The Solomon Islands saw some of the fiercest fighting of World War II, so it is hardly surprising that a great deal of unexploded ordnance still litters many of the islands to this day.
Between 19 June and 5 July 2013, Australian Clearance Divers from the MCD Group, a part of an International Joint task Group headed up by the New Zealand Navy, were on the ground and in the waters around New Georgia to carry out Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).
The operation was called PUKAURUA, Maori for Stingray, and it is a bi-annual EOD clearance task led by the Kiwis. PUKAURUA's foundation came from the ADF's Operation RENDER SAFE.
Based from HMNZS Wellington (LCDR Philip Rowe, RNZN) and supported by HMNZS Manawanui (LCDR Kerry Driver, RNZN) four of the CDs led by CPOCD Darren Smith, were in the thick of the EOD action.
“Many of the land and sea battles of the Pacific Campaign were centred around the south of the New Georgia Group where the Allied forces concentrated their efforts to oust the Japanese invaders.” CPO Smith said.
“In only a few weeks we located over 1000 items of unexploded ordnance in and around the island of Sasavele.
“Once the local inhabitants were fully aware of the military presence in their locales, the EOD teams were soon inundated with guides to lead them to the bombs, shells, mortars and grenades. In some cases the items were personally delivered!”
LCDR David Ince, MCDO, RAN, who was acting as Chief of Staff to the Kiwi CTG, Commander Trevor Leslie said “The work is tough in the jungle terrain, high humidity and tropical heat, but satisfying and very worthwhile.”
“The locals are incredibly friendly and willing to help us rid their villages and islands of the menace of unexploded munitions. A few weeks before our arrival a local was killed in a UXO accident, firmly underlying the importance of this work.” He said.
“Many of the UXOs had to be destroyed in situ as they were too dangerous to move. In one case a village had to be evacuated while a naval shell was rendered safe with a carefully placed shaped charge. The fuse of the shell in question was in such an unstable state that the slightest nudge could still have set it off. This brought it home to the villagers how dangerous the UXOs can be, they had moved this particular shell many times in the past. Living amongst unexploded munitions for so long had seemingly numbed the New Georgians to the very real dangers posed by it.”
By the end of the operation in the New Georgia areas, Navy, Army and Air Force EOD personnel of the Australian, New Zealand, American and Canadian Forces, who were also part of PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 2013, had cleared 4.2 metric tons of unexploded munitions, nearly 2500 individual items.
“This has probably been the most worthwhile job I have done in over 30 years of being a MCD specialist, but unfortunately that will not be the end of it,” said LCDR Ince, “You cannot get rid of the unexploded jetsam of four long years of war in just three weeks. This will be an enduring task.”