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The Pacific

III: From Pearl Harbour to Relief

III: From Pearl Harbour to Relief

There was not one anti-aircraft gun in the South West Pacific in November 1941 and the strength of the defences would not have deterred the most irresolute enemy. Pago Pago, the American naval base in Eastern Samoa, was as hamstrung by international agreement as were British bases. At the end of that month Cunningham's force, increased slightly during the year, totalled 4943 all ranks, made up of 8 Brigade Group and the Fiji Defence Force units, of which 945 were native troops. Artillery support consisted of six 18-pounder guns (some of which had been experimentally mounted on motor trucks in an effort to give them greater mobility) and fixed coastal defences of four 6-inch and two 4.7-inch naval guns. Air strength had been slowly increased under Group Captain G. N. Roberts, AFC,1 who relieved Baird in July, and consisted of six Vincents, two old Singapore flying boats of doubtful quality, three de Havilland multi-engine civil type machines, and one Moth trainer. The Fiji ship Viti, a small vessel which took the Governor round his scattered island domains, and five patrol launches constituted the naval strength based on Suva. In Tonga there were 462 native troops, commanded by nine New Zealand officers and warrant officers. These made up the defence force which had been organised by Lieutenant-Colonel R. Bagnall2 during his brief command. They were equipped with rifles and two Vickers machine guns and supported by two 18-pounder field guns. A detachment of 110 New Zealanders held Fanning Island, where one 6-inch naval gun had been emplaced to defend the vital cable station. In Samoa one New Zealand warrant officer had 150 native under his command. Rarotonga's force consisted of 100 natives and one

1 Air Cdre G. N. Roberts, CBE, AFC, Legion of Merit (US); Auckland; born Inglewood, 8 Dec 1906; company representative; commanded RNZAF in Fiji and Tonga, 1941–42; Commander NZ Air Task Force, Solomons, 1944–45; General Manager, Tasman Empire Airways, Ltd., 1946–.

2 Lt-Col R. Bangall; Lower Hutt; born England, 19 Jan 1884; Indian Army (retd); CO Tonga Defence Force, Feb–Jul 1941.

page 43 European officer, Captain Gladney, a local resident, with two Vickers machine guns as their only armament.

Small detachments of Australians acted as coastwatchers and guarded vital points on Nauru and Ocean Islands. Australia had also sent a small cavalry detachment, No. 3 Independent Company, to roam the unfrequented coastal regions of New Caledonia, where the collective armament had been increased from one old mountain gun to four 65-millimetre guns carried on lorries, two 37-millimetre guns, four 3-inch mortars, and 32 machine guns. Three hundred men of doubtful fighting quality, armed with rifles and two machine guns, had been mobilised in Tahiti, where three old 47-millimetre and two old 65-millimetre guns had been resurrected for action. New Zealand coastwatchers maintained a lonely vigil throughout the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, and in the Phœnix, Tokelau, Samoa, Line, Cook and Tongan Islands, and farther south, in the Kermadecs and Chathams. Petrol supplies for both aircraft and army motor transport totalled 118,300 gallons held in Fiji and another 20,000 gallons held in Tonga.

There was little or no difference in this state of affairs when Japan ended all speculation of her intentions when she struck at Pearl Harbour. Plans for manœuvres on a brigade scale in Fiji had been outlined some time previously and worked out by Lieutenant-Colonel Wales, GSO 1,1 and troops moved into their defence positions in brilliant moonlight on the night of 7 December. As they prepared a soldierly breakfast of bully beef and smoky tea in their mosquito-infested trenches and splinter-proof machine-gun posts early the following morning, news of the attack was being broadcast to the world. Because of the international date line the attack on Pearl Harbour, which occurred at 7.50 a. m. on 7 December, Honolulu time, became 1.20 p. m. on 7 December in Washington, 3.20 a. m. on 8 December in Tokyo, and 6.20 a. m. in Suva and Wellington. One junior artillery officer who was fraternising with a short-wave enthusiast from Suva, was the first to receive the news. He lost no time in passing it on.

New Zealand's available forces at the outbreak of war with Japan consisted of HMNZS Leander, ready for sea at Auckland, HMNZS Monowai refitting at Auckland, and HMNZS Achilles, on her way to Singapore; 13,250 men were in camp, including reinforcements (600 of them intended for Fiji and others for 2 Division), the Army Tank Brigade, recruits and training cadres. Four

1 Brig J. G. C. Wales, MC; Auckland; born London, 26 Aug 1886; Bursar, King's College; 1 NZEF 1914–19; GSO 1 B Force, Mar 1941–Jul 1942; Commandant, Fiji Defence Force, and Commander Pacific Section, 2 NZEF, Jul–Oct 1942; commanded Fiji Military Forces, Nov 1942-Sep 1943.

