CHAPTER 3 — Problems of Command and Employment
Problems of Command and Employment
I: America Plans the Offensive
AN unbroken series of retreats and territorial losses of the greatest strategical importance and significance followed the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, as the Japanese thrust continued to the south and ultimately reached the Solomons in April. Although America was quick to act after the attack on Pearl Harbour, time and space dictated action and strategy in the Pacific—time to organise men, assemble materials, ships, aircraft, and naval support for a global war which meant fighting not only on two fronts but in several widely separated theatres; space because of the vast distances over which men and materials had to be carried before they were committed to action.
Time and space were also influenced by command. Soon after Japan's entry into the war a unified command was created in the South West Pacific under General Sir Archibald Wavell, who took over what was known as the ABDA area (American, British, Dutch, and Australian). His deputy commander was an American, and Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commanding the United States Asiatic Fleet, commanded all naval forces. Wavell's command included Burma, Malaya, the Philippines, Netherlands East Indies, Dutch New Guinea and, later, Northern Australia. Beyond this area, east of the Philippines and Australia and New Zealand, the defence of the Pacific became the responsibility of the United States Navy.
1 These commands existed for only brief periods and were created in an attempt to meet a situation which changed radically almost from day to day. But they were soon dissolved, for they were never satisfactory in meeting a grave situation which not only involved the use of all three services of the contries concerned in stemming the Japanese advance, but also had to satisfy the demands and wishes of Governments and the most senior officers.
An attack could not be mounted quickly in the Pacific, however urgent the necessity to stem the seemingly overwhelming Japanese tide. The main Allied bases, in Australia and New Zealand, were at the end of a long ocean haul of more than 6000 miles from United States ports, and only a slightly shorter haul to Fiji, New Caledonia, and the New Hebrides, some of the more important subsidiary forward bases. After transhipment at those bases, there was another 1000- to 2000-mile haul to the immediate battle area through submarine-infested waters. And at that time, particularly, there were not enough ships, landing craft, aircraft, men or supplies to mount an attack in any great force. Even when it came, the required strength to mount an offensive was dribbled across the Pacific under navy protection for assembly and final preparation at hastily organised and constructed advanced bases. Moreover, almost the whole of the Allied strength at that time had been committed—either in preparation for a resumption of the attack in Egypt, where in June the British had been forced back beyond the Egyptian frontier, or in preparation in the United Kingdom for the landing on the Normandy coast. Russia, too, was causing some concern. She was being hard pressed by the German thrusts to Stalingrad and Sevastopol, and the Allies were therefore sending her all the assistance they could afford in supplies and war materials. It was also the generally agreed Allied plan to defeat Germany first, because of the fear that she might first produce an atom bomb or develop other defensive weapons of equal destructive power, after which the full Allied strength could be turned against Japan.
Because of vital shortages, the first phase of the Pacific war was indecisive and unspectacular. From the attack on Pearl Harbour to the Battle of Midway was a defensive phase; it was followed by a holding phase and finally an offensive phase, which did not really begin until 1944, when the full force of armament and highly-trained fighting services had been assembled, and after lessons learned in early conflict had been absorbed by units not yet committed to battle. Nor was Pacific strategy fully developed until after the first foothold had been obtained in the Solomons. This evolved as a series of giant pincer movements to eliminate the bases of Rabaul and Truk in preparation for the thrust into the Philippines. As the Pacific offensive developed in 1943, three giant spearheads converged on the arsenals of Japan's inner defence line. MacArthur's force, which included Australians under General page 59 Sir Thomas Blamey and Americans under Lieutenant-General Walter Krueger, thrust through New Guinea and New Britain to Rabaul; and Americans, first under Ghormley and later under Halsey, and including New Zealanders under Major-General H. E. Barrowclough,1 slowly fought through the Solomons to the same objective. Coming in on the right flank through the islands of the Gilbert and Marshall Groups, an amphibious American force struck at successive islands on the way to Truk, the key to the whole Japanese defence system and secured by a series of interlocking island bases. That was the early broad plan of the campaign.
