Headquarters: a brief outline of the activities of headquarters of the third division and the 8th and 14th Brigades during their service in the Pacific
Chapter Nine — Twenty Minutes from Rabaul
Twenty Minutes from Rabaul
On Vella Lavella the proverbial crop of rumours began their rounds again. The 'dinkum oil' was that the division was returning to New Zealand; a politician had made the alleged statement that Kiwi troops would remain only a certain number of months in the malarial areas and that time for most had now expired—according to the 'experts.' With so many men deployed to various parts of the island on daily tasks it was only natural on their return to camp each evening that some good stories should eventuate, all of which naturally came from the 'right source.' Fortunately, nobody took the tales very seriously and the rumourmongers were equally quick with the answer 'I told you so' when something else transpired. In spite of it all, General Barrowclough left Vella Lavella early in January with his senior staff officers, including Colonel Burns, and established advanced divisional headquarters at Guadalcanal for the planning of the future task of the division. A small number of personnel from No. 1 company were also transferred, to assist in signal duties and the movement of motor transport in the projected move. The bulk of divisional units and headquarters remained, however, on Vella Lavella and the communications required for advanced divisional headquarters on the 'Canal' came within the scope of FMC Signals.
Later in the month a detachment from K section was selected and went into training to accompany a reconnaissance which had been planned to be carried out by the 30th Battalion on the Japanese held island of Nissan, one of the Green Islands group lying strategically between Bougainville and New Britain and north of any previous allied landing in the Solomon Islands. page 240About noon on Saturday, 29 January 1944 an impressive array of APDs, FT boats and other speedy craft began to make their appearance as they assembled off Juno beach, Vella Lavella, and in Higgins boats the movement began of the battalion from the beach to the waiting ships. Divisional signals was represented by Second-Lieutenant Crawley in command, Lance-Corporal T. A. Creighton (operator), Lance-Corporal A. Patchett (operator), Signalman T. C. Manley (operator), Corporal M. A. Pringle (cipher), Signalman L. L. Treadgold (cipher), and Signalman L. O. Milner (instrument mechanic), all of whom went aboard an APD at 1330 hours that day, taking with them two ZC1 radio stations, a ZA1 amplifier, ten 6 V 85 AH batteries, battery charger, assault boat, petrol, oil, 48 hours K rations, two TSMGs and five 303s. The convoy sailed in the early hours of the morning of 30 January following a practice landing on the beach at Vella Lavella. It was intended to use wireless communication only in extreme necessity, therefore a careful listening watch had to be continuously maintained from Vella Lavella. This was undertaken by Sergeant Gould and Lance-Corporal F. E. Coleby of K section who erected a station at a location near the 37th Battalion area, communication back to brigade headquarters being maintained by telephone through the battalion switchboard.
Major-General Barrowclough (using the telephone) and Colonel Brook, GSO1, in a speedily erected wireless station in Tangalan Plantation soon after the Nissan Island landing was made
Below: The switchboard at Divisional Headquarters, Nissan Island, through which calls were sent on at all hours of the day
Signalman Bramble operating a ZC1 set on Nissan Island. He was in communication with a similar set in the Treasuries
D signal office at Divisional Headquarters on Nissan Island which handled delivery and receipt of hundreds of messages and signals daily
A piece of Japanese armament provided this hot-plate for the 'sigs' cooks who became 'flap-jack' experts. Clothing was usually scanty
In 1936 Alan J. Villiers had navigated his sailing ship the Joseph Conrad through the narrow opening into the lagoon of Nissan Island to beach and clean his ship. Of Nissan he wrote: 'It rained every day, though this was allegedly not the rainy season. The rain poured into the gloomy lagoon, fringed heavily with its monotonous circle of wet trees. The water was not blue on such days, but black; the sun shone seldom, and outside, the Pacific surf pounded on the coral without end.'
On the raid were a number of specialists—both American and New Zealand—whose duty it was to go ashore under the protection of the infantry and obtain the desired information. Arriving off their objective at midnight of the day of sailing the 'commandos' went over the side of their destroyers and down the nets into landing craft for the journey inside the lagoon entrance where they landed without opposition at Pokonian Plantation. Here battalion headquarters was established and patrols were dispersed on their allotted tasks at various points on the island. As the battalion signallers found immediate employment laying lines for field telephones the K section operators assisted them temporarily by manning their low power No. 4$ sets with which they were in communication with similar sets of the investigating parties. Later that day, 31 January, the listening post on Vella Lavella had their vigil rewarded when they intercepted two messages from the ZC1 station of the brigade signallers on Nissan. One message was in cipher; the other in plain language requesting air support from Torokina, Bougainville. The enemy had at last made his presence known and in minor affrays with strafing Zeros and enemy land troops the invaders suffered some casualties. Fearing further onslaught from the air and in view of the small perimeter held by the New Zealanders Lieutenant-Colonel F. C. Cornwall, MC, decided to withdraw his force that evening and at midnight the commandos reembarked on the APDs with their task completed. The normal difficulty of this later feat in the dark was accentuated by the 10-foot sea swell which had developed, tossing the small landing craft about precariously on the crests of waves and against the sides of the page 242ships. The signal personnel landed back on Vella Lavella tired but in good spirits at 4 o'clock on the afternoon of 1 February. There were no signal casualties and Lieutenant Crawley spoke highly of the behaviour of his men.
A tour of duty to advanced divisional headquarters on Guadalcanal was then undertaken by Majors Heatherwick and Clark to obtain details of the impending employment of the unit. This information they passed on to the companies under their command on their return to Vella Lavella on 7 February. It was doubtful if many were surprised when told that the 14th Brigade Group and Third Divisional Headquarters were again going into action. Green Islands, scene of the recent raid, was the objective and large maps and sand models of the islands became the blackboard for instruction in outlining to all participants the carefully prepared plan for invasion. An improvement in morale was immediately noticeable and all the sections went about their packing and overhauling of equipment with an air of good feeling at the thought of being on the move once again. The components of the Third Divisional Signals affected by the movement were unit headquarters, headquarters and No. 1 companies, E, K and X sections. X section participated in the Treasury occupation and was withdrawn to Guadalcanal on 14 January in preparation for its new assignment. It was planned that the force should move forward in four successive echelons and signal personnel were detailed accordingly.
