midway details: of the 80 Japanese ships engaged, nine, including four aircraft-carriers and two heavy cruisers, had been sunk, and as many other ships damaged, with 275 aircraft destroyed and 4800 men killed, while one United States destroyer had been sunk, the carrier Yorktown ‘put out of action’, 92 officers and 215 men killed; American aircraft losses were not disclosed. Late in August, when the Guadalcanal action was in a bad way, American papers refreshed memories of the Coral Sea144 while in September, when Guadalcanal was no better, ‘US Navy Communiqué No 97’ was issued,145 giving more information on the preliminaries and action at Midway. However, not till 17 September (New Zealand time) was the loss of Yorktown made known, Washington explaining that it was not announced earlier because there was reason to believe that the Japanese did not know of it.146
Thus, although the main outlines of actions were known promptly, the almost inevitable inflation of success and prudent delaying and cushioning of bad news made public awareness of the tides and toll of war neither exact nor immediate. News of an action came out piecemeal, over long periods, and careful, sustained reading was needed to evaluate mixed fact and fancy. The broad facts of who advanced and who retreated were fairly clear, but their cost was hazy. The Coral Sea and Midway battles were no exceptions.
After Midway many New Zealanders, along with Australians and Americans, felt that since things had started to go better they should go on improving and waited, with varying impatience, for the Allies’ offensive in the Pacific to begin. To strike while the iron was hot seemed the obvious course; ‘more aid for MacArthur’ was the cry from Australia. If MacArthur had 2000 more aircraft at once, he could probably retake everything between Torres Strait and Manila.147 Meanwhile, since mid-May, the Germans had turned and were gaining alarmingly in Russia, and at the end of June, Rommel had begun his drive into Egypt, to be held in July at the Alamein line, page 363 where at the Kaponga Box, Ruweisat Ridge and El Mreir, the New Zealand Division had some of its hardest fighting.
It was clear that the war in these places demanded all possible support, though New Zealanders, like Australians, were disturbed that nothing was being done to follow up the Coral Sea–Midway successes. The New Zealand Herald on 17 July commented on the uneasy quiet of the Pacific, in contrast to current ferocity in Russia and in Egypt. Were the Pacific allies to await Japan’s next blow, or try to regain the East Indies? In Russia’s extremity, attack by Japan on Siberia was likely, could be fatal, and could be prevented by a United Nations offensive in the Pacific.148 The Press also, on 9 July, had forecast attack on Siberia, which would require less shipping than other possible moves by Japan, though it ‘would not altogether exclude simultaneous attack on Australia and New Zealand’.
Australian impatience was heightened after 21 July when the Japanese, who since Midway could not risk another sea attack on Port Moresby, landed easily at Buna on the northern coast of Papua and started along the 120-mile track leading them to Port Moresby. By 6 August, having seized Kokoda village with its airstrip, they had begun to cross the Owen Stanley Range through very tough jungle. Despite Australian resistance, the miles between the invaders and Port Moresby lessened steadily, while bombing raids on Darwin, Townsville and other north Australian targets increased.
In London, Nash said that it was a huge mistake to imagine that Japan’s drive had finished and that therefore it would be wise to do nothing at present: ‘We must find a way of doing something that will be most harmful to Japan.’149 Fraser, visiting Australia, said that a large and determined offensive in the south-west Pacific was imperative before the United Nations could win,150 and that in Australia as in New Zealand both government and public opinion definitely wanted Allied aggression.151
On the other hand, it was realised that to attack the Japanese efficiently under their land-based air umbrellas would require immense shipping and air power, for aircraft-carriers were clearly vulnerable. Presumably America did not yet have this strength and shipping was needed elsewhere. With Rostov falling, the whole Don page 364 basin in German hands and the Caucasian oil wells almost within their grasp, clamour for a second front in Europe daily sounded more justified. Russia’s need was clearly desperate, a Pacific offensive not the most direct way to relieve it.
