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Kinds Played Important Role In Dark Days

Story Of Pacific Division

By ..LIEUT. D.. W. BAIN, Official War Correspondent, 3rd. Div., N.Z.E.F. FROM the outbreak of the. war until the end of 1944, Nev Zealand was represented in the Pacific by land forces of varying o strength, in combat, coast-watching and garrison roles. vA' The first small force left the Dominion in August, 1939, to defend the cable station on Fanning Island; a brigade group left for Fiji in October, 1940; a division went to New Caledonia in December, 1942; this force fought in the Solomons from September, 1943 to March, 1944, and the Pacific chapter closed when the men returned to New Zealand between June and October, 1944. History was made in at least two phases of this lengthy service. For the first time a British Empire Crown Colony was garrisoned by troops of a self-governing Dominion: and for the first time a New Zealand land division, was transformed into, and fought as, an amphibious unit in the new type of combined land and sea fighting borne of the Pacific war. The little unit of 33 men who were the vanguard of the New Zealand land forces, left for Fanning Island three days before the war with Germany began and remained on the tiny island in defensive charge of the cable station until May, 1942, when they were relieved by American troops. In Defence of Fiji The, Fiji force, which at .he time of its departure from New Zealand consisted of the nucleus of the Bth Brigade Group, and. which was. to grow into the 3rd New Zealand Division, set sail from Wellington on October 28, 1940, with 949 officers and men. "B" Force, it was known as in the first days of its organisation, which had been planned long before the war in anticipation of the defensive requirements of the Fiji Islands. Evidence of the impending spread of the conflict to the Pacific hastened plans which had not previously been fully implemented. Brigadier (later Major-General). W. H. Cunningham, C.8.F., D.5.0., was appointed officer commanding the Fiji defences with sole operational"control of all land forces in the Fiji and Tonga groups and Fanning Island; and by the time organisation was completed the Brigade Group consisted of the 29th Battalion and two companies of reinforcements which became the Reserve Battalion, with artillery, Army Service Corps, engineers and field ambulance attached. By the end of 1940 the Brigade Group totalled 3000 men, disposed on the main island of Viti Levu in two vital zones, on the Suva peninsular in the eastern acea and the Namaka area on the west coast. The 30th Battalion had joined the 29th in the course of the brigade's expansion. [ Difficulties of , defence, were subj stantiaT. The' smallness' of' the force ; necessitated- its .concentration at the most vital points of the most vital : island of the group. The two defence : zones were 150 miles apart, linked by only one narrow road. Enormous Task There were vast areas to be defended and little with which to defend them. Communications were a disturbing problem; it took some time for the men to become accustomed to the heat and the condiuons of existence to which they were illused; demands on the island's limited sources of electricity and fresh water strained supplies; and most serious of all, equipment was inadequate to cope with the enormous task of developing military dispositions as they should have been.

By the middle of 1941, however, the brigade had been stepped up to a composite force, including naval and air representatives, and an extension of coast-watching duties, and observation tasks over a wide area of surrounding ocean .and islands was possible. Still far removed from the scene of fighting abroad, the men of the Fiji Force worked out their schemes for defence as thoroughly as their limited resources would allow, and as guns and equipment slowly came to hand the New Zealanders performed wonders. More and more interest began to centre on Fiji, and from it went bands of men to other islands to report by wireless whatever sea or air activity might take place by enemy, or then neutral Japanese units.

When Japan struck at Pearl Harbour New Zealand troops were ar their posts, prepared, as far as possible, for the outbreak. Reinforce ments arrived from the Dominion, and it became obvious by the end of December, 1941, that the force would grow to the strength of a division. The newly-formed 14th Brigade, under the command of Brigadier L. Potter, D.5.0., was stationed in the western area and the Bth Brigade, under Brigadier R. A. Row. D.5.0., remained in the neighbourhood of Suva.

As the Japanese progressed in their southward drive through the Marshals and. the Carolines, the New Zealanders continued their preparations for what appeared to be an impossible suicide defence. But k by Mav, 1942, when the division was again being. built up by reinforcements, Reports began to circulate that American Forces' would take over the islands, and the next month American parties landed. At the end of the change-over in command the New Zealanders returned home.

What they had accomplished with their bare hands is a tale of, determined effort in shocking difficulties.' How near they were to meeting a Japanese invasion will, doubtless, be told:as Japanese plans of. attack are revealed in the years to come, and only then will it be possible to assess precisely the importance of the task, assigned the New Zealanders and the extent to which their preparations may have deterred the enemy from taking the Fiji Islands in the' first few months of the Pacific war. Reformed in New Zealand Back in New Zealand the Third New Zealand Division, as it then was, had the role of Army reserve, Major-General H. E. Barrowclough, D.5.0., recently returned from the Middle East,', taking command following the loss in a Pacific aerial flight of Major-General O. H. Mead. C.8.E., D.S.O. It was re-organised and brought to full strength. Jungle fighting formed the. basis of its training, . which was aligned on -the assumption th£t. island .warfare in the Pacific was to be the-function of th? Force before long.

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Bibliographic details

Kinds Played Important Role In Dark Days, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 192, 15 August 1945

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Kinds Played Important Role In Dark Days Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 192, 15 August 1945

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