Additional equipment was received by the quartermaster and once again his department became exceptionally busy crating equipment into 'two man' loads for shipment and in issuing to personnel pup tents, jungle knives, grenades, and jungle rations. The pup tents, as the name implies, were a miniature type of tent constructed in two halves which domed together along the top to form one unit. Each man carried one half of a tent, together with a small collapsible pole, and on bivouacking he linked with a mate to construct a complete shelter for two men. Jungle knives with knuckle duster handles were another new issue. Although nothing pretentious in appearance they offered a light and yet useful weapon for self defence. The enemy's throat-slitting tactics with knives had been well reported and practical experience had now proved the stories no myth. To combat and defeat the Jap entailed being one jump page 243ahead of his trickery and treachery, for which he had no limits. Evidence of the New Zealanders' realisation of this was borne out in the appearance in the forward areas of ambulances devoid of their familiar red crosses on the circular white background. These had been eliminated to avoid being used as targets by fanatics who respected nothing. Camps were speedily struck and flames shot high 'mid the coconut palms as cookhouses, camp fixtures and piles of personal junk were burnt. It was the same old story and no one could really believe that so many odds and ends had been accumulated-—until it became necessary to pack them within the limitations of a kitbag. Not the easiest to strike and fold up were the tents which were wet and heavy. Some fell to bits, for they had rapidly deteriorated in the climate.
On the evening of 12 February the sections were ready to move. The now familiar mode of amphibious transport in LSTs and LCTs made their appearance at nightfall off Vella Lavella, and nosed their way on to the beaches to take aboard their complements of vehicles, equipment and troops. Each signal vehicle had been packed with equipment until its springs lay flat, and as each driver drove his overloaded quad or jeep up the ramp of these modern Noah's arks onlookers held their breath lest they shouldn't make it, and then gave a sigh of relief as the vehicles, one by one, disappeared into the interiors of the various ships on which they were to travel. Should any of the vehicles not have 'made it' there would have been no alternative but to leave them aside, for the loading and movement of the convoy, which ultimately embraced 34 invasion craft that similarly loaded equipment and troops from Guadalcanal, Russell Islands and Ondonga, was finely timed. So detailed were the plans that the personnel of the entire force consisting of divisional headquarters, the 14th Infantry Brigade Group and three battalions of American construction specialists (Seabees, whose task it was to build the airstrip) were deployed through the convoy in such a manner that the dismissal of any one ship through enemy action could not seriously hamper the scheduled operations.
The following day, Sunday 13 February, sections officers, operators, signal office clerks, cipher men, linesmen and despatch riders together with drivers, cooks, sanitation and anti-malarial men, all attired in jungle suits, jungle boots and full web, moved to the beaches. They carried packs containing D and K rations, page 244mosquito net, shelter tent, socks and cape, groundsheet, field dressing, mess and toilet gear, a few packets of cigarettes, water bottles full and pouches bulging with ammunition. Group by group they embarked on the LCIs which had drawn up to take the place of the LSTs. They not only looked the part, but every man was confident and knew he was equal to the job which lay ahead, for, like other units of the division, signals had acquired the flexibility required in amphibious warfare. The setting at Juno Beach was almost perfect; on this day the surrounding jungle, coconut palms, the blue Pacific as smooth as a table top, the cloudless sky and the impressive row of LCIs with a continual flow of deck cargo and troops going up their bow gangways made a picture which no still or motion picture camera man was adequately able to record. Already on the ships were Colonel Burns, with other members of headquarters and No. 1 companies and X section, who had embarked at Guadalcanal. This portion of the convoy sailed late the same day, leaving the faster APDs to collect their complement of troops, who were ferried from the beach to the ships at 8 am the following morning and sailed following a practice landing. These latter forces were almost entirely infantry but also included some members of K section and No. 1 company who were scheduled to go ashore in the first wave to establish initial communications. From K section also were wireless detachments with each of the three battalion combat teams. Remaining on Vella Lavella were the rear parties of headquarters and No. 1 companies, E section and K section whose duty it was to ensure the movement forward in successive echelons of tentage, kitbags, bedcots, the remaining unit equipment and to maintain signal office and radio communications until the force had left the island in its entirety.
The sea journey up through the northern Solomon Islands past the Treasuries and Bougainville was uneventful. Progressively the faster LCIs and then the APDs closed their gap between the slower LSTs to form one impressive convoy under the protection of destroyers and scooting PT boats. Anti-aircraft gunners kept constant vigil and high in the sky above each LST sailed a silver barrage balloon tethered by a steel cable as a further deterrent to Tojo's dive bombers. From ahead of the convoy came the news of the first attempt at interception by the enemy when a patrol plane reported the destruction of a Mitsu-page 245bishi bomber. As dusk fell that evening everyone sat silently on the decks and watched the setting sun throw changing colours on soft clouds which stood on the horizon—like a theatre curtain before the performance commenced. At 1.30 am the sounding of 'general quarters' brought gunners quickly to their posts. Air-craft were overhead and soon after bombs fell amongst the convoy from the darkness above, but the guns on the ships remained silent to avoid revealing their position. At the first light of dawn everyone crowded the decks to catch a first glimpse of Green Islands standing as a dusky oblong mass on the horizon. The day was D-day, 15 February 1944. Under an umbrella of allied aircraft the ships commenced to move in a circle, over a wide expanse of sea, each craft riding in the wake of the one ahead. As the sun came up the foam glistened silver and the ships silhouetted into an unending line of grim defiance as they awaited their turn to land their troops and equipment on the coral atoll known as Nissan Island. What enemy land opposition awaited the force no one knew. Fewer than 20 minutes flying time away was Rabaul, New Britain fortress of 100,000 Japs, from which air opposition could be expected, despite the bomb loads which allied aircraft were depositing daily on their quickly repaired airstrips. The Third Division was now closer to Rabaul than the forces located at the southern end of New Britain.