page 44 thousand six hundred fortress troops were mobilised—1000 each for Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton, and Port Chalmers, and one company of 120 each for the Bay of Islands, Great Barrier Island, Waipapakauri, and Nelson, to protect aerodromes near the coast. Eleven thousand Territorials entered camp on 15 December and by the 28th 28,850 men were in camp, with preparations for an increase to 39,350 by 10 January. Forty-four converted machine guns, none too new, were issued to the Home Guard units. Navy reopened 24 coastwatching stations round New Zealand. The Air Department had 10,500 men in camp and in training, including 2155 despatched to air training centres in Canada, 2512 to the Royal Air Force, and 450 in Fiji. The only operational aircraft available were 36 Hudsons and 29 Vincents; all others, including 62 Harvards, 143 Oxfords, and 46 Hinds were used for training, though some of them could be used operationally in an emergency. In answer to immediate calls to the United Kingdom and United States Governments for urgent war materials to meet the needs of New Zealand forces both on the home front and in the Pacific, field guns were diverted from the Middle East, mortars from South Africa, rifles, ammunition, and signal equipment from America, Bren guns from Canada, and machine guns, tractors, rifles, and binoculars from the United Kingdom.

New Zealanders of 8 Brigade Group in Fiji were the only troops in the Pacific at their battle stations when war broke with Japan, and they remained there for three days, until the excitement wore off. There was little incident other than daily routine, but aircraft increased their dawn and dusk patrols with the machines still available.1 The first shot was fired by a sentry at a motor patrol boat which, ignorant of the startling turn of events, quietly chugged to its moorings in the dawn of the following day and did not answer the challenge; the second when HMS Gale, a small coastal steamer commissioned for service, arrived from New Zealand on Christmas Day and had a shot put across her bows by the shore battery when she failed to give the correct recognition signal as she approached the harbour entrance.

1 Japanese resident in Fiji and Tonga at the outbreak of war were detained and sent to New Zealand for internment. Prisoners of war captured in the Pacific were interned in a camp at Featherston, 41 miles from Wellington. This camp, established in 1942 on the site of a military camp of the 1914–18 War, covered 60 acres and was controlled from Central Military District. Except for the inevitable restrictions of captivity, prisoners lived in a standard of comfort equal to and frequently exceeding that of New Zealand soldiers serving abroad. On the morning of 25 February 1943 certain ringleaders provoked a mutiny among the prisoners. They refused to work, adopted threatening attitudes, and finally attempted to stone the guards, who opened fire on them. Forty-eight Japanese were killed or died of wounds and 61 were wounded. One of seven New Zealand guards wounded by ricochets died of his injuries and eleven were injured by stones hurled by the mutinous Japanese.

page 45

The movement of Japanese naval craft in waters north of Fiji was confirmed by the coastwatches in the Gilberts on 9 December, when they reported the presence of enemy ships and aircraft from carriers round their islands, and from that date, until they were either killed or taken prisoner, information of vital importance came from the men of those remote stations. December the 9th was a memorable day. A flight of five Hudson aircraft, the first reinforcements despatched from New Zealand, circled Suva before going on to Nandi and coincided with the arrival there of two long awaited 18-pounder guns, to complete the complement of field guns for 35 Battery, and four 4.5-inch howitzers. But the 10th brought the dreary news that two British battleships, HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, had been sunk off the coast of Malaya, sealing the fate of Singapore and leaving the whole Pacific Ocean open to the Japanese navy, until the stricken United States naval forces could be reorganised, after Pearl Harbour, to oppose the threat. In the midst of those grave days New Zealand supplied the Fiji Treasury with £30,000 worth of £5 notes and £50,000 worth of £1 notes, all overprinted, to meet a temporary shortage of currency caused by the demands of the garrison forces.

New Zealand's declaration of war with Japan at eleven o’clock on the morning of 8 December was quickly followed by preparations to expand the force in Fiji to two brigades and to strengthen all artillery, both field and anti-aircraft. War Cabinet approved the despatch of a further 3500 men and considerable quantities of supplies. For the remainder of December and January, two exceedingly hot and busy months, men and materials arrived in the Colony.

Units of Cunningham's force were brought up to strength by reinforcements speedily despatched in two voyages of the Wahine. On Boxing Day, 27 Mixed Anti-Aircraft Battery, under Major J. A. Pym, MC, reached Suva with four anti-aircraft guns which had been dismantled from the harbour defences of Auckland and Wellington. They were the first to reach Fiji. Three battalions—the 35th, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel W. Murphy, MC,1 the 36th, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Barry,2 and the 37th under Lieutenant-Colonel A. H. L. Sugden3—formed at Burnham

1 Lt-Col W. Murphy, CBE, MC; Auckland; born NZ 16 Jan 1894; Regular soldier; Otago Regt 1914–19; CO 35 Bn, Jan 1942; GSO 1 3 NZ Div, 1942; AA & QMG Aug 1942-May 1943; Commandant, Papakura Military Camp, Jun 1944–Jun 1946; Area Commander, Auckland, Jun 1946–Mar 1948.

