Saturday, July 18, 2009

The guns of Te Atatu

In a new essay Mark Williams argues that, because Chinese New Zealanders haven't fitted into the settler-colonised dialectic which continues to obsess both Pakeha and Maori, they have often been treated as an alien and threatening 'Other' by their fellow citizens. But if the Chinese communities which have existed in New Zealand since the 1850s have been a visible Other - an internal threat - then the Japanese people have often seemed like a distant, mysterious Other - an external threat made all the more menacing by its apparent absence from New Zealand society.

For Pakeha New Zealanders in the first half of the twentieth century, there was also something worryingly inconsistent about the Japanese. On the one hand, they were a non-European, 'inferior' people, whose poor hygiene and ferocious sexual appetites might imperil civilisation. On the other hand, the Japanese could not, like the Chinese or the Polynesians, be dismissed as a technologically 'backward' race. Japan's industrial revolution in the early decades of the twentieth century and its swift conquest of much of Southeast Asia and Oceania in the months after the attack on Pearl Harbour upset key premises of the Eurocentric worldview which Pakeha New Zealanders held dear.

The very absence of a Japanese minority within New Zealand society made the Empire of the Rising Sun seem a more extreme threat. During both the First and Second World Wars, New Zealanders were able to expiate some of the guilt they felt for defeats on faraway battlefields by attacking shops run by men with German accents and names, and by throwing whole families of Huns into an internment camp on Somes Island. Some of the enemy, at least, could be seen to be less than fearsome. The Japanese, by contrast, remained an unknown quantity on the home front during the Second World War. As their armies advanced from one country to another, overwhelming supposedly impregnable forts like Singapore, rumours of their ruthlessness and invincibility spread through Australasia.

By 1942 the Japanese were bombing Darwin and sending submarines into Sydney harbour, and yet New Zealand's best soldiers were fighting and dying in the Mediterranean. In the rural areas of the North Island, expecially, men were rushing to sign up to the Home Guard and drill with broomstick rifles at improvised bases. Women wrote angry letters to newspapers, demanding the right to fight and die alongside the men. This epistle was published in the Dominion in February 1942, and republished in Nancy Taylor's history of the war effort at home:

There are hundreds of women living alone, carrying on farm work, business, etc., who have gladly dug their own slit trench; some are first class shots, but their only weapon of defence against paratroops is the wood axe...Give the women weapons, they can fight. The Japanese will never have the chance to take the women and children alive. The disorientation caused by Japan's victories was reflected in the sudden emergence of the Awake New Zealand movement in 1942. At a series of mass meetings which began in the Waikato and spread throughout provincial New Zealand, farmers, housewives, and small businessmen condemned the betrayal of the war effort by lazy Wellington bureaucrats, self-interested industrialists, disloyal trade unions, and conscientious objectors. Invoking the examples of Cromwell's New Model Army and the Yugoslav partisans defying Hitler, the movement's leaders demanded he confiscation of all property that could aid the war effort and the conversion of all industry to arms production. Awake New Zealand was an exercise in group therapy, not a political movement - by convincing themselves that New Zealand could defeat the Japanese alone, if only the nation pulled together and defeated its internal enemies, Pakeha New Zealanders attempted to banish the spectre of Japanese racial superiority from their minds.

New Zealand's vulnerability was emphasised in the middle of 1942, when a float plane launched from a Japanese submarine flew low over Auckland taking photos of the city. In a mischevious faux-documentary poem, Kendrick Smithyman imagined the reaction to the lone invader:

Ships in port and ack-ack batteries
argued about him. Eventually, hotheads won,
they phoned in to report a Japanese float plane,
requested permission to open fire. Denied.
More telephoning, site to battery, battery to regiment,
regiment to Area to Combined HQ to Wellington.
On Tuesday Wellington ordered "Shoot Mr Nakamura
out of our skies."


In fact, Auckland lacked a single anti-aircraft gun in the middle of 1942. The passage of the float plane helped convince the government to step up its preparations for the defence of the country against invasion, and soon thousands of guns were being distributed to the Home Guard, bomb shelters were being dug in the towns, harbour entrances were being strewn with submarine nets and seeded with mines, and huge guns were being aimed at the empty sky. A crack group of veteran possum hunters and deer trackers were formed into a secret army called the Guide Platoons, and instructed to wage guerrilla warfare from a string of well-resourced hideouts deep in the hinterland of the North and South Islands.