Although the enemy was now much closer than when Singapore was threatened, there was much more calm in New Zealand. It was due in part to awareness of local mobilisation and preparations, in part to the arrival of large numbers of Americans,152 to feeling that Coral Sea and Midway had at least taken the edge off the Japanese advance, and simply to being accustomed to the nearer war. This, plus the Russian crisis, lessened impatience for Pacific action. To the New Zealand Herald on 27 July 1942 the Buna landing showed that in the south-west Pacific the initiative was still with the enemy, and it doubted that Washington planned an early offensive. A very large convoy of American troops had lately landed in Britain. ‘Russia’s need of a diversion is palpably the greatest’, and perforce the Allies must remain on the defensive. Again on 4 August this paper said that if a second front was imperative for the relief of Russia, the Pacific must wait, though it was clear that the Japanese were working like beavers extending their hold in the Solomons Islands. If the Allies did not make a move this year, the Japanese would. The Auckland Star on 7 August, considering the disquiet in Australia following the Buna landing, advised that the fighting record of MacArthur should be trusted: ‘he will do all that he has the force to do’, but while Japan had command of the sea he was constantly at a disadvantage.153 The most disturbing feature was not the local Japanese gains but the improbability that MacArthur’s resources would be greatly or quickly increased. In Washington and London all eyes were on Russia and the Middle East; Pacific needs must seem much less pressing, and an Allied offensive in the Pacific was likely to fade into the future. ‘It may be that both in Australia and New Zealand we must content ourselves, albeit unwillingly, with the role of “hanging on” to every position we hold, and think ourselves lucky if we lose no more’, concentrating, as Australia’s Prime Minister had put it, on doing the right thing ‘with what we have’, which did not yet include command of the sea.
Remote from public knowledge, the supreme commanders fought out their global and service priorities for aircraft and ships and men and weapons. The well-established ‘beat-Hitler-first’ policy which kept the Pacific basically on lean rations during the first part of the page 365 war did not preclude offensive action within a certain range when opportunity offered, as it obviously did after Midway. As stated by the official American historian of Pacific strategy, ‘The problem was to settle on an operation that could be undertaken by the limited forces available and within the strategic concept for the Pacific but which would produce more enduring results than the earlier raids and strikes.’154 This was not very far from the views of Curtin and the Auckland Star. Clearly the Solomon Islands was the area to strike but preparation was delayed by debate on who should command. MacArthur wanted to head the attack that would recapture Rabaul and the Bismarck archipelago; Admiral King,155 Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet, and the Navy men saw the operation as primarily naval and amphibious.156 Debate on command and related problems delayed the follow-through from Midway; meanwhile the Japanese were digging in on Guadalcanal.
At Tulagi in the Solomons, quietly taken from Australian control on 3 May 1942, the Japanese, despite occasional Allied bombings, had established themselves and were building an airfield on nearby Guadalcanal, to be the forward base for attacking New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa. On 2 August, a communiqué from MacArthur’s headquarters said that this construction had become evident about six weeks earlier and that reinforcements had since arrived. The Press deplored that the Allies had not driven on after Midway: opportunity had been missed, Japan had strengthened its bases and got new ones. The struggle for advanced bases had become the determining factor in the Pacific, and at present Japan was winning that struggle.157 A week later, headlines gladly hailed the launching in the Solomons of a long-awaited American offensive. It was, said the Dominion’s commentator on 10 August, the most welcome news of the past few months.
Having decided on the roles of the several services, the Americans had struck at Guadalcanal before the Japanese airfield could come into use. Early on 7 August, 11 000 marines made a surprise landing, and by next afternoon had seized both the partially completed airfield and the main camp of the 2000 Japanese, mainly labour troops, who retired rapidly. At Tulagi harbour, used as a seaplane base, opposition was stronger, but it too was taken by the night of page 366 8 August, along with the small neighbouring islands of Gavutu and Tanambogo.