2 Lt-Col J. W. Barry, MBE; Wanganui; born England, 2 Apr 1893; Regular soldier; CO 36 Bn, Dec 1941–Jun 1943; Commander N Force (Norfolk Island) Sep 1942–Apr 1943; Area Commander, Wanganui, Sep 1943-Apr 1947.

3 Col A. H. L. Sugden, m. i. d.; Trentham; born Geraldine, 23 Mar 1901; Regualr soldier; Commandant Army School of Instruction, Trentham, 1940–41; CO 37 Bn, Dec 1941–Jul 1944; Commandant Army School of Instruction, Apr 1945–Jan 1947; Area Commander, Wellington, Jan–Mar 1947.

page 46 Camp from the 8th Reinforcements for the Middle East, were organised and despatched to Cunningham's force; and in Fiji itself 2 Territorial Battalion was called up for full-time service. The new units made the voyage in a convoy of four ships—the Matua and the Rangatira, which went to Lautoka, and the Wahine and the Monowai to Suva, all under the escort of the cruisers Australia, Perth, and Achilles. The ships reached their destinations on 6 January and returned to New Zealand for the second flight, which arrived in Fiji on 14 January, the Port Montreal replacing the Matua on the second trip.

The new brigade commanders and their staffs flew to Fiji on 2 January, in the same aircraft which took Brigadier K. L. Stewart,1 Deputy Chief of the General Staff, for consulation and inspection. On 6 January Cunningham relinquished command of 8 Brigade Group and two days later was promoted Major-General commanding the Pacific Section, 2 NZEF, the official title of the force, which was not given divisional status until later. By the end of the month reorganisation was almost complete, and the new defence areas allotted to the expanded force. Command of 8 Brigade, which remained in the Suva area, passed to Brigadier L. G. Goss2 until the arrival of Brigadier R. A. Row3 late in February, after which Goss became New Zealand liaison officer on MacArthur's headquarters in Melbourne. Brigadier L. Potter4 took over the newly formed 14 Brigade for the defence of the western area, and established his headquarters at Namaka. In strengthening Fiji, New Zealand denuded herself of much of her available artillery. ‘We have sent the only four heavy anti-aircraft guns and the only four Bofors guns we possess’, Fraser cabled to Churchill, then in Washington, on Christmas Eve 1941. He did not say that the New Zealand guns had been replaced temporarily by dummies.

1 Maj-Gen K. L. Stewart, CB, CBE, DSO, m. i. d., MC (Greek), Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Timaru, 30 Dec 1896; Regular soldier; 1 NZEF 1917–19; GSO 1 2 NZ Div, 1940–41; Deputy Chief of General Staff, Dec 1941–Jul 1943; commanded 5 Bde, Aug–Nov 1943, 4 Armd Bde, Nov 1943–Mar 1944, and 5 Bde, Mar–Aug 1944; p. w. 1 Aug 1944–Apr 1945; commanded 9 Bde (2 NZEF, Japan) Nov 1945–Jul 1946; Adjutant-General, NZ Military Forces, Aug 1946-Mar 1949; Chief of General Staff, Apr 1949-Mar 1952.

2 Brig L. G. Goss, CB, Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Geelong, Aust, 30 May 1895; Regular soldier; 1 NZEF 1917–19; GSO 1, Army HQ, 1939–41; commanded 8 Bde Gp Jan–Mar 1942; Assistant Chief of General Staff, Army HQ, May–Nov 1942; commanded 15 Bde, Nov 1942–Jul 1943; 8 Bde, Dec 1943–Sep 1944; Deputy Chief of General Staff, Sep 1944–Jul 1946.

3 Brig R. A. Row, DSO and bar, m. i. d., Legion of Merit (US); Upper Hutt; born Christchurch, 30 Jul 1888; Regular soldier; 1 NZEF 1914–19 (CO 3 (Res) Bn): commanded 8 Bde, Mar 1942–Dec 1943.

4 Brig L. Potter, CBE, DSO, m. i. d.; Tauranga; born Auckland, 13 Sep 1894; Regular soldier; 1 NZEF 1916–19; commanded 14 Bde Gp and Western Area, Fiji, Jan–Jul 1942; commanded 14 Bde, 1942–44; Commandant, Central Military District, Dec 1944–Jun 1946; commanded 2 NZEF, Japan, 1946–48.

page 47

Reorganisation in Fiji brought about many changes in appointments and an extension of the two defended zones so that battalions took over areas formerly held by companies and platoons, but basically the plan of defence remained the same, though the mobility of the force was increased by the arrival of motor transport, so long anticipated. Cunningham's headquarters remained at Borron's House, where the accommodation was proportionately increased. Eighth Brigade took over a private residence, Hedstrom's House, at Tamavua, as its headquarters and gouged itself an underground operations room in the soapstone nearby. Fourteenth Brigade's operational headquarters was excavated in a feature known as Black Rock, which commanded a vast sweep of country overlooking Namaka, the airfields, and the beaches of the Nandi anchorage, and was made reasonably secure by the use of 50 tons of cement. Potter became the area commander, with the responsibility for defending 1000 square miles of country, extending from Momi to a line north of Lautoka and taking in such vulnerable localities as Thuvu, near Singatoka, where the coral reef merged with the foreshore. It was indicative of the vast stretches of territory which were included in the Fiji defence scheme.

