The Tanks: An Unofficial History of the Activities of the Third New Zealand Division Tank Squadron in the Pacific
Chapter Four — Corps Organisation And Supply Units
Corps Organisation And Supply Units
The New Zealand Ordnance Corps with the Third Division was directed by Lieutenant-Colonel Myers, who held the position of deputy assistant director of ordnance services from the time of his appointment in January 1942, when the New Zealand force in Fiji was increased to divisional strength, until he retired in April 1944, when Major Knight was appointed to the position, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Majors Simmiss and Evers held the appointments of senior ordnance mechanical engineer, of motor transport and of armaments, respectively, until December 1943, when Major Simmiss retired and Major Evers became chief ordnance mechanical engineer at Trentham. A change in the establishment at that time provided for the appointment of two senior ordnance mechanical engineers, one for the Third New Zealand Division and the other for the units of the force at base. Major Signal was appointed to the former, and the latter position was filled by Major Lawson. Ordnance supplies were distributed, in New Caledonia, through the base ordnance depot, which was established at Bourail, with additional receiving and shipping depots for bulked stocks and ammunition at Népoui Valley and Nouméa. Major Knight was chief ordnance officer of the depot until his promotion, when Major Reid assumed command of the unit.
Mechanical maintenance of equipment and vehicles was the responsibility of many separate units and detachments of the Ordnance Corps. Six light aid detachments and two recovery sections took care of second line maintenance and repairs, using highly mobile equipment, and were attached to the various page 182formations of the division. Armourers and armament artificers, working principally at the headquarters of formations, carried out first line repairs to small arms and equipments. Lastly, all major repairs outside of the scope or authority of the units and detachments enumerated above comprised the work of the divisional ordnance workshops, which, although equipped as a mobile workshops, had to function practically as a base workshops in New Caledonia.
Lieutenant-Colonel Myers and seven of the DADOS staff arrived at Nouméa on 7 December 1942, and were joined early in January by the remaining members of the staff. A tented office was set up at divisional headquarters at Moindah, alongside the river, 25 miles north-west of Bourail. Here the unit used a set of portable desks which had been specially made while the: division was in New Zealand. Hinged and locked fronts folded; down to form a table for working, and the desks, complete with collapsible stands, contained built-in partitions designed for the particular purposes of each user. As these were filled before despatch with complete sets of the division's war equipment tables, and other office stationery and reference books, the whole office could be transported and set up again at the shortest notice, with the minimum of packing or disturbance of each man's work. The system was later of inestimable value during the many moves up through the Solomons, and also during the many stages of the division's return to New Zealand in 1944, when some of the pigeon-holes became secret repositories for many strange private belongings of particular interest to the desks' occupants, and to any customs officer who might not have heard the story of Nelson putting his telescope to his blind eye.
As part of a system introduced when the London Munitions Assignment Board was set up early in 1942, New Zealand was required to table complete schedules of its requirements of stores and equipment, including controlled stores (known as 'Red Hot' items). With a knowledge of the tactical and strategical situation and of the supplies available, the board in London then made allocations on a priority basis. At regular intervals eight cabled returns were required by the board from New Zealand. These included (a) A Monthly return of wastage: principally equipment condemned or lost for which replacements were required, (b) Six-monthly forecast of requirements for ensuing page 183two years: to assist in planning production, (c) Tri-annual census return: virtually an Empire stock-taking of certain important items of ordnance equipment. One of the most important functions of the DADOS office was to supply Army Headquarters in New Zealand with the above particulars in respect to the stocks and requirements of the Third Division. The information was gathered in the form of returns from units and then collated for regular communication to New Zealand.
