Headquarters: a brief outline of the activities of headquarters of the third division and the 8th and 14th Brigades during their service in the Pacific
Chapter Seven — Opposed Landing
Within the few weeks following the arrival of G and J sections on Guadalcanal a programme of intensive training commenced. X section, which had arrived earlier on the island, also participated in this schedule. In addition all three sections had been operational from the moment of arrival inasmuch as they continuously maintained signal offices, despatch services, exchanges and general telephone communications within the brigade. Particular attention was paid to practice in laying submarine cables, and the linesmen of each section became as adept at working on the water as they were at laying lines on the land. On 7 October the ranks of J section were increased by the addition of two officers and 47 other ranks of the First US Marine Amphibious Corps who were to participate with the section on impending operations.
Realistic landing trials under a blazing sun on the beaches of Florida Island also occupied the section's time when, with the 8th Brigade, they crossed the channel from Guadalcanal in invasion craft. On the shore wireless and telephone links were established between brigade headquarters and the battalions, but communications were not the feature of the manœuvre, its purpose being to train in amphibious landings. This exercise was repeated on two successive days, a portion of the sections going on each occasion. Later, a jungle shoot carried out on the battlefield known as 'Bloody Ridge,' on Guadalcanal, lacked nothing in realism. These sections also received their allocation of the new ZC1 radio stations, and in exploring their capabilities no efforts were spared. Typical was the action of G section operators who gained valuable knowledge when they took a set page 212to Henderson airfield for ground to air tests. The same set was then taken into the jungle for further similar experiments, although naturally a considerable drop in range was recorded from the blanketed side. Training continued and mechanicians checked and rechecked all the equipment to ensure the utmost efficiency on D-day, but it was a tough proposition endeavouring to keep one jump ahead of the climatic conditions.
Finally, on about 23 October, the packing of the section's equipment began in earnest for the forthcoming move of the Sth Brigade, announced as the invasion of the Treasury Islands which lay 278 miles north of Guadalcanal and less than 30 miles south of the strong Japanese base of Bougainville. Between the Treasuries and Bougainville lay the Shortland Islands, then the hub of the enemy's float-plane activity and a veritable fortress of both coastal and anti-aircraft guns. At this juncture the northernmost forces in the Solomon Islands were those of the 14th Brigade on Vella Lavella. The aim of operation 'Good-time'—as it was officially known—was to enable the establishment of radars and the construction of an airstrip by American units for the ultimate assistance of forces landing on Bougainville. It was therefore the New Zealanders' purpose to capture and clear the islands of the enemy and to afford the specialists the needed protection in the fulfilment of their tasks. The entire landing force was under the command of Brigadier R. A. Row, DSO.
The Treasury Group is a British possession consisting mainly of the larger Mono and smaller Stirling Islands. Their inhabitants are brawny Solomon Islanders. Between these two islands lies the waterway known as Blanche Harbour—a sheltered anchorage ideally suitable for naval purposes and for the amphibious landing of troops on the islands' shores. Sand maps were used as the basis for making every man familiar with the part he had to play in the undertaking and everything was planned to the last detail. Personnel of G and J and X sections embarked on 25 October on LSTs and LCIs with the other elements of the brigade for the journey northwards of the first echelon. Landing and unloading practices were again carried out to ensure that everyone was familiar with the procedure, as a hitch could mean success or failure. Late that afternoon the convoy pulled out into the stream to await sailing orders which page 213came at 4 am the following morning. Meanwhile, the much faster APDs were loading their complements and they sailed at 1 pm the same day. The journey up through the New Georgia Group that day was without incident, but that night as the ships approached Simbo Island a flare dropped by enemy aircraft fell near the gunboats. Strangely, nothing further eventuated from this episode. The weather during the day was fine but it deteriorated during the night and it was raining heavily in the early hours of the morning of 27 October when the 23 troop-carrying ships of the convoy approached their destination. Suddenly the silence of the dawn was broken as the escorting destroyers commenced to belch flame and explosives from their guns in the process of softening up the landing beaches at Falamai, Mono Island. Under the cover of the destroyers and gunboats successive waves of infantry entered Blanche Harbour in assault craft, into which they had transferred outside the entrance.
The bombardment ceased at 6.24 am when silence reigned momentarily. Two minutes later the first New Zealanders to make an opposed landing since Gallipoli in World War 1 streamed on to the coral sand beaches in the face of fierce enemy machinegun fire. As the second wave, consisting of LCIs and LSTs, pushed their noses on to the beaches at Falamai the enemy found the effective range for their mortars, causing casualties to men, vehicles and ships, and under heavy fire the beach-head was gradually enlarged by the 29th and 36th Battalions. A number of enemy emplacements within the village were the first to receive attention from the invaders and these were quickly silenced, although one which feigned a knockout later came to life. The only ones to escape attention from this Nip nest were members of J section, under Second-Lieutenant Gowland who, with all their equipment, filed past unmolested in the process of forming their forward report centre near Cutler's Creek.