By the end of January the force had been stepped up to 7600 all ranks, with units disposed through the areas they were to hold until their relief later in the year. In a hot and exhausting introduction to the tropics, the men dug, excavated, and erected belts of barbed wire through days and weeks of unremitting toil. Like the earlier arrivals they suffered all the discomforts of mosquitoes, dhobie's itch, prickly heat, septic sores, and tinea which were to harass them during the whole of the Pacific campaign.1

1 These extracts from the letter of an NCO give an idea of conditions as seen by a new arrival and a sense of humour which redeems all discomfort: ‘In early January I arrived at Suva. After a very early rising and a wait of about six hours on the deck of the Wahine, with full pack up, we disembarked and climbed into an 8-cwt truck which had been standing in the sun for hours. It was like an oven and we frizzled like pork chops in a casserole. I was given a job in the orderly room at headquarters. Soon the new arrivals were helping with the excavation of more tunnels in underground headquarters. It was back-breaking work pecking away at the soapstone in the tropic heat. At times we were all called on to do our share of digging. For one week when there were rumours of the approach of Japanese ships, the whole camp was mustered at battle stations in the early hours of the morning, while at night we were all engaged in digging pits and gun positions. But there were many amusing incidents to record, for instance when Gosney's mosquito net caught fire half an hour after midnight and Allen rang the general alarm instead of the fire alarm. There were the Saturday mornings when we went down to Death Gully, the hottest place in Suva, to do our rifle shooting. There was the morning of the full-scale invasion rehearsal when the noise of the planes drowned the newly-installed hooter and we all stood in the open watching the performance until one of the officers came lumbering down the hill, red in the face and very much annoyed, and ordered us to our battle stations. That was the day the Hindu dhobi lost all his workmen and we lost all our laundry. And those were the days when we were well fed. There were times when the mess tables, loaded with cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions, water-melon, bananas and pineapples, looked like a harvest festival.’

page 48

In the final reorganisation of the two brigades, in which unit commands were retained by some of the former officers, the 8th was made up of 1 Fiji Battalion (commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. B. K. Taylor, a New Zealander from the Fiji Civil Service), the 34th, the 36th, and two companies of 2 Fiji Battalion (under Lieutenant-Colonel F. G. Forster), two fixed coastal batteries, 35 Field Battery (increased to four 18-pounders, four 25-pounders, and four 4.5-inch and four 3.7-inch howitzers), 7 Field Ambulance (now commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel W. D. Stoney Johnston after the return to New Zealand of Davie), 20 Field Company Engineers (Captain S. E. Anderson), 4 Composite Company, ASC, and 36 Light Aid Detachment.

Potter's brigade group was made up of 30 Battalion (commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Irving, who took over when Mawson returned to New Zealand), 35 Battalion (command of which passed to Lieutenant-Colonel G. H. Tomline, MC, when Murphy went almost immediately to headquarters as GSO 1), 37 Battalion, the remaining companies of 2 Fiji Battalion, one fixed coastal battery at Momi, 37 Field Battery (commanded by Major W. A. Bryden and made up of four 18-pounders and four 4.5-inch and four 3.7-inch howitzers), 27 Mixed Anti-Aircraft Battery, 23 Field Company Engineers, 16 Composite Company, ASC (Captain R. Gapes), 2 Field Ambulance (Major E. N. d’Arcy), Namaka Hospital (Major P. C. E. Brunette), and section of ordnance workshops. As divisional reserve, 29 Battalion was stationed at Nausori, beyond the Suva perimeter, to deny the use of the Rewa River bridge and to defined the Nandali aerodrome, where P.39s (Airacobras) of an American pursuit squadron of 60 officers and 600 men under Colonel Edgar T. Seltzer maintained some of their machines, the remainder being at Namaka. They were the first Americans to reach Fiji, where they arrived at the end of January 1942.

Artillery during the whole of the Pacific campaign was always an involved problem since the force had under its command fixed coastal batteries of naval guns and also defended base aerodromes, tasks not normally required of a division in the field, but island warfare demanded revolutionary changes in prescribed war establishments. The artillery organisation of the forces in Fiji, later repeated in New Caledonia, was perhaps the most involved of all the New Zealand island undertakings. The fixed coastal batteries of the Fiji artillery, sited in each zone to defend the ports, anchorages, and the more vital openings through the reefs leading to them, came under area commanders for operations but were administered from headquarters. At the time the force artillery was relieved by page break
Black and white of buildings with hills in background

The Kiwi Club, Bourail Beach, opened by the National Patriotic Fund Board as a rest centre for men of the 3rd division after they had returned from the Solomons.

