Huon Peninsula Campaign, 22 September 1943-24 April 1944

Huon Peninsula Campaign, 22 September 1943-24 April 1944

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Huon Peninsula Campaign, 22 September 1943-24 April 1944

The Huon Peninsula Campaign (22 September 1943-24 April 1944) was part of the second stage of Operation Postern, and was conducted to clear the Japanese from the shores of the Vitiaz Strait, in order to allow the Allies to use their naval forces off the northern coast of New Guinea. This was all part of Operation Cartwheel, the wider campaign to isolate the major Japanese base at Rabaul on nearby New Britain. It came soon after the end of the Salamaua-Lae campaign, which saw the Allies expel the Japanese from their bases on the coast of the Huon Peninsula.

The Huon Peninsula campaign was fought for possession of the eastern and northern coast of the Huon Peninsula, which gave the Japanese control of the Vitiaz Strait, between New Guinea and New Britain. The first Allied target was the old German port of Finschhafen, at the eastern end of the peninsula, but most of the fighting would take place just to the north, where for once there were important settlements away from the coast. The coast track ran north to Katika and then Gusuka. One track ran inland from the Katika area to Jivevaneng and then Sattelberg, while a second ran from the Gusika area inland to Wareo. The Japanese would make a stand in the Wareo and Sattelberg areas, and even launch counterattacks against the narrow Australian coastal positions.

The bulk of the fighting was carried out by the Australian 9th Division (Major-General G.F. Wooten), with American support (in particular naval support). The first stage was the capture of Finschhafen, a former German possession at the eastern end of the peninsula. The Australians decided to carry out a two pronged assault, with one brigade landing north of the port, while a second advanced along the coast from the direction of Lae to act as a diversion.

The amphibious landing was carried out by the 20th Brigade. The brigade landed at Scarlet Beach (the name was chosen to avoid confusion with an active Red Beach in the Huon Gulf), on the morning of 22 September. Japanese resistance was limited, and the beachhead was soon secured (despite a fairly chaotic landing). On the same day the 22nd Battalion began to march east along the coast from Lae to distract the Japanese. Over the next few days the 20th pushed south, sometimes outflanking strong Japanese positions. The final attack on Finschhafen was launched from the west. The Japanese put up fierce resistance outside the town, but when it was clear that it was about to fall the last defenders pulled out to the north-west. The Australians captured Finschhafen on 2 October, where they captured documents suggesting that the Japanese were planning a major counterattack.

On 16 October the Japanese launched a three pronged counterattack, with the 79th and 80th Regiments attacking east towards Scarlet Beach and an amphibious force attacking on the following day. The 80th Regiment was held up at Jivevaneng, on the track between Sattelberg and the beach, and the amphibious force was destroyed, but the 79th Regiment actually reached the beach, and for a few days the Australian beachhead was split in two. The Japanese eventually ran out of steam, and on 19 October an Australian counterattack forced them away from the beach. The Japanese lost 1,500 men during the fighting for Finschhafen, but they had failed in their main attempt to retake the port.

The Australians were now free to go onto the offensive. Their first target was Sattelberg, west of their main landing beach. First they had to clear the Japanese from a roadblock on the road between the coast and an isolated Australian position at Jivevaneng. This block was finally cleared on 2 November, leaving the road open for the main attack on the difficult Sattelberg position. This developed into a two pronged assault, with one force following the Sattelberg Road as it ran along a ridge to the south-east of the town, then turned north to climb the steep Sattelberg Hill. A second force attempted to advance to the right, moving north to a parallel ridge, then west to Sattelberg Hill. The early stages of the attack were supported by nine Matilda tanks, although they couldn't take part in the final climb up Sattelberg Hill. The attack began on 16 November, and despite fierce resistance the Australians began to advance up Sattelberg Hill on 22 November. It took another two days for the Americans to reach the top of the hill, at which point the Japanese retreated north to Wareo. The Australians occupied Sattelberg on 25 November.

Next came the attack on Wareo. This was a difficult manoeuvre, which involved dropping down from Sattelberg Hill into the Song valley, then up a steep hill to attack Wareo. At the same time a second force attacked near the coast to cut the remaining Japanese supply line. The 26th Brigade began the attack across the Song on 28 November. By the end of the day they were across the Song, and on 1 December they captured a key Japanese position at Kuanko. The success of the two Australian attacks convinced the Japanese to pull back towards their main base at Sio, a Japanese held port that was nearer the 18th Army's HQ at Madang. In order to give their forces a change to escape they launched counterattacks on the Australian position at Kuanko, which held them up until 7 December. Wareo finally fell on 8 December, and on 10 December the two Australian brigades met up on the trail from Wareo to Gusika on the coast.

After the end of the fighting for Wareo the Australians were free to advance along the coast. The advance began on 5 December when the 29th/46th Battalion began to advance from Gusika. The Japanese conducted a fighting retreat, causing frustrating casualties but rarely holding up the Australian advance for any prolonged period. Their aim was to win time for the 20th Division to complete its retreat from the lost areas further south.

By 10 December the Australians were at Kilgia. Cape Sidiba was reached by 16 December and their main target at Fortification Point by 20 December. This was the point where the coast turned to the north-west and ran around the Huon Peninsula towards the Japanese base at Sio. The advance continued at a steady pace. Wandokai was captured on 24 December, Nanda on 31 December and by 2 January 1944 the Australians had reached Sialum Island, with a useful anchorage.

On 2 January the nature of the campaign changed when the US 32nd Division landed at Saidor, west of the Japanese base of Sio. They quickly established themselves, and threatened to cut the Japanese lines of retreat. After the American landing at Saidor, Adachi travelled by submarine from his HQ at Madang to Sio, to assess the situation for himself. In consultation with his superiors at Rabaul he decided to order a full scale evacuation of the remaining Japanese troops on the Huon Peninsula. Some of the troops at Sio were evacuated on the few available barges, but about 14,000 men from the 20th and 51st Divisions, had to travel on land. Their route took them along the coast until they were closer to Saidor, and then inland across some of New Guinea's very difficult terrain.

After a difficult return trip Adachi reached Madang on 11 January. It took his men another six weeks to join him. Around 10,000 survivors from the two divisions reached Madang on 1 March, having evaded the Allied trap. There was some criticism of the army leadership at Saidor, where the troops remained on the defensive for rather too long. This left a gap between them and the Australians fighting in the Finisterre Range, and the Japanese escaped through this gap. The Japanese posted 2,000 men on the inland route past Saidor,

The Japanese were only just ahead of the Allies. The Australians pushed along the coast, reaching Sio on 15 January 1944. The Australian 9th Division was then relieved by the Australian 5th Division,

The Australians coming along the coast from the east joined up with the US troops at Saidor on 10 February. On 5 March US troops landed further west, at Yalau Point. This involved 54 craft and 1,348 troops, but little opposition. Soon after this landing the Americans met up with Australian troops advancing north across the Finisterre Range from the Ramu Valley.

At this point the Allies were still expecting to have to fight a difficult battle at Madang, where Adachi had a sizable garrison. Before launching this attack MacArthur decided to capture the Admiralty Islands, on the opposite side of the Bismarck Sea north of Madang. US troops landed on Los Negros on 29 February and on Manus on 12 March. By the end of March the islands had been secured. Adachi now decided that Madang was no longer tenable, and ordered a retreat towards Wewak and Hansa Bay, the next major Japanese bases along the coast.

In the first part of April the Australians fought a number of minor battles with the Japanese on the Bogadjim Road, and on 13 April the first Australian patrol reached an undefended Bogadjim. On 15 April an American patrol coming from the east joined them. The capture of Bogadjim was officially announced by the BBC and ABC on 17 April.

The allies then advanced north, but when they reached Madang on 24 April (after a some what undignified scramble to be first into the town) they discovered that the Japanese had gone. On 25 April they occupied Alexishafen, a few miles to the north, also without opposition. Although fighting continued in the area for some time after this, the fall of Madang marked the effective end of Operation Postern, and meant that the Allies now had command of the New Guinea side of the Vitiaz Strait.

By then the Cape Gloucester area on New Britain had also been secured, so the Allies had command of both sides of the straits between New Britain and New Guinea. By this point the Americans had launched yet another surprise attack, this time landing at Aitape and Hollandia, well to the west of Adachi's new positions. Adachi was now totally isolated. Although he did launch a major attack on the Americans on the Driniumor River in late June, his army had effectively been cut off from the rest of the Japanese Empire.

