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The Gunners: an intimate record of units of the 3rd New Zealand Divisional Artillery in the Pacific from 1940 until 1945

III — New Caledonia to Guadalcanal

New Caledonia to Guadalcanal

For this move the regiment was split into three groups—a state of affairs which was now regarded as quite normal. The 207th Battery with the 14th Brigade sailed from Noumea for its unknown (but generally suspected) destination on 18 August; RHQ, the 208th and 209th Batteries followed with the divisional troops group five days later and the 214th with the 8th Brigade on 4 September. Both brigade groups were organised into combat teams in accordance with American practice and three ships were allocated to each—President Jackson, President Adams, and President Hayes. The same ships returned to Noumea for the 8th Brigade after delivering the 14th Brigade to Guadalcanal.

One ship was allotted to each of the three infantry battalions of each brigade, together with engineer and artillery support and supply, medical and other details for each battalion, the idea being to set up a self-contained combat team in each ship. Each battery in the brigade groups had one troop allocated to each combat team and one troop spare. The divisional troops travelled in the transports Hunter Liggett, which carried RHQ and the 209th Battery, and Fuller which took the 208th. All ships of all three convoys carried some and no ship less than one troop of the regiment—a formidable dispersal of forces.

Each convoy with its destroyer escort proceeded by a circuitous route to Vila Harbour in the New Hebrides and spent four or five days there while amphibious training exercises were carried out at Mélé Beach nearby. This was new to most of the regiment, but we soon got used to climbing up and down cargo nets hung over the ship's side and hauling guns, vehicles and equipment ashore from landing barges. The surroundings page 114were more like the storied South Seas than New Caledonia had been and birds and butterflies of great brilliance were common.

Life at sea was according to the usual pattern—very hot and very crowded. The only incident occurred early one morning when torpedoes were fired (happily without effect) at the second convoy when it was nearing the Solomons.

Disembarking at Guadalcanal became quite a competitive business. When it became known that the 14th Brigade had earned praise from the Americans for a smart performance in unloading, it was up to the 8th Brigade, using the same ships and handling roughly the same amount of equipment, to go one better. This it duly did, although groans were heard from one gun detachment, who saw their predictor being roughly handled by being rolled up the beach end over end by a gang of husky strangers who were innocent of the knowledge that they were playing fast and loose with mechanism which was not only as heavy but also as delicate and temperamental as a prima donna. The label 'Handle with care' meant little to the Third Div stevedores, unless there were bottles in the box.