Black and white photograph of troops climbing mountain with valley in background

Training in New Caledonia. Mortar Platoon of 29 NZ Batallion carrying full equipment up Mount Tonta

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Black and white photograph of troops in formation in field

Review of 8 NZ Infantry Brigade. Dubois Memorial Field, Boulopari, New Caledonia.

Black and white photograph of army tents

Base Ordnance Depot, Bourail, typical of New Zealand Camps in New Caledonia

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Black and white photograph of trees

30 NZ Batallion Headquarter among niaouli trees, Koumac, in northern New Caledonia

Black and White photograph of soldier cooking

The Cookhouse Ovens, 37 NZ Batllion, Taom, New Caledonia

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Black and White photograph of Hospital with Mountains in Background

The camp site of 22 NZ Field Ambulance at Tinipp. The hospital is in the centre.

Black and White Photograph tents beside trees

Nurses' Hospital, 4 NZ General Hospital, Boguen.

page 49 the Americans, it consisted of these fixed coastal batteries, heavy and light anti-aircraft batteries (both fixed and mobile), and field batteries. Circumstances also altered the functions of the infantry and other services. For example, in Fiji the ASC issued rations on seven different ration scales at one time and supplied not only the New Zealand force but also Americans, New Zealand civilians working on the airfields, Fijian soldiers and labourers, and Indians employed on camp staffs.

Alarms came frequently during the earlier months of 1942 as signals from Wellington and Washington warned of a possible attack. Reports from the coastwatchers in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands recorded any activity in those waters, and there were moments of excitement in Suva, as on the afternoon of 16 January when HMS Monowai, outward bound for New Zealand, reported an attack by enemy submarine soon after she passed beyond the protection of the reef. Shots were exchanged as the vessel zigzagged, and she reported that a conning tower broke the surface of the water. Although aircraft searched the area until darkness fell, no trace of the submarine was disclosed and no confirmation of the attack could be obtained from Japanese sources, though it must be added that several enemy submarines operating in the South Pacific at that time never returned to their base.

A fleet of these underwater craft kept headquarters at Truk, in the Caroline Islands, moderately well informed of Allied activities in the Pacific, and native coastwatchers were often correct with their quaintly expressed reports that they had seen strange aircraft and ships. Much of the information attributed to fifth columnists really came from Japanese submarines, which cruised about the Pacific and surfaced off the islands to launch their aircraft which made reconnaissance flights, usually just before dawn. On 19 March 1942 native coastwatchers on Kandavu, an island on the outer rim of the Fiji Group, reported that a large bird had settled on the water and entered a ship, which immediately sank. It was an aircraft from submarine I–25, which had also reconnoitred Auckland and Wellington some days previously. On 21 May an aircraft from submarine I–21, which patrolled the Pacific until it was sunk in the Marshalls in 1944, was chased into the clouds by American aircraft stationed at Nandi.

Until the arrival of radio direction-finding apparatus late in the days of the force, detection of these elusive craft was difficult. From February 1942 until September 1943, 23 Japanese submarines, of which 14 carried aircraft, operated round the Australian and New Zealand coasts as well as in waters round New Caledonia, page 50 Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and the New Hebrides. Even after enemy reverses in the Solomons they continued to patrol south, but in decreasing numbers. These submarines reported the arrival of the first big convey of American troops in Fiji on 10 June 1942, and they sighted the convoy 200 miles south of Suva carrying the first reinforcements to strengthen Cunningham's force earlier in the year.

All such information was passed by radio to Japanese naval headquarters in the Caroline Islands and transmitted to Tokyo. Moving to and from Truk to refuel and revictual, Japanese submarines made the following voyages: From February to March 1942 submarine I–25 reconnoitred the Auckland and Wellington Harbours, the east coast of Australia, Suva, and Pago Pago; in April I–25, I–27, and I–29 investigated Suva, Sydney, Auckland, and Noumea; in June and July I–22, with I–27 and I–29, again reconnoitred the New Zealand and Australian coasts, sinking one ship; throughout July and August I–11, I–175, I–174, I–169, and I–171 sailed round New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa, and the east coast of Australia, sinking five ships; in October I–15, I–17, I–19, and I–26 patrolled the New Caledonian coast; I–21 returned there in November and stayed until early December; in November I–31 and I–7 reconnoitred Suva, Pago Pago, and Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides. From July to the end of September 1943 five of these submarines returned and investigated waters round Fiji, New Caledonia, and the New Hebrides. I–17 was sunk in August 1943.

