by Jack McKillop
Physical Description & History
The island country of New Zealand (42°10'S, 172°29'E) is located in the south Pacific Ocean about 1,050-miles (1,690-kilometers) east of Australia and 950-miles (1,529-kilometers) south-southeast of New Caledonia. The country consists of two main islands, North Island and South Island, and Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands and several smaller islands. The total land area is 103,483-square-miles (268,021-square-kilometers) and the landscape varies from snowcapped mountains to lowland plains with a temperate to subtropical climate. The population of New Zealand in 1941 was 1,631,200.
North Island, with a land area of 44,702-square-miles (115,778-square-kilometers), has several active volcanic mountains and hot springs. Two basic geological structures that extend northwest to New Caledonia and a second that extends northeast to Samoa merge in the center of the island. The two highest volcanoes, Mount Ruapehu (9,175-feet/2,797-meters) and Mount Taranaki (8.260-feet/2,518-meters) are located on the west and in the center of the island.
South Island, the larger of the two islands, has a land area of 58,093-square-miles (151,041-square-kilometers) and is separated from North Island by Cook Strait which is 14-miles (23-kilometers) wide at its narrowest point. The Southern Alps extend almost the entire length of the island with Mount Cook in the west central part of the island rising to 12,316-feet (3,754-meters). There are more than 360 glaciers on the island.
The first European to sight the islands was a Dutch navigator in 1642 followed by English Captain James Cook who thoroughly explored the coastline during three South Pacific voyages beginning in 1769. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, lumbering, seal hunting, and whaling attracted a few European settlers. In 1840, the United Kingdom established British sovereignty through the Treaty of Waitangi signed that year with Maori chiefs and selected groups from the United Kingdom began the colonization process. New Zealand was declared a dominion by a royal proclamation in 1907 but allowed the United Kingdom to handle most of its foreign affairs until it achieved full internal and external autonomy by the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act in 1947.
The U.S. Navy (USN) established two bases in New Zealand during the war, both of them on North Island.
Auckland, Naval Operating Base
Auckland, located on the northwest of North Island (36°50' 54"S, 174°45' 48"E), was first settled by Europeans in 1840 and served as the capital of the territory. However, the government selected Port Nicholson (now Wellington) on South Island as the new capital in 1865. In the opening months of World War II, Auckland was chosen as a major fleet anchorage for the U.S. Fleet. The plan was to develop facilities to provide for ship repair, training and rehabilitation of combat units, and hospitalization of sick and wounded from forward areas, and to maintain air cover for the Allied fleets.
The construction of the additional facilities needed for the defense of the base and the support of the U.S. naval forces in the area would be carried out with materials furnished by the U.S. to the New Zealand Naval Board, and that the USN would provide experts to supervise the installation and initial operation of the facilities built, but the installation and service operations would be performed by New Zealand personnel. The New Zealand Public Works Department was the construction agency for all government departments consequently, no Seabees were assigned to New Zealand for construction work.
In April 1942, the Navy ordered an officer to Auckland as port director, charged with responsibility for developing a main naval base, including headquarters for the Commander of Allied Forces in the South Pacific (ComSoPac). When the line of U.S.-held bases moved rapidly northward, ComSoPac headquarters in Auckland was closed on 8 November 1942, and moved to Noumea, New Caledonia. Auckland thereafter had the scope of a minor base.
By May 1942, the increase of U.S. naval activities in the Auckland area had caused a serious problem about the housing of personnel. On 3 June, work was begun on a 500-man camp at Mechanics Bay to provide a receiving barracks for the area. On land donated at no cost by the Harbor Board, the New Zealand Public Works Department built four 112-man barracks, one chief petty officer dormitory, galley and mess hall, ration storehouse, boiler plant, laundry, recreation building, and officers' quarters. The first barracks were occupied on 19 June, and the camp was completed by December.
At Camp Domain (36°51' 42"S, 174°46' 28"E), workmen constructed facilities for 1,000 men, to be used by headquarters personnel, Marines, and convalescents. This project was completed by December 1942. Later, at Victoria Park (36°50' 49"S, 174°45' 17"E), a 1,200-man camp consisting of 166 eight-man huts, 30 four-man huts, two thirty-man quarters for officers, and other necessary facilities was built for Seabee use. However, the camp was occupied by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps personnel.
To house the personnel assigned to ammunition depots at Kauri Point (36°49' 22"S, 174°41' 51"E) and on Motutapu Island (36°45' 55"S, 174°54' 58"E), small camps were constructed. Numerous other hut camps were constructed in the area for the Marine Corps, e.g., a 1,200-man camp was erected at the Tamaki railway station (36°53' 52"S, 174°50' 59"E), location of the Third Base Depot of the Marine Corps.
To supply medical aid to the U.S. personnel stationed in New Zealand and to the sick and wounded evacuated from forward areas, two mobile hospital units were assigned to Auckland. When the first mobile hospital arrived in about the middle of 1942, construction was begun on a 1,000-bed hospital facility. Prefabricated buildings were erected by hospital personnel; all other construction was carried out by New Zealand workmen. By June 1943, all major construction work on supplemental buildings, such as the recreation hall and quarters, was completed. Facilities for the second mobile hospital, begun early in 1943, included 66 Bureau of Medicine-type buildings for ship's service, corpsmen's barracks, and storehouses. In June 1943, detachments of Seabees, before their departure to a forward area with the Marines, undertook the necessary grading, and built roads, drainage structures, a water system, and a steam-distribution system, erected steel buildings, and remodeled existing quarters. All ward, galley, mess-hall, administration, surgery, and recreation buildings, as well as officer and enlisted quarters, were built by the New Zealand government. Both mobile hospital units were moved to forward areas in October 1944 and the USN's Auckland complement was reduced to 26 officers and 82 men, concentrated at the receiving barracks at Mechanics Bay, thus virtually vacating the naval base at Auckland.