After this most promising start came disastrous setbacks, and 26 weeks’ hard fighting to secure what had been occupied in little more than that number of hours. From Rabaul a Japanese force of five heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and a destroyer had already hurried south to intercept the Allies; in a night attack lasting 32 minutes very early on 9 August, through an amazing series of Allied confusions and wrong decisions Admiral Mikawa, naval commander at Rabaul, sank off Savo Island the Australian heavy cruiser Canberra, three American cruisers, Vincennes, Astoria and Quincy, and a destroyer, taking very little damage himself.158 Then, fearing attack by American aircraft, the Japanese withdrew. The American transports hurriedly completed unloading their supplies for the Marines and, with the remnants of their covering force, retreated to Noumea, leaving them on their own, with not much firepower, and food for 37 days.
During the next three months, both sides reinforced and supplied their men on Guadalcanal, where grim, tight jungle fighting developed, punctuated by major attacks; for the Americans the lowest point in the whole campaign was in mid-October. There were also, besides stray sinkings, four big naval battles. The first of these, on 24 August, between carrier aircraft, was more or less a draw, the Japanese losing a light carrier and damaging but not sinking the carrier Enterprise. On the night of 11–12 October, the heavy cruiser San Francisco beat off a Japanese cruiser force, enabling reinforcements drawn from New Caledonia to land on Guadalcanal in time to face a night bombardment from battleships and to withstand a major attempt to recapture the airfield, 23–6 October. On 26 October, off the Santa Cruz islands, an indecisive action against a large Japanese force sank the carrier Hornet and damaged both the carrier Enterprise and the battleship South Dakota, while a Japanese heavy cruiser, two destroyers and two carriers were damaged, with serious losses in aircraft and pilots. The Japanese fleet withdrew, leaving a badly crippled American fleet guarding an island on which American troops precariously held a battered, pock-marked airfield.159 By the first week of November Japanese reinforcements outnumbered the Americans, but a great sea battle between 12–15 November with American aircraft flying from Guadalcanal’s crucial airfield, proved decisive though expensive. The Americans lost two cruisers, six page 367 destroyers and two rear-admirals, and took heavy damage besides; the Japanese lost two battleships, along with several lesser warships and laden transports, and retreated. This was their last major attempt to recapture Guadalcanal, but the slow grind against the tenacious Japanese ground troops continued till the remnants were evacuated early in February 1943.
Obviously these events, especially the heavy naval losses of 9 August, could not be told to the world. The loss of HMAS Canberra was published on 21 August, but news of the three sunken American cruisers was not given till 12 October.160 The initial success, plus news that the Americans had also counter-attacked in the Aleutians, gave welcome assurance that a genuine and effective offensive was under way. From Sydney came the man-in-the-street view, ‘It’s about time’.
‘The scope, purpose and the degree of success of these enterprises are unannounced at the time of writing,’ said the Auckland Star on 10 August, ‘but the bare announcement of them lifts the spirit’, adding that it was one thing to harass the enemy with destructive raids, as in the Marshall Islands, it was quite another to take a strongly held position and keep it. News continued to be veiled and changeable, but generally cheerful: naval battles ‘raged’, there were mopping-up operations and bitter land fighting, and aircraft were active. Reports quoted from American and Australian sources provided a variety of headlines, such as ‘Allies now Control Third of Solomons’,161 ‘Long Grim Fight in South-West Pacific Area’,162 ‘Resistance Overcome, Japanese taken by Surprise, Enemy Naval Force Driven off’.163
On 31 August (alongside news of the Japanese landing at Milne Bay, Papua) papers published, with varying completeness, a ‘US Navy communique’ which stated that American troops on Tulagi and Guadalcanal were sufficiently well established to warrant the release of details of the action in the Solomons. These details were mainly of the successful landing on 7–8 August, with some skilful skating over later events. ‘This is a report to rejoice over,’ declared the Auckland Star. After much speculation on few facts, the course of American operations in the Solomons had been made reasonably clear. Although there had been no hint of withdrawal, official reticence and unofficial warnings about over-optimism had created the impression that the attackers were holding on precariously, their fate page 368 in the balance. Now, since they were well established in six islands and operating the airport, there seemed firm grounds for confidence that they could maintain their position.164
During September interest concentrated on the Japanese advance in Papua, the German drive on Stalingrad, the recalcitrance of Waikato miners.165 The gap between public confidence, grown from reports of a secure front on Guadalcanal, and the actual uncertainty was measured by the public’s growing impatience with fire watching, and government’s seemingly unreasonable insistence on its continuance, even its extension. Ministers gave direct warnings. Sullivan, on 13 September, said that it was madness of the very craziest kind for people to talk as though the danger for New Zealand had passed; the Japanese would make a great effort to recover what they had lost in recent defeats and if they should win New Zealanders might have to fight for their country.166 Such warnings, long linked to appeals for more devotion to the war effort, fell on ears dulled by custom.