Finisterre Range campaign

The Finisterre Range campaign, also known as the Ramu Valley–Finisterre Range campaign, was a series of actions in the New Guinea campaign of World War II. Several actions in the campaign are sometimes known collectively as the Battle of Shaggy Ridge. The campaign began with an Allied offensive in the Ramu Valley, from 19 September 1943, and concluded when Allied troops entered Madang on 24 April 1944. During the campaign, Australian and U.S. forces assaulted Japanese positions in the Finisterre Range of New Guinea.The central geographical and strategic feature of the campaign was the imposing Shaggy Ridge, running north-south in the Finisterres.


In March 1942, the Japanese secured Salamaua and Lae and subsequently established major bases on the north coast of New Guinea, in the large town of Lae, and in Salamaua, a small administrative town and port 35 kilometres (22 mi) to the south. Salamaua was a staging post for attacks on Port Moresby, such as the Kokoda Track campaign, and a forward operating base for Japanese aviation. [4] When the attacks failed, the Japanese turned the port into a major supply base. Logistical limitations meant that the Salamaua–Lae area could garrison only 10,000 Japanese personnel: 2,500 seamen and 7,500 soldiers. [5] The defences were centred on the Okabe Detachment, a brigade-sized force from the 51st Division under Major General Toru Okabe. [6]

In January 1943, the Okabe Detachment was defeated in an attack on the Australian base of Wau, about 40 kilometres (25 mi) away. Allied commanders turned their attention to Salamaua, which could be attacked by troops flown into Wau. This also diverted attention from Lae, which was a major objective of Operation Cartwheel, the Allied grand strategy for the South Pacific. It was decided that the Japanese would be pursued towards Salamaua by the Australian 3rd Division, which had been formed at Wau, under the command of Major General Stanley Savige, [7] [8] who were to link up with elements of the US 41st Infantry Division. [9]

Following the conclusion of the fighting around Wau in late January, the Okabe Detachment had withdrawn towards Mubo, where they began to regroup, numbering about 800 strong. [10] Between 22 April and 29 May 1943, the Australian 2/7th Infantry Battalion, at the end of a long and tenuous supply line, attacked the southern extremity of Japanese lines in the Mubo area, at features known to the Allies as "The Pimple" and "Green Hill". [11] While the 2/7th made little progress, they provided a diversion for Major George Warfe's 2/3rd Independent Company, which advanced in an arc and raided Japanese positions at Bobdubi Ridge, inflicting severe losses. In May, the 2/7th repelled a number of strong Japanese counterattacks. [11]

At the same time as the first battle at Mubo, the Australian 24th Infantry Battalion, which had been defending the Wampit Valley in an effort to prevent Japanese movement into the area from Bulolo, [12] detached several platoons to reinforce the 2/3rd Independent Company. [13] During the month of May, they were heavily engaged in patrolling the 3rd Division's northern flank, around the Markham River, and the area around Missim, and one patrol succeeded in reaching the mouth of the Bituang River, to the north of Salamaua. [14]

In response to the Allied moves, the Japanese Eighteenth Army commander, Lieutenant General Hatazō Adachi, sent the 66th Infantry Regiment from Finschhafen to reinforce the Okabe Detachment and launch an offensive. The 1,500-strong 66th attacked at Lababia Ridge, on 20–23 June. [15] The battle has been described as one of the Australian Army's "classic engagements" of World War II. [16] The ridge's only defenders were "D" Company of the 2/6th Battalion. The Australians relied on well-established and linked defensive positions, featuring extensive, cleared free-fire zones. These assets and the determination of "D" Company defeated the Japanese envelopment tactics. [16]

Between 30 June and 19 August, the Australian 15th Infantry Brigade cleared Bobdubi Ridge. The operation was opened with an assault by the inexperienced 58th/59th Infantry Battalion, and included hand-to-hand combat. [17] At the same time as the second Australian assault on Bobdubi, on 30 June – 4 July, the US 162nd Regimental Combat Team (162nd RCT), supported by engineers from the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade, [9] made an unopposed amphibious landing at Nassau Bay and established a beachhead there, [18] to launch a drive along the coast, as well as bringing ashore heavy guns with which to reduce the Japanese positions. [19]

A week after the Bobdubi attack and Nassau Bay landing, the Australian 17th Brigade launched another assault on Japanese positions at Mubo. [20] With the Allies making ground closer to Salamaua, the Japanese withdrew to avoid encirclement. The Japanese divisional commander, Hidemitsu Nakano, subsequently determined to concentrate his forces in the Komiatum area, which was an area of high ground to the south of Salamaua. [21]

Meanwhile, the main body of the 162nd RCT followed a flanking route along the coast, before encountering fierce resistance at Roosevelt Ridge—named after its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Roosevelt [22] —between 21 July and 14 August. Between 16 July and 19 August, the 42nd and 2/5th Infantry Battalions gained a foothold on Mount Tambu. They held on despite fierce Japanese counter-attacks. The battle turned when they were assisted by the 162nd RCT. [23] Throughout July, the Japanese sought to reinforce the Salamaua area, drawing troops away from Lae by the end of the month there were around 8,000 Japanese around Salamaua. [9]

On 23 August, Savige and the 3rd Division handed over the Salamaua operation to the Australian 5th Division under Major General Edward Milford. Throughout late August and into early September the Japanese in the Salamaua region fought to hold the advancing Allies along their final line of defence in front of Salamaua, nevertheless the 58th/59th Infantry Battalion succeeded in crossing the Francisco River and the 42nd Infantry Battalion subsequently captured the main Japanese defensive position around Charlie Hill. [24] After Allied landings near Lae in the first week of September, the 18th Army commander, Hatazō Adachi, ordered Nakano to abandon Salamaua and subsequently his forces withdrew to the north disinvesting the town and transferring between 5,000 and 6,000 troops by barge, while other troops marched out along the coastal road. The 5th Division subsequently occupied Salamaua on 11 September, securing its airfield. [1] [25]

The fighting between April and September in the Salamaua region cost the Australians 1,083 casualties, including 343 dead. The Japanese lost 2,722 killed and a further 5,378 wounded, for a total of 8,100 casualties. [1] The US 162nd lost 81 killed and 396 wounded. [3] Throughout the fighting, Allied aircraft and US PT boats supported the troops ashore, enforcing a blockade of the Huon Gulf and the Vitiaz and Dampier Straits. [9]

The codename for the main operations to take Lae was Operation Postern. Planned as part of wider operations to eventually secure the Huon Peninsula, the operation to capture Lae was planned by General Thomas Blamey, who assumed command of the Allied New Guinea Force, and Australian I Corps commander, Lieutenant General Sir Edmund Herring. [26] This was a classic pincer movement, involving an amphibious assault east of the town, and an airborne landing near Nadzab, 50 kilometres (30 mi) to the west. [27] [28] Battle casualties for the 9th Division during Operation Postern amounted to 547, of which 115 were killed and 73 were posted as missing, and 397 were wounded, while the 7th Division suffered 142 casualties, of which 38 were killed. [2] The Japanese lost about 1,500 killed, while a further 2,000 were captured. [1]

Lae Edit

On 4 September, the Australian 9th Division, under Major General George Wootten, landed east of Lae, on "Red Beach" and "Yellow Beach", near Malahang beginning an attempt to encircle Japanese forces in the town. Five US Navy destroyers provided artillery support. The landings were not opposed by land forces but were attacked by Japanese bombers, which inflicted numerous casualties amongst the naval and military personnel on board several landing craft. [29]

The 20th Brigade led the assault, with the 26th following them up while the 24th formed the divisional reserve. [30] The 9th Division faced formidable natural barriers in the form of rivers swollen by recent rain. They came to a halt at the Busu River, which could not be bridged for two reasons: the 9th lacked heavy equipment, and the far bank was occupied by Japanese soldiers. On 9 September, the 2/28th Infantry Battalion led the attack across the Busu River and secured a bridgehead after fierce fighting. [31]

Nadzab Edit

The following day, the US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, together with two gun crews from the Australian 2/4th Field Regiment—who had received a crash course in the use of parachutes—and their cut-down 25-pounder artillery pieces, made an unopposed parachute drop at Nadzab, just west of Lae. The airborne forces secured Nadzab Airfield, so that the Australian 7th Division, under Major General George Vasey, could be flown in, to cut off any possible Japanese retreat into the Markham Valley. The 7th Division suffered its worst casualties of the campaign on 7 September, as they were boarding planes at Port Moresby: a B-24 Liberator bomber crashed while taking off, hitting five trucks carrying members of the 2/33rd Infantry Battalion: 60 died and 92 were injured. [32] [33]