If men and materials were haphazard in reaching Fiji before Japan entered the war, they came in quantity afterwards, even if quality was lacking. Some of the motor transport impressed in New Zealand was despatched without reasonable inspection of either its cleanliness or its serviceability and was condemned on arrival. As evidence of the haste, animal droppings still covered the floors of many of the vehicles. By the end of January the first American supplies arrived, including 3900 rifles, 24 two-inch mortars, 98 Thompson sub-machine guns, and 118.30 machine guns, as well as field telephone cable, telephones, switchboards, 23 wireless sets, and 200 mines to block the openings through the reef. Two thousand of the rifles and the .30 machine guns were sent on to New Zealand. Blackouts, previously imposed but lifted at the request of the Governor when the citizens complained of the stifling discomfort, were again enforced. Tactical exercises by the brigades tested their own mobility and the state of the defences. One such exercise by 8 Brigade assumed all the elements of reality by coinciding with the arrival of an American convoy at Suva. The page 51 exercise began just before midnight of 8 March, when units occupied battle stations on receipt of information that an enemy convoy was approaching Fiji. Early next morning reports were circulated to units that the Nandi airfields were being bombed. This news, carried with the speed of gossip to the civilian population, produced a mild panic when aircraft of the force made low-level runs over camps, roads, and assembly points. Indians hastily loaded their belongings on trucks, cars, handcarts, and even bicycles and fled to the hills, blocking road traffic and indicating conditions which would attend a genuine attack. After that experience all orders concerning exercises were prefaced with the word ‘Practice’.

By the end of June there were 10,000 New Zealanders in Fiji. This in itself created an acute accommodation problem, happily overcome by building native style huts called bures, which had the added advantage of assisting the general scheme of camouflaging all camps and defences, because these bures were sited to resemble small native villages. Troops helped with this camouflage by making nets from vau bark to cover gunpits and supply depots, and by planting such creepers as ‘mile a minute’ which quickly covered any newly broken ground. This plant spread with astonishing speed. One excused duty soldier who had times to watch it verified that it grew at the rate of 14 inches a day.

Change was the very nature of the force as heat and conditions took toll of all ranks. In March, General Cunningham was in valided home and Major-General O. H. Mead, CBE, DSO,1 took over command on the 9th. Cunningham's health had been impaired by bouts of dysentery and the exhausting worries attending an expedition short of men and materials. Like so many other commanders forced to accept such circumstances, he shouldered out of the way many of the early difficulties and conditioned the situation for those who followed. His legal knowledge was of immense value in negotiations with the civil administration and in the tactful reduction of initial problems. Lack of unified command in Fiji meant that many questions of policy had to be referred to New Zealand for decision, often long delayed.

Although the air component was part of the Fiji defences and operationally under the commander of the forces, its control was retained by Air Headquarters in New Zealand. A desirable unity of control was not attained until the United States Forces Took over and their system of island commands came into operation.

1 Maj-Gen O. H. Mead, CBE, DSO, m. i. d.; born Dunedin, 24 Jan 1892; Regular soldier; 1 NZEF 1914–20 (commanded 1 Bn and 3 (Res) Bn); Commandant, Southern Military District, Oct 1940–Feb 1942; GOC Pacific Section, 2 NZEF, 25 Feb–25 Jul 1942; lost at sea in aircraft accident, 25 Jul 1942.

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Although reinforcements continued to arrive and strengthen the force after Mead took over, he asked for another brigade group and a divisional reserve of one armoured regiment, one motorised battalion, and one 25-pounder battery, none of which could be supplied by New Zealand. The air component was deplorably weak for the work it was called on to perform, and the navy still practically non-existent. But a large building and construction programme went ahead as materials became available, and in order that these should be satisfactorily distributed, a priorities committee consisting of army, air, and civilian engineer representatives was set up under the direction of Colonel F. W. Furkert,1 former chief of the New Zealand Public Works Department, to apportion them for defences, aerodromes, roading, tunnelling, and building.

When additional ground units could not be made available to Mead, Fijian guerrilla units were formed. These developed from a suggestion made earlier by Major J. V. M. Cauty, MM,2 a company commander of 29 Battalion, and they gave a desirable mobility lacking in a force called on to defend long stretches of vulnerable beach. They came into being as news of the Battle of the Coral Sea and the fall of Corregidor reached the force, and from them emerged the Fijian commandos who fought later in the Solomons with distinction. Three groups were recruited and organized to work from established based in the interior, so that in the event of an enemy landing at any point on the coast, they could harass the invaders by destroying their lines of supply and communications. Cauty himself took the western zone, where the more open country permitted the use of horses, Captain P. G. Ellis3 the eastern zone, with headquarters on the Rewa River, near Nausori, and Lieutenant C. W. H. Tripp4 the 8 Brigade zone, with headquaters at Navua. Each unit consisted of about 200 Fijians and thirty New Zealand non-commissioned officers selected for their self-reliance and initiative. Formative difficulties developed as the units began the hard and intensive training required of them in this rugged country. At first the Fijians, a naturally happy and generous people, thought it a grand game with everything so lavishly provided, and the army's insistence on a ration scale was incomprehensible to them. A week's supply of food disappeared during a night's party with friends from neighbouring villages. They felt humiliated when

1 Col F. W. Furkert, CMG; born Ross, 1876; consulting engineer; Engineer-in-Chief and Under-Secretary, Public Works Dept, 1920–32; died 26 Sep 1949.