Within three weeks the tone of news and comment had grown distinctly less cheerful. The New Zealand Herald said on 17 September that the heavy Japanese offensive under way should chasten those who a few weeks earlier were too ready to assume that the tide had turned. Next day it pointed out that the struggle in the Solomons, though important for Australia and New Zealand, was not regarded in London, Washington or Moscow as determining the war. Allied eyes were on Stalingrad. Again, on 21 September, this paper wrote, ‘The Allied High Command may or may not underestimate Japan, but certainly they … are attempting to defeat Germany first. Comparatively light forces are being devoted to holding Japan.’ The Auckland Star on the same day said that so far news had been scant and speculation plentiful. American comment, in which a few weeks ago there had been keen anticipation of further islands being recaptured, now emphasised the strength of the enemy and the strain on the Marines to retain what they held, one commentator saying that unless the Marines were reinforced the Japanese might seize the vital airfield. The Star, while rejecting such extreme pessimism, foresaw stalemate, with the Japanese unable to recapture the southern islands and the Americans unable to advance. American emphasis on reinforcements obviously alarmed New Zealand. Coates on 28 August had spoken of New Zealand troops going to other page 369 theatres if needed, and on 8 September Major-General Barrowclough,167 inspecting a ‘new military formation of which he has just taken over the command’, said ‘The war cannot be won by sitting here in New Zealand so we have to … be able to go away at very short notice.’168 Newspapers began to speak of New Zealanders going to the Solomons, urging that their training and equipment should be suitable.169
The news on 22 September had stated that the see-saw Solomons battle had so far proved indecisive because neither side had an overwhelming superiority. During October the see-saw continued: sometimes the landing of Japanese troops was reported, sometimes the Marines were reinforced, and a vital battle was always impending. Meanwhile the news concentrated on Stalingrad, then in its second month of siege, and on the Australian advance in Papua where the Japanese, having got within striking distance of Port Moresby, were mysteriously retreating. In fact, their reinforcements had been diverted to the Solomons, but this was not known at the time. Then, in the last week of October, came the longed-for but anxiety-fraught news that the Eighth Army had broken out from Alamein with the New Zealand Division in the lead. The Auckland Star remarked that while the thoughts of many New Zealanders were in Egypt, the Solomons campaign was at a critical stage: the earlier high hopes for a large-scale offensive had faded and even the current foothold was uncertain. The difficulties of landing reinforcements were shown by the sinking of the American aircraft-carrier Wasp on 15 September 1942, news of which had just been released; the Star again suggested that New Zealanders might soon be in the Pacific fight.170 A few days later, the Star pointed out that New Zealanders were conditioned by their news sources to take a detached view of some direct and immediate interests. Nine times a day they could hear reports from the BBC in which the Pacific was far away, with Stalingrad, the Middle East and British ministers in the foreground; many American commentators stood mentally with their backs to the Pacific. To these observers the significance of the Solomons battle was that it had held the Japanese off Siberia or India.171 On 8 page 370 November Allied armies under Eisenhower172 landed in Morocco. In July this would have been welcomed by the Star as the second front to relieve Russia; now it saw that the very great strength of the forces sent to the Mediterranean meant that there were less for the Pacific.173