Through all the phases of this campaign New Zealand played her part, which began before Pearl Harbour by garrisoning Fiji and other Pacific islands. Small though they were compared with America's vast resources in men and material, ground forces of 3 New Zealand Division, aircraft of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and ships of the Royal New Zealand Navy lent their courage and strength to the long and arduous battle. New Zealand also provided bases and training grounds and supplied fresh foods in such quantity that, according to General Marshall, ‘In Australia and New Zealand American forces obtained almost all their food requirements locally’. New Zealand also despatched vast quantities of fresh foods to the forces in the Pacific.2
Through early 1942 a series of mutually supporting island bases was built up through the Pacific, extending from the New Hebrides, where a huge naval base capable of undertaking heavy repair work on damaged ships was established at Havannah Harbour on Efate, to New Caledonia (the largest military and supply base), Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga. These rear islands were not regarded as impregnable bases, but they were sufficiently strong if an attack developed to enable their garrisons to hold out until help arrived. On 2 July the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered the Allied forces to mount a limited offensive with the men and ships then available, but before that could be done the vexed question of command had still to be settled.
1 Maj-Gen H. E. Barrowclough, CB, DSO and bar, MC, ED, m. i. d., MC (Gk), Legion of Merit (US), Croix de Guerre; Auckland; born Masterton, 23 Jun 1894; barrister and solicitor; NZ Rifle Bde 1915–19 (CO 4 Bn); commanded 7 NZ Inf Bde in UK, 1940; 6 Brigade, May 1940-Feb 1942; GOC 2 NZEF in Pacific and GOC 3 NZ Div Aug 1942-Oct 1944.
2 By 31 Dec 1943, under reciprocal lend-lease aid, New Zealand had supplied 113,886 tons of food, including butter, meat, vegetables, eggs and milk, valued at £11,190,000, to the American forces, as well as vast quantities of stores and war materials.
Nimitz's area was again subdivided into three—the North, Central and South Pacific areas, which made the situation confusing to readers of the daily news. Most of the established Allied bases were in the South Pacific area, which lay south of the Equator and west of 110 degress West, joining MacArthur's command off the east coast of Australia. This area of more than one million square miles of water was dotted with groups of islands vital to future plans, and included New Zealand, New Caledonia, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, the Cook and Society Islands. Nimitz commanded all Allied forces, except the New Zealand land defences, in the Pacific Ocean areas, but Ghormley was appointed his subordinate commander in the South Pacific, with headquarters at Auckland in the early stages and later in Noumea, to which he transferred on 1 August 1942 and which became the principal United States base until the end of the campaign in the Solomons.
Both MacArthur and Nimitz were responsible to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. There was some conflict of opinion between Navy and Army before the commands were finally settled, after weeks of negotiation during which both Australia and New Zealand vigorously protested against being placed in separate areas, since they regarded both countries as a strategical whole.
New Zealand at this time was represented in both Washington and London. Nash departed from Wellington in January to become New Zealand Minister in Washington, where Brigadier A. B. Williams became New Zealand's representative on the British Joint Staff Mission. Brigadier R. S. Park was appointed in London as New Zealand's representative on the joint planning staff. In Washington the Rt. Hon. R. G. Casey was Australian minister, and lent his support when both New Zealand and Australia pressed hard for the establishment of a Pacific War Council in Washington, urging their desire in long and extremely frank signals to Churchill. The rapidly changing war situation lent force to their argument, but London was at first hesitant to agree. A Far Eastern Council, on which Jordan represented New Zealand, had been established in London on 9 February, with a staff council in Washington, but New Zealand and Australia, supported by the Dutch Minister, maintained that the prosecution of the Pacific war would be more easily directed from Washington and that the United States was better situated to control it. They wished, also, for a unified page 61 command co-ordinating all land, sea, and air resources, realising that a multiplicity of commands would ultimately weaken and prolong the war effort. The Pacific War Council first suggested by New Zealand and Australia on 21 January 1942 was ultimately set up, though a Council still remained in London to advise on political matters.
