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From Dull Garrison Duties To Action In The. Jungle

The 36th Battalion embarked for Norfolk Island, midway between' New Zealand and New Caledonia; and the 34th Battalion was detached for duty on Tonga.

Early in November, 1942, the Division was on the move with the departure of the first echelon for New Caledonia, where months were to be spent in garrison duty and in preparation for the final advance to the battle areas of the Solomons.

Brigadier Row and Brigadier Potter retained command of the Bth and 14th Brigades in the new formation, and another brigade, 'the 15th, came into being under the command of Brigadier L. G. Goss. The division was rejoined by the battalions that had preceded it overseas in the latter months of 1942, and was deployed, in brigade sectors, at three strategic points on New Caledonia. Under American Command New Zealanders, for the first time in their history, were now under American command, and full cooperation grew up between the Dominion land force and the United States naval units, which was to be so important a feature of subsequent operations.

Throughout the long months on New Caledonia the Division experienced in turn the boredom of static defence in monotonous isolation, the rigours of intensive training for battle in the insect-ridden swamps and rain-flooded valleys, the uncertainty of rumours as to the future, and eventually, the excitement of knowledge that an active role was at last in store. ' " "I The most important phase of the Dominion's contribution to the land .fighting of the Pacific war opened in July, 1943, when General Barrowclough broke the news of the intended forward move.

Unfortunately,, this decision was accompanied by another, which spelt the disbandment of the newlyformed 15th Brigade and the absorption of its personnel into the Bth and 14th. New. Zealand had found it impossible to reinforce both the Middle East and Pacific divisions at full strength, and, giving priority to the Middle East, had forced the 3rd Division to reform as a fighting force of two brigade groups and to utilise many men from the 15th Brigade as a reinforcement pool. North to Solomons If the New Zealanders demonstrated to the Americans a high standard of efficiency in loading and unloading men, guns, ammunition and stores from big transports to landing, craft, from landing craft to beaches, and return, so the Americans lent their experience, bought in action tin Guadalcanal, for the better education of the men who ■were having-their first taste of amphibious warfare away from the big lapd expanses and the wide manoeuvres to' which they had been usedi : •-A, Three separate convoys carried tjie. Division to Guadalcanal, where an advance base was established for operations during the whole Solomons campaign. The 14th Brigade arrived first, on August 27, 1943; divisional troops and units on September 2 and the Bth., Brigade on September 14. . The sojourn of the 14th Brigade at Guadalcanal was brief. The Americans, who had Just effected a landing on the island of Vella ILavella,' north .of New Georgia and south of "Bougainville, wanted it to complete the. occupation of the island by wiping out a force of five hundred to six hundred Japanese who had moved away from the line of 'the American perimeter but were a continual hazard to the building and development pf an airfield on the south-east peninsula. Wild Jungle Country Brigadier Potter took his brigade to Vella Lavella on August 18 in a 'convey ..of:* landing craft, tank landing craft and destroyers. There was no aerial opposition when the troops arrived soon after dawn, though the enemy arrived about mid-day, and in a hectic dog-fight

the skies above the unloading ships, lost seven of their num ber in as many minutes.' Air raids were a regular feature from then on until the completior of the American airstrip allowed more adequate protection for the ground troops and reduced the risk of damage to shipping unloading essential supplies. The operation to eliminate the Japanese, who by this time had con gregated in the wild coast district oJ the north-west of the island, was conducted by two combat teams, each of a battalion of infantry and sup porting arms. One was taken bj small landing craft round the north east coast, and the other by similar transport round the south-west, each landing some miles on either flank oi the enemy. Then, by a process of slow advance from bay to bay, the New Zealanders wedged the Japan, ese into an ever-decreasing area. Savage close - quarter fighting marked the final stages of this initial campaign, with the eerie, ghoulish conditions of jungle warfare taking a strain on men as yet unhardened to the primitive atrocity of this type of fighting. Their vision restricted to a few feet by the mantle of jungle undergrowth, their equipment and clothes saturated by the dankness of the ground and persistence of tropical downpours, their stomachs aching after ten days and more for something beyond mouthfuls of biscuit and mugs of rainwater, the New Zealanders learned their new trade the hard way.

Painful Slogging It was slow and painful slogging that kept the 35th Battalion close on the heels of the retreating Japanese and that brought the 37th Battalion, advancing from the north-east, towards a junction. Yet only two days before the junction had been planned, the enemy, or those that remained, were evacuated by a destroyer force operating under cover of darkness. They slipped to sea en route to Bougainville, but were intercepted by an American naval, force and severely mauled. In the ensuing months, Vella Lavella was the enforced home for the 14th Brigade until its next task was presented at Nissan. But in the meantime, the Bth Brigade had also spent only a short time on Guadalcanal. Its objective was the Treasury Islands, off the south-west coast of Bougainville, and its task was to seize these islands a week before the American landing on Bougainville proper, and set up radar stations and a base for light naval craft which would play their part in the big moves then pending. The convoy for the Treasuries left Guadalcanal between October 23 and October 26, and arrived off the objective before dawn on October 27. Hard Fight for Beach Memories of Gallipoli were in the mind of Brigadier Row oh the night before the landing, for this assault was the first opposed landing New Zealand troops had undertaken since April 25, 1915, when the brigadier had been a company commander with the Canterbury Regiment. The fast elements of the convoy had overtaken the slow ships during the night of October 26, and as the vague light of dawn brought the hills of the Treasury Islands into relief, naval units opened their bombardment of the coastline and fighter aircraft, including New Zealand machines- provided a protective screen. Landing craft full of New Zealanders crept round the headland at the entrance to Blanche Harbour and at the lifting of the naval barrage headed for the one sandy strip of beach close to the native village of Falamai.

