United as a nation in the face of a common enemy, New Zealand is winning the war on COVID 19. Most kiwis have done what it required of us and the results so far are truly world class.
Recently, I have been reflecting on the far-reaching impact of WWII on the home front. Unlike the clear communication about COVID19, there were hundreds of secret projects in WWII so that most kiwis never got to put all the pieces together to understand the magnitude of the war effort at home. Things seriously ramped up after Japan entered the war, attacking Pearl Harbour 7 Dec 1941.
It was like a tale of two wars. NZ had been at war for over two years and our army was fighting the Germans and Italians in the North African desert. There were calls to bring our army home to defend NZ but by now they were highly skilled in desert warfare, so it was agreed that US Forces would shoulder the bulk of the effort against the Japanese, supported by ANZAC forces. If there was any doubt about the threat we faced, things got real just over two months after Pearl Harbour, when 242 Japanese planes attacked Darwin on 19 Feb 1942. Many of these planes flew off aircraft carriers – the same group that had attacked Pearl Harbour. This was the first of 100 air raids on Australia.
We were scared and rightly so, expecting an invasion of NZ. Just a month after the first Darwin raid, a submarine launched seaplane did reconnaissance flights over Auckland and Wellington. It was launched from I 25. The pilot, Nubuo Fujita went on to be the only axis pilot to bomb the contiguous USA. In September he attempted to start a forest fire on the West Coast of the USA by dropping incendiary bombs.
In May ’42, submarine I 21 also visited. It sent its seaplane over Thames and Auckland. I 21 went on to join four other I class submarines and they launched a midget submarine attack in Sydney harbour. Meanwhile, NZ schools dug slit trenches in case of aerial bombardment. Students were issued cotton wool for their ears and a cork to bite on and they did air raid drill. In a time of incredible scarcity of cement, my dad was authorised to buy enough cement to build an underground air raid shelter that he built in the front yard.
Defensive structures were built nationwide with regional defence plans. In “Fortress Auckland” the approaches were hardened with pill box machine gun posts on roads and narrow tank traps. An anti-tank ditch was dug across the peninsula from Green Bay to New Lynn. Barbed wire stretched across Auckland beaches. There were about 23 anti-aircraft gun and searchlight positions, both dug in and emplacements. Crucial air force workshops were moved inland to Hamilton. Anti-submarine nets closed off harbours and remote-controlled minefields were laid. Home guard units were based at beaches for years. Huge coastal batteries were under construction, some not being completed until after the war ended. 22 radar stations nationwide monitored seaward approaches.
Then the Americans arrived, and we changed up a couple of gears. A lot of construction of camp buildings, hospitals and the huge warehouses was done by the Public Works Department and contractors like Fletchers. Airfields were built from north of Kaitaia to the one of last resort on the Canterbury Plains. Many of these featured buried fuel storage tanks with capacities of over 1 million gallons. To project manage food supply, farmers had to do 90-day crop forecasting. The US Marines lived and trained here before fighting and dying at Tarawa and Guadalcanal.
There was total commitment and mobilisation of every resource possible to win and avoid domination by a ruthless opponent. Each ANZAC Day, we stand and remember those who risked (and some who lost) their lives over the years. They have shaped who we are as a nation today.
This article first appeared in the NZMVC publication “BULLETIN” in May 2021. This publication is available exclusively to members of NZMVC. Find out more about joining NZ’s premier military vehicle club [here]