With the exception of the few items of ordnance equipment New Zealand was able to produce within the country, the several hundred thousand individual pieces of ordnance equipment used by a division had first to be procured from overseas—usually from England. After the blows and losses that the United Kingdom sustained from 1940 to 1942, production could not keep pace with the Empire's growing demands. It is clear from the heading of the return calling for half-yearly estimates of requirements for the next two years, just how far in advance the production of many ordnance items had to be planned. If this fact is coupled with the knowledge of the serious congestion and bombing of British ports and consequent delays in shipping, and with the lack of reserve stocks in England, it is seen that ordnance supplies that arrived in New Caledonia for the division in 1943 would need to be ordered early in 1942 at the latest, and perhaps in 1941, before the war in the Pacific commenced or the division's future role could possibly be anticipated. If these, then, were some of New Zealand's supply difficulties, they were increased by the additional distance from New Zealand to New Caledonia during a grave shortage of shipping in the Pacific. If a line is drawn on the map from the United Kingdom to New Zealand, and another from New Zealand to New Caledonia, it is seen that few places could be found on the map where a single British-equipped division could operate in a position more remote from the place of manufacture of its ordnance supplies than are New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, when supplied from Britain via New Zealand. Naturally there were some shortages, and many headaches for the Ordnance Corps in the Pacific. That most of these difficulties were surmounted, however, by the time the division was called upon to go into action was one of the many Pacific achievements of British, New Zealand, and American co-operation.page 184
Landing craft embarking heavy equipment from the beach at Vella Lavella when the 14th Brigade moved north to land on Nissan Island
Landing at dawn on Stirling Island on 27 October 194.1, when Ordnance troops went ashore with 8th Brigade Headquarters. This photograph indicates the character of most beaches in the Solomons
This motor vehicle, loaded with ammunition, blew up when it received a direct hit from a Japanese mortar
A 25-pounder damaged by enemy action on the beach at Falamai, Mono Island, on the day of the landing
Storm clouds weave a splendid pattern over the ocean round Nissan Island, where tropical storms lent a wild grandeur to this Pacific atoll, scene of the Third Division's last action
When the work on the new quarters was finished the boys assembled on the night of 16 March 1943 for the purpose of officially opening 'Kiwi Pa.' In a short, witty speech Lieutenant-Colonel Myers handed his whisky ration over to the party, and the 'keys' to Des Milner, who took them for himself and Bob Cameron, who were the originators of the building of the pa. Some of the unit—warrant-officers at brigades—sent their beer ration with humorous greetings attached from as far as 100 miles away for the occasion, and with these and the ration carefully saved by the men of the staff at headquarters, Jim Daley and others proposed the toasts, which included the 'Boys of the Middle East,' 'Prisoners of War,' and the 'Folks back at home.'
As the months of waiting for the move north to the Solomons passed it became necessary to escape from the overwhelming monotony of administrative work and of the niaouli trees which were the only view from camp in every direction. By hitchhiking in trucks for 20 miles or more the men could not reach any suitable place for a day's leave, but they could at least debus and go tramping and see something of the barbaric splendour of the Chaine Centrale. On these trips the men, picking oranges and mandarins by the wayside, often visited a native village or an isolated French farmhouse, where they were usually asked inside to have wine, or to drink coffee grown by the owner. The French have a saying of anyone who misuses their language, II parle Francois comme une vache Espagnole (He speaks French like a Spanish cow); but as the trampers from ordnance headquarters included two schoolmasters, and two with their Arts degrees, there were no language difficulties on these occasions, and the French could not have their little joke.
Base ordnance depot began operations immediately on arrival page 186at Népoui. The party there had not only to cope with thousands of tons of equipment brought from New Zealand in numerous ships, and to make issues from tarpaulin-covered dumps to the division's units camped in the Népoui Valley, but had also to sort and reload the supplies into convoys of 40 trucks which ran a shuttle service delivering the depot's stocks some 50 miles south to the new base ordnance camp at Bourail. Many types of heavy equipment—such as 300-man stoves weighing a ton and a quarter were manhandled without cranes or any mechanical assistance. In undeveloped islands such as New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands the absence of buildings for housing ordnance stores presents a very real storage problem—particularly during the early stages of a campaign. The ordnance staff responsible for landing, sorting, covering and issuing the urgently needed stores cannot be spared for some time for erecting buildings, and in New Caledonia other priorities excluded the shipment of prefabricated housing for stores until a much later date. Even sawn timber is seldom procurable in such islands, and a problem which began at Népoui, and remained as one of the difficulties following each subsequent move of the division in the tropics, was the prevention of the deterioration of stocks temporarily housed in the damp hot air beneath tarpaulins, and the making of early issues requiring the opening up of stacks and of cases during daily tropical rains.
On Christmas Day 1942 both the Bourail and the Nouméa parties joined the unit at Népoui for Christmas dinner, which included several 'unofficial' hams acquired from a nearby Army Service Corps ration dump. No vestige of civilisation could be seen from the camp—nor for that matter from the tops of the surrounding hills. In every direction lay wild unpopulated valleys which, some thought, possessed a certain untamed beauty, but which, to most home-loving New Zealanders, were merely a reminder of their isolation. With a brave showing of the unit's beer ration, and an excellent dinner prepared by the cook, the men forgot their surroundings, celebrated Christmas, and remembered their people a thousand miles away, at home. By February most of the Népoui party, with the exception of an ammunition section which remained to handle an immense task, had joined the unit at Bourail.