On 11 September, the 7th Division's 25th Infantry Brigade engaged about 200 Japanese soldiers entrenched at Jensen's Plantation in a firefight, at a range of 50 yards (46 m), [34] with the 2/4th Field Regiment providing artillery support. After defeating them and killing 33 enemy soldiers, the 25th Infantry Brigade engaged and defeated a larger Japanese force at Heath's Plantation, killing 312 Japanese soldiers. [35] It was at Heath's Plantation that Private Richard Kelliher won the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the British Commonwealth. [34] The 25th Infantry Brigade entered Lae on 15 September, just before the 9th Division's 24th Infantry Brigade. The two units linked up that day. [36]

While the fall of Lae was clearly a victory for the Allies, and it was achieved more quickly and at lower cost than anticipated, a significant proportion of the Japanese garrison had escaped through the Saruwaged Range, to the north of Lae, and would have to be fought again elsewhere. The Huon Peninsula campaign was the result, and a quick follow up landing was subsequently undertaken at Scarlet Beach by the 20th Brigade. [37]

Despite initial plans to do so, Salamaua was not developed as a base. The Australian I Corps commander, Lieutenant General Sir Edmund Herring, visited Salamaua by PT boat on 14 September, three days after its capture, and found little more than bomb craters and corrugated iron. He recommended cancelling the development of Salamaua and concentrating all available resources on Lae. The base that had originally been envisaged now looked like a waste of effort, because Salamaua was a poor site for a port or airbase. However, in drawing the Japanese attention away from Lae at a critical time, the assault on Salamaua had already served its purpose. [38]

Lae, on the other hand, was subsequently transformed into two bases: the Australian Lae Base Sub Area and the USASOS Base E. Herring combined the two as the Lae Fortress, under Milford. Because Blamey had launched Postern before the logistical preparations were complete, most of the units needed to operate the base were not yet available. [38] [39]

The importance of Lae as a port was to supply the airbase at Nadzab, but this was compromised because the Markham Valley Road was found to be in poor condition. To expedite the development of Nadzab, minimal efforts were made to repair it, and heavy military traffic bound for Nadzab was permitted to use it. The road was closed following heavy rains on 7 October and did not reopen until December. Until then, Nadzab had to be supplied by air, and its development was slow because heavy engineer units could not get through. [38]

New Guinea 24 January 1943--31 December 1944

The campaign on New Guinea is all but forgotten except by those who served there. Battles with names like Tarawa, Saipan, and Iwo Jima overshadow it. Yet Allied operations in New Guinea were essential to the U.S. Navy's drive across the Central Pacific and to the U.S. Army's liberation of the Philippine Islands from Japanese occupation. The remorseless Allied advance along the northern New Guinea coastline toward the Philippines forced the Japanese to divert precious ships, planes, and men who might otherwise have reinforced their crumbling Central Pacific front.

New Guinea is the second largest island in the world. Its north coastline extends nearly 1,600 miles from twelve degrees south latitude to just south of the equator. A major mountain range cuts across the island's center from the eastern end of New Guinea to Geelvink Bay on the west and makes passage overland through the jungled mountains by large units nearly impossible. The lee of the mountainous spine, around the Port Moresby area, is wet from January to April but otherwise dry. On the windward side, scene of most of the ground fighting during 1942-1945, rainfall runs as high as 300 inches per year. As one veteran recalled, "It rains daily for nine months and then the monsoon starts."

Disease thrived on New Guinea. Malaria was the greatest debilitator, but dengue fever, dysentery, scrub typhus, and a host of other tropical sicknesses awaited unwary soldiers in the jungle. Scattered, tiny coastal settlements dotted the flat malarial north coastline, but inland the lush tropical jungle swallowed men and equipment.

The terrain was a commander's nightmare because it fragmented the deployment of large formations. On the north shore a tangled morass of large mangrove swamps slowed overland movement. Monsoon rains of eight or ten inches a day turned torpid streams into impassable rivers. There were no roads or railways, and supply lines were often native tracks, usually a dirt trail a yard or so wide tramped out over the centuries through the jungle growth. Downpours quickly dissolved such footpaths into calf-deep mud that reduced soldiers to exhausted automatons stumbling over the glue-like ground. Fed by the frequent downpours, the lush rain-forest jungle afforded excellent concealment to stubborn defenders and made coordinated overland envelopments nearly

Strategic Setting

In January 1943 the Allied and the Japanese forces facing each other on New Guinea were like two battered heavyweights. Round one had gone to the Americans and Australians who had ejected the Japanese from Papua, New Guinea. After three months of unimaginative frontal attacks had overcome a well-entrenched foe, General Douglas MacArthur, the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) commander, had his airstrip and staging base at Buna on the north coast. It was expensive real estate. About 13,000 Japanese troops perished during the terrible fighting, but Allied casualties were also heavy 8,500 men fell in battle (5,698 of them Australians) and 27,000 cases of malaria were reported, mainly because of shortages of medical supplies. Besides ruining the Australian 7th and U.S. 32d Infantry Divisions, the campaign had severely taxed the Australian 5th and U.S. 41st Infantry Divisions. The exhausted Americans needed six months to reconstitute before their next operation. Australian ground forces, despite heavier losses, became the front line of defense against the Japanese who, though bloodied, were ready for round two.

To block the Allied counteroffensives on New Guinea and in the Solomons, Tokyo dispatched thousands of reinforcements to its great bastion at Rabaul, New Britain. On 9 November 1942, Eighth Area Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Hitoshi Imamura, opened on Rabaul. Eighteenth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Hatazo Adachi, was organized the same day and subordinated to Eighth Area Army. Adachi took charge of operations on New Guinea. Despite their defeat at Buna and the heavy losses in the continuing struggle for Guadalcanal, in January 1943 Japan still held the preponderant air, naval, and ground strength in the Southwest Pacific and retained the strategic initiative in New Guinea. With these advantages, they planned to strike again for Port Moresby.

Japanese construction battalions had transformed the prewar airfield and harbor at Lae, North East New Guinea, into a major air base and anchorage on the Huon Gulf. Japanese infantrymen could land at the stronghold and then sortie under air cover to seize a forward air

base at Wau, located in the malarious Bulolo Valley about 150 miles west-northwest of Buna. With Wau in hand, the Japanese could lunge forward again toward Moresby protected by an aerial umbrella. Isolated and weakly defended, the Australian airstrip at Wau seemed ripe for Eighteenth Army's picking.

In January 1943 Eighth Area Army ordered reinforcements to Lae. Forewarned of the impending convoy by decrypted Japanese naval messages, MacArthur's air chief, Lt. Gen. George C. Kenney, commander of Allied Air Forces and U.S. Fifth Air Force, sent repeated air attacks against the enemy ships. Allied pilots sank two troop transports, damaged another, and killed 600 Japanese soldiers. Only one-third of the intended Japanese reinforcements reached Lae, and these survivors salvaged only half of their equipment. Without reinforcements, the desperate attack on Wau failed. The defeated Japanese remnants fell back into the jungle, slowly giving ground toward Lae.

Repulsed at Wau and pressed by the Australians, Japanese forces on New Guinea urgently needed reinforcements. On 19 February 1943, U.S. Navy cryptanalysts handed MacArthur solid intelligence that the enemy was planning another major transport to Lae in early March. Kenney threw every available aircraft into a three-day struggle from 2 to 5 March, known as the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Eight transports and four destroyers were lost in all. Of the 51st Division's 6,912 troops, about 3,900 survived, but only 1,000 soaked, oil-stained, and dispirited officers and men reached Lae. Kenney's destruction of the 51st Division condemned the Japanese to the strategic defensive on New Guinea.

From February to June 1943 the battleground in eastern New Guinea lapsed into a stalemate as the opponents reinforced and replaced earlier losses. Shipping shortages created logistics and transportation bottlenecks for both sides. The Imperial Navy could not make good its heavy losses in naval planes and pilots so the Japanese Army Air Force was gradually taking control of air bases and operations in New Guinea. For the Allies, Europe also had first priority, for long-range heavy bombers and fighters were needed in North Africa. Kenney found himself trying to justify additional scarce warplanes from Washington for New Guinea. Carrier-based aircraft in the Pacific remained firmly under U.S. Navy control, as did the greater part of the Pacific Fleet. MacArthur was limited to cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. He lacked transports, cargo vessels, and landing craft as well as the specialized crews to man them. Neither side had the resources in early 1943 to force a decisive victory, and the campaign seemed likely to continue as a war of attrition.


