Notes compiled by John Brown from the book "United States Forces in New Zealand 1942-1945" by Denys Bevan
With the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941 which lead to the direct involvement of the United States in what had become a global war, Australia and New Zealand looked to the United States for help in building up their depleted forces. About 1 in 12 of their populations were under arms but the majority of these were in the Middle East or Britain.
Nothing seemed to be stopping the Japanese advance south through Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia. There was serious talk of abandoning Australia and New Zealand but Admiral Ernest King, US Navy Chief of Staff, told President Roosevelt "We cannot, in honour, let Australia and New Zealand down. They are our brothers, and we must not allow them to be overrun by Japan."
At a meeting in late December 1941 between Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt three recommendations were made which affected New Zealand. These were:-
1. To secure the British Antipodes and the islands and sea lanes between them and the West Coast of North America and Panama;
2. To contain the Japanese where they were and attempt to reduce them with attrition tactics by submarine and aircraft carriers;
3. To give limited assistance to the defence of India/Burma/China.
This last recommendation indirectly helped the South Pacific area as it was hoped that increased activity in the Asian area would help draw off Japanese forces from the South Pacific.
Admiral King was not greatly in favour of the "Germany first" policy and did everything he could to ensure that the Pacific area of conflict received a fair share of war material and men. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed at a meeting in March 1942 that Auckland would become a Naval Operations Base and Wellington was designated as an Amphibious Training Base.
The 6th of January 1942 was a typical summer's day in Wellington with a fresh north-westerly blowing however in the higher echelons of Government there was considerable tension with news of Japanese successes in Malaysia and Indonesia. Harbour watchers saw an unusual ship berth at Queen's Wharf. Painted grey overall, her decks were covered with large crates, on top of which sat plane fuselages. It was the PRESIDENT POLK, the first US military vessel to arrive in New Zealand after the United States entered the war. It had sailed from San Francisco on 19 December 1941 with urgently needed supplies for the Philippines but because of the rapidly worsening situation had been directed to Wellington for fuel before continuing to Surabaya. Just as she was about to sail from Wellington 2 days later it was again redirected to Brisbane to unload the cargo of Boston bombers and Kittyhawk fighters. These aircraft and supplies were among the first American supplies to land in Australia and little did Wellingtonians know that the visit of the PRESIDENT POLK was the prelude to an enormous build-up of United States forces in the South Pacific.
President Polk photo taken at end of war. When President Polk first visited Wellington it was virtually on its maiden voyage and operated by American President Lines. It was taken over by US Navy in 1943.
After the PRESIDENT POLK visit, Wellington and Auckland saw an increasing number of un-familiar ships. USS REPUBLIC (AP-33) on its way back to the US after landing refuges from Dutch East Indies in Australia passed through Wellington on 12 January and the next day the Dutch vessel BOSCHFONTEIN which had been operating in the Dutch East Indies and had just managed to escape the Japanese. It became a frequent visitor to both Auckland and Wellington carrying US troops to the Pacific and Burma was zones. USS PRESIDENT GRANT arrived on 17 January 1942 and like the REPUBLIC had sailed from San Francisco for Manila but had been diverted to Dutch East Indies and was on her way back to Los Angeles. Her route to America gives some idea of the concern for slower ships with no escorts. Leaving Wellington on 20 January she headed south of the Chatham Islands and across the Pacific to Talara, Peru.
March saw a greater number of ships arrive at Wellington, among them USS MOUNT VERNON (AP-22) after delivering 5000 men of the 32 Infantry Division to Adelaide. USS TALAMANCIA (AF-15) made the first of many visits to New Zealand when she arrived in Wellington on 16 March.
The 18 March 1942 saw the arrival of the WILLIAM CLARK, the first Liberty ship to visit New Zealand. She was followed 5 days later by MERIWETHER LEWIS, only the second Liberty ship delivered on the Pacific Coast and ROBERT GREY both from the same Kaiser yard of Oregon Shipbuilding Corp, Portland. These vessels were on their way to Brisbane. Sadly all these ship built within days of each other were torpedoed only weeks apart in the North Atlantic later that year and early 1943.
The Liberty ship JOHN ADAMS called at Wellington on 16 April for engine repairs while on her way from San Francisco to Noumea and Brisbane. After unloading a part cargo in Noumea she left for Brisbane on 4 May. Next day she was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-21. Her remaining cargo of aviation fuel caught fire and after several explosions sank. Only 24 of her crew survived but this month old ship has the distinction of being the first Liberty ship sunk by enemy action.