On 4 January 1943 Captain Knight, Second-Lieutenant page 187Lonergan and the main depot party of 71 men arrived at Bourail, where the base depot was being set up. Kanakas were employed during the next few months to help build some of the bures which were to be used as stores. These natives were savage fighters in comparatively recent revolts. Burchett quotes M. Ratzel, a recent Chef du Cabinet in New Caledonia, who quelled a native rising in 1917, as being 'amazed by the almost animal characteristics of the natives when on the trail of human prey.' M. Ratzel 'swears they lope through the bush, their heads darting this way and that, nostrils dilating as they sniff the air, exactly like bloodhounds following a scent, and believes they rely on their sense of smell as much as any other instinct when seeking out their enemies.' The present population of Kanakas in New Caledonia is about 30,000. While the natives were employed at the camp, one unfortunate Kanaka was discovered with leprosy, and was taken away, with tears of fear in his eyes, by the gendarme—probably to be sent to a leper island.
On a hill-slope, a few minutes' walk from the centre of the French provincial village of Bourail, a large mushroom township of tents and niaouli-bark huts soon covered many acres of a former French farm, and became the new home of the base ordnance depot, and the division's centre of ordnance supplies. From the air, the native huts gave the place the momentary appearance of a large tribal village, but the illusion was quickly dispelled by the constant streams of army traffic moving in and out of the area in a tell-tale column of dust. Within this depot 'township' were whole streets of skilled tradesmen, including armament specialists, tailors, carpenters, storemen who specialised in clothing and hardware, boot repairers, watchmakers, instrument mechanics, an ammunition unit, respirator repairers, artillery equipment men, tent and textile repairers, and storemen who somehow had mastered the nightmare of army nomenclature associated with the multiple components of signal and radio communication sets and portable cookers. Within the 'settlement' were also tents and bures housing office staffs of accountants, administrative men and camp maintenance personnel. A 10-line camp exchange provided inter-section communication throughout the area. The depot operated on army instructions to carry 90 days' supply, and this was always budgeted for, mostly in indents forwarded to New Zealand six months in advance of require- page 188ments. Later in the year—from about April to July—accumulations of the depot's orders were stacked to the roofs in goods sheds at New Zealand wharves, awaiting shipping which had been withdrawn and diverted for transportation of American troops and supplies to the Solomons. New Zealand was kept fully appraised of the items most urgently required, and of the declining stocks generally, but was powerless to expedite deliveries in the face of the acute, shipping shortage—a situation which was but a Pacific extension of a global problem of logistics at that time. When sufficient ships were again released for the service that was necessary between New Zealand and New Caledonia, the division was itself preparing to move to the Solomons for action, and ordnance depot men worked under an extremely heavy strain receiving into stores the much needed bulk stocks, and despatching the detailed requirements of the accumulated indents from units. In anticipation of the division's needs, Colonel Myers's earlier action, in January, in procuring from American sources in New Caledonia 30,000 garments of drill clothing, 13,500 mosquito head-nets, and other important items, contributed considerably in lessening the difficulties of the division's supply position.
The base ordnance depot at Bourail was organised in six divisions, each under command of a commissioned officer. The officers enumerated below, who directed the stores at various times, held the ranks shown at the time of appointment to the store listed opposite each officer's name:—
Headquarters: Major S. A. Knight and Major H. McK. Reid.
Ammunition: Lieutenant A. W. Buckley and Second-Lieutenant S. J. Harvey.
General stores and clothing: Captain H. McK. Reid and Lieutenant B. E. Woodhams.
Armament, engineers and signals: Lieutenant H. N. McCarthy and Captain R, P. Kennedy.
Mechanical transport stores: Lieutenant J. L. Lonergan and Lieutenant K. V. Paul.
Return stores and salvage: Lieutenant A. W. Buckley, Lieutenant W. A. Pascoe and Lieutenant H. Sarginson.
All sections had many men in hospital with the mosquito-borne dengue fever during March and April in 1943. In the section that handled the supply of motor transport spare parts page 189at the gendarmerie near Bourail only two men were left to carry on when 14 of the detachment were in hospital with the fever at one time.