At SWPA General Headquarters MacArthur's staff was planning the timetable for his triumphant return to the Philippines. Code-named RENO, it became the basis for operations against Japan from February 1943 through August 1944. During that time, RENO underwent five modifications to keep pace with changing operational and strategic requirements. RENO I envisioned leapfrogging past Japanese strongholds in New Guinea and using paratroopers to seize key bases en route to Mindanao in the southern Philippines. The Japanese roadblock to MacArthur's scheme was the so-called Bismarck Barrier, that is, New Britain and its naval and air bases at Rabaul in combination with the series of Japanese air enclaves dispersed along the northern New Guinea coastline.

The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff directive of 28 March 1943 described Southwest Pacific objectives as a line running across the straits between Finschhafen, New Guinea, and New Britain. They ordered MacArthur to establish air bases on Woodlark and Kiriwina Islands to seize the Huon Peninsula and Madang and to occupy western New Britain. Meantime, under Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander in Chief, South Pacific Area, the U.S. Navy with Army and Marine troops would clear the Solomons to southern Bougainville. These operations were seen as preparatory for the ultimate seizure of Rabaul.

From these decisions grew the C ARTWHEEL operation, a joint Southwest and South Pacific undertaking that originally envisioned thirteen amphibious operations, over six months, culminating in the capture of Rabaul. It began the night of 29-30 June when Halsey invaded New Georgia, Solomon Islands, and MacArthur struck at Nassau Bay. The following day two U.S, Army separate regiments, the 112th Cavalry and the 158th Infantry, made unopposed landings at Woodlark and Kiriwina respectively.

For C ARTWHEEL MacArthur created A LAMO Force, an independent operational command that was in reality almost identical to Southwest Pacific's newly created U.S. Sixth Army. By placing A LAMO Force directly under General Headquarters, MacArthur removed American troops engaged in tactical operations from the control of Allied Land Forces commanded by the Australian General Sir Thomas Blamey. MacArthur personally selected Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger to command Sixth Army. Another American, Vice Adm. Arthur S. Carpender, commanded Allied Naval Forces which included the U.S. Seventh

Fleet. His aggressive assistant was Rear Adm. Daniel E. Barbey, who commanded VII Amphibious Force, the ships that would carry the ground forces, their equipment, and supplies forward into battle against the Japanese during C ARTWHEEL .

The limited sixty-mile range of the boats of the 2d Engineer Special Brigade, selected to transport the troops and equipment, dictated that the 1st Battalion, 162d Infantry, land in Nassau Bay. On 30 June a makeshift fleet of 3 PT boats 29 landing craft vehicles, personnel (LCVP), and 1 landing craft, mechanized (LCV) and 2 captured Japanese barges carried the battalion to its objective. Although the troops landed without enemy opposition, SWPA had much to learn about amphibious operations. Pounding surf had beached or wrecked eighteen of the precious landing craft. Small bands of enemy soldiers appeared the following day, but after confused nighttime skirmishes in a tropical downpour the outnumbered Japanese fled into the concealment of the thick jungle. They left behind some 50 of their dead comrades as well as 18 dead and 27 wounded Americans.

About forty miles from Lae, Nassau Bay became a staging base that threatened Japanese defenders at Salamaua, a village midway between the two points that guarded the overland approach to Lae. As the 162d Regiment, 41st Division, pushed slowly north along the coast from Nassau Bay, Adachi had to siphon troops from Lae to protect Salamaua. This left his already understrength Lae garrison vulnerable to a flanking attack by sea and air.

An Allied pincer was slowly closing on Lae. While the Americans pushed along the coast, Australian troops advanced on a western axis from Wau through the Markham Valley. The mainstay of the Japanese defense was a lone infantry regiment. In such rugged jungled terrain, however, a few determined men could slow down a division. Numerous streams cut the coastline into a swampy, muddy bog that impeded the American push. The few jungle trails capable of bearing basic logistic support made the direction of the Australian overland thrust predictable. Japanese infantrymen dug in along key terrain dominating the obvious approaches. A grueling 75-day ordeal followed in the jungle wilds under appalling conditions. Patrol-size probes lurching through overgrown and tangled vegetation became the principal maneuver elements. Ambush and sudden death awaited the careless or unlucky because it was often impossible to see more than a few feet into the undergrowth. In the Southwest Pacific, small arms claimed 32 percent of Americans killed in action during the war and artillery 17 percent--a marked contrast to the overall rates in the European theater of 19.7 and 57.5 percent respectively. In part the aberration stemmed from the relative paucity of

Japanese artillery compared to their Axis allies in part it reflects the face-to-face combat characteristic of jungle fighting.

American losses from the end of June until 12 September, when Salamaua fell, were 81 killed and 396 wounded while the Australian 15th Brigade suffered 112 killed, 346 wounded, and 12 missing. Japanese losses surpassed 1,000 men. The battle casualties tell only part of the struggle fought out against nature in the jungle wilds. Men on both sides collapsed, exhausted from the debilitating tropical heat and humidity soldiers shook violently from malarial chills or from a drenching in tropical downpours. Others simply went mad. The neuropsychiatric rate for American soldiers was the highest in the Southwest Pacific theater (43.94 per 1,000 men). The same monotonous field ration--bully beef and biscuits for the Australians, C-rations for the Americans--left soldiers undernourished and susceptible to the uncountable tropical diseases that flourished in the warm, moist jungle.

Japanese losses in their prolonged defense of Salamaua had left Lae exposed to an Allied envelopment. For his part, General Adachi expected the newly organized Fourth Air Army at Wewak to protect Lae's flanks against possible Allied airborne or seaborne assaults. As for MacArthur, the continuing shortage of ships and aircraft in SWPA meant that an envelopment of Lae required a total effort and all available resources. He could not, however, take that risk without local air superiority.

Faced with Japanese air power on two fronts--Rabaul and now Wewak--Kenney concentrated all his might against the latter. Wewak, however, lay beyond the effective range of Allied fighters, and ordering unescorted heavy bombers to make the attack risked unacceptable losses. Instead Kenney built an advance secret air base sixty miles southeast of Lae from where his fighters could reach Wewak. He planned the raid on the basis of compromised Japanese Army Air Force air-ground codes which revealed that the enemy had concentrated ten flying regiments at Wewak. On 17 August 1943, Kenney's airmen struck Wewak and left 100 parked airplanes destroyed on taxiways or damaged in their earthen revetments. A follow-up strike the next morning wrecked 28 more Japanese planes. In just two days Fourth Air Army lost three-quarters of its aircraft. Temporarily crippled, it was unable to oppose the first coordinated airborne and amphibious assault in the Pacific that occurred two weeks later.

More than forty ships manned by 3,200 sailors of Barbey's VII Amphibious Force, with the 2d Engineer Special Brigade attached, carried the Australian 9th Division to landing areas eighteen miles east of Lae. A two-echelon landing spread over 4 to 6 September placed

Airdrop at Nadzab, Morning of 5 September 1943. (U.S. Air Force photograph)

some 7,800 Australian troops in the rear of the Japanese defenses. Meanwhile, unchallenged by Japanese air power, on 5 September 96 C-47 transports, escorted by another 200 fighters and bombers, ferried the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment to Nadzab, about twenty miles west of Lae. In a spectacular display, hundreds of American paratroopers emptied the C-47s within five minutes. They met no opposition on the ground and quickly secured the landing zone. Within two days C-47s were flying troops from the Australian 7th Division into the airhead. The sea-air envelopment threatened to cut off the 51st Division at Lae from the rest of Eighteenth Army. Adachi ordered the division to withdraw to Finschhafen fifty miles east of Lae. The luckless Japanese had to detour around the Australians blocking the coastal road and into rugged, 12,000-foot-high mountains to reach the north coast. About 8,000 officers and men trekked into the foreboding mountains. More than 2,000 Japanese never came out, most victims of starvation.

Coupled with the loss of the Central Solomons and the Aleutians, this latest reversal convinced Tokyo that its forces were dangerously overextended. Imperial Headquarters therefore established a revised main perimeter line from western New Guinea through the Carolines to the Marianas. Although Rabaul and eastern New Guinea were now expendable, Japanese forces there were ordered to delay MacArthur's advance as long as possible.

Meanwhile Allied strategy also underwent a major shift. At the Q UADRANT Conference held during August 1943 in Quebec, Canada, the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved the Joint Chiefs' recommendation to bypass rather than to capture Rabaul. Now MacArthur's task became the neutralization of the Japanese on New Guinea as far west as Wewak. Q UADRANT 'S decisions gave priority to the U.S. Navy's drive across the Central Pacific and naturally disappointed MacArthur, who had argued for the seizure of Rabaul. The SWPA commander received official notification of the Combined Chiefs' decisions just five days before his attack on Finschhafen.