2 Maj J. V. M. Cauty, MM; Suva; born Wellington, 24 Jul 1896; farmer; NZ Rifle Bde 1914–19; Commandant 3 NZ Div Jungle Training School, New Caledonia.

3 Maj P. G. Ellis; Christchurch; born Timaru, 26 Nov 1899; grain merchant; OC 2 Commando, Fiji Guerrillas, 1943–44.

4 Maj C. W. H. Tripp, DSO, Silver Star(US); Gore; born Timaru, 22 Feb 1902; farmer; OC 1 Commando, Fiji Guerrillas, 1943–44; wounded 12 Jyk 1943.

page 53 admiring relatives watched them training with sticks instead of the more spectacular rifle. Their desire for uniforms could not be gratified immediately, and only time and infinite patience overcame these and other problems. Even before the force left Fiji, these guerrilla units proved the worth of their training and gave promise of their future usefulness. During manœuvres conducted by Brigadier F. L. Hunt, 1 who was temporarily commanding 8 Brigade during Row's absence in New Zealand from sickness, a band of these guerrillas effectively held up the advance of a battalion through rough, wooded country.

Meanwhile, by March 1942, American forces had begun to move into the Pacific in some strength to bases in Australia, New Caledonia, and Eastern Samoa. Increasing numbers of senior officers passing through Fiji examined the defences and the island's possibilities as a staging base. The port facilities of Suva were strained to their utmost when it became a revictualling base for the Anzac Naval Force2 and for American convoys carrying men and supplies to their newly created garrisons. On one occasion half a million pounds of fresh meat arrived from the United States and was stored until ships called to pick it up. There was no surplus space in the cool-stores of the town or the camps.

Official reports came, too, of the first American offensive action—hit-and-run raids on enemy strongholds in the Marshall Group, Wake and Marcus Islands, and a raid on Tokyo by aircraft from the American carrier Hornet on 18 April. Despite them, however, the Japanese continued to move south, and in June were constructing an airfield on the northern coast of Guadalcanal. Intelligence information to the force in Fiji suggested that any Japanese attack was based on the strength of one division with tanks, and that it would be supported by four aircraft carriers and strong naval units. Preparations to meet it were intensified and practice alarms were held. That demoralising edict known as ‘denial of resources to the enemy’ also went forth, and plans for the destruction of supplies, roads, bridges, and petrol were committed to paper. But it never came; the proposed Japanese attack ordered on 18 May 1942 was cancelled in July.

1 Brig F. L. Hunt, OBE, m. i. d.; Wellington; born Leeston, 30 Nov 1890; Regular soldier; Otago Regt 1915–16; 2 NZEF, Egypt, 1940–41; commanded 8 Bde, 3 NZ Div, May–Jul 1942; 16 Bde Gp (Tonga) Feb 1943–Feb 1944; held appointments of Director of Military Tranining (1942), Adjutant-General (1946), and Quartermaster-General, Army HQ (1946–48).

2 The Anzac Naval Force, established in February 1942 under the command of Vice-Admiral H. F. Leary, USN, operated during its brief existence in waters between Fiji and New Caledonia. It consisted of HMAS Australia, flagship of Rear-Admiral J. G. Crace, RN, HMAS Canberra, USS Chicago, HMNZS Achilles, HMNZS Leander and two US destroyers, Lamson and Perkins. With the exception of Canberra, these ships assembled at Suva on 12 February. The force was disbanded in April 1942.

page 54

By that time American forces were moving into Fiji, as well as New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. On 12 May Mead was notified that the defence of the Crown Colony and other islands in the South Pacific area was under the command of Vice-Admiral R. L. Ghormley, US Navy, who had been appointed the month previously to the South Pacific command. four days later Ghormley passed through Fiji on his way to New Zealand, where he established his headquarters at Auckland. Mead flew to Namaka to meet him. These personal inspections of the defences of Fiji and of units already in New Caledonia, as well as staff talks with individual commanders, were invaluable to his future planning.

Although reinforcements and armament as approved by War Cabinet in April Continued to reach Fiji—900 men were sent in May and another 1700 at the end of June—the decision to relieve the force by the American 37 Division had already been taken. On 6 June the American advanced party arrived, followed on 10 June by Major-General R. S. Beightler and 5700 members of his Ohio division in the transports President Coolidge, which was afterwards lost in a minefield off the New Hebrides, and Santa Lucia. Another 3200 men of the division reached Suva from New Zealand before the end of June, after which the President Coolidge ran a shuttle service between Suva and Auckland, carrying New Zealanders home and bringing up the remainder of 37 Division. Beightler and Mead agreed that all New Zealand personnel with the Fiji Defence Force and the guerrilla units should remain in Fiji, and that 1035 New Zealanders manning the fixed coastal and anti-aircraft defences should remain until they were relieved by American units. The relief of the force coincided, ironically enough, with the emplacement of eight 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns from New Zealand, the first of which fired a trial shoot on 19 June.