In the next 2 years Wellington was not only used as the Amphibian Training Base for the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions but was also used as a bunkering stop for unescorted vessels running between the West Coast of the USA and Australia, India and the Middle East. Wellington had a greater number of ships calling than otherNew Zealand ports as it was more strategically located on the southern route. There was an acute lack of suitable escort ships which required the ships to sail as far south as possible across the Pacific. Harbour pilots in Wellington were kept very busy. Pilot Capt Fred Gell could recount stories of ships sailing right past Wellington and up through Cook Strait only to return the next day. Their first questions when he boarded were "Is this New Zealand, what is the local time and what is the date?". Many had a problem with the date having only recently crossed the date line An example of the enormous increase in ships and the difficulty of manning them with trained crews is shown in a contemporary log extract The crew that came aboard shortly before the ship left Vancouver, Washington were all green hands. There were six officers and about 70 men. None of the officers and only one of the men had ever been to sea in the past.
On 20 May 1942 saw the first arrival of ships associated with the 1st Marine Division and which were to become familiar to Wellingtonians. USS AMERICAN LEGION (AP-35) and USS NEVILLE (AP-16) berthed at Aotea Quay. Two days later, the NEVILLE's sister ship USS FULLER (AP -14) and USS McCAWLEY (AP-10) arrived and the next day USS HUNTER LIGGETT (AP-27), a sister ship to AMERICAN LEGION. These 5 ships arrived virtually empty having unloaded the bulk of their cargo at Tonga but they did carry a number trucks, jeeps and landing craft.
Vice Admiral R H Ghormley had been appointed Commander South Pacific Area and most of his staff arrived in Wellington on the former trans Atlantic liner AMERICA renamed USS WESTPOINT (AP- 25) on 31 May 1942.
The first Marine units arrived on USS BELLATRIX (AK-20) from Norfolk, Virginia on 3 June 1942 followed by the DELBRASIL on 8 June. Three days later a further group arrived on USS ELECTRA (AK-21). All vessels carried large cargoes of trucks, bulldozers, guns, ammunition, petrol and landing craft.
Wakefield ex Manhatten
On a cold grey morning of 14 June, a large two funnelled liner berthed at Kings Wharf. The decks of USS WAKEFIELD were lined with over 6000 marines of the 1st Echelon of the 1st Marine Division.
Click on the following link to see the arrival of WAKEFIELD and hear an interview with a marine who arrived in Wellington on that ship. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j__gXJpnd_
Aotea Quay L - R BARNETT , LIBRA and FOMALHAULT
USS FOMALHAULT (AK-22) and LIPCOMBE LYKES arrived at the end of the month with more cargo and on 11 July the 2nd Echelon arrived in a convoy of ships. These were USS JOHN ERICSSON, USS BARNETT (AP-11), USS GEORGE F ELLIOTT (AP-13), USS JUPITER (AK-43), USS ALCYONE (AK-24), USS ALCHIBA (AK-23), USS LIBRA (AK-53), and USS MIZAR (AF-12).
John Ericsson exKungsholm
To make room for these ships, those attack transports and cargo ships already loaded moved into the stream, some with troops embarked. USS HEYWOOD (AP-6) arrived on 16 July from Noumea to become part of an attack force that was being assembled in Wellington.
On 22 July Task Force 62 sailed from Wellington for Guadalcanal. The following vessels made up that convoy:-
FULLER, AMERICAN LEGION, BELLATRIX, McCAWLEY, BARNETT, GEORGE F ELLIOTT, LIBRA, HUNTER LIGGETT, ALCHIBA, FOMALHAULT, NEVILLE and HEYWOOD. They were accompanied by the following escort ships:- HMAS AUSTRALIA, HMAS CANBERRA, HMAS HOBART, CHICAGO (CA-29), SALT LAKE CITY (CA-25), PATTERSON (DD-392) and RALPH TALBOT (DD-390) which were joined in the next few days by JARVIS (DD-393), SELFRIDGE (DD-359), MUGFORD (DD-389), HENLEY (DD-391), BLUE (DD-387), BAGLEY (DD-386) and HELM (DD-388).