Just shortly before 6.30 am the APDs began to despatch their complements of troops in assault craft for the initial landing on the beaches within the lagoon of Nissan. This movement from the open sea necessitated passing through the narrow lagoon entrance which lay between Nissan itself and Barahun Island, a logical enemy defensive position, but the small craft filed through unmolested and moved towards the coral landing beaches which had been given the names of red, blue and green, for practical purposes. The 30th Battalion landed at the Pokonian Plantation and on Barahun Tsland, while the 37th and 35th Battalions entered the Tangalan Plantation on the opposite side of the lagoon, moving to the left and right respectively, with the immediate task of clearing the jungle and plantation of enemy to allow for the construction of an airstrip in this area. With these first waves ashore were the K section wireless detachments with each of the battalions headquarters and further K section personnel who landed at Tangalan with advanced brigade head-page 246quarters. On this latter detachment converged all the line and wireless signal traffic from the 37th and 35th Battalions for retransmission across the lagoon to a similar detachment with rear brigade headquarters who landed at Pokonian and eventually became established at Yotchibol. No. 48 sets were used by the section during the landing operations.
Meanwhile, the waiting invasion fleet outside the lagoon became the target for enemy planes which broke through the cordon overhead and attempted to bomb the ships. The pilot of one slim black Nip plane, which had dived from high in the sky and successfully dodged the wire hawser of an LSTs balloon, showed exceptional daring as he raced barely thirty feet above the zigzagging ships with the intention of dropping bombs on a destroyer but his mission was unsuccessful and fountains of water and smoke marked the bomb misses. A few seconds later a streaking Corsair made short work of eliminating the intruder. From the guns on the ships, New Zealand bofors on the decks of the LSTs and the fighter aircraft lines of gunfire trailed planes bearing the insigna of the Rising Sun until one by one a further six dropped into the sea. Then it was time for the LCIs and LSTs to move into the beaches within the lagoon to disembark further troops and among the personnel who moved in single file down the bow ramps and waded the last few feet ashore at Pokonian were members of headquarters and No. 1 companies, E and K sections. X section, together with a detachment of ten other ranks from No. 1 company (to provide communications for a divisional report centre) landed in the Tangalan area. Each of the sections or detachments carried with them sufficient ZC1 radio stations, telephones, cable and other technical equipment as was estimated necessary for the immediate establishment of communications in their respective spheres. The bulk of the equipment was in the LSTs which followed in to unload after the LCIs. Once again beaches were transformed into open-air ware-houses of liberal proportions. The entire land forces were under the command of General Barrowclough and under Colonel Burns as commanding officer the Third NZ Divisional Signals and Island Command signals officer the following officers landed in command of companies and sections: Adjutant, Captain Wilton; headquarters company, Major Heatherwick; M maintenance section, Lieutenant Fitchett; No. 1 company, Major Clark; A wire-page 247less section, Captain Barron; B cable section, Lieutenant Harris; C cipher section, Lieutenant Gould; D office section, Captain Murphy; No. 2 company, Captain Eady; E section, Lieutenant Brown; X section, Lieutenant Goff; No. 3 company, Captain Parkhouse; K section, Captain Hanna. Captain Hanson, quarter-master, supervised the movement forward from Vella Lavella of the units' equipment in subsequent echelons.
Divisional headquarters became established in the Pokonian plantation alongside of whom No. 1 company established its signal office, TC4 exchange, cipher section and wireless stations. This was accomplished by 10.30 am and as the headquarters of the various formations became established a detachment of B cable section laid lines from them to the divisional exchange. By 2 pm a wireless network embracing the distant stations of the rear party at Vella Lavella; the 8th Brigade (J section) on Treasury Islands and the FMC, Guadalcanal, was established. To this last link, a high powered No. 33 station was successfully brought into use for the first time. Also linked were the local formations engaged in the action, namely, 14th Brigade (K section), 17th Field Regiment (E section), 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment's report centre (X section—with A wireless attached) and the divisional report centre (A wireless). Reception during the day was reasonably good with little interference. On all the wireless links from battalion headquarters back to division, ZC1 stations were in use and once again operators transmitted their messages from the concealment of coconut plantations and the warm, wet jungle which covered the entire island.
E section was soon established in its operational area at head-quarters of the 17th Field Regiment in the Pokonian plantation where a pup tent was hastily erected to house a signal office and two 10-line exchanges. Using assault cable, the sections' linesmen laid lines to divisional headquarters, artillery headquarters. 14th Brigade Headquarters, 144th Independent Battery and the 37th Battery, but the fatal fascination bulldozers have for telephone cables once again became apparent and linesmen were kept fully occupied repairing the damage of these giant machines as they churned the beach head into temporary roads. Wherever there was cable it acted like a magnet. The wireless crews were equally in the picture and during the earlier part of the morning page 248established links with divisional artillery headquarters, headquarters of the 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment and, using a lower powered No. 21 set, to the 144th and 37th Batteries.