In mid-October the American public had been perturbed to learn that, on the night of 8–9 August, as well as the Australian Canberra, loss of which had been acknowledged on 21 August, three United States cruisers had been sunk. The delay was criticised by some American papers,174 notably the New York Times, whose correspondent further disclosed that these ships had been surprised ‘like sitting ducks, and unable to get off more than a few ineffective salvoes’, and that American naval losses during August and September had been far heavier than Japan’s.175 In a wave of leadership criticism, Ghormley176 was replaced late in October by the more battle-worthy Halsey, while Australian commentators joined those of America in uneasiness about the withholding of disagreeable information. ‘No true and balanced picture of the Solomons scene can be obtained if minor successes are promptly stressed while serious losses are not acknowledged for weeks or months afterwards.’177
At almost the same time as the Alamein break-through, the Japanese had made a three-day attack on the airfield of Guadalcanal, without success, and this was quickly followed by the indecisive naval action off Santa Cruz.178 These actions were reported fairly quietly: the loss of an unnamed American carrier was acknowledged, while it was stated that the Japanese had taken a heavy beating.179 On 2 November Sullivan warned machinery and munition workers that New Zealand’s danger was never greater.180
But suddenly, in mid-November, the long winter of failure seemed everywhere to be ending. The tattered remnants of the Africa Corps were in retreat, pursued by the leap-frogging Eighth Army, while page 371 British and American troops were pressing east towards Tunis. Stalingrad was still holding; in Papua the Australians were closing in on the enemy’s coastal bases at Buna and Gona, and on 17–18 November success widened when headlines proclaimed a smashing naval victory in the Solomons. Japan’s largest attempt to regain Guadalcanal had been driven off on the night of 12–13 November with, claimed early communiques, the loss of 23 assorted ships, including a battleship and laden transports, in the greatest naval battle of the war, while the United States had lost only eight vessels. Although Colonel Knox warned that the Japanese would return, and though the Press pointed out that the battleship sunk was one of the oldest anywhere while Japan’s main battlefleet was still scarcely damaged,181 there was widespread feeling that a nagging threat had at last been removed.
There was both public impatience to be done with EPS works and, among its authorities, reluctance to see its structure and powers diminished. ‘The Japs are as dead as Julius Caesar’, declared a member of Auckland’s Hospital Board, amazed at a proposed move to spend £800 on more shelters for patients, but chairman A. J. Moody did not believe in ‘this business of ringing bells and throwing your hat up too soon.’ The Board decided to proceed with the shelters, subject to the approval of the Minister of Health.182 When a Mt Eden borough councillor on 24 November advocated suspension of all EPS activities and restrictions in order to divert energy to more constructive efforts, it was decided to defer decision till the next meeting.183
It had been clear for a long time that command of the sea decided which side could receive reinforcements. America now had this advantage, narrowly, but the Japanese did not give up easily: there were two minor naval battles, countless patrols and ground actions before 1 February 1943 when they began leaving Guadalcanal at night. A week later America could claim total victory.
Meanwhile New Zealand’s Third Division had gone forth to garrison New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, Tonga and Fiji. At home there was thankfulness for its present safety and expectation that it would move on to fighting islands. Anxiety and pride remained concentrated on Tunisia.