Encouraged by their successes after the fall of Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, the Japanese prepared to continue their advance south, and planned an attack on Port Moresby from the sea and to establish bases in New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa from which to sever the American supply lines across the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia. United States naval forces, weakened at Pearl Harbour, were no match for the still undamaged Japanese Grand Fleet, but Nimitz made the best use of his Task Force 3, consisting of eight 8-inch cruisers, three aircraft carriers, and a destroyer screen. This, with the later formation of the Anzac Striking Force, which included HMAS Australia, HMAS Perth, HMNZS Achilles and HMNZS Leander, was almost the whole Allied naval strength in the Pacific during the critical months of early 1942.
Estimates of the strength of any further attacking Japanese forces varied widely. On 11 December 1941 information from London contained in a singal from the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, assumed that there would be ‘no immediate large-scale threat to the territory of Australia and much less to New Zealand’. Washington advised on 8 January 1942 that an attack on Fiji could be expected at any time after 10 January, and that the probable scale would be one division escorted by four aircraft carriers. In March, in view of the altered situation, the British Chiefs of Staff, who previously presumed that any attack on New Zealand would be at brigade strength, raised their figure to ‘ten or eleven divisions, accompanied by very large naval forces, including five aircraft carriers’, and added that the Japanese might employ one or two divisions for the initial purpose of seizing a base; but, despite this estimate, they did not suggest increasing the defence force of the Dominion, for which they considered seven brigade groups or formations were sufficient, supported by five air squadrons (only two of which were equipped with modern aircraft), augmented by four fighter squadrons, two general reconnaissance squadrons, two torpedo medium bomber squadrons, one bomber-reconnaissance or dive-bomber squadron, and four transport aircraft.
In the light of later knowledge from Japanese sources, the estimates of enemy strength were exaggerated; no attack on New Zealand was ever planned. Orders for a continuance of the attack page 62 south, issued on 12 May 1942 to the commander of the 17th Japanese Army, were delayed for two months after the Battle of the Coral Sea, when the force intended for Port Moresby was turned back, and were finally cancelled on 11 July after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Midway.
MacArthur, from his headquarters in Australia, began planning for an offensive against the advancing Japanese early in May 1942, when he realised that the overwhelming enemy victories in the Philippines, Burma, and Malaya would release more forces to continue the move south. His presumption was correct, since orders to continue the advance south from the Solomons were issued by the Japanese High Command that same month. Airfields, which the Allies lacked, were being hastily constructed in the north of Australia, in the valleys inland from Port Moresby and at Milne Bay, New Guinea, but MacArthur wanted greatly increased numbers of aircraft carriers, aeroplanes, and ground troops before he could move. Nimitz was also contemplating an attack to destroy a seaplane base which the Japanese had constructed at Tulagi, the southern limit of their move in the Solomons, but the Marine raider battalion he proposed to use was rightly considered too small for such a task. MacArthur's desire was for an early attack to dislodge the enemy from his newly won bases in both the Solomons and New Britain before they were consolidated, but as only three partly trained and equipped divisions were then available, and the objectives in the New Britain-New Ireland area were beyond the range of Allied fighter support from Port Moresby and the Australian mainland, close fighter air support would have had to come from aircraft carriers, none of which had been assigned to the South West Pacific area. British attacks against Timor or the Nicobar and Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, which were on the outer rim of the Japanese penetration in that area, were planned to co-ordinate with the American attack, using units of the British Eastern Fleet, but they did not get beyond the stage of suggestion.