Four miles away in the jungle on the opposite side of the lagoon a detachment from X section had established themselves at the regimental headquarters report centre of the 29th Light AA Regiment by 8,50 am. Here a signal office was established and a ZC1 station was assembled preparatory to going on the page 249divisional artillery headquarters wireless net. From the report centre linesmen laid a line to the proposed location of regimental headquarters. This headquarters—attached to which was X section—became established in the early afternoon and the laid line was then connected to the exchange at the signal office set up, providing direct communication with the report centre. Further telephone lines laid, embraced the gun operation room (GOR); K troop of the 209th Battery and the shore terminal point of a proposed underwater cable between regimental headquarters and the 207th Battery. Signal traffic to and from the 209th Battery was also transmitted by wireless. Transmission point for divisional traffic on this side of the lagoon was the signal office established by the No. 1 company detachment under Sergeant J. H. Oliver at the report centre in the Tangalan plantation. At this location a wireless station operated by Signalmen I. S. Russell and G. E. McCauley transmitted and received the operational messages to and from divisional headquarters across in the Pokonian plantation while telephone lines from the exchange to advanced brigade and supporting units were quickly laid. Perhaps the most spectacular assignment was that allotted to a detachment of B cable section under Lance-Sergeant C. B. Adams whose immediate task on landing was the laying of six pairs of field cable across the lagoon between blue beach at Pokonian and red beach, in the Tangalan area, thus providing direct telephone communication between the divisional report centre, advanced brigade headquarters, and headquarters 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment on one side of the battle zone and divisional head-quarters, rear brigade headquarters and the light anti-aircraft battery on the other. Under a scorching sun the linesmen slowly moved across the four miles of lagoon in an assault craft laying the weighted cable as they went. They were fully conscious of their fate had a strafing Zero broken through the protective air cordon overhead of Corsairs, Hellcats, Warhawks and Airacobras. As the morning progressed the LSTs continued to crunch on to the coral sand to unload their vital cargoes of guns, tanks, bulldozers, tractors, fresh water, petrol, trucks, jeeps, wireless vans, rations and thousands of cases of equipment—all labelled with the serial numbers of the respective units —which were dumped in large unsorted heaps along the beaches. In all, 1,000 tons an hour were unloaded for six hours into virgin page 250jungle without a single crane, sling or jetty, in a temperature of over 100 degrees. The LSTs then withdrew to a rendezvous with the waiting destroyers outside the lagoon for the return trip to Guadalcanal.
Everyone dug fox-holes as soon as possible in the hard coral which lay beneath the carpet of mud. Those located at Pokonian were not so fortunate however, as owing to the low lying nature of the terrain and the narrow width of the island—barely 200 yards—the holes began to fill with seeping salt water. In some instances, too, large land crabs decided that they had a more rightful title to the occupancy of the fox-holes than the persons who dug them. Rations on landing were a new kind known as J (for jungle) type. Each one consisted of a wax sealed carton measuring about a foot square and contained sufficient food for one man for four days or for two men for two days. The contents, which included dried milk, porridge, dried fruits, cheese, meat pastes, biscuits, nuts and cigarettes, were found to be quite palatable, especially if a little imagination was used in the preparation of simple meals. As Nissan possessed no source of fresh water, 2-gallon tins of water formed one of the items brought forward from Vella Lavella. This had to be carefully conserved until supplies arrived from the large salt water condensation plants which were set up at vantage points alongside the lagoon. These machines did not achieve peak production for a few days and even then their total output of 30,000. gallons every 24 hours allowed barely two gallons of water a day for each man to drink, cook, wash and wash clothes in—not that any opportunity was presented to wash muddy, sweat-stained clothes at this juncture.
As darkness fell everyone endeavoured to make themselves as comfortable as possible for the night under ground level, but in a hard coral-fox-hole with seeping water this was not easy. Once again the war of nerves commenced as the island came to life with scuffling pigs, croaking frogs and the many weird noises peculiar only to the jungle. Wireless stations, exchanges and signal offices remained open continuously, maintaining their same 24-hour daily schedule which had never ceased since leaving New Zealand; and again, as on Vella Lavella and the Treasuries, an unbroken chain of communication existed from the front line through the islands to Army Headquarters, Wellington, 3,000 miles away. Just after midnight the wail of sirens announced a page 251condition red which meant the approach of Jap planes. It was the forerunner of alerts that spread over almost six hours, and during which the enemy dropped some 25 bombs. Five natives were the only casualties although some of the bombs landed perilously close in the areas where signals were engaged.
Dawn on the second day was a welcome relief from cramped quarters and the tasks of transporting equipment from the beaches, erecting new lines and the completing of the submarine circuit across the lagoon, were soon under way. Enemy activity was light although the combat teams saw signs of hastily evacuated positions and they captured some enemy equipment. The Jap apparently had little fight left in him despite the effective weapons which he had at his disposal. Tanks came into use in cooperation with the two battalions on the Tangalan side of Nissan and on Sirot (one of the islands guarding the entrance to the lagoon) a sharp infantry engagement by a company of the 30th Battalion left 20 Japanese dead.
At advanced brigade headquarters in the Tangalan area K section closed down its wireless station at 10.15 am and abandoned their line to the 37th Battalion prior to embarking on an LCT for the journey within the lagoon to the Halis area which had been occupied by the 35th Battalion. The section landed at 12.30 pm and following a reconnaissance of the area advanced brigade headquarters and the signal section became established adjacent to battalion headquarters. The wireless station which had been transmitting for the battalion to brigade headquarters was thus removed and a telephone line was laid between the two headquarters. During the afternoon regimental headquarters of the 17th Field Regiment shifted to Yotchibol village near 14th Brigade Headquarters and consequently E section was required to move its signal office exchange and wireless stations to this new site, the entire change over being effected without the loss of communications. At this same period the forward report centre of the 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment was closed down and the wireless station engaged there in communication with divisional artillery headquarters was transferred to the head-quarters of the regiment.
On the second night there were four condition reds but only a few bombs were dropped. Night fighters from Bougainville who were maintaining a patrol overhead shot down two of the Jap page 252raiders. The discovery by K section at advanced brigade head-quarters during the evening that it was outside the perimeter being defended forced the men to organise their own protective measures but the night passed without incident. Signal traffic by-wireless and line maintained a steady flow throughout the day, creating a new 24-hour record for D signal office of No. 1 company who handled 2,205 inward and 7,814 outward groups, a total of 10,019 groups. Of these, 2,263 were enciphered by the cipher section. It was estimated that divisional signals from Green Island to base in New Caledonia handled in excess of 20,000 groups that day, which was a creditable amount of traffic to be tapped out by morse key, received, deciphered and delivered by runner or despatch rider.