1 Curtin, Rt Hon John, PC (1885–1945): PM Aust from 1941, Min Defence Co-ordination 1941–2; chmn Advisory War Council 1941ff, Min Defence 1942
2 Press, 5 Jan 42
3 Only Arizona, which blew up, and Oklahoma, which capsized, were total losses. Maryland, the luckiest, was back in active service in February; the others, raised and repaired, returned during late 1942 and 1943. Morison, S. E., History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, volume III, The Rising Sun in the Pacific, 1931–April 1942, p. 143
5 Press, 17 Dec 41, p. 7
11 Ibid., p. 6
14 Ibid., 22, 24 Jan 42
15 Rommel, Field Marshal Erwin (1891–1944): joined German Army 1910, served Western Front, Italy in WWI; cmdr Hitler’s mobile headquarters 1938–40, 7th Panzer Div 1940; C-in-C Panzer Group (later Army) Africa 1941–3, Army Group B, Northern Italy 1943, NW France, Belgium and the Netherlands 1944; implicated in attempt on Hitler’s life on 20 July 1944 and forced to commit suicide on 14 October 1944
18 Ibid., editorial. Prosecution for this editorial was seriously considered, but no action was taken. A. H. Johnstone advised that it was subversive as likely to interfere with the success of HM forces or those of his Allies, and as likely to cause undue public alarm; but the subject matter was controversial and ‘when criticism is offered in good faith on a matter so vital as the conduct of the war it is possible to err on the side of legalism.’ Johnstone to Attorney-General, 2 Mar 42, C & P file 3/5, quoted in War History Narrative, ‘Censorship of the Press’, chap VI, p. 7
19 Auckland Star, 29 Jan 42
20 Some Gisborne citizens, holding that New Zealand should dissociate itself from Australia’s anger (see below), sent him a message of unbounded admiration and confidence. Evening Star, 29 Jan 42, p. 2
21 Press, 29 Jan 42
23 Evening Star, 17 Feb 42, p. 5. Churchill’s admirer, Harold Nicolson, wrote of his speech: ‘He is grim and not gay. Unfortunately he appeals for national unity and not criticism, in a manner which recalls Neville Chamberlain. Moreover, although he is not rhetorical, he cannot speak in perfectly simple terms and cannot avoid the cadences of a phrase. I do not think that his speech will have done good.’ Nicolson, p. 209
24 Press, 17 Feb 42, p. 4
26 Press, 17 Feb 42
27 Auckland Star, 7 Mar 42, p. 5
28 See p. 711ff
29 Auckland Star, 11 Mar 42, p. 5
30 Wood, p. 225
31 Ibid.; Documents, vol III, p. 235
33 Maximum pay for carpenters, at 3s 3d an hour, was £8 15s 6d, and for labourers, at 2s 9d an hour, £7 8s 6d, with a minimum weekly wage in bad weather of £5 5s
35 Ibid., 2 Mar 42, p. 6
38 Ibid., 20 Feb 42, p. 3
39 Auckland Star, 26 Feb 42
46 Auckland Star, 7, 24, 25, 26 Mar 42, pp. 6, 4, 6, 6; Truth, 29 Apr 42, p. 11
47 Bennett, Lieutenant-General Henry Gordon, CB, CMG, DSO, VD (1887–1962): b Aust; cmdr 2nd Div Aust Military Forces 1926–31, 8th Div AIF 1940–2, 3rd Aust Corps 1942–4; GOC Aust Imp Force Malaya 1941–2
49 Truth, 11 Mar 42, p. 13
52 Evening Post, 17 Feb 42, p. 5 (warning from Tojo on useless war); Dominion, 21, 24, 25 Feb, 2, 5 Mar, 4 Apr 42, pp. 8, 4, 7, 6, 6, 6; Evening Star, 27 Feb, 19 Mar 42; Auckland Star, 21 Feb, 7 Mar 42, pp. 6, 6; NZ Herald, 24 Feb, 3 Mar 42, pp. 4, 6
54 Press, 4 Mar 42
56 NZPD, vol 261, p. 112
57 Press, 4 Nov 41
58 Ibid., 28 Feb 42, p. 8
59 Wood, pp. 231–5, 237–8
60 Sumners, Hatton W. (1875–1962): US Congressman 1913–47
63 Auckland Star, 2 Feb, 13 Mar 42, pp. 4, 4
64 McCaul, Michael Graham Cox (1883–1975): INZEF; Pres Wgtn Chamber Commerce 1935–6; Pres Assoc Chambers Commerce 1936–7; member Town Planning Institute NZ 1937–41; trustee NZ Employers’ Federation 1937–53; hon Trade Commissioner for South Africa in NZ 1951
66 Auckland Star, 12 Mar 42, p. 8
67 Melrose, Major Thomas Harrison (d 1952 aet 66): cmdr Home Guard Hamilton WWII
72 Auckland Star, 12 Mar 42, p. 6; another article on the women’s page stressed the message that there were no nice Japanese.