With each of the two battalions landing on Mono Island were wireless detachments from J section, equipped with ZC1 radio stations, and linesmen to lay assault cable back from the battalion headquarters to the report centre. The wireless sets were protected from salt spray and mud by carrying them ashore in waterproof coverings. It was here that Signalman F. E. Fry, a member of one of these detachments, received shrapnel wounds page 214which necessitated his evacuation from the scene of action. Signalman T. M. Horan also received a slight arm wound but was able to carry on with his allotted task. G section was represented in the landing on Mono Island by a wireless detachment which, along with a wireless crew from J section, were with a company of the 34th Battalion, known as Logan Force, which landed on the northern side of the island at Soanotalu. Their function was to relay fire orders from the forward observation officer for supporting artillery eight miles away on Stirling. Typical of the load carried by most signal vehicles was that of G section's jeep which went ashore at Falamai beach. With the rear seat removed it was laden with four heavy wet batteries, a battery charger, a container of white spirit, oil, tent, shovel, pick, three cans of water, three telephones, and three and a-half miles of Don 3 cable. Its chassis springs had ceased to function as such. A further jeep carrying a ZC1 radio station and its component parts for J section's report centre signal office, was driven ashore by Corporal R. A. MacDonald under a hail of enemy fire. The jeep and its driver were aboard the ill-fated LST 485, which received a direct hit as it beached near Cutler's Creek. The courage displayed by Corporal MacDonald on many occasions did much to maintain the morale of the men engaged at the report centres. Wireless operators with a No. 21 set and linesmen, all of X section, accompanied a reconnaissance party of the 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment ashore also to establish a forward report centre, while further crews of wireless operators from the section landed with the 208th and 214th Batteries at the same location. The No. 21 set, however, was not used extensively as it was more convenient to run telephone assault cable through the dense growth than to try transporting the set.
Across Blanche Harbour, on Stirling Island, landings were made simultaneously with those on Mono. Here the 34th Battalion and brigade headquarters landed without opposition. A wireless detachment of J section was with the battalion headquarters. Headquarters of the 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regiment and the 38th Field Regiment also became established there, and at each of these, signal offices, exchanges and radio communication were immediately inaugurated by X and G sections respectively. The former section was in contact with the 208th Battery and the latter with Loganforce and brigade headquarters.page 215
Nerve centre of the entire setup was a portion of J section under the command of Captain Parkhouse at brigade headquarters. To and from here flowed all wireless, line and despatch traffic. Here, too, was the rearward wireless link from brigade to divisional headquarters on Vella Lavella operated by Corporal H. M. Grant. Contact over this span of 69 miles was made soon after landing. From the moment of the brigade's departure from Guadalcanal A wireless section of No. 1 company had two intercept sets in readiness for the receipt of traffic. This was the only wireless channel on which cipher was used, communication over the other links within the bridge being R/T, which to the layman means speech in plain language. Many of the messages transmitted were direct verbal orders by the various formation commanders to their officers. Linesmen were to the fore of activity, and from J section's report centre on Mono Island assault cable was speedily laid from the 10-line switchboard to the supporting units by a party under Lance-Corporal T. Burke. Likewise further cable men from X section under Corporal L. J. Bennett laid lines from the 29th Light Anti-aircraft advanced report centre on Mono Island to the 208th, 214th and 198th (US) Batteries. Later in the day, however, the 214th Battery was withdrawn to the Stirling Island side of the battle zone. Further lines were required in the linking of the 29th Light Anti-aircraft Regimental Headquarters and an American headquarters responsible for advertising the approach of enemy planes. The information received was then used as the basis of fire orders transmitted over a network embracing the guns of the antiaircraft batteries. On the link, also, were the 38th Field Regiment (G section) who used the in formation in an opposite manner, namely, to cease the fire of their field pieces to avoid detection from the air. Also on Stirling Island a link with the 34th Battalion was laid from brigade headquarters along the coral shore-line and through the jungle by linesmen of J section, under the outstanding leadership of Lance-Sergeant A. P. W. Godbold, and the signal diagram for the entire brigade group within a short period of the original landing showed a complete communication system by telephone and wireless from the forward infantry companies right back to brigade headquarters. The gap between the two islands was bridged by wireless at this stage. Linesmen earned the high praise of senior officers as page 216time and again they went out under fire to lay and repair lines which had been broken by mountain gun and mortar fire. There were no roads of any kind on the islands, and bulldozers and falling trees also played havoc with the lines, as the foothold on Falamai was gradually extended.
