The New Hebrides lie northeast of New Caledonia
and southeast of the Solomons.
They are a chain of about 83 mountainous,
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)
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