Before leaving Wellington the heavy cruisers CHICAGO & SALT LAKE CITY both launched their Curtis Floatplanes. One of the aircraft flew across Cook Strait and landed on Kenepuru Sound opposite The Portage. No reason for the flight is known but at the time the Marlborough Sounds were being looked at as a possible Fleet anchorage, so probably the opportunity was taken to make use of the aircraft off these cruisers for a quick aerial reconnaissance of the whole area.
Many of the above vessels suffered damage during the landings at Guadalcanal from the Japanese forces and the transport GEORGE F ELLIOT was sunk.
George F Elliott(AP-13)
Secrecy was important to the war effort and US servicemen were warned not to divulge any information relative to ships, movements or operations. One who did mention casually to his girlfriend a departure date for practice landing was tried by a US Navy Court-martial and received a severe sentence. The Wellington Harbourmaster, Captain P S Peterson, refused to attend the regular Harbour Board meetings because of questions from Board members about ship movements.
After the bulk of the division had sailed for Guadalcanal, the next arrivals were on the BLOEMFONTEIN which arrived on 3rd August 1942. Most of these men sailed for the Solomon Islands on 26 August on FULLER which had returned after the initial landings.
Major camps in Wellington were established at MacKay's Crossing, Pauatahanui, Judgeford, Paremata, TitahiBay, Trentham, Waterloo, Hutt Park, Gracefield, Stokes Valley, Kaiwharra, Anderson Park, Oriental Bay BoatHarbour, Central Park, Hataitai, Johnsonville and Takapu Road.
After the landings in Guadalcanal by the 1st Marine Division the supply of material obtained in New Zealandwas carried out by USS ROAMER (AF-19), USS TALAMANCA (AF-15), CYGNUS (AF-23), DELPHINUS (AF-24), TAURUS (AF-25). They were joined by a number of small New Zealand ships which were requisitioned by the New Zealand Government.
October 1942 saw the arrival in Wellington on the first of many visits by USS PRESIDENT JACKSON (AP-37), USS PRESIDENT HAYES (AP-39), USS PRESIDENT ADAMS (AP-38) and USS CRESCENT CITY (AP-40). These fours vessels were regular visitors to Wellington and Auckland until 1944 and during this time often carried New Zealand servicemen. They were all C3-AP & C type vessels as were POLK, MONROE and DELBRASIL
During the later part of 1942, almost every ship calling at Wellington had on board LCVP and LCN landing craft which became a very common sight on Wellington Harbour during the build up to the departure of the 2nd Marine Division.
Men of the 2nd Marine Division began arriving in Wellington in November 1942 on MATSONIA, MORMACPORT, BRASTAGI, AGUIPRINCE, PRESIDENT MONROE and WELTEVREDEN.
Typical of many troop transports, the MORMACPORT was a C3 type merchant ship converted to troop carrying by the installation of three-high steel bunks in the 'tween decks, with very basic toilet and washing facilities housed in wooden erections on deck. There were limited galley facilities and fresh water supplies were really inadequate for the 2000 men they were designed to carry. The anti-aircraft armament was supplemented by the anti-aircraft guns the troops carried.
The French liner ILE DE FRANCE arrived on 26 December 1942 with 9000 troops on board but they were only allowed ashore for a route march as they sailed for Bombay the following day.
The Liberty ship PETER H BURNETT bought cargo to Wellington from United States on 30 December 1942 and then proceeded to Australia to load wool. She left Newcastle for San Francisco on 21 January 1943 and was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-21 south of Lord Howe Island the following day. This was one of I-21's successes. On 18 January she sank the Union Company KALINGO 110 miles from Sydney en-route to New Plymouth, 21 hours later the American tanker MOBILEUBE was damaged and shortly afterwards the Australian IRON KNIGHT was sunk. The activity of the Japanese submarines continued until June 1943 and 11 ships were sunk off the Australian east coast including Union Company's LIMERICK, the Australian Hospital Ship CENTAUR with heavy loss of life and the US Tank Landing ship LST-469 which had sailed from Wellington a few days earlier.
The heavy cruiser LOUISVILLE (CA-28) arrived in Wellington on 17 March 1943 from Havannah Harbour, New Hebrides for crew leave and repairs remaining until 3 April. Apart from visit by SALT LAKE CITY and CHICAGO the previous year, this was the only visit by major warships during the war period although a large number of destroyers made regular calls.
A strange convey arrived on 22 April 1943 consisting of 5 Landing Ship Tank (LST). They were the first to arrive in New Zealand and sailed some days later for Australia to be followed the next month by another 9.