The mounting of a Pacific offensive entailed the appointment of an overall commander, and here negotiations were for a time halted. General Marshall favoured MacArthur, already the hero of the Philippines and a man of tried battle knowledge, and he believed that an attack could be mounted by July, using for the initial assault 1 US Marine Division, under Major-General A. A. Vandegrift, part of which was going to Wellington. Three Australian divisions were to take over after a bridgehead had been established. This force was to be assembled at Brisbane, the nearest available port to the battle area. Aircraft, many of them now pouring into Australia through Fiji, would be available for bombing, page 63 but fighter support would be required from aircraft carriers. The American War Department suggested a naval commander under MacArthur for the operation; the Navy Department, however, thought differently and suggested that Nimitz should command the offensive and that the attack towards the New Guinea-New Britain area should be pressed up through the Solomon Islands, the immediate objectives, using 1 Marine Division, two aircraft carriers with cruisers and destroyers, five Marine air squadrons and land-based aircraft from the South Pacific. Any captured islands were to be occupied under MacArthur with troops from Australia. The Navy planned to attack Tulagi first and, by progressive moves, ultimately to reach Rabaul, instead of attacking Rabaul directly from Australia, which would require a strong naval task force, an army garrison, and additional land-based aircraft from Australia and Port Moresby. The Japanese were already established along the northern coast of New Guinea at lae and Salamaua. Nothing could be done before August because of the time required to assemble shipping and supplies.
The American operations division at first supported a direct thrust at Rabaul, which had been rapidly developed into the key Japanese base south of Truk, and recommended that the Navy provide 1 Marine Division and twelve transports, two carriers and supporting vessels, under MacArthur's command. While discussing the plans, no agreement could be reached between Army and Navy on a commander. Army insisted that as the attack would be in MacArthur's area he should command it, with a naval officer directing the tactical attacking force. Navy thought that MacArthur might expose their precious carriers by placing them in range of Japanese land-based aircraft in the Solomons, where several airfields had already been established on islands through the group, therefore it was essential first to reduce Tulagi. Command should therefore go to Ghormley, under Nimitz. When he was informed of Navy opposition, MacArthur insisted that his long-range plan had been misinterpreted, and that he had envisaged a final assault on Rabaul only after progressive moves up through the Solomons.
By 26 June no decision had been reached by Marshall and King, as King was still insisting on a naval commander and that MacArthur should take control at the conclusion of the amphibious stage. King also suggested that Navy begin immediate operations and directed Nimitz to go ahead with plans for an offensive in the Solomons. Nimitz and Ghormley immediately began their preparations. First Marine Division, part of which had landed at Wellington and was training along the coast from Plimmerton to Waikanae, was ordered to prepare for the attack, and Nimitz requested the Joint page 64 Chiefs of Staff to move eight army B. 17 and thirteen B. 26 aircraft from Hawaii to New Caledonia and the same number to Fiji, where the Nandi airfields could now accommodate them. He also asked for surface ships, submarines, and long-range aircraft from the South West Pacific area to support Ghormley. Marshall was perturbed by King's implication that the Army might not co-operate fully, and decided to negotiate personally with him, which he did from 29 June to 2 July. Finally, a compromise was reached. Ghormley was to command the offensive until the Tulagi operation was completed, after which MacArthur was to take over and control the advance to Rabaul. An alteration was made in the boundaries of the operational areas to allow the island of Guadalcanal to come into Ghormley's command.
On 2 July King and Marshall signed a ‘Joint Directive for offensive operations in the South West Pacific area agreed on by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff’. The operations were divided into three tasks:
The seizure and occupation of Santa Cruz Islands, Tulagi, and adjacent positions, for which MacArthur was to attach naval reinforcements and land-based aircraft and immobilise enemy and air activity west of the combat area.
Seizure and occupation of Rabaul and adjacent positions, also under MacArthur's command.
The South West Pacific and South Pacific boundaries were moved so that Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Florida, the Russell Islands, Malaita, and San Cristobal came under Ghormley, leaving the rest of the Solomons to MacArthur. Curiously enough, Guadalcanal was not mentioned in the first task, but it was included when information reached the planners that the Japanese were constructing an airfield at Lunga Point. This had been revealed by reports from coastwatchers and by air reconnaissance.
Ghormley flew to Australia from Auckland on 7 July to confer with MacArthur and agree upon preliminary plans. They both were apprehensive because of the shortage of ships and aircraft and recommended a postponement until both the South and South West Pacific areas were strengthened, as all previous engagements with the enemy had demonstrated the value of air power in naval combat. This recommendation was rejected by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, who controlled the broad strategic allocation, though the actual control of operations in the Pacific was page 65 retained by the United States Chiefs of Staff. Unity of direction stemmed from a British-United States War Council, formation of which was announced in Washington on 17 January 1942, but the United States-British Combined Chiefs of Staff organisation was not formed until 6 February ‘to ensure complete co-ordination of the war effort.’ Australian, New Zealand, the Netherlands and United Kingdom representatives on the Far Eastern Council acted in an advisory capacity in London, but as the war progressed almost the whole direction for the Pacific war came from Washington.