Enemy reaction to the landing was sharp and to the point. There was grim fighting for a beachhead, which was gained only after eliminating the enemy from a number of machine-gun emplacements near the shore, shooting snipers from the tops of the surrounding trees and driving the main body of Japanese into the jungle and over a rise of low hills. Enemy mortar fire from guns sited overlooking • the beach inflicted damage and casualties until the crews were killed by a New Zealand patrol towards mid-day. The fighting on Mono Island, the largest of the Treasury group, persisted with varying degrees of intensity for a fortnight, after which only isolated parties of two or three Japanese remained to be dealt with. Prisoners were very, very few. Bases Established While patrols were rounding up and eliminating, the enemy in the jungled centre of the island, a force which had landed on the north of the island overlooking the ocean approach to Bougainville fought several sharp night engagements against strong enemy formations, and formed a protective cordon round the band of American radar specialists upon whose efforts to set station depended much of the success of the subsequent landing at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville. ' ...

Other New Zealand units concentrated jround. a site chosen for an airfield on Stirling Island, the second largest cf the group, and round the sheltered bays from which were to operate motor-torpedo boats from the first night onwards.

These two campaigns, on Vella ■ Lavella and the Treasuries, were largely instrumental in opening the , way for the American assault on Bougainville, for both had by-passed islands held by strong Japanese ; forces and both had wrested control : of points most valuable for radar, ; air and naval bases to be utilised in further forward moves. Just as the New Zealanders had ! contributed in this way to the begin- • nings of the last stages of the Solo- ■ mons battles, so they completed the ' task in the final job, that of the . invasion of Nissan Island, a tiny atoll lying half-way between north- , era Bougainville and New Ireland. Final Campaign The 14th Brigade, which had re- . mained on Vella Lavella since September, undertook the Nissan job in February, 1944. A reconnaissance in force, carried out by the 30th Battalion, raided the atoll from midnight on January 30, until midnight on January 31, gathering vital information ror use in the actual invasion a fortnight later, and suffered only small casualties in a land clash ana air bombing during the time spent on the island. D day for the seizure and occupation of Nissan was February 15, and again, as in the Treasury operation, a vast convoy assembled at Guadalcanal and at Vella Lavella to carry the troops. Divisional- headquarters moved with 14th Brigade in this operation, and Gerieral Barrowclough took command of all forces in the assault. First stages of the were accomplished without • ground opposition, though abortive enemy attempts in the ' air" had caXised an anxious hour at dawn; and it was not until the second day that enemy groups were brought to close quarters and eliminated. In the mean-" time the beaches were hives of activity, and the unloading of enormous quantities of equipment went on apace.

In this engagement, the New Zealanders took with them a larger number of American construction personnel than they had on previous assaults, for the* building of an airstrip in the least possible time was one of the prime objectives.

Thousands of tons of heavy equipment rolled on to the slush of the shores and into the mud of the jungle and plantation that first day to such good effect that an airstrip was started immediately and was ready for operations in less than three weeks—the smartest job conducted in the Pacific to that date. Task Completed For a week isolated encounters were experienced with Nissan Japanese, culminating in the liquidation of a final batch of 60 enemy who had hidden in caves along the coast Aerial opposition was negligible after the raid of the first morning. With Nissan, Admiral W. F. Halsey, then Commander of the South Pacific, was able to report to General Mac Arthur the virtual completion of the Solomons campaign the objective of the South Pacific Command. By no means had all the enemy been killed. Thousands remained on Bougainville. But the group had been rendered useless to the enemy and of great importance to the Allies.

Though the part piayecl by the Third New Zealand Division was not always spectacular, it was of notable effect, for three times did the New Zealanders form the spearhead of the Allied fighting advance well behind the lines of Japanese occupation and three times did they tackle their job with a determination, dash and efficiency that earned them the very highest praise from American commanders of land, sea and air forces.

The members of the Third Division returned to New Zealand last year, some to join the Second Division, others to go into civilian life, having done a job that reflected credit on themselves and on their country.

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AS19450815.2.32

Bibliographic details

From Dull Garrison Duties To Action In The. Jungle, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 192, 15 August 1945

Word Count
2,022

From Dull Garrison Duties To Action In The. Jungle Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 192, 15 August 1945

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