** World War II -- island territories Fiji








World War II Pacific Island Territories: Fiji


Figure 1.--Fiji like much of the South Pacific at the time of World War II was little touched by the outside world. Pearl Harbor changed that as a flood of Japanese and American men and material collided in the region. Fiji was targeted by the Japanese, but it was the Americans that arrived on the island in force.

After the initial Japanese offensive following Pearl Harbor, Fiji to the southeast of the Solomons found itself along with New Caledonia and the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) on the front line of the Pacific War. Suva boasted one of the finest natural harbors in the South Pacific--3 miles wide and cutting 2 miles inland. The U.S. Navy chose Nandi Bay for its main advance naval base (JAMPUFF). The Army, Marines, and Navy rushed air, ground , and naval assets to the island. Fiji boasted of one of the few concrete air strips in the South Pacific and more were soon under construction. The Seabees arrived (June 1942). The New Zealanders participated in the build up. Even before the American buildup, Fiji was one of several targets of the Japanese FS Operation designed to seize the French and British South Pacific South Pacific islands east of Australia. This would have severed the sealanes to Australia and New Zealand, cutting them off from America, the first step in conquering both Dominions. Operation FS would have been the next Japanese Pacific offensive after they destroyed the American carriers at Midway. The ensuing Japanese Midway disaster (June 1942), however, significantly reduced the striking power of the Imperial Fleet. Fiji was an important support base for the Matines on Guadalcanal and the ompletion of the of Solomons CArtwheel campaign drawing rings around Rabaul (1942-43). The American Pacific Fleet proved to have just enough naval power to prevent the Japanese from moving beyond the Solomons until new construction would fundamentally change the balance of naval power. In addition, the United States garrisoned Fiji with 10,000 well-equipped Marines. A Japanese invasion would not have faced the small. poorly equipped force they found on Wake and Guam immediately after Pearl Harbor. Fiji soldiers fought with the the Allies in the Pacific campaigns that followed. Fijian soldiers acquired a reputation in the difficult American Solomon Islands campaign. The United States and other Allied countries maintained military installations in Fiji during the War, but after the Solomons campaign, Fiji gradually became a remote rear area used for staging and logistics.

British Colony

The first European to sight the Fiji islands was the Dutch explorer Abel Janzsoon Tasman. He sighted the northeast fringe (1643). Capt. James Cook passed the southeastern islands a centuryb later (1774). The ijfmous Capt. William Bligh traveled through the group in his open longboat after the mutiny on the HMS Bounty (1789). He returned to explore it (1792). Economic interest in thevislnds negan with the discovery of sandalwood (ealy-19th century). The British Colony of Fiji was established (1874). The British by this timw were were melloweing. The colonial governors assigned to Fiji were generally benevolent. The griowinbg miussionary effort was having an impact. They established policies to protect the exploitation of native Fijians. Limits were set on the area of land that a non-native Fujins could own. The practice of sending Fijians abroad as laborers was ended. Some 61,000 Indians were, however, transported to Fiji as laborers creating what is today a bi-ethnic society. Tle British governor decided that no Fijuians would be recruited to gidhr with the British military. Ther was at the time no threat tp Fiji.

Japanese Offensive (January 1941-June 1942)

Fiji was anisolated, little known, ecotic island in the middle of the Pavofic. fter Pearl Harbor and the initial Japanese offensive, Japanese forces moved steadily forward, reaching areas just short of Fiji. The island to the southeast of the Solomons found itself along with New Caledonia and the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) on the front line of the vast Pacific War. And a cenbtret of world attention. The Britosh locked in the European struggle with the Germans had no way of defending Fiji. The linch pin of the British defense of Auystralkia and Pacific islands was Singapoee and it fellk to the Japanese (February 1942). As a resulyt Fiji was under threat of Japanese invasion for much of 1942 and part of 1943. , which resulted in a build up of military forces and defensive installations. I

Suva

Keeping open the sealanes with Australia became a primary America objective after Pearl Harbor. The northern route, southwest west from Hawaii, was blocked by Japanese cintrolled islands. Only the southern route, via the South Sea Islands, was still open. Future offensive operations were depended on keeping these sea lanes opened. Only if the sea lanes were could the Americans build up their striking power in the South Pacific. The maritime life kline was long, 7,800 miles from the Panama Canal to Sydney. And there weere only a few supporting bases. v Two of the mostb imporytant were Samoa and Fiji. The Japanese thret resulted in a rapid build up of American military forces and defensive installations. Here Fijian capital and port was espdecially important. Suva boasted one of the finest natural harbors in the South Pacific--3 miles wide and cutting 2 miles inland. The U.S. Navy chose Nandi Bay for its main advance naval base (JAMPUFF). The Army, Marines, and Navy rushed air, ground , and naval assets to the island. Fiji boasted of one of the few concrete air strips in the South Pacific and more were soon under construction. The Seabees arrived (June 1942). The New Zealanders participated in the build up.Operation

