New Hebrides

Relief map of New Hebrides

The New Hebrides lie northeast of New Caledonia and southeast of the Solomons. They are a chain of about 83 mountainous, jungle-clad islands 550 miles (890 km) long with a total land area of about 5700 square miles (14,800 km2). The chain splits in its northern half. Several of the islands have significant manganese deposits, but these were not exploited until the 1960s. The wet season is November through April, when typhoons are possible, but the islands are damp year round and malaria is a serious problem.

The islands were very thinly inhabited, with the largest settlement, Port Vila on Efate, having just 1500 inhabitants in 1942. The total population of the group may have been around 40,000 in 1941. The native population were warlike tribal Melanesians speaking numerous dialects who were mercilessly exploited throughout the 18th century in spite of the efforts of Christian missionaries to protect them.

The islands were jointly controlled by Britain and France under a condominium negotiated in 1906. The resulting duplication of effort did not help the quality of administration of an area that had almost no economic significance before the war. Copra was the only product of any significance and the French brought in 1000 indentured laborers from French Indochina. The British and Australians were forbidden by their governments to bring in laborers and their respective administrations came to outnumber those being administered.

The Australians began raising a New Hebrides Defense Force in 1941, as war loomed. This eventually grew to more than 2000 men, mostly from the island of Malekula (167.520E 16.304S).

During the Guadalcanal campaign, the Allies established a major forward base at Espiritu Santo and a second base at Efate.


Lal and Fortune (2000; accessed 2011-12-2)

Rottman (2002)

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