I: Vella Lavella
1 A task force was a combat organisation of naval craft and ground and air forces created for an attack on some particular objective. When that was achieved it was disbanded, but the same elements were employed again and again in the composition of other task forces, particularly in the Solomons where shortages were at times acute.
2 Before the operations began Barrett was accidentally killed and Vandegrift returned to command the Marines.
3 Lt D. G. Graham; Auckland; born Gisborne, 3 Dec 1917; clerk. Sgt H. B. Brereton; Motueka; born Motueka, 8 Feb 1918; shepherd. Sgt L. V. Stenhouse; Timaru; born NZ 10 Jan 1920; storekeeper. Sgt M. McRae; Auckland; born NZ 16 Nov 1919; bookbinder.
As the division moved on to Guadalcanal in September, formations of Griswold's 14 Corps were driving the last of the Japanese from Arundel and Vaaga Islands and sites along the north coast of New Georgia, forcing them to retreat to Kolombangara, a few miles north. Munda airfield, finally secured after protracted and stub-born fighting two days less than a year after the landing on Guadalcanal, was in operation, though subject to nightly bombing raids. Plans to attack Kolombangara were discarded by the South Pacific Command on 12 July in favour of by-passing that island and landing on the more lightly held Vella Lavella, where suitable territory existed behind Barakoma Beach for the construction of an airfield to aid in the next thrust forward. This had been surveyed by a party of American specialists, who landed under cover of darkness and spent several days there before being taken off again. An American force 4600 strong, consisting of 35 Infantry Regiment, 4 Marine Defence Battalion, and one battalion of 145 Infantry Regiment (a later reinforcement) landed on Vella on 15 August and drove the Japanese garrison into the north of the island, where they were holding out and awaiting relief along the coastal region between Paraso Bay and Mundi Mundi. An American engineer construction battalion, the 58th, known as CBs (units for which the New Zealanders developed profound admiration) immediately began clearing a swampy area of jungle for the airfield, and a naval base had been established at Biloa, on the southern tip of the island, where the only remaining evidence of a former mission station consisted of pieces of concrete foundations and a few flowering shrubs. A motor torpedo boat base was operating from an unsatisfactory site off Laipari Island, opposite Biloa. Night-raiding aircraft hindered the construction of the airfield, and attempted to destroy petrol dumps and the torpedo boats which were harrying Japanese barge traffic at night round Kolombangara and smaller islands. Sites at Kimbolia for a radar station and at Lambu Lambu for a more effective motor torpedo boat base were urgently required on the northern coast to assist in the next operations—the capture of the Treasury Group and a beach-head on Bougainville—and for this reason Vella Lavella was to be made secure.page 127
The main Japanese force had been established in this region in defensive positions at Horoniu and Boko, but had been driven out by the Americans on 14 September. It consisted of remnants of several units, including 290 army and 100 navy personnel, who landed at Horoniu on the morning of 19 August after eluding an action in which their covering destroyers were attacked by an American naval force in Vella Gulf on the night of 17 August (two days after the American landing farther south) and approximately 190 army and 120 navy survivors from naval engagements on the night of 6–7 August, when three Japanese destroyers were sunk in almost as many minutes. These were joined by others from observation posts and staging barge bases on the island, and scattered survivors from barges sunk on 25 September, but there was no co-ordinated command as an officer detailed to take charge of the Japanese garrison never arrived. When the main position at Horoniu was overwhelmed they scattered to the north. Patrols of Fijian scouts, accompanied by 14 Brigade non-commissioned officers, had been through the northern region observing the Japanese but with orders not to attack them. Estimates of enemy strength ranged from 500 to 700, established in small groups at Timbala Bay, their radio station and lookout post, Warambari Bay, Tambama and Varuasi, and armed with mortars, machine guns, rifles, and grenades. These patrols received valuable assistance and information from a coastwatcher, Lieutenant H. E. Josselyn, RANVR, who had been hidden on the island for several weeks.