Operation FS

Even before the American buildup, Fiji was one of several targets of the Japanese FS Operation designed to seize the French and British South Pacific South Pacific islands east of Australia. This would have severed the sealanes to Australia and New Zealand, cutting them off from America, the first step in conquering both Dominions. Operation FS would have been the next Japanese Pacific offensive after they destroyed the American carriers at Midway. FS is the Japanese designation for seizing South Pacific islands east of Australia (Fiji and Samoa), but like Operation MO, the real objective was Australia. Japan launched Operation MO (early-May 1942). It was possible because most of the British Royal Navy had been withdrawn from the Pacific to fight the Battle of Atlantic with the German U-boats. And the primary British bastion, Singapore, fell to the Japanese (April 1942). The next month, Japanese amphibious forces embarked to seize Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea and Tulagi Island in the southern Solomons. The dates for Operation FS to be launched after Port Moresby and Midway were in Japanese hands were set for New Caledonia, Fiji, and Samoa (July 8, 18, and 21). The First Air Fleet was to be deployed to support the island invasions. The goal was to cut Australian and New Zealand life lines to America. Japanese operations througout the Pacific Ware began with curring off targets from supplies and reinforcement (The Philippines,Mayalya, Singapore, and Burma). This was the srategy adopted for Australia. The Japanese demanded that Australia surrender (January and February 1942). Primeminister Curtin rejected their demands. General MacArthur had escaped from Corredidor and was overseeing the Allied build-up in Australia (March 1942). Men and supplies were streaming out from America. They could not reach the Americans in the Phiilppines, they could reach Australia. The situation was, however, still precarious. The Australian Army was still largely in North Africa fighting the Afrika Korps with the British. General Tojo speaking in the Japanese Diet issued a final warning to Australia (May 28, 1942). One historian explains, "Japan was now tightening the noose on Australia." [Frei, p. 172.] Shortly after Japanese midget submarines staged an attack on Sydney Harbor (May 31). The failure of Operation MI with the First Air Fleet's loss of four fleet carriers at Midway (June 4) radically changed the balance of forces in the Pacific and prospects for FS. Midway meant that Japan's desimated First Air Fleet was no longer had the capability of supporing FS. So the Japanese placed a greter emphasis on seizing islands and building air fields to help sever the all important sea lanes with America. It is at this time that Guadalcanal enters into history. The Japanese chose the southern-most island in the Solomons as the location of a key air base--Guadalcanal. And Japan at the time still had the naval, air, and army forces to seize the FS islands. The issues would be resolved on Guadalcanal by outnumbered and poorly supplied Marines and a series of fierce naval battles fought by the battered U.S. Navy around Guadalcanal -- before the large number of ships under construction in American shipyards had begun to reach the Fleet.

Cartwheel (1942-43)

The ensuing Japanese Midway disaster (June 1942) significantly reduced the striking power of the Imperial Fleet. Fiji was an important support base for the Matines on Guadalcanal and the completion of the of Solomons CArtwheel campaign drawing rings around Rabaul. The American Pacific Fleet proved to have just enough naval power to prevent the Japanese from moving beyond the Solomons until new naval construction in Americanb shipysrds would fundamentally change the balance of naval power. In addition, the United States garrisoned Fiji with 10,000 well-equipped Marines. A Japanese invasion would not have faced the small, poorly equipped force they found on Wake and Guam immediately after Pearl Harbor. The Fiujian islands served to establish barracks, training fields, and an an imprtant airfield for the Allies. The Americal/182nd Divisijon Division was pulled out of Guadalcana to recuoerate and train on Fiji (March 1943). They would be recommitted to Bougainville.

Fijian Soldiers

Unlike World War I, Fiji was threatened iun World War II. THe World War I policy of keeping Fijians out of combat was revered in the Pacific War. The Fiji Infantry Regiment was fornmed with the strength of thousands. The regiment was attached to New Zealand and Australian army units and saw action in the Solomon Islands against the Japanese. Fijian soldiers first served on Guadalcanal and acquired a reputation in the difficult American Solomon Islands campaign. The Regiment shifted to support the island-hopping American forces as the war progressed. Florida Island [Nggela], New Georgia, and Vella Lavella. Focus then turned to Bougainville. The Regiment was exclusively ethnic Fijians except for a handful of European officers. The Fijian ethnic composition was retained after the War.

Rear Area Base

Gradually the Pacific War moved from the South Pacific to the Central Pacific. The United States and other Allied countries maintained military installations in Fiji during the War, but after the Solomons campaign, Fiji gradually became a remote rear area used for staging and logistics.

Independence (1970)

Under British guidab=nce, the different Fijian tribes and non-Fijian ethnic groups (including the Indians) successfully established a constitution, and shortly after the Republic of Fiji was declared (1970). Ethnic tensions, howver comntinue as a serrious natioinal issue. .







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Created: 1:03 AM 11/13/2015
Spell checked: 3:35 PM 5/31/2017
Last updated: 3:42 AM 2/6/2021