Finschhafen was the strongpoint that guarded the western side of the sixty-mile-wide straits separating New Guinea and New Britain. About 3,000 Japanese construction and engineer troops defended from fortified Satelberg Ridge. This high ground overlooked the entire coastline about Finschhafen and blocked any further ground push northward toward Sio. The Japanese perched on the jungle-covered ridgeline waiting for the inevitable Allied landing.

Australian troops arrived at Finschhafen on 22 September. They quickly cleared the narrow coastal enclave encompassing the port and then started up the Satelberg ridgeline. The fighting deteriorated into a series of deadly small unit combats against a well-entrenched and fanatically stubborn opponent. By the end of September 2,400 more men from the 20th Division had reinforced the battle-depleted engineers.

Two weeks later the Japanese launched a combined ground and amphibious counterattack. Australian infantrymen beat back the ground attack, but in the early morning darkness of 17 October one barge full of Japanese troops got ashore on the Allied beachhead. Pvt. Nathan Van Noy, Jr., of the 532d Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, although seriously wounded by enemy grenades, sprayed the advancing Japanese with .50-caliber machine-gun fire. Van Noy's body was later found with his finger still on the trigger, his last round of ammunition fired, and thirty slain Japanese sprawled in front of his position. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Japanese counterattack was broken, but they fought on for two more months. Australians of the 9th Division attacked the ridgeline again and again, isolating and destroying pockets of Japanese resistance one at a time. At least 5,500 Japanese perished, but they held their ground until late November. MacArthur found himself bogged down at Finschhafen, where he had expected a walkover.

While the Australians were bearing the majority of the fighting from Nassau Bay to Finschhafen, General Krueger was training his growing number of American divisions to fight as amphibious task

forces. Admiral Barbey had responsibility for the amphibious portion of the training designed to take full advantage of Southwest Pacific's domination of the air and sea by moving infantrymen over water to strike at their objectives. The seizure of undefended Woodlark and Kiriwina Islands in the southern Solomon Sea about 180 miles east of Buna during June 1943 had served as dress rehearsals for American GHQ planners as well as for lower echelon commanders of combat and service support units.

Southwest Pacific Area had expanded dramatically. From two infantry divisions, the 32d and 41st, in December 1942, the American contingent numbered five divisions (1st Cavalry, 6th, 24th, 32d, and 41st) by 31 January 1944. MacArthur also had three regimental combat teams (formed by attaching a field artillery battalion to the 503d Parachute Infantry, 112th Cavalry, and 158th Infantry Regiments), three engineer special brigades, and five Australian infantry divisions. Three more U.S. infantry divisions--the 31st, 33d, and 43d--were on the way. A combination of organized mosquito control, scientific treatment, and improved malaria discipline drummed into the GIs during training decreased outbreaks of the epidemic sixfold and thus improved combat effectiveness. Kenney had about 1,000 combat aircraft at his command. The new Seventh Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, had about the same number of warships as his predecessor, but Barbey's amphibious fleet had grown with transports, cargo vessels, and landing craft. Together with Admiral Halsey's South Pacific force, the Allied commands enjoyed overwhelming numerical superiority in air and naval strength. They also held the strategic and tactical initiative and could select the times and places for forthcoming operations that were most advantageous to the Allied cause.

The Japanese, in contrast, could not replace their losses in aircraft, shipping, and skilled manpower. Japan's air losses on the New Guinea and Solomons fronts perhaps surpassed 3,000 aircraft. On the ground, Eighteenth Army had suffered around 35,000 casualties. Of the three divisions in eastern New Guinea--the 20th, 41st, and 51st--only the 41st was near full strength. Airfield, shipping, engineer construction, and assorted service units brought Japanese strength in the eastern half of the island to around 60,000 troops. A dangerous 350-mile gap separated maneuver elements of the 41st Division at Wewak from those of the 36th Division at Sarmi, Netherlands New Guinea. The 36th was part of a frenetic Japanese effort to strengthen the western half of the island through the construction of a web of interlocking airdromes. Until the buildup in the west was completed, Imamura and Adachi were locked in a desperate

battle of attrition against a foe with a crushing superiority in resources.

Paradoxically, the jungle that had claimed so many Japanese lives now sheltered them from a concentrated Allied ground offensive. The jungle rendered large unit maneuver impossible so the Allies could not bring their overwhelming firepower, manpower, and material resources to bear en masse against a selected Japanese stronghold. To sustain an infantry regiment in combat devoured the resources of two division equivalents. Every Allied operation depended on an extensive logistics infrastructure, painstakingly scratched out of the wilds, that stretched from engineers developing a coastal enclave and port back through the ships that were the umbilical cord between the advance base and the staging areas. Few soldiers actually fought the Japanese. The majority, perhaps seven of every eight, served in support roles-- unloading ships, building roads, hauling supplies, preventing malaria, constructing airfields and bases, and so forth.

How best to use the favorable military balance was a question whose answer depended on where MacArthur decided to go next. C ARTWHEEL had scheduled landings by U.S. Marine and U.S. Army units at Cape Gloucester and Gasmata on the New Britain coasts as part of the reconquest of Rabaul. The Quebec decisions, however, meant that MacArthur's staff had to modify the original plan.

MacArthur's intermediate objective was Madang, about halfway between Finschhafen and Wewak. To strike Madang, any Allied amphibious force had to cross the straits separating New Guinea from New Britain. To protect the Allies' flank during the Madang and Cape Gloucester operations, Southwest Pacific headquarters also ordered the seizure of an air and PT base on New Britain. Thus, on 15 December 1943, MacArthur's forces crossed the straits and invaded Arawe on the western tip of New Britain. The 112th Cavalry Regiment tried to surprise the enemy at ,Arawe by a predawn attack in rubber rafts. Although Japanese gunners shot the flimsy boats to pieces and repulsed this diversionary assault, the 112th's main force did get ashore by more conventional means. After suffering through numerous Japanese air raids, the 112th repulsed a Japanese counterattack at the end of the month and eventually pushed the enemy away from its perimeter. Thereafter the cavalrymen, despite the swampy ground and thick mud fed by almost continuous tropical rains, successfully performed every task that the limited nature of their mission allowed. At Cape Gloucester on the north side of New Britain, the 1st Marine Division found itself in similar circumstances, but on a larger scale. Mud, unbroken swamp, and dense jungle made an overland

advance toward Rabaul impossible. Indeed the increasing tempo of MacArthur's advance rendered it unnecessary.

On New Guinea Australian troops of the 7th Division were ahead of schedule, advancing rapidly through the Ramu Valley on the south side of the Finisterre Range. On the Huon Peninsula the commonwealth's 9th Division had secured Finschhafen in early December and was moving along the coastline north of the range. To exploit the success at Finschhafen, Sixth Army received orders on 17 December to capture Saidor, thereby severing the Japanese line of retreat.

Barbey's VII Amphibious Fleet carried the 126th Infantry Regimental Combat Team (RCT), 32d Division, from Finschhafen through the Dampier Straits 175 miles to Saidor. In contrast to the confusion at Nassau Bay just six months earlier, the unopposed landing at Saidor on 2 January 1944 was a model of precision. Troops and cargo were unloaded in record time, and, at the cost of 6 battle casualties, more than 6,700 troops and their supplies were ashore by evening. MacArthur now had an intermediate staging base for his Madang operation, control of both sides of the straits, and an enemy division trapped at Sio between the Australian 9th Division's steady advance and the 126th RCT's blocking position at Saidor.

Once again the Japanese found themselves forced to flee into the rugged mountains in order to escape encirclement. As they sidestepped inland around Saidor, the retreating Japanese left a trail of abandoned equipment. On 15 January 1944, an Australian patrol pushing through Sio after the fleeing enemy discovered a half-buried trunk in a stream bed. It held the complete cipher library of the Imperial Japanese Army's 20th Division. The find was immediately returned to Central Bureau, MacArthur's Allied cryptanalytic agency in Brisbane, Australia. Central Bureau used the captured code books to solve the Japanese Army's main cipher system. This intelligence windfall arrived exactly when MacArthur was most prepared to take advantage of it.

In January 1944 MacArthur and his staff were searching for ways to accelerate the final phases of the campaign against Madang and complete the isolation of Rabaul. Around this time, Fifth Air Force pilots consistently reported the absence of any signs of Japanese activity on Los Negros, largest of the Admiralty group which lay about 360 miles west of Rabaul. Kenney insisted that air power had driven the Japanese from the island and recommended to MacArthur that ground troops immediately seize the supposedly undefended island with its valuable airstrips. Despite intelligence from decrypted enemy communications which revealed that more than 4,000 Japanese were defending the Admiralties, MacArthur approved Kenney's scheme. On five days

First Wave at Los Negros, Admiralty Islands. (DA photograph)

notice, Sixth Army was ordered to land in the Admiralties. If the troops encountered too much opposition, they would withdraw the same day.