By the end of the war, New Zealand was suffering from an extreme shortage of housing - for years, almost all building materials had been given over to preparations for an invasion which never occurred. But these meticulous and desperate preparations were seldom mentioned in the postwar decades. Gun emplacements became overgrown, tunnel complexes were allowed to leak and cave, and the locations of the Guide Platoons' bush redoubts were lost. When an Auckland businessman proposed the commercial use of the labyrinth of bomb shelters and tunnels under Albert Park in the early nineties, there was at first widespread scepticism about the very existence of the underground complex. In recent years, archaeologists and military historians have 'discovered' tank traps and other anti-invasion infrastructure in areas like Kawhia and the Waitakeres, where regenerating forests and landslides hid the work of the Home Guard for decades. The deep pits and brick walls might almost have been the remains of some ancient, inscrutable civilisation.

The neglect of the material legacy of the preparations for Japanese invasion reflects the desire to forget a trauma. For Pakeha New Zealanders, the advance of the Japanese through the Pacific represented the first challenge to their control of New Zealand since the conclusion of the Land Wars in the early 1870s. It was a threat which seemed to appear from nowhere, and which disappeared quickly enough to be dismissed as a passing nightmare. Now, sixty-seven years after a Japanese float plane buzzed over Auckland, Waitakere City Council has acted to preserve the remains of the five gun emplacements that were built on the Te Atatu peninsula in 1943 and 1944. The guns were serviced and operated by a force of scores of men, and were part of a network that covered the skies of Auckland; in the years after the war, though, they were quickly forgotten. By the late fifties, when the new northwest motorway had brought hundreds of commuters out to live on Te Atatu peninsula, the guns had been removed, and the emplacements and storage rooms had been overwhelmed by squadrons of blackberry bushes.

Over the past decade, developers of varying degrees of scrupulousness have supplemented the traditional working class suburb of Te Atatu with an upmarket neighbourhood of pretentious but leaky houses that that face across the water toward the Sky Tower. The gun emplacements were rediscovered during this construction work, and have been incorporated into the coastal reserve that runs alongside the peninsula's newest and most expensive homes. Each emplacement has been fenced off, to keep out the pot smokers and grafitti artists, and a large sign has been erected giving the history of the site. The preservation of the Te Atatu gun emplacements reflects the enthusiasm of property developers and their friends on the City Council for the 'character' that acknowledged history can give to an area. On the shoreline beyond the emplacements exotic flora are being purged, and the few kanuka and cabbage trees left over from the farms that once covered the peninsula are being carefully tended. The developers have even departed from their custom of giving new streets French and Italian names, and called the strip of tar that runs beside the old emplacements Gunner Drive. A little history, they hope, is good for business. Their grandfathers may not be so eager to remember.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. The houses in your picture do not leak.

2. Wild rabbits live in one of those gun emplacements.

12:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would layabout liberals like Maps have fought the Japs in '42, or run off to a neutral country like Sweden?

11:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The United States planned to invade Auckland almost a century ago if the emerging superpower had gone to war with Japan, then a British ally, a US intelligence document reveals.

The document includes intelligence reports on North Head, Fort Takapuna and Mt Victoria. It recommends the Manukau Harbour as the best invasion point.

The plan involved landing heavy guns on Rangitoto Island to shell forts on the North Shore.

Although the document was declassified by US authorities in 1972, little has been reported up to now. Military historian Peter Corbett has published an article in the February 2002 edition of Forts and Works, a specialist military historian journal.

"To the best of my knowledge it hasn't been reported by the media, probably because they don't know about it," says Mr Corbett, who is convinced of the document's authenticity.

The document - titled: Naval War Plan for the Attack of Auckland, New Zealand - includes information on the water supply, public transport network and climate.

Mr Corbett says the intelligence report was compiled by the US at a time when Great Britain and Japan were allied by a treaty.
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The US and Japan had potentially conflictig interests in the Pacific, he says.

"They realised that if it had come to war then they would have had to fight in these regions," he says.

And if the US had gone to war with Japan, Great Britain could have been dragged in on the side of Japan. The ports of New Zealand and Australia would then be important strategic bases, Mr Corbett says.

Intelligence for the report was gathered during the visit of the Great White Fleet to Auckland over six days in August of 1908.

The fleet included 16 state-of-the-art battleships and visited Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Manila and Yokohama during its time in the South East Pacific.

"Basically it was a classic `stick this in your face'. It was a demonstration to the Japanese," he says.

Conservation Department historian and archaeologist David Veart says the document was produced at a time when there was a fear of the "Yellow Peril".

"A conflict in the Pacific between Japan and America was going to happen at some stage.

"The Americans were playing out war game scenarios with the British all over the globe."

Mr Corbett obtained the document from a US military historian after coming across references to the report in other documents.