When MacArthur and Ghormley's request for postponement was rejected, plans went ahead. The first offensive of the war against Japan began when the Americans landed on Guadalcanal on 7 August, to begin the long, exhausting struggle for the Solomons. It did not end until the New Zealanders and American forces landed on the Green Islands on 15 February 1944.
New Zealand land and air forces were at first excluded from any Pacific command, but after lengthy negotiations with London and Washington, all except the land forces stationed in the Dominion, which remained under the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff, came under command of the South Pacific area. These included major units of the Army and Air Force located on Pacific islands beyond the Dominion's shores. Such naval units as were required were already under American operational command. This co-ordinated effort made for greater unity, though the approval of the New Zealand Government had first to be obtained before any of her services could be committed to action, and administrative command remained with the New Zealand commanders in the areas where the forces were stationed. This meant that Ghormley, and later Vice-Admiral W. F. Halsey, who succeeded him in the South Pacific Command in October 1942, could call on all New Zealand units in his area if he required them, but could commit them to action only through their own commanders.
II: New Zealand Emerges in the Pacific Plan
Urgent requests for men and equipment went from Wellington to the United States and the United Kingdom immediately following Japan's entry into the war. It seemed, at times, as though little heed was being taken of the requirements for other theatres where action was already in progress and decisions were vital, but New Zealand was deplorably short and unable to meet her own immediate defence needs, for little equipment had been imported into the Dominion in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of hostilities.page 66
Both before and during negotiations for the mounting of an offensive in the Solomons, New Zealand was requesting help from London and Washington for the defence of her own shores and for Fiji. She persistently stressed the need for a full American division in Fiji and another for New Zealand and, because she considered Fiji her first line of defence, she wished to leave her own troops there when American troops ultimately reached the Crown Colony. Ghormley agreed to this proposal, but it was obvious from subsequent action that the American planners did not.
From the time of his arrival in Washington, Mr. Nash kept the New Zealand Government fully informed of all the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposals and planning, which included that, if Fiji and New Caledonia were lost, it would be essential to hold the North Island of New Zealand, particularly its northern regions. The apprehension felt at that time in New Zealand, and the Dominion's vulnerability should Japan press towards her shores, had been fully set out on 24 December 1941 in a cable message from Fraser to Churchill, who was then in Washington. (See Appendix II.) He said that the crippling of the United States Fleet at Pearl Harbour, the loss of the Prince of Wales and Repulse off Malaya, the violent and successful attacks by the enemy in Malaya, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Wake, and Guam had increased the probability of attack on Fiji and its importance in the scheme of Allied defence to a degree which could not be exaggerated. Extensions to the Nandi aerodrome, which New Zealand was undertaking at the request of the United States Government, would become a liability if they were not adequately defended. New Zealand could supply an extra brigade for the western area of Fiji, but the Dominion could not equip these men. New Zealand had already denuded herself of arms to a degree which was causing the gravest concern. Fraser urged Churchill to impress on Roosevelt the importance of Fiji and the urgent need for equipment. On the following day the Prime Minister despatched a cable to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in London regretting that New Zealand was unable to send a force to Malaya to assist in the defence of the naval base of Singapore, which had been suggested during an inter-Allied conference there. In the same message he again set out the situation in Fiji and appealed for urgent assistance, particularly in armoured fighting vehicles and anti-tank equipment. (See Appendix II.) The Secretary of State replied that the Government of the United Kingdom concurred in the decision to reinforce Fiji, and that early provision would be made to send equipment. Because of commitments elsewhere—to the Middle East and Russia particularly—this could not be despatched immediately, and calls on page 67 the United Kingdom were beginning to embarrass her. This was revealed when Fraser received a cable from the Secretary of State on 4 February, eleven days before Singapore fell, indicating Britain's mounting difficulties, which informed him that ‘the task of allocation is one of some difficulty at the moment with a rapidly changing situation in several parts of the world. We are already heading dangerously near the point where the spreading of our resources must lead to a general weakness. There is a point beyond which we cannot interfere with the flow to the Middle East, whence so many army and air force units, with their equipment, have already been withdrawn for the Pacific’. His inference in part was to the withdrawal of Australian forces, ground and air, which began their return to the Commonwealth from the Middle East in early 1942, as soon as the Japanese threat to Australia seemed imminent. Despite the uneasy position in the Mediterranean theatre, however, the fighter aircraft sent to New Zealand in the early days of the war were deducted from Royal Air Force allocations originally intended for the Middle East.