The third day after landing saw the inauguration of a barge courier service between the Third Divisional Headquarters and the Tangalan area for the delivery and collection of despatches. Linesmen of B cable section were again engaged laying lines across the lagoon and on this occasion laid circuits of the considerably heavier insulated 'spiral 4' cable between Pokonian plantation and the shore terminal of the 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment Headquarters. At this juncture the TC4 exchange of No. 1 company had 11 trunk lines and 24 local lines attached to it. It was merely necessary for a subscriber to lift the receiver on his field telephone to speak through one of many exchanges to a subscriber on any part of the island occupied by New Zealand or American formations. Without any desire to slight the fine American signal facilities which became established on the island in conjunction with their navy, air and anti-aircraft commands, an interesting comparison in the speed of transmitting a message was made when copies of a message addressed to American Navy Headquarters, Guadalcanal, were lodged with the American Navy message centre and New Zealand D signal office simultaneously. Both organisations had similar radio facilities, with the American link actually terminating with the addressee. The message handled by D office was enciphered, transmitted, deciphered and delivered from the FMC signal office, Guadalcanal, to the American Navy Headquarters by despatch rider—a distance of 24 miles—before the Nissan Island navy office had finished enciphering its copy.
K section with advanced brigade headquarters and the 35th page 253Battalion left its location at Halis for a destination further forward. The equipment and baggage of the section was carried on a tank which with others smashed its way through the jungle preparing a pathway for the following troops and jeeps. In three hours the section moved forward 2,000 yards, emerging at a foreshore area known as South Point where a signal office was established with lines to the battalion. Three days after landing the headquarters of the 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment moved to a new site and X section transferred its signal office and lines accordingly, wire communication being temporarily discontinued for the short period of the change over. During the morning K section at advanced brigade headquarters continued to operate from its new location at South Point but that afternoon orders scheduled a further move to Torahatup, in the mission area. This advance of the 35th Battalion was actually the nip of a pincer movement of which the 30th Battalion was the other participant. Tanks carrying the signal equipment were unable to penetrate the thick jungle and as it was considered futile to attempt to carry the wireless stations an advanced brigade report centre was temporarily established. From here the battalion signallers ran out battle cable as they advanced and messages were sent back over the line for retransmission by wireless. Throughout the period, the K section detachment with rear brigade headquarters at Pokonian had been extending its land line to the advancing headquarters of the 30th Battalion. This had involved the use of four miles of WHO cable. The section's wireless van was used as a signal office. As the ultimate location of divisional headquarters was planned at the Catholic Mission at the south end of the island, B cable linesmen commenced to lay a submarine line of 'spiral 4' to the mission area (which was still enemy occupied) from the American Navy Head-quarters and the 17th Field Regiment (E section) at Pokonian. This line was completed on 18 February and the following morning at 7.30 am the mission, which was the Jap headquarters, came within range of the guns of the 37th Battery. E section was responsible for both the wireless and line communications and in the latter instance laid a line circuit to the command post over the five miles of blazed track along which the guns moved forward. Later, when the infantry of the 30th Battalion patrolled through the mission, they found it had been hurriedly deserted. page 254X section lost no time in commencing to settle down at the mission. The section were fortunate in securing the services of a bulldozer for clearance work and the excavation of an underground exchange was begun. From No. 1 company a detachment of four wireless operators with two stations was loaned to K section to assist in providing communication between a patrol on the eastern side of the island and brigade headquarters. No. 48 sets were used between the patrol and a barge that moved parallel with the patrol at a distance of 200 yards from the shore. This was to facilitate the easy movement of the higher powered ZC1 station, also in the barge, which was required to beam the observations and report back to headquarters. With line links established, the long range telegraph set came into operation between divisional headquarters (D section), the Tangalan report centre and navy headquarters and assisted considerably in speeding up the transmission of messages between these points.
With the operational duties of advanced brigade headquarters almost completed the K section signal detachment accompanying it concluded its transmissions at South Point and returned to Pokonian. Rear brigade headquarters now ceased to exist as such and reverted to brigade headquarters. Sunday, 20 February, was hot and humid, as most days were, for Nissan is only four degrees away from the equator—but it heralded much activity including the arrival of the second echelon at daybreak. Among the personnel were some of the units" rear parties who had moved to Nissan with further equipment from Vella Lavella. The arrival of the 35th Field and the 208th and 214th Anti-aircraft Batteries, and radar unit called for an extension of wireless and line facilities of E and X sections. At this period, linesmen experienced difficulty with the submarine circuits, many reels of the spiral 4 cable having been found faulty, but the climax came when a beaching LST broke all the lighter underwater lines of WHO cable and threw an additional burden on the cable men. Alternative circuits were made available from the American Naval Headquarters and where necessary these were temporarily brought into use. The line to the divisional report centre was still intact, however, and it was found convenient to close down the wireless station on this link, only to be brought into commission again in the event of the line failing.
Between 21 and 23 February a wireless detachment from K page 255section accompanied strong patrols of the 35th Battalion which landed and eliminated the Japs from the adjacent islands of Sau and Pinipel. The Green Islands Group was then declared secure and in a statement following the campaign General Barrowclough said: 'Success of the operation was not to be gauged by the extent of the fighting or the casualties but by the smoothness with which large numbers of troops and great quantities of material were got ashore on to open beaches and into roadless jungles and put into immediate operation. From this standpoint the work of planning by the staffs was excellent, while the troops carried the plans into effect splendidly.' The occupation of the group had cut off the lines of evacuation and supply of some thousands of Japs still remaining on Bougainville and Buka. As on the other islands the natives had again rendered valuable assistance to their liberators.
The signal office and wireless links at rear divisional head-quarters on Vella Lavella closed down on 22 February and the personnel engaged there embarked to move forward in the third echelon. On Nissan an advanced party of unit headquarters arrived in the mission area to commence the establishment of communications and a static camp alongside divisional head-quarters. Amongst the first equipment moved to the new site and set up was the high power transmitter used on the Guadalcanal link. E section prepared to shift to the western coast of the Pokonian plantation prior to taking over the entire communications for the Pokonian area as soon as unit headquarters, head-quarters and No. 1 companies moved to the mission and K section moved to South Point. This change over was effected the following day, the journey being made by barge across the lagoon. On arrival at the mission No. 1 company lost no time in establishing a signal office. Wallowing in the mud began on a liberal scale for everybody, for with the exception of a small native garden the entire area was jungle. Out of this were hacked clearings for unit headquarters, signal office, wireless stations, orderly rooms, stores, mess rooms, cookhouses and tent lines. The presence of a Jap shelter in the camp area, constructed from the long trunks of young trees, saved much hard work for members of head-quarters company in the erection of a jungle mess room to accommodate 200 men at unit headquarters. Until facilities were arranged by the hygiene unit it became necessary immediately to page 256bury all food refuse, more especially the tins which contained the food and milk. At unit headquarters this did not prove entirely successful because of the presence of pigs in the mission locality; they rooted up overnight the buried rubbish. Permission was finally given to shoot the offending pigs if permission of an officer was first sought. This order did not seem very practical to the cooks, however, who successfully utilised bows and arrows to stalk their prey silently!