Approximately 3700 troops of the division, principally 14 Brigade units and elements of headquarters, disembarked on the beaches soon after dawn on 18 September. After loading and practising disembarkation for two days at Kukum and Kokumbona beaches, they travelled north in a convoy of six APDs, six LSTs, and six LCIs, escorted by eleven destroyers. During the brief voyage troops voted in the New Zealand Parliamentary elections and watched from blacked-out ships the fiery spectacle of a Japanese air raid on Munda.
With only a limited time in which to clear the ships, disembarkation began with speed at Barakoma, Maravari, and Uzamba beaches as Japanese lookouts on Kolombangara, only thirteen miles across the water, could observe the landing. High overhead in the clear sunshine an umbrella of aircraft circled in anticipation of attack as men and ships went ashore to a disciplined schedule. As the ramps of the massive LSTs clattered down, trucks, bulldozers, and guns rolled out and bumped into the jungle and mud. Bulldozers tore down palms and trees, gathering them into their shining blades to form causeways to the ramps of the heavier craft which remained page 128 in water too deep for vehicles to negotiate. Waist deep in the water, men passed crated stores and equipment from ship to shore, stacking them out of sight among the trees. Petrol, oil, and ammunition also disappeared into the jungle, which grew almost to the water's edge. The APDs, lying in deeper water, were cleared in half an hour. By noon the Japanese air attack developed, but by that time the valuable landing craft, which were never over plentiful, lay far from the shore, herded together by the destroyers in readiness for the return journey. Seven of the Japanese aircraft were brought down in a dogfight which ended as quickly as it began, but no damage was done to troops or equipment.
Divisional Headquarters was established in tents deep in the jungle behind Barakoma Beach, and over the primitive road which gave access to this gloomy site trucks pushed heavily laden jeeps page 129 out of the evil-smelling mud all day long. Fourteenth Brigade moved farther up the coast and opened its headquarters on high ground overlooking the deserted native village of Joroveto in the less enclosed spaces of Gill's Plantation, with the 35 and 37 Battalions and brigade units spaced on either side between the Joroveto and Mumia Rivers, and all concealed without difficulty from the air. The only access to the plantation area was a rough track, feet deep in mud, which skirted the coast among the trees, but by sundown most of the essential equipment had been transported over it. When night came down bivouacs had been erected, foxholes constructed or shelters made among the spreading roots of the trees, where the men lived on packeted C and K rations until routine was established. Air raids gave them little sleep that night, or for long afterwards.
Except for a few coconut plantations on the more level areas, Vella Lavella is clothed with dense jungle from high-water mark to the crests of mountains in the interior. Visibility ends only a few yards away in a barrier made up of fleshy leaves, vines and creepers, shrubs and tree trunks, as this mass of vegetation fights upwards to the sun. Large trees, whose massive boles sprawl out like flying buttresses several feet above the ground, are matted together with vines and a variety of barbed climbing palm to form an impenetrable canopy overhead. The earth is never dry and never free from the heavy odour of decay. Mildew grows overnight on anything damp. Growth is so swift that a rain of leaves falls in a gentle whisper. By day the jungle is comparatively quiet, except for the chatter of parrots and parakeets and the harsh shrill of myriads of cicadas, which begin and end their crude orchestra as abruptly as though working to a signal. One moment the air is vibrating with the din of a sawmill; the next all is silent. Brilliant butterflies with inches of wingspread hover among the vegetation; grotesque spiders swing their huge webs among palms and trees, and lizards, large and small, rustle among the carpet of dead leaves.
When night falls, swiftly with the setting sun, the jungle comes to life and bedlam reigns until dawn. Millions of small frogs croak and whistle, night birds screech and chatter, and cicadas join sudden bursts of sound to this disturbing clamour. Fireflies flicker like showers of sparks in the velvet gloom, and in the phosphorescent light from the chips of one tree a newspaper may be read with ease. Among the dead and fallen leaves every creeping and crawling thing finds a home—ants by the million, millipedes, slugs, crabs and lizards, including the iguana. To this exotic land thunder-storms of great violence, coming almost daily, bring torrents of page 130 rain, adding to the discomfort and depression born of a sense of imprisonment in the perpetual half-light. The only open spaces were in the coconut plantations, though these had become dense thickets where fallen nuts had taken root and grown during the war years.
