80 Years Ago Today: NZ Invaded…with Yanks

On 12 June 1942 five transports landed the 145th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army’s 37th Infantry “Buckeye” Division, composed largely of men of the Ohio Army National Guard, at Auckland (after having first reinforced Fiji the month before), complete with wool uniforms and brand-new M1 helmets and M1 Garands as four military bands stood on Prince’s Wharf ready to greet them. New Zealand’s own forces, at the time, some 100,000-strong, were heavily engaged at sea as well as in the Middle East– and London would not let them leave– meaning the country was wide open to Japanese domination.

As noted by the NZ Government today:

As the ships berthed, another interesting exchange occurred. The Americans threw down oranges, cigarettes and money; the waiting Kiwis picked up the gifts and threw back New Zealand coins. When some of the visitors wondered where they were, an American on the wharf, one of the advance guard, told them all they needed to know: ‘No Scotch, two per cent beer, but nice folks.’ Some evidently did know what country they had reached, for the first of the newcomers to land on New Zealand soil was Sergeant Nathan E. Cook, chosen as a namesake of the explorer Captain James Cook.

The 37th would, in April 1943, start moving out for Guadalcanal, and fight its way across the Northern Solomons and Luzon before the war was out, earning 9 unit citations and 7 MOHs. Not a lot of overcoats and fresh milk there.

The next day, 1st Marine Division elements arrived in Wellington aboard USS Wakefield, moving into hastily constructed camp facilities.

In all about 100,000 Americans served in New Zealand, averaging between 15,000 and 45,000, peaking at 48,200 in July 1943, with the numbers declining well below that amount in late 1944. Besides the 37th, the Army’s 25th as well as the Marine 2nd and 3rd Divisions would spend significant time in the islands, with Joes remaining based around Auckland and Devils at Wellington. In addition, many thousands of other American sailors, merchant seamen, made visits to the country.

Dean Cornwell, Have a “Coke” = Kia Ora, c. 1943-1945 (Archives New Zealand, AAAC 898 NCWA Q392)

A memorial to the Americans in NZ during the conflict is located at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington.

It is also noted that American “bedroom commandos” managed to take an estimated 1,500 Kiwi women back to the U.S. as war brides. Thus goes the spoils of war. 

2 comments

  • Wibbly Wobbly Woo

    “London would not let them leave.”

    A slightly barbed comment I think. How many times as the US left others high and dry? The Empire was committed across the globe. You Yanks late to the party once again had extra manpower. You make it sound like NZ was being left alone.

    • The US abandons allies left and right, just ask the White Russians, the South Vietnamese, the Afghans, the Saudis…that’s a well-known fact.

      But that is not the subject of this post.

      And no, the British government at all levels from Churchill on down not only refused to release Australian/NZ troops and ships from the fight against Germany, but also misled those respective governments about sending troops to help them resist the Japanese. Re: https://www.pacificwar.org.au/battaust/Britain_betrays_Australia.html#:~:text=It%20was%20not%20until%20the,a%20Japanese%20invasion%20of%20Australia.

      It was only in 1945 that, with the Germans on the ropes, that the British Pacific Fleet was formed and sent to the Far East, and serious ground combat assets were thrown into the CBI Threate.

      So I stand by it: London wouldn’t let them leave.

      To refute my point, show me instances in 1942 where serious Australian/NZ naval and ground assets were carved out of British control in North Africa/Europe to go back home…

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