Members of headquarters and No. 1 companies quartering staffs found themselves fully engaged in sorting out and loading into vehicles the units' equipment from the voluminous piles that lay on the landing beaches following the arrival of each echelon. Besides almost five hundred cases and packages, hundreds of drums of cable had also to be transported to the mission area. The procedure was for the laden quads to be driven on to LCVs for the journey across the lagoon. Linesmen were to the fore again, climbing the tall trees of the jungle to tie their lines as they laid them in the various areas and around the roadway which, when linked to underwater circuits laid to the PT base at Barahun, almost encircled the island. It was tiring work spread over long hours and involved not only the connecting of all units to the various exchanges by land lines, but also the extension of submarine cables in the lagoon until almost 100 miles of rubber-covered spiral 4 were involved in underwater circuits. A new type of hand cable-layer designed by the signals experimental establishment was used for the first time and found successful. Hot loops to the guns of the batteries were also laid. Scratches turned septic more readily than ever and many yards of sticking plaster and much coloured medical preparations were daily involved in the patching up of these men.
The arrival of tents, kitbags and bed cots offered welcome relief from sleeping in wet fox-holes and under pup tents and tarpaulins, and enabled clothing to be changed for the first time since landing. With the establishment of ration supplies everyone was gradually weaned off the jungle variety for the more familiar tinned foods and dehydrated vegetables. The availability of fresh water, however, did not improve greatly and a signal from divisional headquarters sent to all units gave a picture of the seriousness of the situation. It read: 'Water shortage is and will continue to be acute. Present issue for distillation plants page 257of two gallons a man a day being maintained with difficulty. This makes it imperative all ranks conserve drinking water, using sea, rain or brackish water for other purposes.' Much care was required, therefore, in the use of fresh drinking water and in this respect the task of Lance-Corporal Scott, who was in charge of its dispensation at unit headquarters, was creditably performed. Daily there was an air cover of Corsairs and New Zealand Warhawks overhead from bases on Bougainville until, on 6 March, the mile long airstrip was completed in the Tangalan Plantation. From then on Nissan based planes filled the sky continually as they shuttled back and forth on strikes to Rabaul— twenty minutes away by fighter. By the end of March a bomber strip of 8,000 feet running parallel to the fighter one was ready for the reception and launching of the bombers and they woke light sleepers as they assembled overhead in the early hours of the morning en route to bomb the powerful enemy base of Truk. At night tall sticks of light from searchlights pierced the blackness over the island as a guide to the overdue planes, but many a searchlight operator must have known that his beam was but a silent memorial to men who had paid the supreme sacrifice that day.
Gradually the sections began to settle down in their respective locations and communications by wireless, line and despatch rider embraced all the New Zealand and American units on the island. A telephone traffic diagram issued on 13 March showed 13 New Zealand and four American telephone exchanges at various parts of the island connected by trunk lines in operation to each other. They thus provided a local and long distance telephone service for all units and formations. Many of the exchanges were situated underground and the entire setup involved the use of hundreds of D Mk V, model F, and American field telephones. The barge courier service from divisional headquarters continued to journey daily to scheduled points within the lagoon where it collected and delivered despatches. For despatch riding within the formations, quads were found the most serviceable means of negotiating the roads of feet deep mud. Once again routine changes in the appointments held by officers of the various sections of the unit were announced and progressively during March these were put into effect. Captain Parkhouse relinquished his appointment of officer commanding No. 3 company to become OC page 258base signals. Captain Murphy relinquished his appointment as officer commanding D section to become OC No. 3 company; Captain L. G. Park became officer commanding D section; Lieutenant L. C. Stewart, who had returned from his tour of duty in New Zealand, filled the appointment of OC M section relinquished by Lieutenant Fitchett. Lieutenant L. R. Jones was appointed second-in-command D section; Lieutenant K. J. Coates was appointed second-in-command A wireless section; Second-Lieutenant B. T. Simpson relinquished his appointment as second-in-command D section to become second-in-command K section vice Second-Lieutenant Crawley, and Second-Lieutenant Korte joined J section. Warrant-Officer Holden relinquished his appointment as regimental sergeant-major and was succeeded by Warrant-Officer 2nd Class McNaughton, of No. 1 company, who in turn was replaced by Warrant-Officer Rose from the School of Signals.
A new and unusual section—originally known as Y section— which joined A wireless section on Vella Lavella began its duties on Nissan. It consisted of an officer (Lieutenant Coates) and five other ranks. These specially trained personnel maintained a 24-hour watch, using a No. 107 receiving station, to intercept and record the morse messages from the Japanese radio stations on enemy held strong points in the Pacific. The section (who answered to the nickname of 'Ogpu') made over 400 loggings in one month of tedious listening, all of which were forwarded to intelligence at headquarters for interpretation by Jap language experts. The task of the operators was not an easy one and included being able to record at high speed with simplified hieroglyphics the morse of the Katakana language used. This language comprised some 78 characters. Situated alongside 14th Brigade Headquarters at South Point, the camp of K section was at perhaps one of the most envied of all locations. Although the signal office (which contained a 30-line exchange) and tent lines in the jungle were surrounded by more than a liberal helping of mud, the section had the advantage of a fine coral sand beach on the ocean coast. From here, too, could be viewed large convoys as they crossed the horizon en route to other bases and the PT boats as they sped out from Nissan at dusk, to disrupt the enemy's attempts to maintain a supply line between New Britain and Bougainville by submarine. On clear days the land masses of page 259Buka to the south and New Ireland to the west could be seen from the white beach. Besides maintaining a wireless link to divisional headquarters from South Point further operators of the section were sent to Sirot with a company of the 30th Battalion and Pinipel Island with the 37th Battalion detachment engaged in coast watching. These latter operators were on one occasion strafed by planes.