By June 1943, marine units in the Wellington Area were at full strength and fit. They were practising landings on the beaches of the Kapiti coast. Four ships, CRESCENT CITY, GEORGE CLYMER, HUNTER LIGGETT and AMERICAN LEGION were anchored just south of Kapiti Island conducting full scale landing exercises on 20 June. The landings included of live firing from shore, New Zealand warships HMNZS RATA and Fairmiles 400 and 403 patrolling to seaward as a submarine screen and RNZAF Kittyhawk aircraft from Woodbourne, Vincent aircraft from Rongotai and Harvard aircraft from Ohakea. The weather deteriorated with a gale, on-shore north westerly wind. Overnight a LCM broached and sank. 9 men were reported to have lost their lives although unconfirmed reports say the loss of life was much higher. In March 2009 Kathy Butcher supplied the following information. Her grandfather, H C Winfrey, was the only officer on the landing craft and was lost in the accident. The landing craft ran ashore onto a sand bank and was being towed back to the AMERICAN LEGION. The commanding officer of the ship said they were to remain on board the landing craft even though the seas were very rough. A large wave washed some of the men overboard and according to reports 13 men died. The landing craft did not sink.
Other training areas used in 1943 were at Port Underwood and on the Mahia Peninsula.
Click on the following link to see video clips of training exercises on Wellington Harbour. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQY-fVMAHiE
At midday on 1st November 1943, Wellington Harbour, which had been full of ships earlier that morning, was virtually empty. A whole division of marines had departed. They were part of Operation Galvanic – the invasion of Tarawa – and formed the Southern group of a convoy which consisted of 18 attack transports, 11 attack cargo ships, 7 merchant cargo ships, 38 LST's and 2 dock landing ships. They had between them 35,000 troops of the 2nd Marine Division and 27th Army Division. The supporting ships were made up of 13 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 4 aircraft carriers, 4 light carriers, 4 jeep carriers, 1 carrier transport, 56 destroyers, 14 destroyer escorts, 3 minesweepers and 10 submarines.
The following ships embarked the bulk of the Division in Wellington:-
MONROVIA (APA-13), SHERIDAN (APA-51), HEYWOOD (APA-6), DOYEN (APA-1), VIRGO (AKA-20), LA SALLE (AP-102), ZEILIN (APA-3), ARTHUR MIDDLETON (APA-25), WILLIAM P BIDDLE (APA-8), HARRY LEE (APA-10), THUBAN (AKA-19), HARRIS (APA-2), ORMSBY (APA-49), J FRANKLIN BELL (APA-16), FELAND (APA-11) and BELLATRIX (AKA-3). They were escorted from Wellington by destroyers BAILEY (DD-492), FRAZIER (DD-607), GANSEVOORT (DD-608), MEADE (DD-602), RUSSELL (DD-414) and ANDERSON (DD-411).
For the next few months Wellington continued to be used as a stores base and the floating dock was used continuously for repairs as were facilities in Auckland and occasionally Lyttelton and Port Chalmers. By the end of February 1944 Wellington had nearly returned to normal.
Abbreviations used to describe ships are:-
AF Store Ship
AK Cargo Ship
AKA Attack Cargo Ship
APA Attack Transport
APH Transport fitted for evacuation of wounded
CA Heavy Cruiser
The island nature of so much of the Pacific war gave rise to a whole array of landing craft. Most of the different types were at Wellington and some at Auckland. The troop carrying vessels ranged from small craft like the LCP or the LVT, which could crawl right up on the beach to the 200 man LCI.
LVP - Landing Craft - Personnel
LVT - Landing Vehicle Tracked
The LCVP was big enough to carry a jeep as well as men, while the LCM and the LCT conveyed bulldozers, medium tanks and heavy trucks ashore.
LCVP - Landing Craft Vehicle & Personnel
LCM Landing Craft Mechanised
All of these vessels were drawfed by the ocean going vessels, the LST and LSD. One of the most effective work horses, the LST carrried everything from troops and tanks to cargo and landing craft. The biggest of all the vessels was the LSD which had space for troops, landing craft up to LCT in size and could double as a repair ship. It is unknown if any LSD's called at New Zealand although the first one built ASHLAND (LSD-1) was on its way to Wellington in 1943 when it was diverted to Efate. It had on board the first Sherman tanks to be used bu the marines in action.
LST - Landing Ship Tank
LSD - Landing Ship Dock
This image drawn to scale of the craft dipicted above.