Topic: Battle of the Kaimais (October 1942)

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Kaimai Range Army Exercise: In the midst of World War II the Army staged large-scale tactical maneuvers in the Kaimai Ranges from 21-27 October 1942 to prepare soldiers for the bush conditions they might experience in New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.

Based upon a theoretical Japanese invasion of New Guinea, the Army made use of the Wairere Track in the Kaimai Range in what became known as the 'Battle of the Kaimais'. The exercise was remembered by Charles William Vennell (1900-1996) on 12 September 1975 in his foreword to the book 'The Wairere Track' by Alister Matheson:

The Second World War brought further opportunities to improve my scanty knowledge of this difficult piece of country. In October, 1942, in order to give the 3rd Division a taste of the bush conditions before moving on to New Caledonia and the Solomons, the Army staged an exercise based on the Japanese invasion of New Guinea. The 8th Brigade, to which I was temporarily attached, moved inland up the Wairere Track - renamed for the time being, the "Kododa Trail". To carry the heavy supply trucks, Brengun carries and jeeps, parts of the track were widened and "corduroyed" with timber cut from the bush on either side.

My presence with the Brigade was based (not very securely) on the Brigadier's assumption that I knew something about this country. To the very little I did know at that stage, I was to add quite a lot more before it was all over. I found myself attached as an umpire to a patrol sent into the bush to probe the "enemy's" positions on the far side of the range.

The patrol leader's instructions were to follow the Tuhi Track, which branches off the Wairere route at the western end of the third clearing. Like good soldiers we crossed the range as ordered, mostly in pouring rain, and camped in the bush after a sumptuous dinner of bread and jam, which the "Q" people had so thoughtfully provided.

Returning to the Tuhi clearing next morning, we followed an appalling, roughly by parallel track, ordered to be cut, on a compass bearing, from the Okauia side, by someone with much to learn about bush navigation. It bought us late that afternoon, soaked and weary, into the heavily-bushed gorges at the headwaters of the Wai-te-Ariki Stream. We found no "enemy", but half the platoon - city boys who had never seen the bush before - decided that they had had enough, preferring the disgrace of becoming "prisoners of war" to the ordeal of returning by the way we had come. Incessant rain, the rough going, lack of nourishing food and little or no sleep had brought us all nearly to the point of exhaustion. We were fortunate that there were no real Japs in the bush.

Sale wrote about the 'Battle of the Kaimais' in 1945 in 'Shovel, Sword and Scalpel': 

It was our first manoeuvre with our newly acquired American transport, and the tough country, and appalling weather conditions gave the vehicles a solid week's trial. Despite the mud and wet and cold we took time off from complaining to be impressed by what the jeep and the four-by-four truck fitted with a winch could accomplish. Our drivers thoroughly enjoyed the experience of carting patients and supplies up and down seemingly impossible slopes, through swirling creeks and along tracks with mud well over the wheels of the vehicles. For the manoeuvre we had air support from the RNZAF, and the most notable feature of this was the dropping of supplies (and rum) by parachute to the weary forward patrols of the battalions. The exercise was a good one and we learned much from it.

In 1947 Bioletti wrote about the exercise in 'Pacific Kiwis':

The 'battle of the Kaimais' was devised as an exercise to bring out the lessons of supply, the tactical side being a secondary one. The Kaimai mountains were chosen as a venue most likely to simulate jungle conditions. Rain fell for the greater part of the six days in the hills, and greatcoats, battledresses, blankets and bread were saturated alike. Fires ringed with infanteers burned throughout the night and caked the mud into one's clothes. The issue of a tot of rum in the evening was doubly welcome, for sleep was well nigh impossible. Water and food, rations consisting mainly of bully beef and biscuits, were hand carried up the greasy, jungle-like slopes. It was an exercise that tried one's endurance but nevertheless it was one from which the men felt they had learned something. On the seventh day, 28 October, the troops returned to the racecourse camp, It was on this day that a battalion advanced party left for an overseas destination. 

Gillespie wrote in 1952:

In selecting this tract of wooded country Barrowclough had in mind the situation then existing in New Guinea, where the Japanese, after their reverse in the Coral Sea, were attempting to invade Port Moresby overland by crossing the Owen Stanley Ranges from Lae and Salamaua.

Row's 8 Brigade, made up of 29 Battalion, 23 Field Company Engineers,4 Composite Company ASC, 7 Field Ambulance and two home defence units, 1 Auckland and a Home Guard battalion from the Tauranga area, represented a Japanese force advancing through Tauranga; potter's 14 Brigade consisting of 30, 35, and 37 Battalions, 20 Field CompanyEngineers, 16 Composite Company ASC, and 22 Field Ambulance moved into the ranges from Matamata to meet the enemy. Advanced Headquarters opened at Opal Springs, a bucolic spot near the foothills where trees enclosed a warm water pool, appointed umpires and watched results. 

This exercise was made as realistic as possible, its object being to practise the protection of supply convoys, the movement of infantry patrols through bush, communications, the organisation of medical services and other problems of administration. Air co-operation and air support played an important part. Hostile aircraft, dropping flour bombs, were represented by Hudson bombers escorted by Kittyhawk fighters, with Hawker Hind reconnaissance planes playing for the defenders, all of them coming from aerodromes at Tauranga and Whenuapai during the hours of daylight to engage in mock dive-bombing raids and to reconnoitre the positions of the opposing forces.

Heavy rain fell soon after the manœuvres began and continued in torrents, adding considerably to the realism of jungle warfare but without its enervating heat. Conditions in the bush rapidly deteriorated and were such that patrols from the two forces which evaded each other were so exhausted they made no show of resistance when captured but simply asked for food.

 

Sources:

Bioletti, H. L. (1947). Pacific Kiwis: Being the Story of the Service in the Pacific of the 30th Battalion, Third Division, Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Reed Publishing (p. 36).

Gillespie, Oliver A. (1952). The Pacific. In The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-1945. (pp. 84-87).

Matheson, Alister (1975). The Wairere Track: Ancient Highway of Maori and Missionary. Tauranga, New Zealand: Publicity Printing (pp. 4-5).

Newell, Reg (2015). Pacific Star: 3NZ Division in the South Pacific in World War IIExisle Publishing (Chapter 7).

Sale, E. V. (1945). Shovel, Sword and Scalpel: a Record of Sevice of Medical Units of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Pacific. Reed Publishing (p. 22 & photograph of a field ambulance jeep on a road hacked out of the bush by engineers).

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