"I've always been fascinated by warships and I grew up as a boy in Devonport and I suppose it had to get to me in the end," Mr Corbett says.

The American Consulate General's office was contacted to verify the document but said it does not have "any historical expertise in this area".

The North Shore Times has now contacted the Naval Historical Centre and National Archives and Records in the US and is awaiting a reply.

11:24 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See a pattern here?

1999 invasion of Dagestan, Russia by Chechen fighters.
1999 invasion of India by the Pakistan Army, the paramilitary Northern Light Infantry, and other irregulars
1998 invasion of Ethiopia by Eritrea
1994 invasion of Haiti by a multinational force (MNF) led by the United States
1993 invasion of Spratly Islands by Vietnam
1991 invasion of Kuwait and southern Iraq by a coalition force of 34 nations led by the United States
1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq
1989 invasion of Liberia launched from Côte d'Ivoire by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia
1989 invasion of Panama by the United States
1988 invasion of Spratly Islands by Vietnam
1983 invasion of Grenada by the United States and allied Caribbean nations
1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel
1982 invasion of Falkland Islands initially by Argentine civilians, followed by official Argentina forces
1980 invasion of Iran by Iraq
1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union
1979–1988 invasions of Thailand by Vietnam
1979 invasion of Northern Vietnam by China
1979 invasion of Uganda by Tanzania and Ugandan exiles
1978 invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam, with Soviet support
1978 invasion of Tanzania by Uganda
1978 invasion of Lebanon by Israel
1977 invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam
1977 invasion of Ethiopia by Somalia and Western Somali Liberation Front irregulars
1976 invasion of Paracel Islands by Vietnam
1975 invasion of East Timor by Indonesia
1975 invasion of Spanish Sahara by Morocco
1975 invasion of Poulo Wai Island by Vietnam
1975 invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam
1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey
1974 invasion of Paracel Islands by South Vietnam
1973 Invasion of Israel by Egypt and Syria
1972 invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam
1971 invasion of East Pakistan by India
1971 invasion of Laos by South Vietnam
1970 invasion of Cambodia by the United States and South Vietnam
1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact led by the Soviet Union
1968 invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam
1967 invasions of Biafra by Nigeria
1967 invasions of Nigeria by Biafra
1967 invasion of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan by Israel
1965 invasion of Pakistan by India
1965 invasion of India by Pakistan Army and irregulars
1965 invasion of Dominican Republic by United States and OAS
1964 invasion of the Turkish Cypriot Enclave Kokkina by Cyprus and Greece
1962 invasions of South Vietnam by the United States
1961 invasion of Netherlands New Guinea by Indonesia
1961 invasion of Goa by India
1961 invasion of Cuba by Cuban allies of the United States, particularly its CIA
1958 invasion of Laos by North Vietnam
1956 invasion of Hungary by the Soviet Union
1956 invasion of Egypt by France, United Kingdom and Israel
[show]v • d • eKorean War

11:32 am  
Blogger maps said...

No.

2:59 pm  
Blogger Edward said...

...?...aaanyway, interesting post maps, it is interesting how these historic features become 'attractions' for developments. I'm not sure what exactly I think about it. Perhaps the ends justify the means here? Anyway, I remember last year doing a heritage management plan on North Head, and it was interesting to read previous research which mentioned the social contexts surroundings the various defenses, including the "Russian Scares". Seems like many of the defenses are tied up with public hysteria/paranoia, though i'm sure strategy played at least some part.

6:56 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

North Vietnam didn't invade South Vietnam ! Virtually the whole of the people of Vietnam were united in a war against the US with few pro US Catholics, collaborators, and others who fled to the south collaborators! etc The division of both Korea and Vietnam were perpetrated by the US (and in Vietnam) the French invaders. This list is meaningless.

1:50 am  
Blogger Samuel said...

"This list is meaningless."

Yup - copypasted directly from Wikipedia's "List of invasions" to boot. It's not even *original* cryptic nonsense.

10:01 am  
OpenID objectdart said...

whaaaat?! but i saw a distinct pattern.

someone, invaded, someone else.

now there's a conspiracy that would give fox mulder a woody.

3:58 pm  
Blogger bathmate said...

I liked it.
Bathmate

10:35 am  
Anonymous Graeme said...

I have just read the interesting but incorrect story about the
"Guns" at TeAtatu.As a youngster living about 60 yards
away from the site of the Emplacements I vividly remember
the excavations being done. It would be interesting if a gunner could be found who "manned" the none existant guns. History should not be distorted !
Graeme. HAWLEY


5:19 pm  

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