On 29 February 1944, a reconnaissance-in-force of about 1,000 officers and men from the reinforced 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, landed on Los Negros. The initial landings caught the Japanese off guard, facing the opposite direction. But the Japanese fought back with a fury vicious night fighting typified the next five days. Krueger threw sufficient reinforcements into the battle to tip the balance in the cavalrymen's favor. After three days of piecemeal attacks, the Japanese struck hard on the night of 3-4 March and nearly succeeded in breaking the cavalrymen's lines. During this action Sgt. Troy A. McGill and his eight-man squad withstood repeated attacks. When all but McGill and another man had been killed or wounded, McGill ordered the survivor to the rear, fired his rifle at the advancing Japanese until it jammed, then fought them in front of the position, using the rifle as a club until he was killed. His actions earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor. MacArthur's luck and daring, plus the courage of a handful of cavalrymen like Sergeant McGill, had won an impressive victory.

Capture of the Admiralties isolated Rabaul and gave MacArthur a forward air base that extended his fighter range past Wewak. Seizing

Unloading LST's, Red Beach 2 (Hollandia). (U.S. Navy photograph)

the Admiralties two months ahead of schedule also led the Joint Chiefs to reevaluate Pacific strategy. MacArthur sent his chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, to Washington to brief an operation remarkable in scope, daring in execution, and promising to cut months off the Southwest Pacific advance. This was the revised RENO IV plan to jump an unprecedented 400 miles up the New Guinea coastline to capture the major Japanese air and supply base at Hollandia. Code-named R ECKLESS , the Hollandia operation was a masterpiece of sound planning that took full advantage of extremely accurate intelligence obtained from reading Japanese codes. For MacArthur it proved the decisive operation on New Guinea and was the turning point in his war against the Japanese.

When Allied codebreakers lifted the veil shrouding Japanese defenses, it became evident that MacArthur's next landing, scheduled for 26 April in Hansa Bay, midway between Madang and Wewak, could expect strong ground opposition. Moreover Japanese aerial reinforcements were filling up the major air base complex at Hollandia from where they would support the land defense of Madang. Conversely, Hollandia's land defenses were almost nonexistent. The soft Japanese center remained vulnerable to an Allied landing.

JCS approval of R ECKLESS did not automatically ensure success of

The Assault on Wakde Island. (DA photograph)

execution. MacArthur, for instance, needed carrier air support because Hollandia was far beyond the range of his land-based fighter aircraft. The U.S. Navy, busily preparing for its assault of the Marianas, could provide three days of carrier support and no more. General Headquarters planners then decided to seize Aitape, about 140 miles east of Hollandia. Aitape's airstrips could provide land-based fighter support to the ground troops at Hollandia after the carriers departed. The operation now evolved into a herculean effort by 217 ships to transport safely 80,000 men, their equipment, and supplies 1,000 miles to conduct three separate amphibious landings deep in the enemy rear area. The Japanese fleet was no longer a threat, having withdrawn from Rabaul to the safety of the Philippines. Control of the skies along the invasion route, however, was the prerequisite to success.

By late March, Kenney knew from deciphered Japanese communications that about 350 enemy warplanes were concentrated near Hollandia where they believed themselves safely beyond the range of Allied air strikes. Employing new model P-38s whose extended range

made them ideal as escorts, Kenney sent sixty B-24 heavy bombers against Hollandia on 30 March. Follow-up raids demolished nearly all the operational Japanese aircraft at Hollandia on the ground. Never again would the enemy contest air superiority over New Guinea.

For MacArthur to bag all of Eighteenth Army, it was imperative that Adachi continue to believe that MacArthur's next blow was aimed at the Madang-Hansa area. A well-designed deception effort fed General Adachi and his staff a steady diet of false information about an Allied landing in Hansa Bay that the Japanese were predisposed to believe. The deception was so successful that on 22 April the 24th and 41st Divisions, led by Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, commander of I Corps and the R ECKLESS Task Force, landed unopposed twenty-five miles apart at Hollandia. The 163d Regimental Combat Team simultaneously waded ashore against no opposition at Aitape. In one swoop MacArthur had split the Japanese defenses on New Guinea in half, isolating Eighteenth Army in eastern New Guinea.

Once ashore, the 24th and 41st Divisions, moving east and west respectively, conducted a pincer movement to encircle Hollandia's three airfields. The maze of jungle trails, rain-swollen streams, marshy lowlands, and numerous hills and defiles proved a harsher opponent than the Japanese. Although there were 7,600 enemy near Hollandia, most were assigned to service, airfield, and communications units. Only one in ten carried a rifle. Surprised, badly outnumbered, demoralized, and ill equipped for battle, the Japanese fled into the jungle in hopes of reaching Sarmi, about 150 miles to the northwest. On 26 April the pincers closed on the airdromes where GIs discovered an aircraft graveyard of 340 wrecked planes that provided silent testimony to the deadliness of Kenney's earlier air raids.

With the enemy disorganized and confused, MacArthur's strategy was to capture additional forward airfields from which to cover his further advance into Geelvink Bay and thence the Vogelkop Peninsula. While his Sixth Army advanced rapidly westward to exploit his Hollandia advantage by not allowing Japanese defenders any respite, General Krueger simultaneously had to prevent Adachi's Eighteenth Army from breaking through the Hollandia encirclement. Just five days after the Hollandia/Aitape landings, MacArthur ordered the 41st Division to leapfrog to Wakde Island and the airstrips at Sarmi on the adjacent New Guinea coast by mid-May.

The 163d RCT landed unopposed in Maffin Bay near Sarmi on 17 May and prepared to take Wakde. The following day four rifle companies of the 163d assaulted the tiny island. Wakde proved a tough nut to crack. It took two days of nasty squad-size fighting to pry almost 800

Japanese defenders from their spider holes, coconut log bunkers, and coral caves. In sum, 40 American soldiers were killed and 107 wounded to take Wakde. They counted 759 Japanese corpses and brought back 4 prisoners of war.

By 22 May Krueger had achieved his objectives near Sarmi. He then enlarged the mission. To secure the high ground overlooking Maffin Bay, Krueger ordered an overland advance toward Sarmi village about eighteen miles west of the beachhead. The American push by the 158th RCT ignited a sharp battle for a coral lump overgrown with rain forest, forever after known as Lone Tree Hill. Following several days of close-in fighting, correctly believing itself outnumbered and overextended, the 158th pulled back toward its beachhead.

Three separate Japanese forces threatened the Americans. Units of the 223d and 224th Infantry Regiments had checked the 158th RCT at Lone Tree Hill. Simultaneously a second Japanese task force composed of the main force of the 223d Infantry had infiltrated through the jungle and worked its way behind the strung-out American advance. Yet a third enemy force, a battalion of the 224th Infantry, was returning from the direction of Hollandia, which placed it on the exposed eastern flank of the American beachhead. Fortunately for the GIs, the Japanese could not coordinate their offensive, but their piecemeal attacks alerted Sixth Army to the potential danger of the situation.

Operations farther west required the 158th RCT and the 163d Infantry. To replace them, and to strengthen Army forces, Krueger ordered the entire 6th Infantry Division to the Sarmi region. On 14 June the 6th Division relieved the 158th and took up the fight for Lone Tree Hill. After ten days of tough, close infantry fighting, the now veteran 6th Division held Lone Tree Hill. Division members counted nearly 1,000 Japanese bodies and sealed other enemy soldiers forever in fortified caves. The division itself suffered about 700 battle and 500 non-battle casualties. With the high ground in American possession, Maffin Bay became a major staging base for all or parts of five different task forces--Biak, Noemfoor, Sansapor, and Leyte, plus Luzon in the Philippines.

The 6th Division was slated to spearhead the Sansapor landing, so Sixth Army headquarters ordered the 31st Infantry Division to Maffin Bay to replace it. From mid-July until the end of August, the 31st conducted aggressive patrolling to keep the Japanese at bay. It suffered about 240 battle casualties while killing nearly 300 Japanese and capturing 14 others before it departed in early September to invade Morotai. The 123d Regimental Combat Team, 33d Division, arrived on 1 September to garrison the area. It remained until January 1945

Infantrymen Moving Up, Biak. (DA photograph)

when a battalion combat team of the 93d Infantry Division replaced it. Altogether the fighting near Sarmi cost U.S. Army units approximately 2,100 battle casualties. Five times that number of Japanese perished. Although the area later supported five invasions, the push toward Sarmi was a significant distraction at a time when Krueger had his hands full juggling four other major operations--Aitape, Noemfoor, Sansapor, and Biak.