Pup and camouflaged tents were used as shelters for the signal offices at most centres, but foremost consideration was the quick excavation of deep fox-holes in which to house and protect the wireless stations, exchanges and cipher clerks, and to this end all available personnel were diverted. A twice-daily task was the recharging of the batteries from the ZC1 stations which were with the battalions. As J section's battery charges on Mono Island were at the report centre this entailed a wearisome trudge with the cumbersome load quite a distance through jungle in which snipers still lurked. Appreciated therefore was the action of a padre who voluntarily acted as bodyguard to the carriers of the recharged batteries.
Padre G. R. Thompson of Divisional Headquarters playing nurse-maid to some young Solomon Islanders. Sometimes native choirs would sing at the padre's church services
Through such country as this, depicted by an official artist, signals personnel laid lines and worked wireless sets in operations in Solomons
A view of Blanche Harbour, Treasury Islands, from Sth Brigade Headquarters. J, G and X sections took part in capture of these Islands. The harbour lay between Mono and Stirling
J section signals, taken in the Treasuries before the 8th Brigade returned to New Zealand to be disbanded
Divisional Signals linesmen at work on lines erected across Stirling Island. This communication system served both the New Zealanders and Americans. On an island barely three and a half miles long by half a mile wide these poles carried well over two hundred miles of telephone cable
This native orchestra entertained A wireless section during a visit to Simbo Island. In the foreground is a gift of tropical fruits. Below: Solomon Islanders in their large war canoes which were hidden in the jungle during the time of the Japanese occupation. The bow and stern pieces were usually beautifully ornamented with coloured feathers and gums
On the shore, long bladed machetes were a valuable part of the cablemen's equipment for hacking their way through the dense undergrowth. Linesmen carried rifles also but they were found to be heavy and cumbersome, although it was never known when they would provide the means of protection. It was all accepted as part of a day's work, normally unspectacular but tremendously important in the realisation of successful communications. A further line laid that day was one from the 38th Field Regiment Headquarters to brigade headquarters by three men of G section under Lance-Corporal W. F. Rambaud. This section was also responsible for lines to the 50th and 52nd Batteries when they landed on Stirling Island in the second and third echelons respectively.
Little sleep was enjoyed by any personnel during the night. Communications were maintained throughout and, within an outer circle of foxholes around the respective report centres, pickets did their best to stay awake. No talking, smoking or movement was allowed in their cramped positions but a rope strung between the trenches was tugged to convey pre-arranged signals from one to the other of the guard. This protective task was later undertaken by the provosts and the brigade defence platoon. One of the foremost difficulties confronting the three section commanders was the provision of suitable facilities during the night hours to enable signal office personnel—especially cipher—to work with lights and yet retain security by the complete blackout enforced. It was not particularly comfortable for the opera-page 218tors cooped up in the covered fox-holes where the condensation immediately spelt trouble for wireless sets and also exchanges. The mobile wireless vans taken forward unfortunately proved of little assistance owing to the humid conditions within their enclosed operating cabin when the blackout shutters were drawn into position. Signalman D. E. Plummer, of G section, had a long and busy day operating a ZC1 radio station on Stirling-Island from which he retransmitted messages from brigade headquarters to Loganforce at Soanatalu and also to a spotter plane in the skies above the islands.
As night fell at the end of the second day's action the enemy ground forces again endeavoured to sow seeds of confusion in the New Zealand lines and some 30 to 40 bombs were dropped by the Nip air force in an unsuccessful endeavour to attain the desired effect. Allied anti-aircraft guns opened up for the first time and balls of coloured tracers ballooned skywards in a ring of defence. To the gunners it was their job; but for the signalmen who had installed the communications and hot loops which enabled the coordination of gun fire and orders, there was that warm satisfaction of being the men who aided such efficiency. Due to the prevalence of snipers during the night on Mono Island it became necessary for the adoption of 'freddie' procedure (no reply) on the receipt of messages to avoid disclosing the presence of some of the radio stations. Further, it was the general belief that the enemy was 'homing' on the sets, as stations were strafed on three successive nights despite a move of considerable distance each day. Further to substantiate their claims X section used a remote controlled station as a decoy and that location was bombed. The busiest of all wireless links was naturally the rearward one on which traffic between the Treasuries and divisional headquarters on Vella Lavella became considerably heavier each day.
Gradually the sections consolidated their positions, new lines were laid, others maintained and the general facilities for signal offices, exchanges and wireless stations were improved. Together with their equipment the remaining personnel from Guadalcanal arrived in further echelons and with the sections back to their normal strength the initial plan was the reallocation of the men at their respective posts to enable some respite for those weary through the strain of the battle. Air raids continued, page 219mostly by float planes, at night and although the resultant damage was negligible they at least had a nuisance value in that they disrupted any plans for a good night's sleep. A further highlight in communication facilities was the use of radio telephone. The ZC1 stations at the respective headquarters were linked to the exchanges and consequently it was possible for verbal messages to be passed by commanders on Stirling Island merely by picking up the handset on a field telephone and speaking. The conversation passed along the land line to the exchange, thence by further line to the wireless sets and was then broadcast to a similar receiving set at the other end of the link, which in this instance, was on Mono Island. Extending the range even further, General Barrowclough from his headquarters on Vella Lavella spoke with the clarity of a local hometown call to Brigadier Row-on the Treasury Islands, under similar circumstances.