To provide protection for the high power No. 33 station used on the Guadalcanal-New Caledonia link a large excavation in the solid coral was made at unit headquarters. When completed' the hole/ as it became known, represented three weeks of solid toil in the extreme heat for members of A wireless section who, with pick, shovel and explosive (under the supervision of engineers) had formed an underground room lined with coconut tree trunks to house their remotely controlled transmitters. The actual sending and receiving tent was half a mile away near the signal office and a land line connected the two points. At first, four 1 1/2-kilowatt generators supplied the power to transmit but these were later replaced by one 3-ki!owatt Oman generator. This power supply operated automatically as transmission was commenced. Wireless communications generally were good but ionospheric conditions on the link to 8th Brigade Headquarters. Treasury Islands, were often difficult, especially in the night hours. An important radio station on the island was the American joint army-navy (JAN) station, situated in the Halis area and comprising some 20 high powered transmitters. The majority of these transmitters were used for the control of aircraft, and the station became an important link in the network of American communications in the Pacific. An innovation was the employment of a teletype by D section signal office on a circuit with the American Naval Headquarters.
The death of Signalman A. McCallum, of X section, who died on active service on 20 April was a loss felt by all his former associates. Signalman McCallum had been a member of X section since leaving New Zealand in 1942 and as a driver had accompanied the section on all its movements. Colonel Burns, Lieutenant Goff and every member of the section, except those on duty, attended the impressive burial service at the Nissan cemetery.
An enccouraging feature of the Nissan operation was the more page 260liberal supplies of technical equipment and spare parts which became available. This was particularly so in regard to line units for 10-line exchanges and switchboard cords which were badly needed- Further items from New Zealand were modification kits for the ZC1 wireless stations and ingenious ovens for drying out the condensation of wireless chassis. M section extended further its tented workshops and with special radio active materials commenced the luminising of dials and meters to facilitate their use under blackout conditions. The units quartering stores also included a wide range of American signal equipment and spares held on behalf of their signal units on the island. When the Americans required any item, they requisitioned for it from the quartermaster of the Third NZ Divisional Signals. On two occasions when medical officers journeyed by barge to the island of Pinipel to administer to the natives there, they were accompanied by radio detachments for A wireless section who maintained communication with divisional headquarters.
A small incident which did much to brighten the routine and conversation of the camp at unit headquarters was the meeting face to face of a lone Jap by a member of headquarters company in the camp area at 2 o'clock one morning. The Jap made full use of the nearby jungle and quickly disappeared but he was ob viously one of the few still at large on the island who, under the cover of darkness, endeavoured to raid ration stores for something edible. The episode proved too much for the cooks who were quickly out of their beds in an enthusiastic but unsuccessful man hunt. As a searchlight to penetrate the jungle they carried with them a six-volt car battery powering a detached headlamp!
Heavy rain and electrical storms were frequent, wrecking lines, bogging roads and camp areas on which much hard labour had been expended, but it had been experienced many times before. The duties of the anti-malaria spraying squads were as essential as ever and the malarial mosquitoes bred fast wherever water lay. Atabrin tablets were still taken daily by everyone. There were not many cases of serious illness in the unit but very few escaped some minor form of dermatitis or skin complaints, which necessitated treatment at the RAP. Consequently men were to be seen with their bodies highly decorated with coloured daubs of the remedial lotions used. Long trousers were obviously the cause of much skin trouble and the order authorising the page 261wearing of underpants in their stead was a great improvement. (Shorts could not be permitted as it was contrary to orders to have taken shorts into the forward areas!) After wearying weeks of duty, the means of devising various forms of entertainment was a foremost consideration. Amphitheatres for the screening of films were constructed in the various areas and provided the main attraction. At unit headquarters an energetic committee organised 500 evenings, quiz sessions, chess, debates, mock trials and concerts in which members of the sections participated. One particularly ambitious and enjoyed programme was that provided by the large swing band of the 33rd American Construction Battalion who journeyed quite a number of rough miles by road to play on a stage constructed in the men's mess room. The band even brought their piano with them, but that was transported across the lagoon by barge.
Any intimations of functions always concluded with the words 'Bring your mugs—supper free." Tea was so seldom found on the daily camp menu but at entertainments such as these the messing sergeant had a bounden duty to secure something more palatable to the New Zealander than coffee. Biscuits, prizes for the quiz sessions and many camp recreational facilities such as games of Chinese checkers were contributed by the National Patriotic Fund Board. YMCA tents became a popular rendezvous for a cup of tea. A commendable morale-building organisation was that formed by members of A wireless section under the title of 'The Ancient Order of the Fraternity of Jungle Bums '(hobos). This gathering of off duty personnel originally met nightly in a tent but as the fraternity's membership grew an outdoor rotunda capable of seating 40 was built by bush carpenters of the section to accommodate the increased gatherings, The nightly programme consisted of participating in a community sing, listening to the section's jungle band and enjoying a supper of tea, coffee or cocoa made over an open fire—in fact, membership to this select band could only be gained by regularly contributing 'acquired rations 'to the larder. The 'Jungle Bums 'had a novel and artistically designed membership card printed in New Zealand, and once a week they produced a newsy and humorous bulletin which was read to the assembled members. A feature of the organisation was that the operators on duty at the wireless stations were never forgotten at supper time although page 262it involved a trek of almost a mile through the jungle to dispense the cups of refreshment—such was the spirit of the 'Jungle Bums.'