73 Standard, 19, 26 Mar 42, pp. 6, 1
74 Press, 17 Mar 42, p. 6
75 Auckland Star, 19 Mar 42, p. 5; Wanganui Herald, 20 Mar 42, p. 4
76 Auckland Star, 19 Mar 42, p. 5
77 Ibid., 23 Mar 42, p. 6
82 Truth, 28 Oct 42, p. 16
86 Auckland Star, 18, 21 Mar 42, pp. 5, 8; In Print, 25 Mar 42
88 Ibid., 26 Feb, 13 Apr 42, pp. 8, 6
90 Press, 13 Mar 42, p. 4
91 Ibid., 25 Mar 42, p. 6
92 Standard, 19 Mar 42, p. 6, also 19, 26 Feb 42, pp. 6, 11
93 Denham, William Mortimer Clarence (1887–1969): b Aust, to NZ 1907; connected with Labour movt from 1916; Pres Invercargill branch Lab party; MP (Lab) Invercargill 1935–46; Invercargill Borough Council from 1921
94 Press, 18 Mar 42, p. 6
95 Truth, 18 Mar 42, p. 13
97 Ibid., 31 Mar 42, p. 8
98 Standard, 26 Mar 42, p. 6
100 Ibid., 27 May 42, p. 5
101 Ibid., 4, 16 May 42, pp. 6, 8
102 Ibid., 11 May 42, p. 2
104 Auckland Star, 11 Mar 42, p. 7
106 Morison, vol III, p. 290. That destruction was not greater was probably due to many torpedoes being faulty, as they proved to be elsewhere at that time, and to others not running true in the shallow water, plus the high speed of the destroyers, the close range and the confusion of night attack.
107 Ibid.; Kirby, S. Woodburn, The War Against Japan, vol I, p. 297
110 Morison, vol III, pp. 264–5; Kirby, vol II, p. 224
111 Morison, vol III, pp. 357–8
113 Auckland Star, 16 Mar 42
114 Press, 16 Mar 42
116 Kirby, vol II, p. 226
117 Brown, Vice-Admiral Wilson, USN (1882–1957): cmdr Scouting Force Pacific Fleet 1941; aide to Pres Roosevelt 1943
118 Morison, vol III, pp. 388–9
119 Gillison, Douglas, The Royal Australian Air Force 1939–42, p. 456
120 Morison, vol III, p. 389
123 Auckland Star, 11 Apr 42, p. 7
125 Morton, L., The United States Army in World War II, Strategy and Command: The First Two Years, pp. 269–73
126 Kirby, vol II, p. 225
128 Fletcher, Admiral Frank Jack, USN (1885–1973): cmdr Task Forces at battles of Coral Sea, Midway; cmdr North Pacific Forces, US Fleet 1943–5
129 A Washington communiqué in mid-June claimed that these aircraft caught the Japanese forces by surprise and all but annihilated them. A few ships managed to get to sea but most were severely crippled and some were beached to prevent sinking. This engagement sank or destroyed 12 Japanese vessels and 6 Japanese aircraft. NZ Herald, 15 Jun 42, p. 3. At the same time pilots reported by a press correspondent at Honolulu said that they certainly sank two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and two destroyers, while transports and numerous small craft were among possible sinkings. Ibid.