On 3 November the detachment with Loganforce at Soano-talu repulsed Japanese infiltration into its area and Signalman T. R. Tolley (of G section) had a lucky escape when his rifle was hit by an enemy bullet, the resulting splinters penetrating above his left eye and causing a slight wound. Two days later linesmen completed a cross island land line from J section's report centre at Falamai to Malsi. This was later extended to Soanotalu. With the Union Jack flying over Falamai beach the sections cleared their allocated camp areas and endeavoured to make living conditions as comfortable as possible in the surroundings. Rations were at first of the C and K type, but with the arrival of equipment and camp positions becoming static, field cookers made their appearance and normal rations of the more familiar bully beef, vienna sausages and dehydrated vegetables were again placed on the menu. A further bombing interlude occurred on the night of 26 November when a bomb fell close to brigade headquarters and brought down several trees. These in turn broke all the lines leaving J section's switchboard. The bomb dropped at 9.30 pm and within two hours the lines were repaired and communications fully restored. There were nine alarms the following day but no further line damage was recorded. Members of J section delight in reviving the tit-bit that this was the only occasion on which they ever heard their officer swear. It transpired that, endeavouring to dodge some protruding tent ropes page 220and at the same time throw himself flat on the ground for protection, he ended up head first in a dixie of tea!
Early in December, Stirling Island commenced to assume a new face as American construction battalions landed on the shores from successive waves of LSTs with thousands of tons of heavy equipment and commenced the construction of an airstrip and base in the matted jungle bordering the locations of J, X and G sections. Giant bulldozers, scoops and cranes worked night and day with ant-like precision tearing the jungle down and levelling the island into a mile and a-quarter strip of smooth-blinding white coral, complete with revetments. The only discouraging aspect of this operation was the fate of the multitude of telephone lines then extending between the exchanges and subscribers along the island. These became open game for the bulldozers and falling trees and provided plenty of scope for airing the extensive vocabulary of the linesmen who were con-. stantly employed repairing them. SCATS flew in under the protective cover of fighter aircraft to drop by parachute vitally needed equipment. By the end of the month the strip was completed and fully operational. This enabled the joining of another link in the daily air carriage of signal safe handbags containing many hundreds of certified official despatches in a service which spanned from the Treasuries to Vella Lavella, Guadalcanal, New Caledonia and New Zealand. Japanese intelligence seemed well aware of the potential dangers of this new base and they made determined efforts to cripple it from the air but without success. In one memorable prolonged attack the defensive anti-aircraft guns around the island belched a curtain of fire into the heavens until their barrels blistered and ammunition was almost exhausted.
Despatch rider circuits became scheduled routine from the section signal officers. Jeeps, those rugged defers of the mud and jungle, were used as the means of transportation on Stirling island; on Mono Island the courier used a boat for his daily run around the coast from the report centre at Falamai, to Malsi and Soanotalu in the delivery of despatches. With the number of telephone lines on Stirling Island increasing almost daily it became evident that a more permanent arrangement was required to carry the cross-island lines in lieu of the existing tree-tying method. The erection of a poled line, similar to that used in cities, was decided upon. Sufficient linesmen for the undertaking page 221were not available within J section itself but with the addition of some American 'wiremen' and 24 men loaned from No. 1 company on Vella Lavella, the task was completed. Besides the erection of the poles it involved the transferring of over 200 miles of cable on to the insulators on the crossarms; this on an island barely three and a-half miles long. The transformation was to that of a metropolitan office. A further feat was the replacement of the submarine cables across Blanche Harbour with a heavy rubber-covered cable which at that time was deemed the most modern of its kind in the world, but its life was short, for soon after it was laid a Liberty ship in the harbour dragged its anchor across this communication cord, severing it in two. The only alternative was to replace it with a further cable which again engaged New Zealand and American signal personnel, including divers.
Synonymous with the tropical heat of the islands which caused rivulets of sweat continually to run down the men's bodies as they worked, was the torrential rain, deafening thunder and vivid lightning that even succeeded in penetrating the protective and distributing (P and D) frames of the exchanges and bowling operators from their seats. Blown light globes on the exchanges, and shorted rectifiers in the wireless sets, were common victims. Typical of the fortunate escapes experienced by most, at some time or another, was the evening when occupants of a tent at J section avoided injury when a lofty coconut palm crashed across the top of their shelter. It was all thrown in with eradicating the Jap from the South-west Pacific.