Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
392 — Memorandum from Major-General Barrowclough to Army Headquarters (Wellington) — 3 NZ Division
Memorandum from Major-General Barrowclough to Army Headquarters (Wellington)
3 NZ Division
1. I arrived in Vella Lavella at 2230 hours on 17 September. The convoy bringing two Battalion Combat Teams of 14 Brigade arrived next morning and started disembarking at 0700 hours on the 18th. The convoy included a number of small craft carrying American personnel and equipment and was the largest convoy to have approached the Island since operations first began here. We were all somewhat apprehensive about the possibility of enemy air intervention during the unloading operations, especially as the narrowness and paucity of beaches necessitated a very considerable concentration of stores and equipment and personnel to handle it. There were a number of LSTs in the convoy and they were particularly obvious targets from the air as they lay on the beaches. Fortunately we do not appear to have been discovered until about 1215 hours on the 18th when a small enemy force came over the Island of Vella Lavella. It was engaged by our fighters and our anti-aircraft guns, including the newly landed Bofors which were brought by the two Combat Teams of 14 Brigade. The Bofors went into action with commendable promptitude and the enemy attack failed to cause any damage or casualties anywhere. All landing craft were unloaded with despatch, the troops making an excellent job of the long business of unloading the LSTs. All landing craft got away from the beaches early in the afternoon and it was a great relief to realise that our disembarkation had been carried out without mishap.
2. A portion of Divisional Headquarters and Divisional Troops1 came up with the convoy and at 2400 hours on the 18th I assumed command of the Island. My own staff was inadequate in numbers to relieve completely the existing Island staff and a number of their officers have been retained in the meantime until HQ 3 NZ Division have got completely into the picture.
3. The Island Command HQ is situated in a locality which was no doubt appropriate in the early stages but it is now in a totally unsuitable position. I propose to move it to an area in the vicinity of Gill's Plantation as soon as the necessary communications by road and signal have been completed. This will involve at least a fortnight and possibly three weeks as we are extremely short of the necessary road-making equipment.
1 The abbreviations in the original text have been spelt in full.
4. At the present time the forces on this Island comprise:
An American Infantry Regimental Combat Team plus one Battalion.
The 14th NZ Brigade Group less one Battalion Group which is expected to arrive on 24 September.
A Construction Battalion charged with the construction of an airfield which is well under way.
A Defence Regiment comprising heavy anti-aircraft guns, light anti-aircraft guns, heavy coast defence guns and a number of heavy machine guns for coast defence.
Miscellaneous Navy personnel and a pool of landing craft of various natures.
A detachment of Fijian Scouts which I am relieving and hope to get permission to send back to Guadalcanal to rejoin the rest of their unit as they have done very good work and are now rather tired.
5. A considerable number of additional troops of the First Marine Amphibious Corps will arrive in various echelons at periodic intervals and they will be concerned mainly with the preparation of a Base for 1 MAC and the ‘set-up’ of this Island will rapidly become a very extensive one. 3 NZ Division HQ is going to be hard-pressed to exercise the functions of Island Command as well as the command of the Division. I could not very well refuse to accept the commission but I am taking steps as early as possible to have a proper Island Command constituted as I want to keep myself and my staff unhampered by matters outside the tactical and administrative control of my own New Zealand troops.
6. We are immediately putting in hand active operations designed to clear the Japanese from the North West and North East coastal fringe. There appear to be no Japs in the interior. How long this operation will take I do not feel at liberty to estimate as I have little experience of the rate of progress that can be made through the jungle against hostile troops. The experience in New Guinea and of American troops in this theatre indicates that it is almost unbelievably slow but I feel sure that 14 Brigade will tackle the job with enthusiasm and do it as rapidly as it can be done, bearing in mind that this is the Brigade's first experience of actual combat.
7. I have been asked to undertake the elimination of the Japanese forces on Gizo Island but do not propose to start that operation until we are assured that the situation in Vella Lavella is thoroughly in hand.
8. The present indications are that the 8th Brigade Group will be employed in the occupation of the Treasury Islands. They are not likely to meet with much ground opposition so far as present reports go but they are bound to be subjected to considerable air attack page 409 unless our Air Forces can neutralise Kahili, and no doubt it will be necessary to neutralise to some extent the airfields in the Buka and Rabaul areas. There will always be the potentiality of a Japanese attempt to invade that Island after our troops have landed there and the operation is attended with considerable risks. Whether these risks ought to be taken is a matter for consideration in the light of future developments and will depend very largely on the amount of air cover and naval protection that can be afforded. The full plan for this naval and air cover has not yet been disclosed to me. Even if the naval and air cover entirely prevents any attempted invasion of the Treasury Islands we are bound to be subjected to considerable air attack. This is more likely to fall heavily on the construction units that will be charged with the building of an airfield there than on the Infantry troops of the 8th Brigade who will be considerably dispersed and well camouflaged from air observation. The plans in regard to the occupation of the Treasury Islands are still in the tentative stage and may be subject to considerable modification.
9. I need hardly emphasise the need for the utmost secrecy in regard to this phase of the operations and I do not think the plan ought to be communicated to anyone outside Army HQ. I have no authority to report it to War Cabinet. Indeed I have no express authority to report it to Army HQ and I have not asked for it, but I feel that Army HQ should know how 8 Brigade is likely to be employed as otherwise it cannot foresee possible requirements. I would therefore particularly ask that no reference to the Treasury Islands operation be passed on beyond Army HQ. I see no reason, however, why the information contained in the rest of this letter should not be conveyed to the War Cabinet.
10. I am sending copies of this letter to Colonel Murphy1 and to Colonel Dove but I am instructing them that the information regarding the Treasury Islands operation is to be given the utmost secrecy. Brigadier Row,2 of course, knows of it.
11. There is still in Guadalcanal a considerable portion of my Divisional Troops. Whether and when they can be brought up here I cannot foretell at present nor can I say whether it will be necessary to bring them all up here. Shipping difficulties are the main factor.
13. During the day we are seldom subject to air attack but every night has been considerably disturbed by the presence of hostile aircraft. American troops on the Island have adopted the policy of moving from their tents and bivouacs into fox-holes as soon as a ‘condition red’ is announced. They move back to their bivouacs after the ‘all clear’ is sounded. With as many as half a dozen raids in one night it is easy to see that the troops are not getting adequate rest. Our own troops have more or less adopted the American practice and it will be necessary for me to see that our troops sleep in suitably prepared splinter-proof shelters so that their rest is not disturbed by raids which may not result in bombs being dropped anywhere near their bivouac areas.
(Sgd) H. E. Barrowclough,
GOC NZEF IP