That was the setting for 14 Brigade's first action and, with few exceptions, a background for all action in the Solomons. The most spectacular part of jungle fighting is the jungle itself and the beach landings. The more common conceptions of warfare, with bursting shells, tanks, guns, and men in violent action on a vast battlefield have no place here; nature dwarfs and conceals them all.
Barrowclough took over command of Vella Lavella and all American units on 18 September and became commanding general of these composite formations, New Zealand and American, grouped by 14 Corps under the title of the Northern Landing Force. From that day all island administration—supplies, transport, signals, medical and engineering—passed to the corresponding branches of 3 Division Headquarters. Operational instructions to 14 Brigade to relieve American combat troops and clear the island of Japanese were issued the following day. Potter's plan for these operations, timed to begin on 21 September, entailed the use of two of his combat teams, built round Seaward's1 35 Battalion and Sugden's 37th. The 30th Battalion, command of which passed to Lieutenant-Colonel F. C. Cornwall, MC,2 when McNamara was evacuated sick, before leaving Guadalcanal, was held in reserve in the south of the island, where it arrived on 24 September as the other teams moved to their assembly points in the north.
The brigade commander planned a pincer movement employing Seaward's 35 Battalion combat team on the left flank and Sugden's 37th team on the right, designed to drive the enemy garrison into a trap when the two battalions met in the extreme north of the island. His teams consisted of the following units:
Detachment of 20 Field Company Engineers (2 Lt A. R. I. Garry)
Detachment of 16 MT Company ASC (Capt T. P. Revell)
2 Platoon, 14 Brigade MMG Company (Lt R. B. Lockett)
K Section Signals (Lt E. G. Harris)
Detachment of 16 MT Company ASC (Capt J. F. B. Wilson)
3 Platoon, 14 Brigade MMG Company (Lt K. A. Wills)
E Section Signals (Lt L. C. Stewart)
Potter planned to complete the task in fourteen days; but it took only ten. After establishing advanced bases, battalion commanders were instructed to move from bay to bay in bounds, first clearing selected areas by overland patrols before bringing their main forces forward by small landing craft after beach-heads were secure. Eight such craft were allotted to each combat team, but breakdowns kept the 37th so short that at one stage it was reduced to two and borrowed replacements from the 35th pool. Supplies were maintained from Maravari, the main base, by a daily barge service to each team's headquarters as it moved forward. Dress for action was drill jungle suits with soft linen hats and waterproof capes or groundsheets, and individual equipment was made lighter by discarding steel helmets (except for anti-aircraft teams) and gas respirators. This was in accordance with Barrowclough's earlier instruction that assault troops were to go into action as lightly equipped as possible. The men carried their packaged jungle rations, atebrin tablets, mosquito repellent lotion, and water chlorinating tablets. In addition to full water bottles, a two-gallon tin of fresh water was carried for every five men.
Combat teams, which fought as self-contained units, began moving round the coast from Maravari Beach on 21 September and were established in forward areas four days later—35 Battalion at Matu Soroto because of the unsuitability of Mundi Mundi, and 37 Battalion at Boro, on Doveli Cove, after picking up a stray prisoner at Paraso Bay, which was also abandoned as a forward operational base. Once established ashore patrols fanned out like the extended fingers of a hand through dense jungle and swampy mangrove and banyan thickets, searching every yard of ground to a depth of 2000 yards inland. Progress was slow, never more than a few hundred yards a day along the narrow coastal belt, which in places was only one hundred yards wide before it rose abruptly in heavily timbered mountain slopes. Rivers and streams impeded the patrols and their native guides, who moved along the narrow tracks in single file as they paved the way for the advance. page 132 Any use of tanks was out of the question. Field guns were dragged ashore by manpower under the most exhausting conditions. Beachheads were dictated by openings through the coral reef, some of them so shallow they prevented the passage of landing craft, and others non-existent on inaccurate maps. Conditions from the day active operations began on 25 September were harsh and difficult. Rain fell in torrents, soaking the men, hampering movement, and turning the dank jungle into a bog. Despite correct information that the Japanese were poorly armed and led, their cunningly concealed machine-gun nests and pockets of resistance sited among splaying roots and fallen logs were eradicated only with difficulty, as were snipers often hidden among the leafy branches overhead, for in the jungle the advantage is always with the defender. Hand grenades bounced off trunks and vines unless thrown with extreme care. At night patrols withdrew and formed perimeters, from which no man moved out of the cross-shaped foxholes, each containing four men, until dawn.