New Zealand was beginning to feel the strain on her manpower by March 1942, by which time 61, 368 men had gone overseas. The Army had absorbed 52,712, the remainder going to the Navy and the Air Force. Another 67,264 were in New Zealand camps, including 52,983 in the Army, and an additional 100,000 aged between sixteen and sixty were in the Home Guard. The New Zealand Chiefs of Staff, reviewing the situation in the Pacific early in April 1942, considered that six divisions were required for the defence of the Dominion itself, though only three were available. In submitting their appreciation to War Cabinet, they said that additional forces, as requested by Mead, were still required for Fiji—two brigade groups and one battalion for Viti Levu, one brigade group and one battalion for Vanua Levu (the second largest island of the group, which remained completely defenceless), and eight air squadrons. They pointed out that the airfields, still inadequately defended, were being enlarged and three others were to be constructed outside defended areas. Additional forces could come only from New Zealand or the United States, but the Americans, who were then considering sending a division and strong air forces to New Zealand, did not wish to divide their strength between New Zealand and Fiji. The United States Joint Working Committee, at the end of April 1942, thought that in asking for six divisions for the defence of New Zealand, the Dominion was not fully aware of American intentions in the South Pacific. They considered New Zealand would be reasonably secure with four divisions—two New Zealand and two American—and suggested that any remaining page 68 divisions be moved to Fiji. This committee also recommended at the same time that the following aircraft be provided for Fiji: 50 fighters, 26 medium bombers, 13 observation, and 12 navy type seaplanes.
The New Zealand Chiefs of Staff recommended placing the situation before Ghormley while he was still in the United States and, if land forces could not be obtained immediately for Fiji, then the risk of sending the New Zealand army reserve brigade group should be taken, as the situation was then sufficiently serious to warrant such urgent action. Cabinet approved the recommendation and Nash was asked to put the situation to Ghormley. Nash replied on 29 April that the United States Chiefs of Staff refused to consider Fiji as a separate problem and insisted that in their Pacific plan it was only one of a series of mutually supporting islands, which it was. The security of the Pacific area and subsequent operations in it must be considered as whole. They proposed to have an air strength of 1000 personnel in Fiji before the end of 1942, and New Zealand was requested to supply 12,000 troops within that time.
Fraser replied that New Zealand was still of opinion that reinforcements for Fiji should come from the United States. ‘We have despatched to Fiji,’ he cabled, ‘greater forces than we can reasonably be expected to spare, amounting to approximately a quarter of our effective strength at that time.’ He added that to provide 12,000 men would cripple the defences of the Dominion. Besides, it would denude New Zealand of equipment. ‘Even if we were to withdraw our Division from the Middle East, a lengthy period must elapse before its return would enable us to release additional men for Fiji.’ He suggested either American or Canadian reinforcements.
The suggestion that New Zealand might withdraw her 2nd Division from the Middle East to reinforce the Pacific had first been mentioned in a cable to Churchill in February, in which Fraser had hinted that there was some public feeling ‘that the New Zealand Forces should be returned to the Pacific area to meet the danger nearer home’. During negotiations on Pacific manpower requirements, Churchill agreed that it would be preferable to send United States forces to New Zealand rather than withdraw 2 Division from the Middle East, as it would conserve shipping and overcome the needless movement of troops, and shipping was an embarrassing problem in 1942.
