Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

War Economy

Construction Work in the Pacific

Construction Work in the Pacific

Defence construction work using New Zealand men and equipment extended into the Pacific. A good example1 was the construction of the aerodrome and base at Nandi, Fiji.

Following the recommendations of the Pacific Defence Conference in April 1939, 117 acres had been acquired at Nandi for the building of an aerodrome of three runways. A seaplane base site was also surveyed at Tonga.

1 Information taken from J. M. S. Ross, Official New Zealand War History, Royal New Zealand Air Force, pp. 70–5.

page 239

The Nandi contract was given to a private construction company and a start was made on the aerodrome the day war was declared. It was practically completed by March 1940 and the construction machinery was sent to Tonga, where work began in April.

Shortly before Japan entered the war, a conference was held at Suva between New Zealand and American officers and the Government of Fiji. The Americans were anxious to form a base at Nandi to serve as a station for their Far East reinforcing route. The New Zealand Government agreed to undertake the necessary extensions at Nandi. The Americans promised construction equipment, but, as it turned out, none could be spared and no material assistance was received from them.

No. 2 Aerodrome Construction Squadron of the RNZAF left New Zealand in November 1941 to carry out initial work, such as buildings for accommodation. Ten days later a thousand men, who had been formed by the Public Works Department into a Civil Construction Unit, followed them. The heavy equipment required, tractors, bulldozers, and the like, was gathered from all parts of New Zealand and transported to Fiji. More equipment was contributed by local goldmining and sugar-milling companies.

Gillespie writes:1

‘The successful completion of this project was one of New Zealand's most important achievements in the Pacific theatre of war. Three airfields, each with a runway measuring 7000 feet long by 500 feet wide, with revetments and servicing areas, were asked for, the first to be ready by 15 January 1942, the other two by 15 April. Their estimated cost was £750,000, repayable by the United States Government. They required one and a half million yards of earthworks and 20,000 tons of cement, and the estimated time for completion was five months. The airfields were ready before that time. The first three Flying Fortresses landed at Nandi on 10 January; three Liberators followed on 23 January, and until the end of the war the Namaka area was a scene of intense air activity as fields were still further extended to cope with the demands of increasing traffic. Fiji had begun the vital role (which it still holds) as a staging centre for aircraft moving to and from New Zealand, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tonga, Australia and America.’

Effective work was done, also, in the construction of a flying boat base at Lauthala Bay, near Suva. It was in use by March 1942.

In May the Civil Construction Unit was withdrawn.

1 Oliver A. Gillespie, Official New Zealand War History, The Pacific, p. 41.

page 240