Biak Island dominates strategic Geelvink Bay. Its coral airstrips, suitable for heavy bombers, were a powerful lure to MacArthur and Kenney. On 27 May the 41st Division (minus) arrived at Biak which lies only sixty miles south of the equator. The first wave landed exactly as planned, but strong currents carried subsequent units well west of their designated landing beaches. There was, fortunately, only nominal enemy resistance because the invasion caught the Japanese garrison flat-footed. Still, the steaming equatorial heat, thick, twelve-foot-high scrub growth, rugged terrain, and small parties of Japanese entrenched in caves cut into the face of a 200-foot-high cliff combined to slow the American advance along the coastal track toward the vital airstrips. Nevertheless, by the following morning, patrols of the 162d Infantry Regiment were within 200 yards of the island's airfields. Then a violent Japanese counterattack drove them back.

American troops now found themselves under attack from the west and the targets of well-aimed fire from the East Caves which dominated the coastal road. In constant danger of being cut off, the 162d fought an unseen enemy until ordered to withdraw in late afternoon. The next morning opened with another counterattack by the 222d Infantry Regiment supported by half a dozen light tanks. Sherman M4 tanks dispatched the inferior Japanese models while the 162d broke the infantry attack. The Japanese, however, regrouped for

another attack. More importantly, the Americans finally recognized the importance of clearing the high ground of Japanese.

In these circumstances, the 41st Division commander, Maj. Gen. Horace H. Fuller, requested reinforcements. Krueger dispatched the 163d RCT, which had accomplished its mission at Wakde and was an organic regiment of the division. It arrived on 1 June along with an admonition from Krueger to the division commander to push the offensive vigorously. Meanwhile the 186th Infantry Regiment had occupied the plateau overlooking the landing beaches and was pushing westward. With the 162d along the coastal road pinning the Japanese defenders, the 186th threatened the East Caves from the rear. MacArthur, however, wanted the airfields immediately to support planned landings farther west. His unrelenting pressure on Krueger translated, in turn, to Krueger's demands that the 41st Division quickly take the airfields. Thus the 186th Infantry was ordered from the high ground down to the airfield on the coast. By moving into this basin, the regiment placed itself under Japanese guns and suffered a continual pounding. Because the enemy dominated the airdrome by fire, it remained unusable by Allied warplanes.

MacArthur then dispatched General Eichelberger to the island with orders to get the troops moving on the airfield. Despite a shakeup of commanders, the fighting continued unabated on Biak through June, and the island was not completely secured until mid-July. The doomed garrison fought tenaciously, but to a foregone conclusion that left more than 4,800 Japanese dead at the cost of nearly 2,800 American casualties. Because Biak's airfields were not taken as scheduled, MacArthur ordered the capture of the strips on tiny, 15-mile-long by 12-mile-wide, Noemfoor Island situated 60 miles west of Biak.

Preceded by an intense naval bombardment, more than 13,500 troops of the 158th Regimental Combat Team (Reinforced) stormed ashore on Noemfoor on 2 July against desultory resistance. One dazed Japanese prisoner announced that recently arrived reinforcements had raised the garrison's strength to nearly 4,500 men. The surprised task force commander immediately requested reinforcements from Sixth Army. In truth no Japanese reinforcements had landed on Noemfoor, but the reserve of 1,500 officers and men of the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment jumped onto the island using its runway as their drop zone. High winds carried the parachutists to bone-cracking landings in supply dumps, vehicle parks, and amidst wrecked Japanese aircraft. No paratroopers fell to hostile fire, but 128 were injured in the jump, including 59 serious fracture cases.

To the paratroopers also fell the nasty job of mopping up the

enemy on Noemfoor. "Mopping up" meant searching for an elusive enemy and hoping you found him before he found you. When the Japanese did surprise a platoon from the 503d, Sgt. Ray E. Eubanks led his squad to their relief. Enemy fire wounded Eubanks and smashed his rifle, yet he continued to lead his men forward and, using his rifle as a club, killed four Japanese before he was again hit and killed. His heroism earned a Medal of Honor. For the entire Noemfoor campaign, the task force incurred a total of 411 battle casualties while killing 1,759 Japanese and capturing another 889, mostly laborers. While GIs secured Biak and Noemfoor, 500 miles to the east Eighteenth Army was approaching Aitape.

After scant opposition following the 22 April landing at Aitape, Allied engineers had quickly converted the existing Japanese airdromes into a major fighter base. By early June the 32d Division had established an outer defensive perimeter along the western banks of the Driniumor River, about fifteen miles east of the airstrips. Extensive intelligence reports warned the American commanders of the coming offensive.

Privy to the unfolding enemy plan thanks to codebreaking, Krueger asked MacArthur for, and received, additional infantry, artillery, and air reinforcements for Aitape, bringing the total forces, either present or en route, to two and two-thirds divisions. Eventually the 32d and 43d Infantry Divisions, plus the 124th Infantry, 31st Division, and the 112th RCT as well as a corps artillery section and tank destroyer battalion stiffened the defense. On 28 June Krueger created XI Corps to oversee the growing Allied force and appointed Maj. Gen. Charles P. Hall its commander. Hall enclosed the vital airstrips with a semicircular, ten-mile, defensive belt whose flanks rested on the sea. Along this line were more than 1,500 mutually protective log bunkers. Barbed wire obstacles and entanglements girded the line. Within that perimeter stood the equivalent of two divisions, including nine infantry battalions. Fifteen miles east, however, only three infantry battalions and two understrength cavalry squadrons defended the Driniumor River line. They had little barbed wire, few bunkers, poor fields of fire, and miserable jungle tracks for communication.

The Driniumor's twenty-foot-wide stream was easily fordable, calf-deep water. Dense jungle and towering trees on both sides of the wider riverbed effectively masked movement on the opposite banks. American riflemen and machine gunners in foxholes, pits, and a few bunkers along the river nervously awaited a Japanese attack. Japanese prisoners of war told of a forthcoming assault. American patrols had encountered stiffening Japanese resistance, and numerous decrypted

messages pointed to an imminent offensive. Rather than wait for the Japanese attack, Hall ordered a textbook maneuver, a reconnaissance-in-force along both enemy flanks, to commence on 10 July.

That morning an infantry battalion on the north and a cavalry squadron on the south crossed the Driniumor and probed cautiously eastward. The reconnaissance-in-force passed north and south of Eighteenth Army's main assembly areas which were from two to four miles inland from the coast. Only two infantry battalions and a cavalry squadron remained to defend the Driniumor line.

That night ten thousand howling Japanese troops burst across the shallow Driniumor and charged through the center of the badly outnumbered and undermanned covering force. GIs fired their machine guns and automatic rifles until the barrels turned red hot, but the Japanese, eerily visible under the light of flares, surged forward. American artillery fell in clusters on the Japanese infantrymen, killing and maiming hundreds or crushing others beneath the tall trees that snapped apart in the unceasing explosions. Japanese numbers proved irresistible. Their breakthrough precipitated a month-long battle of attrition in the New Guinea wilds.

GIs moved behind heavy artillery support to close off pockets of Japanese resistance. The jungle restricted movement so the hardest fighting fell to rifle squads or platoons. Infantrymen fought a disconnected series of vicious actions that appeared coherent only on headquarters' situation maps. Adachi's men asked no quarter and received none. During July and August 1944, nearly 10,000 Japanese perished. Almost 3,000 Americans fell along the Driniumor, 440 of them killed. In terms of American casualties, it was MacArthur's most costly campaign since Buna.

One measure of the severity of the fighting was the award of four Medals of Honor, all posthumously, for the campaign. Three soldiers received the decoration for self-sacrifice. Pvt. Donald R. Lobaugh of the 127th Infantry, 32d Division, launched a single-handed attack on a Japanese machine gun nest that saved his squad but cost him his life. S. Sgt. Gerald L. Endl, 128th Infantry, 32d Division, also single-handedly engaged the enemy at close range to save seven wounded Americans. As Endl was carrying the last wounded man to safety, a burst of Japanese machine gun fire killed him. Second Lt. George W. G. Boyce, Jr., of Troop A, 112th RCT, threw himself on a hand grenade to save his men. Second Lt. Dale Eldon Christensen, also of Troop A, won the medal for his series of heroic actions and outstanding leadership during the 112th's mid-July counterattack. Christensen was later killed "mopping up" after a Japanese attack. Their valor and

the anonymous heroism of their comrades broke the back of Eighteenth Army.