For the first few days action resolved itself into individual skirmishes, in which small resolute groups proved their ability to meet and defeat an equally resolute enemy camouflaged against a mottled wall of green and brown and occasional blobs of light. There was no definite lane of advance, as in open country. Patrols, thrown on their own initiative, fought individual actions among the enclosing growth, sometimes without seeing their adversaries. This was characteristic of the whole operation. By 27 September 35 Battalion patrols, which encountered the enemy much sooner than the 37th, had advanced through Pakoi Bay and stubbornly fought their way overland to the heavily timbered country round Timbala Bay, beyond which the main Japanese garrison was concentrating as it fell back from both flanks.
Meanwhile, two platoons under Major K. Haslett3 were sent forward to contact the force blocking the inland tracks, but when nearing Marquana Bay they ran against opposition, only 100 yards from where the force they were seeking had been ambushed, yet such was the density of the jungle they were unware of it. Haslett returned after avoiding an ambush of his own force. Torrential rain fell all this time, disrupting communications. Wireless was useless under the tall trees and land lines broke continuously. Foxholes became beds of slime which the men shared each night with crabs and crawling insects.
By 29 September it was obvious that the battalion had come up against the main Japanese force contained in the narrow neck of land dividing Timbala Bay from Marquana Bay, and it was ordered not to make any large-scale attack but to await the arrival of 37 Battalion which, hindered by a shortage of landing craft, was covering longer distances along the deeply indented right flank. A Company was held up in Machine-gun Gully, the strongest point of resistance, and ordered to form a premeter for the night with B and C Companies. That night, also, Private D. W. T. Evans4 reached headquarters with information that the two platoons sent out on 26 September had been ambushed, but it was vague and useless. Private W. F. A. Bickley,5 who had also escaped, was picked up the following day but he was equally vague. Next day Umomo Island, a wooded dot 40 yards off the northern end of Timbala Bay, was occupied by patrols and used as a site for enfilading enemy positions along the coast. B Company continued the move down the left flank of Machine-gun Gully while A Company took the right, both calling for artillery support when their patrols were held up.
Because the parties were separated, Beaumont thought it unwise to attack. Two hours later, when this enemy traffic ceased, Beaumont began to move back to the main party, but as he did so bursts of machine-gun fire shattered the silence. A few seconds later the main party under Albon, which was surprised while having a meal, rushed along the track and passed through Beaumont's men, under whose fire the Japanese melted into the jungle. Beaumont took command and formed a rough perimeter with his own platoon at one end and Albon's at the other. He instructed the men to hold fire until they saw a target. Scurrying from tree to tree the Japanese attacked, sometimes shouting in English as they hurled grenades. Again and again the New Zealanders held off the attackers until night fell, by which time three of the garrison had been killed and four wounded, including Signaller R. J. Park,1 when a burst of machine-gun fire wrecked the wireless set on which he was attempting to communicate with headquarters.
The little force was short of food, water, and equipment, most of which had been abandoned by Albon's party when the Japanese attacked them, and completely out of touch with the main force. What little food remained was rationed among the men; rain-water was trapped in capes and groundsheets. For three more days repeated Japanese attacks were held off with determination. Although morale was high, the men were growing weak for want of food. Albon spoke to Beaumont on 29 September of attempting to reach headquarters to bring help. He slipped a way the following morning, taking two men with him, but when he reached headquarters his information was too vague to be of use. That morning Corporal R. G. Waldman,2 with three men, attempted to reach the abandoned rations but was driven back into the perimeter.