At the time the force handed over to 37 American Division in 1942 the principal staff appointments and commands were:

Force Headquarters
General Officer Commanding Maj-Gen O. H. Mead, CBE, DSO
GSO 1 Lt-Col W. Murphy, MC
GSO 2 Maj S. S. H. Berkeley
GSO 3 (Operations) Capt J. G. Warrington
GSO 3 (Intelligence) Capt O. A. Gillespie, MM
AA and QMG Lt-Col J. G. C. Wales, MC
DAQMG Maj R. C. Aley
DAAG Capt S. F. Marshall
Commander Royal Artillery Lt-Col J. P. Joyce, DCM
Fixed Coastal Artillery Lt-Col B. Wicksteed
ADMS Col A. C. McKillop, ED
CRE Maj W. G. McKay page 55
CRASC Lt-Col. F. G. M. Jenkins, DCM
ADDS Maj H. A’C. Fitzgerald
DADOS Capt M. S. Myers
Base Paymaster Capt W. P. McGowan
Provost Marshal Capt A. L. Downes
Divisional Signals Officer Capt. J. L. J. Gettins
Camp Commandmant and Legal Staff Officer Capt D. A. Solomon
Records Officer 2 Lt P. H. Robinson
8 Infantry Brigade
Officer Commanding Brig F. L. Hunt
Brigade Major Maj R. J. Eyre
Staff Captain Capt I. H. MacArthur
1 Fijian Battalion Lt-Col J. B. K. Taylor
34 Battalion Lt-Col F. W. Voelcker, MC
36 Battalion Lt-Col J. W. Barry
35 Field Battery Maj C. H. Loughnan, MC
14 Infantry Brigade
Officer Commanding Brig L. Potter
Brigade Major Maj S. A. McNamara, DCM
Staff Captain Maj P. L. Bennett, MC
30 Battalion Lt-Col H. A. Pattullo, MC
35 Battalion Lt-Col C. F. Seaward, MC
37 Battalion Lt-Col A. H. L. Sugden
37 Field Battery Maj W. A. Bryden
Divisional Reserve
29 Battalion Lt-Col A. J. Moore

The change-over was effected without incident and began an association with American forces which was to endure for some years. In Fiji, also, New Zealand military forces came under American command for the first time. While the relief took place, the works and defence programme continued without interruption. The incoming Americans brought with them such a quantity of equipment, from artillery to field furniture, that the New Zealanders were justified in wondering how they had achieved so much with so little. Potter returned to New Zealand with the second relief draft and opened an advanced headquarters in Quay Street, Auckland, pending the arrival of Mead. At six O'clock on the morning of 18 July operational command in Fiji passed to Beightler.

Mead remained in Suva to observe amphibious landing operations by United States navy, army, and air units on the beaches of Koro Island, which he had helped to select for this first and only rehearsal of the landing on Guadalcanal. He then left on the morning of 25 July to pay a farewell visit to Tonga, but the Hudson aircraft in which he and his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant J. C. Leslie, were travelling was lost in a tropical strom after reaching the page 56 island. An inquiry revealed that the aircraft, low in fuel after flying in torrential rain which made any observation impossible, had been accidentally directed south of the island by an American officer operating radio location, who mistook other aircraft from a carrier in the neighbourhood for the New Zealand Hudson. No trace of the aircraft or its occupants was ever found, though sea and air searches were maintained for some days afterwards. Flying Officer D. A. Anderson, Pilot Officer C. G. Ibbotson, Sergeant R. H. W. Wybourne, and Leading Aircraftsman A. N. Clayton went down with their machine.

When command in Fiji passed to the Americans, 58 New Zealand officers and 210 other ranks, nearly all specialists, remained with the Fiji Defence Force, for which New Zealand was also requested to provide a commandant. Wales was selected and appointed on 18 July with the rank of Colonel, with promotion to Brigadier the following November. He established his head-quarters in a separate camp off the main highway at Tamavua, from which he administered his triple command.

The majority of the men of what was now 3 Division were not sorry to leave Fiji. Some of them had been there since November 1940. What they had accomplished without the aid of heavy equipment, of which they had little enough until they inherited some left behind when the Civil Construction Unit returned to New Zealand in May, astonished the Americans as they examined the defence system. Work and climate had taken their toll but most of the men were remarkably fit, though in 1942 the DDMS had protested that too many Grade II men were being sent to Fiji, where heat and conditions aggravated minor weaknesses. The work of the force suffered from a curiously undeserved lack of publicity from any official correspondents and photographers, and no broadcasting unit sent home to New Zealand those singularly uninspired personal messages from men carrying out a task lacking in both glamour and spectacle. An occasitional amateurish photograph did appear in the New Zealand newspapers, but it only revealed a crowd of husky Fijians in snow-white sulus and European coats presenting gifts of fruit and vegetables to the soldiers. The Force received the unselfish co-operation of every Government department in Fiji, particularly from the Public Works Department, without whose aid still more work would have fallen on the sunburned shoulders of the New Zealanders, and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, whose narrow-gauge railways saved miles of marching and haulage.