Stories were always prevalent as to the future employment of the division and although the communication setup was extended daily it was generally felt that the time was not far distant when the division—which had been nine months in the combat zone— would be withdrawn and rested. The division had developed into an efficient amphibious organisation, the first of its kind to represent New Zealand, and had fully justified the confidence placed in it. The men had quickly adapted themselves to the jungle and its trying conditions and signalmen had proved themselves competent in providing an efficient communication system in which every message lodged with signals reached its destination irrespective of the conditions or distance involved. The unwritten law 'The message must go through 'had always been upheld. On 5 April the unit received a memorandum from divisional head-quarters outlining an impending scheme whereby members of the force could volunteer for their return to New Zealand to enter essential industries. The categories open were farming, butter and cheese factory work, freezing, building, sawmilling, coal mining and railways, and the appropriate cards were issued to the men for recording their choice. As was usually the case in signals communications had to be maintained and this naturally precluded some personnel from immediate selection. The first draft returning to industry included over 90 men of signals who embarked on the transport Abigail Adams outside the lagoon at Nissan on 24 April for their return to New Caledonia and then on to New Zealand. Captain Eady and Lieutenant Harris became draft conducting officers. Similarly selected signalmen from G and J sections on the Treasuries and men from the FMC signal section returned to base. Opportunity was taken of the returning transports to commence the movement of unit equipment and vehicles. In May the division as a whole commenced to vacate its operational areas and the first signal sections to return to New-Caledonia were G and J who, with the exception of a rear party, embarked on the USS Tyron at Stirling Island on 15 May. The wireless link between Nissan and the Treasury Islands then ceased. The two sections landed at Népoui four days later. J section became detached from the 8th Brigade and moved to page 263Moindah camp which was where the School of Signals was situated and had been the former home of unit headquarters. G section also moved there after accompanying the 38th Field Regiment to the artillery training depot near Néméara. The rear party of these sections arrived in New Caledonia on 24 May.
Meanwhile on Nissan signal routine had continued as formerly excepting that the quartering staffs found themselves fully engaged in packing unit equipment for shipping. On Anzac Day members of the unit at divisional headquarters had participated in the ceremonial parade held at the mission. About this period, too, members of M section found a diversion from repairing battle scarred radio stations in installing electric lights and a sound system at the divisional headquarters amphitheatre for a performance given by the Kiwi concert party. Supplies of fresh meat and vegetables arrived and provided a welcome relief from the normal tinned fare. Due to the prevalence of hookworm it became necessary for those still remaining on Nissan to have a blood count taken and a small number of signalmen were subjected to minor medical treatment within their own camp areas. At the end of May the signal offices and communications provided by E and K sections were closed down, and the teletype circuit from divisional headquarters to navy headquarters was discontinued. Preparations were also made for the handing over of all the island land and submarine line circuits to the incoming forces. A 23-foot deep attempt to reach water dug at unit head-quarters was at least found useful as a pit in which to burn camp debris. E and K sections sailed from Nissan on 30 May and went to the Moindah camp on their arrival at Népoui on 8 June. There, Lieutenant Crawley took over the command of K section and Captain Hanna became officer commanding base signals—an appointment held for a short period by Lieutenant Harris following his arrival from the forward area with the industry draft. The FMC signal section arrived In New Caledonia a week later. On 15 June the 44-line switchboard of No. 1 company and the 30-line board of X section, together with their respective signal offices, closed down prior to the embarkation of unit headquarters, headquarters, and No. 1 companies and X section aboard the USS Rotanin which sailed for Guadalcanal and New Caledonia that evening. Left behind was a rear party of No. 1 company comprising three officers and 25 other ranks. The page 264Rotanin berthed at Népoui at 10 am on 21 June and its signal complement of personnel and equipment was transferred to Moindah.
The rear party opened a temporary signal office and exchange in the mission buildings where rear divisional headquarters was and the high power rear link wireless station continued in communication with base until ceasing transmission on 6 July, when the rear party found themselves with but three hours to dismantle the station, in darkness, and pack it in a wireless van for shipment. On the departure of the rear party there were no further members of the unit left in the forward area and on their arrival in New Caledonia the entire Third New Zealand Signals were bivouacked at Moindah. Personnel received their kitbags which had been stored during their absence and there was a general issue of greatcoats, for the cooler temperature of New Caledonia was decidedly noticeable. With the general trend of traffic towards New Zealand a diversion in movements was the arrival from Trentham of Second-Lieutenants Dyer, Clausen, Farrelly and Henry, former non-commissioned officers of the unit who had been newly commissioned. Further drafts sailed progressively for New Zealand to return to civilian occupation under the man-power scheme or for duty with a special army troop company. Early in July two furlough drafts which absorbed over 200 signal personnel left Moindah for base reception depot on the first leg of their journey to New Zealand. A further four signalmen who volunteered for postal duties in the European theatre of war also moved homewards and four members of the unit whose next-of-kin resided in Australia were flown there on furlough. At Moindah every effort was made to keep signal duties to a minimum. The bulk of traffic for transmission was handled by base signals and particularly busy was their rear wireless link to New Zealand conveying the administrative details necessary during the movement of many thousands of troops. Priority task at Moindah was the unpacking and overhauling of unit equipment which had become subject to corrosion and mould during transportation in the humid holds of the ships. In providing a diversion from the camp the Bourail beach became a scheduled trip and the newly constructed Kiwi Club, also at the beach, accommodated those fortunate in being granted a week's leave. This centre had been made possible by a £5,000 grant of the page 265Anzac Division of the British War Relief Society of New York. The touring Royal New Zealand Air Force band and the National Broadcasting Service concert parties were a feature of the entertainment provided for the resting troops.
A memorandum issued on 1 August announced the intention to withdraw the remaining New Zealand personnel in New Caledonia to New Zealand and during the earlier part of the month the personnel at Moindah were medically reboarded, received their battledress and moved to Nouméa for the long awaited sea voyage.
Base signals became attached to the force rear party and continued to maintain communications from Bourail and Nouméa until the conclusion of the party's dismantling and loading tasks. They sailed from Nouméa aboard the USS Talamanca arriving in New Zealand on 14 October, and going to Papakura Camp. From there everyone was issued with rail warrants and ration coupons before being dispersed to their homes on furlough. Being home was a little strange at first, for the reality of smooth roads, no mud, the soothing appearance of the country and the green grass, the air which seemed fresher and easier to breathe and fresh food in place of tinned or dry jungle rations seemed all too good to be true.