Did the US military offer to build a motorway between Auckland and Wellington in 1942?

It’s a tale that has become only taller some 75 years after it first emerged – a Kiwi myth born out of commuter frustration and war-time nostalgia.

The story goes something like this:

During WWII, the United States Marine Corps offered to build a four-lane motorway between Auckland and Wellington, while its soldiers were stationed here, but the New Zealand Government turned down the offer, claiming such an extensive motorway would never be needed.

It’s true that up to 100,000 military personal from the United States were stationed in New Zealand during 1942-44, as they trained for the invasion of the Japanese-held Pacific.

Up to 45,000 of them were in the country at any one time, and they were housed in 100 specifically built or rented sites in the Auckland, Northland, Wellington and Wairarapa areas. Soldiers from the US Marine Corps take a break on Oriental Parade in Wellington. Photo credit: NZHistory Could the US Marine Corps help bust the myth?

Newshub contacted the organisation that could perhaps solve the mystery with a bit of basic fact-checking – the US Marine Corps.

Dr Jim Ginther, senior archivist for the Marine Corps History Division, based in Virginia, told Newshub that most of the materials from the corps’ time in New Zealand were operationally oriented, but he did check the commandant’s personal papers that he had access to.

“I cannot deny that this [the offer] happened, but could not find any evidence of it in our holdings.”

But Dr Ginther told Newshub that if an offer had been made to the New Zealand Government to build a motorway, it would have likely come from the US Navy, not the Marine Corps.

“It would seem to me a strange thing for Marines to be involved in, since most heavy construction of this nature would normally have been handled by the Navy,” Dr Ginther said.

So, the plot thickens.

Did the alleged offer actually come from the US Navy?

Newshub contacted the US Navy and were told that a major US Naval intelligence base operated in Auckland during the war which housed 300 staff.Perhaps more importantly, Newshub also learned that the US Navy’s Joint Purchasing Board (tasked with acquiring and transporting huge amounts of food and other basic supplies to US bases) was very active in New Zealand from late 1942, until 1944. US Navy ships docked in Wellington Harbour – the city was a crucial supply base for the Americans. Photo credit: NZ Ship & Marine Society A US military official history – The US Army in WW2: The Quartermaster Corps: Operations in the War Against Japan – reveals the importance of the Joint Purchasing Board’s work in New Zealand.”As far as local procurement of Quartermaster supplies and the distribution of food were concerned, New Zealand became the principal rear base.”From the Quartermaster standpoint, the ration storage centers, established in April 1943 at Auckland and Wellington, constituted the most important installations in New Zealand.”Operating under the Joint Purchasing Board, they stored both locally procured foods, and those received from Australia and […]