World War II Pacific Island Territories: New Caledonia


Figure 1.--This is a World War II era era photograph of New Caledonia boys eating sugar cane. It was taken by a GI. Inscribed at the back of photo: "June 1942. Pam, New Caledonia. Native children sucking on sugar cane". This was a few months before the Marines landed on Guadacanl, launching the Solomons campaign. The French island of New Caledonia became an esential naval base during the fierce naval battles fought in and around the Solomons.

New Caledonia was one of several French terrioties in the South Pacific. Luckily for the French, they were located just outside the area the Japanese managed to seize after Pearl Harbor. After Midway, the United states had just enough naval power to prevent the Japanese from reaching the French islands. One of the most important was the relatively large island of New Caledonia. It was located south of Guadacanal and 680 miles northeast of Sydney. The island was not a typical South Pacific island. It had important nickel and chromium mines and much of the output was exported to Japan before the War. About 1,300 Japanese nationals worked the mines. When World War II began in Europe (1939), the Japanese increased their orders, apparently anticipating that supplies might be cut off. The island was added to the Japanese objectives, both because of the mines and the strategic location. The islands could play a very important role in severing the sea lanes between Australia and the United States. The Japanese offensive to seize the islands were part of the FS Operation and included the seisure of Fiji and the Samoa Islands. Cut off from America and with its Army in North Africa, the Japanese believed that Australia would be forced to surrender. The FS Operation, however, required Japanese naval dominance and Midway (June 1942) had significantly altered the balance of naval forces. New Caledonia played a major in the Solomons campaign. Noumea and the southern tip of the island, became the principal American base for the naval operations that were fought to protect the Marines who seized Guadacanal (August 1942). Nomea proved to have just enough facilities to keep Enteprise patched up after it became the single operational American carrier. After the Americans began moving up the Solomon Islands toward Rabaul, New Caledonia became a remote, but important rear area of the War.

The Islands

Thetre are several French terrioties in the South Pacific. One of the most important was the relatively large island group of New Caledonia. The group consists of the main island of New Caledonia which is actuall one of the larger Pacific Ocean. The archipelago also includes the Iles Loyaute and many small, sparsely populated islands and atolls. The major islands are not volcamic on origin, but rather broke off from what is now Ausralia. It is located south of Guadacanal and 680 miles northeast of Sydney. The island was not a typical South Pacific island. It had important nickel and chromium mines and much of the output was exported to Japan before the War. About 1,300 Japanese nationals worked the mines. When World War II began in Europe (1939), the Japanese increased their orders, apparently anticipating that supplies might be cut off.

French Colony

The British-sounding name was given by Royal Navy explorer Captain James Cook was saw similarities with the Scottish highlands. Both the British and French settled New Caledonia in the erly 19th century. They began seizing land from the native Melanesian people, called Kanaks. The French seized control (1853). It was part of Emperor Napoleon III's effort to compete with the Britishbin colonial possessions. The French used it largely as a penal colony. They are believed to have sent about 22,000 convicted felons to penal colonies along the south-west coast of New Caledonia. This included both criminals in addition to a small number of political prisoners. This included Parisian socialists and Kabyle nationalists. A Kanak revolt in 1878 claimed more than 1,000 lives and heralded further repression by the French rulers. Gradually the penal transports declined. Some free European settlers as well as the former convicts settled on the island. The French also cotracted Asian contract workers, including some Japanese. The indigenous Kanak populations was substantially reduced by lack of resistance to European disases. The French established an apartheid-like system called Code de l'Indigénat. This severly restricted their life style, freedom of movement, and land ownership. France after falling to the NAZIS (June 1940) became a neutral under the Vichy regime. By the time of Pearl Harbor, however, the French South Pacific colonies of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and the New Hebrides had joined the Free French. They thus become vital Allied bases. New Caledonia was particularly important because of its size and the fact the capital and main port of Nomea had facilities built to servive the substantial vessels carrying nickel ore. These proved vital to service hard-pressed Allied naval vessels.

Japanese Offensive (December 1941-June 1942)

The Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor imobilized the American Pacific fleet. Pearl Harbor was in actuality a blessing in disguise. If the American battle fleet has sailed out to meet the Japanese on the highseas, the losses would have probably been astronomically higher. At any case, the American fleet was imobilized. And it was the only powerful military force in the Pacific capable of resisting the Japanese. What followed was a series of Japanese offensives that meeted out one defeat after another to the Allies. Most shocking of all was the fall of Singapore (February 1942). It was thought to be an impreginable British fortress. The Japanese seized their primary goal, the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies (March 1942). The Americans in the Phillippnes held out a little longer (April 1942). (Corregidor held out until May.) The Japanese rapidly moved through the DEI although the number os islands slowed them somewhat. The Japanese then moved on New Guinea and suceeded in seizing almost all of the island.

Coral Sea (May 1942)

The Japanese dispached a naval task force to mount an amphibious landing to seize Port Moresby. Alerted by American code breakes, Admiral Nimitz ordered two carriers to the Coral Sea to intercept the Japanese. They did so, sinking a light carrier. The Japanese troop transports turned back. The first important reversal suffered by the Japanese in the War. In the ensuing naval action, The U.S. Navy lost Lexington and Yorktown was seriously damaged, but they suceeded in putting two Japanese fleet carriers out of action. The American carriers thus prevented the completion of that conquest by seizing Port Moresby (April 1942). Luckily for the French, they were located just outside the area the Japanese managed to seize. The United states had just enough naval power to prevent the Japanese from reaching the French islands.

FS Operation

The island was added to the Japanese objectives, both because of the mines and the strategic location. The islands could play a very important role in severing the sea lanes between Australia and the United States. The Japanese offensive to seize the islands were part of the FS Operation and included the seisure of Fiji and the Samoa Islands. Cut off from America and with its Army in North Africa, the Japanese believed that Australia would be forced to surrender. The American carrier action in the Coral Sea forced the Japanse to postpone FS. Rather they decided to first destroy the American carriers at Midway. Then they would return south and complete the conquest of Port Moresby and the islands northeast of Australia. The Japanese did not think that they had sufficent land forces to invade Australia. Most of the Japanese Army was still based in China. They did think that they could seize Port Moresby and ythe islands and thus force Australia to come to terms.

Midway (June 1942)

Admiral Yamamoto decided that despite the fact that two fleet carriers had been put out of action in the Coral Sea, that the remaining four fleet carriers would be sufficent for the Midway operation, especially as Japanese naval intelligence reported that two Ameican carriers had been sunk in the Coral Sea. The Japanese carriers at Pearl Harbor had filed to strike a death blow to the Pacific fleet because the carriers were not there. Yamamoto saw Midway as perhaps his last chance to decisively defeat the United States and force an end to the War.

The South Pacific

The Japanese FS Operation, however, required Japanese naval dominance and Midway (June 1942) had significantly altered the balance of naval forces. To replace the missing carriers, the Japanese decided to build air bases in the southern Solonons which could help disrubt the sea lanes and support possible invasions. This set up the Solomons Campaign.

Solomon Campaign

ew Caledonia played a major in the Solomons campaign. Noumea and the southern tip of the island, became the principal American base for the naval operations that were fought to protect the Marines who seized Guadacanal (August 1942). Nomea proved to have just enough facilities to keep Enteprise patched up after it became the single operational American carrier. After the Americans began moving up the Solomon Islands toward Rabaul, New Caledonia became a remote, but important rear area of the War.






HBC






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Created: 12:05 AM 5/22/2008
Last updated: 6:06 AM 1/31/2009