A considerable amount of existing storage space, for fuel as well as for dry materials, was available at Auckland for use by the U.S. forces. In addition, 120,000-square-feet (11,148-square-meters) of covered storage for the Third Base Depot of the Marine Corps at Tamaki Station, a 32,000-square-foot (2,973-square-meter) medical storehouse, 550,000-square-feet (51,097-square-meters) of covered storage at Sylvia Park, and 100,000-square-feet (9,290-square-meters) of wood-frame storehouses at King's Drive were constructed. Additional storage space was leased. The work on these storage facilities was completed in late 1942 and early 1943.
An extensive tank farm, including storage for 500,000 barrels (21-million-U.S.-gallons or 17.5-million-Imperial-gallons or 79.5-million-liters) of fuel oil, was planned for Auckland. However, as the U.S.-held bases moved forward the entire project was cancelled and the materials then on hand were moved to Noumea, New Caledonia.
Two ammunition depots were built by New Zealand workmen for the USN. On Motutapu Island, some 8-miles (13-kilometers) down the harbor from Auckland, fifty 28-by-80-foot (8.5-by-24-meter) concrete magazines and 16 brick magazines were constructed, together with 15-miles (24-kilometers) of road to give access to the site. The project was completed early in 1943.
One main reasons for the choice of Auckland as a naval base was its excellent harbor facilities. However, the drydock facilities for major and intermediate types of ships were so meager that the Calliope Graving Dock at Devenport (36°49' 39"S, 174°47' 48"E), owned and operated by the Auckland Harbor Board, was enlarged to take heavy cruisers of the Indianapolis class. The only two other graving docks in the area capable of docking heavy cruisers, were the Woolwich and the Cockatoo Island docks at Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. There were also two large floating docks, one at Wellington and one at Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. Unfortunately, the overhang of the bow and the stern of heavy ships in these docks would have been undesirable for a cruiser in a damaged condition, and the depth over the blocks would have been insufficient. Late in 1942, the USN undertook to extend the length of the Calliope Graving Dock by 40-feet (12-meters). This work was planned by the USN, and completed by the New Zealand government under reverse lend-lease. The work required about six months for completion and was done without interfering with the use of the dock.
At the opening of the war in the Pacific, all the airfields of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) were turf-covered. The turf was in excellent condition, but became badly cut up in wet weather under heavy traffic. With the cooperation of the New Zealand Public Works Department and the USN, the RNZAF provided some of the fields with concrete or stabilized runways so that they could be used by heavy bombers. At Ardmore Field (37°01' 47"S, 174°58' 24"E), the RNZAF began work early in 1943 on two runways -- 5,100-by-150-feet (5,100-by-46-meters) -- to be stabilized and tar-sealed. The USN took over the project and brought it to 70-percent completion. The field was then turned over to the RNZAF for use as a training field. Construction of runways, taxiways, peripheral roads, and frame structures was completed by New Zealand workmen under USN supervision.
In January 1944, the Seabees erected several New Zealand prefabricated buildings and remodeled existing buildings at the Maungakiekie rest camp (36°54'S, 174°46'E) for the U.S. Army. This unit also completed extensive repairs and remodeling activities at the Tamaki Station Marine Corps camp.
Auckland soon lay well of the line of flow of support for staging to forward areas. By February 1944, the entire function of the Navy's public works officer was reduced to maintenance and by July, the roll-up was well under way, and even rehabilitation activities were discontinued.
Wellington, Naval Advance Base
Wellington, located on the extreme south of North Island (41°17' 11"S, 174°46' 35"E) is the capital of the country. This base was utilized as a stage area and minor landing craft base for operations in the South Pacific and at any one time between June 1942 and mid-1944 there were between 15,000 and 45,000 American servicemen in camp in New Zealand.. The first operation was the invasion of Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands.
The first echelon of American troops arrived in Wellington on 14 June 1942 when the transport USS Wakefield (AP-12) arrived with 4,725 marines and 309 Army and Navy passengers. After leaving the ship, the Marines boarded a train to Paekakariki (40°59' 17"S, 174°57' 04"E), located about 22-miles (35-kilometers) north-northeast of Wellington, where they disembarked and marched into Camp Russell (now Queen Elizabeth Park, 40°58' 12"S, 174°58' 46"E). On 22 July, the Marines began leaving New Zealand en route to Fiji for landing maneuvers and then the invasion of Guadalcanal and Tulagi.
After fighting on Guadalcanal, the 2d Marine Division arrived in Wellington for rest and retraining. The naval base was formally commissioned on 23 August 1943 but a proposed amphibious boat pool never materialized. The 2d Marine Division departed New Zealand on 1 November 1943 for the assault on Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll on 20 November. This ended the need for a naval base in Wellington but the base hospital and receiving barracks remained open until May 1944 when the base was disestablished.