While the interchange of opinion proceeded through March and April, America was speeding her first trained forces into the Pacific as she built up her series of mutually supporting bases, in page 69 fulfilment of the Chiefs of Staff planning. Many of the garrisons were already in position. The occupation of New Caledonia was announced on 25 April, and by the end of that month the United States Joint Working Committee recommended that the following be completed by the end of December 1942:
Tonga: 7000, including air forces
New Caledonia: 24,000 already in position
Fiji: 1000, including air forces; New Zealand to provide another 12,000.
By May there were 81,000 American troops, including air personnel, in Australia, and the total American strength in the Pacific south of Hawaii had risen to between 130,000 and 150,000 officers and men of the three arms of the service.
The first intimation that the United States resolved to accept full responsibility for the defence of Fiji and Tonga came on 6 May (the day that Corregidor fell) in a cable from Nash, who had conferred with King. While the Coral Sea battle raged, messages passed between Wellington and Washington stating that New Zealand agreed to the American proposal but expressing surprise at the rapidity of such developments. The Governor of Fiji raised no objection, his only proviso being that two divisions were necessary to ensure the safety of the Colony and that, on political grounds, the identity of both Fijian and Tongan forces should be preserved within the framework of the American command.
Nash continued negotiations with King, who stated that both he and Nimitz considered the urgent strengthening of the islands would result if the United States took them over. Precipitate action had been taken, he said, because troops were already on their way. Nash continued to stress the necessity for at least six divisions in New Zealand, the number recommended by the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff, but King, who still very wisely regarded the whole of New Guinea, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa as vulnerable, explained that the number of American troops was limited and there were requests for them from many sources, particularly from Australia and Great Britain. Plans, outlined in Washington in January, were then in hand for the landing in North Africa later in the year.
Even after the arrival of American troops in Fiji, New Zealand still felt that her troops should remain there. It was still her first line of defence, but although Ghormley personally agreed to their retention, by 13 May King issued a joint Army-Navy Plan for the page 70 relief of the New Zealand forces and the assumption of United States responsibility for the defence of the Fijian Group. When a copy of the relief plan reached Wellington in June, Fraser cabled Nash to the effect that New Zealand was still in favour of leaving her troops to assist the Americans and that no conditions were attached to that offer. King's reply was that he and General Marshall had given further consideration to the New Zealand offer. ‘After discussing the pros and cons,’ he replied, ‘we are of opinion that a greater service to our combined effort in the Pacific would be served by carrying out the present plan for their relief. The New Zealand troops thus relieved, we hope, can be made available for amphibious training with our 1 Marine Division in anticipation of joint offensive action to the north-west.’ The signal also intimated that the United States would increase her ground and air force troops in Fiji to 23,000 by September 1942, but pending the arrival of reinforcements it might be desirable to supply some New Zealand troops to Fiji. Any decision on that point, however, could be made on the spot between Mead and Beightler. Finally, New Zealand accepted the American decision, but the Prime Minister's accepting cable said: ‘We must emphasise our view that 23,000 troops are inadequate to defend the Fiji Islands. It was because of our apprehension … that we made the offer to allow our troops to remain.’ America was to have 14,529 men in Fiji with an additional 6583 by August.
From the time the first troops of the relieving force, the American 37 Division from Ohio, reached the Colony to replace the New Zealand forces, Fiji fulfilled its destined role as a training ground for combat troops, a forward depot for supplies and reserves, and a staging centre for aircraft being ferried to the combat zones. The terms and conditions under which the United States forces occupied the group were, in so far as they were applicable, the same as those in operation for the leased bases set forth in the agreement for the use and operation of United States bases by Great Britain, signed in London on 27 March 1941. The Governor of Fiji remained the single authority responsible to the British Government, and he was also responsible for civilian rights and property. This similarly applied to Tonga and to all British territory in the Pacific zone where military security and defence were vested in the American forces. The system worked well and there was no friction on a high level. As the New Zealand forces remaining in Fiji and Tonga after the withdrawal of 3 Division were equipped with British types of arms, the responsibility for their maintenance remained with New Zealand.