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The Tanks: An Unofficial History of the Activities of the Third New Zealand Division Tank Squadron in the Pacific

Chapter Eight — Objective: New Zealand

page 223

Chapter Eight
Objective: New Zealand

In April 1944, with the division's part in the Solomons campaign successfully completed, the gradual migration of the troops in the direction of New Zealand was begun. Some volunteered for immediate transfer to industry, and left almost at once, but the full undertaking of the division's return, via New Caledonia, was not completed until October. As some of the ordnance units returned from the forward areas to rejoin others at base camps in New Caledonia, there were many lively reunions. Those who had worked stoically in New Caledonia, without the stimulus of battle, exchanged accounts of their experiences with men from the Solomons, and in the absence of graphic representation, which is extremely difficult to obtain in jungle warfare, the men who had remained at base were greatly interested in the experiences of those from the combat areas. When the division reached New Zealand, later in the year, there was considerable surprise when the extent and nature of the division's role became better known. Much of the story of war is told in press photographs, but as Major-General Barrowclough wrote, 'Jungle warfare is never spectacular. There are no spouting pillars of dirt and flame. Death comes suddenly, unexpectedly and mysteriously. The dense growth swallows and obliterates everything. It is almost impossible to see even the burst of shells and bombs,' and he added that there are no bomb-blasted buildings to photograph to show the wake of battle. The story is gradually emerging, however, despite the impossibility of obtaining pictures of such jungle actions, and the long, grim struggle proved a notable contribution in effacing an enemy which undoubtedly once looked covetously in the direction of New Zealand's shores.

page 224

While the Ordnance Corps is left, in this story, to make its way homeward, the record of its service is, perhaps, best completed with some reference to a few of the more interesting items which will indicate the volume of these goods that passed through the hands of ordnance units, and was maintained by them.

Vehicles Supplied To The Third Division And Maintained
By Ordnance Units
Motor-cycles 661
Cars, station-wagons, etc. 136
Jeeps 299
Vans 54
Trucks ( 4 x 2, 4 x 4, 6 x 4) 1,455
Trucks- Breakdown 27
Workshop 14
Compressor 16
Dump 36
Water 61
Technical various 42
Anti-tank portee 16
Wrecker 1
Ambulances 79
Tractors 157
Carriers 156
Scout cars 13
Tanks- Valentine 25
Transporters 2
Carrier transporters 1
Trailers technical 23
Total 3,274

Parts tyres, etc., for above, shipped to the division, 1,149 tons dead weight.

Gun ammunition issued to the division:-

6-inch 2,352 rounds
25-pounder 178,896
40 millimetre anti-aircraft 262,882
Other calibers 198,277
Total 642,407
Boots shipped to NZ ordnance depots in the Pacific 82,197 pairs
Sandals 10,573 pairs
Socks 483,464 pairs
Principal garments of clothing 702,089
Badges 44,084
Tent replacements 3,604
Tarpaulins in use covering ordnance stocks 2,502
Cost of clothing, including special jungle issue and Blankets $30 14 4 a man
Cost of rifle web, helmet, groundsheet, etc. 18 116
Total cost of personal issue carried on the soldier $49 5 10
page 225

The principal items stocked by ordnance depots with the division numbered over 50,000 different items. Vocabularies, technical manuals, and hand-books were seldom available from New Zealand in adequate quantities, and the civilian soldier in ordnance depot was seriously handicapped when, without these, he was required to identify thousands of small parts for equipment such as radio, motor transport, engineering, telephones, armament, and lighting plants. Other lessons learnt showed that pumping and lighting sets needed to be more standardised, to avoid difficulties about spare parts. With the continual re-shipping of stocks many more wiring machines than the number allowed were found to be essential, if serious delays were to be avoided, and the scale of tools for use in ordnance depots was found to be inadequate. Heavy truck engines, and large iron stoves and other weighty equipment were constantly being moved by hand, and it was noted that some form of portable hoist, or 'finger-lift,' was absolutely necessary for moving and stacking some of the heavy modern equipment used by an army.

In October 1944 the last units of the Ordnance Corps to leave the islands arrived once more in New Zealand, and the men, after a rousing welcome at Auckland, took their long-awaited furlough. One of them re-read his diary covering the last operations in the Pacific, and this is what it contained: 'Nissan. At the new airstrip to-day. Saw a Dauntless land amongst many others and taxi into its place on the line. Just as it got there the motor cut out. The belly of the plane was heavily splashed with oil. The pilot and the gunner got out with grins stretched right across their faces. They squatted on their haunches talking about it. We strolled across, and I remarked, "You just about made it, didn't you ?" The pilot, a young, small chap, looking as though he had come straight from school, said, "I knew I was losing oil pressure, but didn't know it was as bad as this. It started over Kavieng." The gunner chimed in and said, "I don't like a dunking. Say, ain't this place nice." So our recovery of these islands from the Japs is paying dividends already in lives saved, and is helping to roll back the Japanese farther from New Zealand every day. Episodes like this give one fresh purpose for sticking to things, as the years pass, whatever the conditions, though only the relatives of the dead seem to know much about it at home. Came home feeling weak with page 226the day's white heat on the airstrip. Took off every clammy stitch, and lay, still sweating, near the sea. June 11: Eggs for breakfast! The first I've had in a year. July 6: We climbed on board up the side of the ship by rope nets, ready for the first leg of the journey home. My tinea infected foot made it awkward, and many of the others on whom the tropics have played a few tricks seemed to-day to be making harder work of it than usual. Most of the men look pretty thin and washed out.'

Many members of the corps were graded unfit after their return, and left the army for civil occupations. Others remained at the division's Mangere base near Auckland, or at Wellington, checking, sorting and reconditioning stores and vehicles of every description before handing the division's entire stocks of equipment and clothing over to army authorities in New Zealand. Whether the men had been members of the Ordnance Corps for five years from September 1940 to September 1945, with four of those years served in the tropics, or whether they were replacements or subsequent additions to the strength of the corps, all had worked untiringly in the service of their country and of their division, whose trials and successes 1,400 ordnance men worthily shared.