The situation of the depot and the constant demands on the unit did not allow much opportunity for rest trips or leave, although some of the men were fortunate enough to be granted a week's leave in Nouméa. However, showing considerable ingenuity, the men at base organised an excellent committee and provided their own sport and amusement. One of the most successful of the committee's many activities was the running of 'race meetings' with cut-out horses which were moved along the course with the throwing of dice. Colours and jockeys and some astonishing pedigrees lent the atmosphere of a race meeting to the scene, and race cards the men prepared and had printed by the division's printing unit for each meeting contained a fund of topical wit. For 'security reasons' the names of the horses' owners are omitted here in the following examples:—Wee Mac by Choice out of Waccery, Bashful Lady by Wooer out of Control, No Parade by Silent Sufferer from Horrible Hangover, Winning Smile by Top Teeth out of Commission, Tickets Please by Wrong Impression from Cheese-cutter, Black Market by Spare Parts from OC's Watch, and an amusing reference to a member of the unit addicted to nightmares, Constant Screamer by Heluvadin out of Silent Knight. The card carried imaginary advertisements, including the following references to a new army rest centre: 'Forget Milford! Visit Bourail and laze on the tropical sands 'neath the rustling palms. Romance under that island moon! The Kiwi Club will provide all your needs. Dress: Necks to knees on the portico. Next to nix elsewhere.' Les Calder, Carl Crocker and Len Chirm were only three of many who helped organise the recreation of the unit with the cooperation of several of the unit's officers. Two soccer teams and a rugby team played in the army competitions, and the depot won a swimming contest against the staff of the 4th General Hospital with 47 points to 23.
From early in September 1943 until July 1944 several of the unit's officers and almost half of the other ranks were absent from the base depot while they were attached to the division during the campaign in the Solomon Islands. Although shipping took most of the ordnance supplied for the forward area direct page 190from New Zealand to Guadalcanal, the base depot in New Caledonia continued to supply some stocks for the combat area, and also all requirements of the training units and numerous base units of the force in New Caledonia.
The organisation of the mechanical side of Divisional Ordnance Headquarters and the enumeration of units which arrived in New Caledonia to maintain and service the division's vehicles and equipment have already been mentioned in the general outline of the organisation of the corps in New Caledonia. Further developments which took place after most of the units had arrived were the appointments in January 1943 of Captain Tilley and Lieutenant H. Jones as Ordnance mechanical engineers to the 8th and 14th Brigades respectively. In April, when Lieutenant Jones returned to New Zealand, Captain Sandelin was appointed to the position. No similar appointment was made to the 15th Brigade, which was disbanded early in July. Later, when further artillery units arrived, Second-Lieutenant Conlon was posted in August 1943 to Divisional Artillery Headquarters as ordnance mechanical engineer. Other major changes in organisation were, firstly, the detachment from divisional ordnance workshops of numbers one and two recovery sections, which operated from 17 February 1943 under Lieutenants Beauchamp and Holebrook, with the 8th and 14th Brigades respectively, and, secondly, the setting up of two base workshop detachments— one of which was formed on 26 July 1943 at Nouméa, under Second-Lieutenant F. J. E. Black, and the other operated at Tene Valley from January 1944, and was commanded by Lieutenant H. D. Simmonds.
The purpose of these pages is not to present an official record in detail of the events or work of many units with identical or similar functions—such repetition would prove tedious to the reader—but it is to record the more interesting aspects of the service overseas of the corps as a whole as found in some of the experiences of the units. The following outline should, however, enable the reader to understand the role of the smaller mechanical units of the corps. The work of workshop units and of light aid detachments has already been described in an earlier chapter, and was supplemented in New Caledonia by the assistance of the two recovery sections which operated with infantry brigades as forward workshops for the recovery and mainten- page 191ance of all types of equipment. The following regiments had ordnance workshop sections attached:—28th Heavy Anti-aircraft, 29th Light Anti-aircraft, and 33rd Heavy Coast. Light aid detachments were attached to formations as follows:—20th, attached to 17th Field Regiment. New Zealand Artillery; 37th, 64th, 65th, attached to 14th, 8th and 15th Brigades respectively, and the 67th Light Aid Detachment was attached to divisional signals. The 42nd Light Aid Detachment arrived in July 1943 attached to the 38th Field Regiment and was later transferred to the artillery training depot at Néméara. When the 15th Brigade disbanded the 65th Light Aid Detachment was transferred to Tene Valley, near Bourail, and operated there until January 1944, when eleven of the unit became the nucleus of the divisional ordnance workshops, detachment base, at Tene Valley, and the other nine men left for Nissan Island.
At Moindah, the divisional ordnance workshops were divided into a headquarters section of 22 men. the main workshop of 120 men under Lieutenant Patton, and an armament section of 41 under Second-Lieutenant Conlon. Captain Signal, who was promoted to the rank of major in April 1943, was in command of the unit, with Captain Lawson as second-in-command, until the appointment of these officers as senior ordnance mechanical engineers in December 1943, when the two positions were filled by Major Costelloe and Captain Sandelin.