130 Morton, pp. 274–8; Kirby, vol II, p. 228
132 Ibid., p. 4
134 Press, 11 May 42
135 Star–Sun, 15 May 42, p. 3, ‘specially written for the NZ Press Association’; also Evening Post, 15 May 42, p. 6, Auckland Star, 15 May 42, p. 5
136 Auckland Star, 21 May 42; Press, 16 May 42, p. 6
138 Auckland Star, 9 Jun 42
141 Kirby, vol II, p. 233
145 Auckland Star, 10–12 Sep 42
146 In the post-war account Yorktown, abandoned after being hit by bombs and torpedoes, remained afloat for two days. Finally, while the destroyer Hammann was trying to take her in tow, a Japanese submarine put a torpedo into the destroyer so that she sank within four minutes, and another torpedo finished Yorktown. Three other destroyers hunted the submarine in vain. Morison, vol IV, p. 156
147 Auckland Star, 11 Jun 42, p. 5
148 Again, on 31 July, the Herald foreboded attack on Siberia. According to some Washington sources this was Japan’s real intention, southern activities being merely feints to conceal it. Auckland Star, 4 Aug 42
149 Ibid., 28 Jul 42, p. 5
150 Ibid., 25 Jul 42, p. 5
151 NZ Herald, 4 Aug 42, p. 2. The Press and other papers pined for the counter-offensive ‘which can provide the only real defence against extension of Japanese conquest in the South-west Pacific’. Press, 25 Jul 42
153 The significance of Coral Sea and Midway, clear to postwar sight, was not then so obvious.
154 Morton, p. 289
155 King, Fleet Admiral Ernest Joseph, Hon GCB(’46) (1878–1956): C-in-C Atlantic Fleet 1941, US Fleet & Chief Naval Ops 1942–5
156 Morton, pp. 296–300
157 Press, 3 Aug 42
158 ‘One side was all but annihilated and the other escaped virtually unscathed’. Morison, vol V, p. 61
159 Morton, p. 345
160 Morison, vol V, p. 61n; Auckland Star, 21 Aug. 14 Oct 42, pp. 5, 3
161 Auckland Star, 18 Aug 42, p. 5
162 Ibid., 19 Aug 42, p. 5
164 Auckland Star, 31 Aug 42
167 Barrowclough, Major-General Rt Hon Sir Harold, PC, KCMG(’54), CB, DSO and bar, MC, ED, MC(Greek), Legion of Merit(US), Croix de Guerre(Fr) (1894–1972): 1NZEF 1915–19; cmdr 7 NZ Inf Bde UK 1940, 6 NZ Inf Bde Middle East 1940–2; GOC 3 NZ Div and 2NZEF in Pacific 1942–4; Chief Justice NZ 1953–66
168 Auckland Star, 8 Sep 42, p. 4
169 Ibid., 8, 21 Sep 42; NZ Herald, 22 Sep 42. The ‘new military formation’ was the 3rd Division which, after topping off its training with a 5-day bush exercise in the Kaimai ranges late in October, went off in several sections between early November and January 1943 to garrison New Caledonia.
170 Auckland Star, 28 Oct 42
171 Ibid., 31 Oct 42
172 Eisenhower, General Dwight David (1890–1969): asst military adviser to Philippines 1935–40; cmdg gen European Theatre 1942; C-in-C Allied Forces Nth Africa 1942–3; Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces Western Europe 1943–5; COS US Army 1945–8; Supreme Allied Commander Europe 1950–2; President USA 1953–61
173 Auckland Star, 14 Nov 42
174 Ibid., 16 Oct 42, p. 3
175 Press, 26, 29 Oct 42, pp. 5, 5
176 Ghormley, Vice-Admiral Robert Lee, USN (1883–1958): cmdr Sth Pacific Force & Sth Pacific Area 1942, Hawaiian Sea Frontier & commandant 14th Naval District 1943–4, US Naval Forces in Germany 1944–5; chmn General Bd Navy Dept Washington 1946
177 Sydney Morning Herald, quoted by Press, 3 Nov 42, p. 5
179 Press, 3 Nov 42, p. 5
180 Auckland Star, 2 Nov 42, p. 4
181 Press, 18 Nov 42
182 Auckland Star, 24 Nov 42, p. 5
183 Ibid., 25 Nov 42. p. 4