Tag Archives: New Caledonia

Quiet French Backwater, for now

80 Years Ago Today: Royal Australian Navy Bathurst-class corvette, HMAS Mildura (J-207) steams around the harbor at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 17 June 1942. Note her camouflage design.

Mildura, just 650 tons and 186 feet oal, would spend her career in anti-submarine patrols and convoy duties, ending WWII intact, and be decommissioned on 11 September 1953. (U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-20798)

As noted by James D. Hornfischer in his epic work, Neptune’s Inferno, chronicling the U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, the defeat of the Japanese at Midway in early June 1942 spoiled a planned expansion (Operation FS) of the Empire’s war gains to include not only Fiji and Samoa but the sparsely defended (only a single armed ship, the converted banana freighter Cap des Palmes, was on station) French territory of New Caledonia, which had declared in favor of De Gaulle and the Allies rather than the Vichy government.

As it was, just after getting the word from a British coastwatcher in Guadalcanal that the Japanese were building an airstrip on the largest island in the Solomon chain in July, VADM Robert L. Ghormley would move his headquarters from Pearl Harbor to New Caledonia to oversee Operation Watchtower, the Guadalcanal campaign.

The 1903 Model Signal ‘Gun’

Submitted for your consideration, a Navy signal outpost on New Caledonia, January 1943. A convoy of sailors en-route to water and supplies, guide their horses over a mountain trail. Note the M1903 Springfields over their shoulders and a curious-looking hand cannon held by the first rider.


Next, Navy signalmen arrive on pack horses at an outpost signal tower on New Caledonia during World War II. The French “Tricolor” flag and the “Fighting French” ensign are flying from the landlocked mast.


A closer look at those bluejackets…

Shows the unmistakable sign of a Model 1903 Signal Lamp.

This thing:

Lot 9706-16 U.S. Navy sailor holding a 1903 model night signal gun, circa WWI

The more you know…