7 WO II R. A. Roche; born Gisborne, 19 Sep 1910; killed in action 2 Oct 1943. Pte S. Hislop; born Scotland, 21 Dec 1907; company secretary; killed in action 2 Oct 1943. Pte W. M. Pratt; born Christchurch, 26 May 1910; killed in action 2 Oct 1943.
On the day of the rescue Major J. A. Burden, a Japanese interpreter from the American command, came forward with a proposal to distribute leaflets among the enemy informing them that they would be honourably treated if they surrended, but nothing came of this. That day, also, 41 enemy planes attacked Matu Soroto but were driven off by Hutchison's guns, most of the bombs falling into the sea. By 3 October, after another artillery bombardment, A and B Companies finally cleared Machine-gun Gully, where most of the casualties occurred, and by nightfall were joined by C and D Companies. The battalion was then half way to Marquana Bay.
Meanwhile, away on the right flank, 37 Battalion had advanced to Tambana Bay against light opposition. Here a patrol led by Captain R. T. J. Adams1 captured a large Japanese barge which, well camouflaged with greenery, entered the lagoon and anchored off the beach amoung the mangroves. When the crew went ashore, one platoon boarded the barge and manned its several machine guns while, another, led by Lieutenant S. J. Bartos,2 hid in the undergrowth. Fourteen of the Japanese crew were killed when they attempted to return to their boat. The shore party located the remainder in a tangle of mangrove and banyan roots and destroyed them. The battalion named the barge Confident and used it as a transport after the removal of a valuable collection of papers and equipment. Next day the battalion began its next leap some miles forward to Varuasi and then pushed on to Susu Bay, after which it was instructed to concentrate in Warambari Bay by the evening of 4 October.
By nightfall on 6 October both battalions were in range of each other, with the Japanese trapped in a neck of land dividing Warambari Bay from Marquana Bay, towards which 35 Batallion had inched forward at 300 to 600 yards a day, finally losing contact with the enemy on 5 October. A prisoner taken that day stated that about 500 well organised troops were trapped. They were short of food, evidence of which were the broken coconuts found in deserted bivouacs, and wished to surrender, but were prevented from doing so by their officers. Potter, who had conducted the operation from advanced headquarters at Matu Soroto, decided to close the gap. Both the covering batteries were tied in on a common grid and came under regimental control.
Casualties were not heavy and, despite appalling conditions, the sickness rate was low. The brigade lost three officers and 28 other ranks killed; one officer died of wounds, and one officer and 31 other ranks were wounded. Uncertain estimates of enemy killed ranged from 200 to 300, but the Japanese always attempted to hide their losses by burying their dead and removing the wounded. Their naval records, examined in Tokyo, revealed that on the night of 6–7 October, when aircraft silenced the brigade's artillery, 589 military and naval personnel were taken off the island from Maraziana Point, while destroyers sent to cover the operation were engaged by an American naval force north of the island. This operation, planned by 17 Japanese Army, included a transport force of three destroyers and a pick-up unit of five submarine-chasers and three motor torpedo boats to screen the barges transferring men from shore to ship. Six destroyers to protect this force left Rabaul on 6 October and were observed by American reconnaissance aircraft north of Buka Passage, causing the commander to death two of his destroyers to join the three transport destroyer at a rendezvous in Bougainville Strait before proceding to Vella Lavella. Late the same afternoon the pick-up craft departed from Buin, on Bougainville, skirting the Treasury Group to pick up the destroyer screen. As the Japanese force entered waters north of Vella Lavella it was engaged by three American destroyers—Chevalier, Selfridge, and O'Bannon— which triumphed in a sharp and bitter engagement but only after being severely mauled. Selfridge had her bow sheered off, Chevalier was torpedoed and sunk, and O'Bannon damaged herself in a collision with Selfridge. A Japanese destroyer Yugomo and several small craft were sunk, but under cover of this engagement the pick-up force moved into Maraziana Point, embarked the garrison between 11.10 p. m. and 1.5 a. m. and departed for Buin, where it arrived safely. Three other American destroyers bringing a convoy from Guadalcanal to Vella Lavella were ordered to the scene of the engagement but arrived too late to take part. Next day 78 naval ratings from the Yugomo were rescued by naval patrols.
Units emerged from their first action with high morale but a healthy respect for a tenacious adversary. Men in action had not tasted hot food for almost a month, nor had a change of clothing been possible. Combat battalions lost one man killed for every man wounded, and all arms of the service, working as a team, overcame equipment problems, arduously tested by experience. There had been a tendency by commanders of combat teams to page 139 establish separate combat headquarters, in addition to battalion headquarters, instead of absorbing the extra attached units into their battalions. This was forwned on by Barrowclough and did not happen again during the remainder of the division's service in the Solomons.
Jungle conditions made immense demands on both artillery and signals. Guns were barged from bay to bay and hauled ashore by manpower over coral and tree-roots to their selected sites on beach or headland, on one occasion taking three days to do so. Working through the night, trees and undergrowth were cleared to give arcs of fire. Ammunition was manpowered from barge to gun site. Ranging on enemy targets with accuracy was impeded by the blanket of forest, and air observations was practically useless as the smoke from ranging shells never rose above the trees. Again and again the observation officers, Captain P. M. Blundell1 and Captain R. E. Williams,2 went forward with infantry patrols to report where the shells fell, laying 25 to 50 yards from the bursts. With his remarkable sense of locality Sergeant T. J. Walsh,3 of 35 Battalion, also assisted by pin-pointing enemy machine-gun posts so that fire could be directed on them. This was the only answer to the use of artillery in the jungle.
Communication difficulties were not easily overcome. Seeping moisture, continual rain, and violent electrical storms played havoc with No. 11 and No. 12 wireless sets. Even the sets in use were not sufficiently strong to overcome the effect of the heavy mat of jungle overhead. Forward units were frequently out of touch with rear formations, particularly at night, when conditions, were at their worst. Field telephones were finally used in the forward areas and the more reliable runner when all else failed. During operations signals officers experimented with wireless aerials in trees and palms in an effort to overcome problems in such thickly wooded country. Wire-lying parties, transporting their heavy and noisy equipment through territory not cleared of Japanese, were protected by armed guards. Such was the state of country that on one occasion nine miles of wire were required between two points only three miles apart. A moisture-proof New Zealand-made wireless set, known as the ZC1, some of which came forward during operations, proved to be most suitable for jungle warfare. Finally, after most exhaustive work, a telephone circuit using seventy miles of wire was laid round most of the island, linking units, radar stations, motor torpedo boat bases, airfield and anti-aircraft defences.
Supplies during the operational period were maintained by 10 Motor Transport Company by breaking them down at Maravari and barging them round the coast to beach-heads, a journey of four to five hours, after which carrying parties took rations forward into the jungle. A field bakery detachment1 reached Vella Lavella on 9 October and, by the time the operations ended, fresh bread was delivered by landing craft to all units round the island every third day. Wounded and sick returned by the battalion supply barges to the field hospital established in Gill's Plantation, where any immediate surgical work was done by Major P. C. E. Brunette,2 1 Field Surgical Unit, after which the more serious cases were evacuated to Guadalcanal by air, the remainder travelling by boat.
While the combat teams cleared the jungle in the north, organisation and construction continued in the south. Barrowclough moved his headquarters to a less restricted and more congenial site among the palms of Gill's Plantation on 2 October, some of the trucks and jeeps taking six hours to bump their way over seven miles of mud and coconut logs of the only possible track. Regular flights of landing craft arrived from Guadalcanal, bringing forward remaining units and rear parties and immense quantities of stores, ammunition, petrol, and oil for a garrison which, by 25 October, reached 17,000 New Zealanders and Americans, these last including three battalions and ancilliary units of the First Marine Amphibious Corps, a battalion of the United States Marine Corps, and operational staffs for the airfield, naval base, and motor torpedo boat base.
1 The trials of the division's Field Bakery give a reasonable indication of what sometimes happened to small New Zealand units in the Pacific. When an American bakery was lost at sea on the way to the New Hebrides, 3 Division's bakery, at the request of the South Pacific Command, was despatched hurriedly from Trentham to work for the Americans until their own unit was replaced. They arrived at their destination on Espiritu Santo short of equipment, some of which was lost when the unit transhipped in haste in Noumea harbour, and little help was given by the American staff officers, who could never be pinned down to action. The unit ovens were built in a gully where they were partially destroyed every time rain fell, which was with exasperating regularity and in torrents, causing the coral foundations to disappear in each deluge. But these hardy bakers never failed to produce a regular supply of excellent bread, though temperatures varied from 81 degrees(F,) on the coolest nights to 98 degrees on the hottest days, when temperatures inside the bakehouse rose to 120 degrees. More than 600 gallons of water, tepid in that atmosphere, were used daily. Flies from a neighbouring refuse dump were more of a nuisance than the heat and the mosquitoes. Green firewood, the only kind available, almost broke the hearts of the men as they stoked their inferno and increased their own discomfort. Sergeant-Majors McKay and Ware, two experienced bakers, made professionals of the inexperienced soldiers posted to the unit. They were happy to rejoin the division in New Caledonia. Detachments produced 10,000 pounds of block cake for Christmas, 1943.
Once more the engineers, with increased but still limited heavy equipment, set about the primary task of transforming a rough jungle track into a two-way all-weather road from Biloa to the motor torpedo boat base at Lambu Lambu, halfway up the island, and linking all units and service installations and depots along the coast. The 26th Field Company, which became a heavy equipment company, was brought forward from Guadalcanal and shared this project with McKay's 20 Field Company. The road was finished in weeks, during which several substantial bridges were built using heavy timber from the neighbouring jungle and coconut logs for decking. Other roads were then constructed to water points and petrol dumps, known as ‘tank fields’. Two months after the division was established on Vella Lavella, speed restrictions were imposed on the main highway, the surface of which survived even the torrential rain.
Soon after fighting ceased, reconnaissance patrols were despatched to neighbouring islands on which stray Japanese might still be in hiding. Gizo Island was searched on 10 October by two platoons from 30 Battalion under Captain F. R. M Watson,2 and Ganongga Island on 19 October by a 4 Field Security patrol under Lieutenant D. Lawford,3 whose men had worked with 14 Brigade during operations and later assisted with the rescue of Beaumont's men from the beach. Both found evidence of former Japanese occupation, but the garrisons had been withdrawn on the night of 21 September. Natives reported that 67 dead Japanese had been washed ashore on Ganongga. A goodwill trip was also made to Simbo Island where, as on every island, the natives were given medical treatment by New Zealand medical officers.
A message from Griswold to Barrowclough at the conclusion of the Vella Lavella operations echoed in spirit others which came at the conclusion of each succeeding action from Halsey, Harmon, and senior American commanders in the Pacific. It ran:
Although military operations were only of secondary importance, the conquest of Vella Lavella was a significant phase in the Solomons campaign. The island was secured at a cost of only 150 killed, New Zealanders and Americans, and the value of by-passing strategy conclusively proved. The airfield, construction of which began on 16 August, was in operation by 26 September and by 18 October in daily operational use by a squadron of Corsairs. A few days later sixty aircraft were using Barakoma. Moreover, 22 airmen had been saved either from the sea or by crash-landing on the partially constructed field. From the new motor torpedo boat base at Lambu Lambu powerful little craft emerged each night to hunt and disrupt enemy barge traffic round the Shortlands and Choiseul. Aircraft stationed at Barakoma joined those operating from Munda and Guadalcanal to pound enemy strongholds on and around Bougainville and Rabaul. Flights of 100 or more, droning north, became familiar sights. Thus the capture of Vella Lavella paved the way for the next thrust forward—the occupation of the Treasury Group, 73 miles away, and the landing on Bougainville.