Hall's victory allowed Sixth Army's other ongoing operations to proceed on or ahead of schedule and validated MacArthur's concept of bypassing the enemy. Adachi's terrible defeat left Eighteenth Army trapped between the Americans in the west and the Australians in the east. In mid-December 1944 Australian forces began a slow, determined drive from the east toward Wewak, which finally fell on 10 May 1945. Australian losses were 451 killed, 1,163 wounded, and 3 missing. Some 7,200 Japanese fell. Adachithen kept his approximately 13,000 survivors together in the hills and surrendered only in September 1945. Adachi himself was tried at Rabaul for war crimes, but beat the hangman by committing suicide in September 1947.

With the fighting along the Driniumor flickering out, MacArthur's final assault landing on New Guinea took place at Sansapor, a weak point between two known Japanese strongholds on the Vogelkop Peninsula. There were about 15,000 Japanese troops of the 35th Division at Manokwari, 120 miles east of Sansapor. Sixty miles to Sansapor's west were 12,500 enemy soldiers at the major air base complex of Sorong. Rather than fight on the enemy's terms, MacArthur employed SWPA's well-tested amphibious capability to leapfrog to Sansapor where, on 30 July, 7,300 men of the 6th Division conducted an unopposed landing. Sixth Army had once again split the Japanese forces in order to seize a coastal enclave that combat engineers quickly transformed from jungle overgrowth into two airfields that provided valuable support during MacArthur's invasion of Morotai in the Molucca chain. Japan's 35th Division found itself isolated in western New Guinea. For historical purposes, Sixth Army closed the Vogelkop operation on 31 August 1944, although the 6th Division remained there until it left for Luzon, Philippines, in January 1945. Units of the 93d Infantry Division then took over the defense of the airfields.


Jungle Fighters, Arawe, Pacific, by David Fredenthal. (Army Art Collection)

than 24,000 battle casualties about 70 percent (17,107) were Australians. All this to advance the front line 300 miles in 20 months. But following the decisive Hollandia, Netherlands New Guinea, envelopment in April 1944, losses were 9,500 battle casualties, mainly American, to leap 1,300 miles in just 100 days and complete the reconquest of the great island.

The series of breathtaking landings, often within a few weeks of one another, were the fruits of the Australians' gallant effort in eastern New Guinea. They fought the Japanese to a standstill at Wau and then pushed a fanatical foe back to the Huon Peninsula. This gave Sixth Army the time to train and to prepare American forces for the amphibious assaults that MacArthur envisioned. It also bought the time to bring the industrial capacity of America to bear in the Southwest Pacific. Aircraft, ships, landing craft, ammunition, medicine, equipment--in short, the sinews of war--gradually found their way to MacArthur's fighting men. Still, without flexible senior commanders who adapted their plans to wring full advantage of Japanese weakness, the campaign could have degenerated into a meatgrinder

along the coast which is what the enemy wanted.

Instead the speed of MacArthur's seaborne envelopments consistently surprised the Japanese. At the strongpoints where they expected to fight a delaying action, MacArthur bypassed them. Where they were weak, he overwhelmed them. Between Wau and Sansapor 110,000 of the emperor's soldiers and sailors died from enemy action, disease, or starvation in the pestilent jungles, the cold mountains, or in the empty seas. Another 30,000 were isolated in New Guinea and neutralized. Add to this the more than 57,000 imperial soldiers and 39,000 sailors marooned on New Britain and the totality of Allied victory in the New Guinea Campaign comes into sharp relief.

Victory on the ground depended on local air superiority which enabled the Navy to carry the ground forces safely forward to the next objective. The infantry held the ground and allowed the engineers to construct a forward air base, and the cycle began again. Against this sophisticated employment of combined arms warfare, modern technology, and industrial might, Tokyo asked its hardened veterans to do the impossible. Japanese infantry operations, brave, determined, but futile, were swept aside by Allied joint operations relying on the combined air, naval, and ground firepower essential for the conduct of modern war. MacArthur bypassed the jungle and left it to devour the Japanese soldiers isolated in its interior.

But above all New Guinea was the story of the courage of the GI who could always be counted on to move forward against a determined foe. It was the ordinary American soldier who endured the worst deprivations that the debilitating New Guinea climate and terrain could offer. It was the lowly GI who was the brains, the muscle, the blood, and the heart and soul of the great army that came of age in the Southwest Pacific Area in 1943 and 1944. In one tough fight after another, he never lost a battle to the Japanese. Those accomplishments and sacrifices are forever his and deserve to be remembered by all.

Further Readings

Two volumes of the U.S. Army in World War II series, John Miller, Jr., C ARTWHEEL : The Reduction of Rabaul (1959) and Robert Ross Smith, The Approach to the Philippines (1953) remain the best accounts of the New Guinea Campaign. Similarly David Dexter, Australia in the War of 1939-45: The Army: The New Guinea Offensives (1961) is an excellent recounting of Australia's ground war on New Guinea. Several top American commanders like Robert L. Eichelberger and Milton MacKaye, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo (1950) Walter Krueger, From Down Under to Nippon (1953) and George C. Kenney, General Kenney Reports (1949) discuss New Guinea operations in general terms. More critical, though still general, accounts appear in Eichelberger's letters published in Jay Luvaas, ea., Dear Miss Em (1972) and D. Clayton James' excellent biography The Years of MacArthur, vol. 2,1941-1945. Edward J. Drea's "Defending the Driniumor," Leavenworth Paper No. 9 (1984) details tactical operations at Aitape while his MacArthur's U LTRA : Codebreaking and the War Against Japan, 1942-1945 (1992) analyzes MacArthur's use of intelligence during the New Guinea fighting. CMH Pub 72-9

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New Guinea campaign

The New Guinea campaign of the Pacific War lasted from January 1942 until the end of the war in September 1945. In the initial phase in 1942, the Empire of Japan invaded the Australian-administered territories of the New Guinea Mandate (23 January) and Papua (8 March) and overran western New Guinea (beginning 29/30 March), which was a part of the Netherlands East Indies. In the second phase, the Allies cleared the Japanese first from Papua, then the Mandate and finally from the Dutch colony.

New Guinea was strategically important because it was a major landmass to the immediate north of Australia. Its large land area provided locations for large land, air and naval bases. [ citation needed ]

The campaign between Allied and Japanese forces commenced with the Japanese assault on Rabaul on 23 January 1942. Rabaul became the forward base for the Japanese campaigns in mainland New Guinea, including the pivotal Kokoda Track campaign of July 1942 – January 1943, and the Battle of Buna-Gona. Fighting in some parts of New Guinea continued until the war ended in August 1945.

General Douglas MacArthur as Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Area, led the Allied forces. MacArthur was based in Melbourne, Brisbane and Manila. The Japanese 8th Area Army, under General Hitoshi Imamura, was responsible for both the New Guinea and Solomon Islands campaigns. Imamura was based at Rabaul. The Japanese 18th Army, under Lieutenant General Hatazō Adachi, was responsible for Japanese operations on mainland New Guinea.

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The campaign began in September 1943 following the 7th Division's drive on Lae, [4] as part of the wider New Guinea campaign, which saw the 9th Division carrying out operations along the Huon Peninsula on the coast to the east, while the 7th moved towards the west. [5] Carrying out a number of smaller-scale operations, the units of the 21st and 25th Brigades advanced up the Markham and Ramu Valleys. Apart from a significant engagement around Kaiapit, where the 2/6th Commando Squadron captured the village and killed over 200 Japanese, the Australians were barely resisted as they advanced and they arrived in Dumpu in early October. [3] [6]

Following this, the 7th Division provided security for a number of airfields that were constructed in the territory they had captured in the valleys, [7] however, the Japanese remained in strong possession of the Finisterre Range, and their positions at Kankiryo Saddle north of the Ramu river and the 1,500 m (4,900 ft) high razorback ridge named Shaggy Ridge, continued to threaten the airfields. [6] This threat manifested itself in the road that the Japanese were attempting to build from Madang on the coast inland to Nadzab, via Bogadjim along which they were hoping to advance through to Dumpu. [3] [6]

Thus, the Kankiryo Saddle and Shaggy Ridge were of vital strategic importance for both the Japanese and the Australians. For the Japanese, it provided a strong obstacle to the Australian advance north towards the coast, while also offering them the ground along which they could launch their own offensive in order to recapture the territory they had lost earlier in the campaign. [6] For the Australians, the Japanese positions on the high ground signalled threat and their commander, Vasey, came to the decision that he would have to launch an offensive in order to capture this ground. [6]

This led to a number of battles in the steep mountains of the Finnisterres. In October, battles took place at Palliser's Hill [8] and then later at Johns' Knoll where the Australians first managed to capture the knoll and then held it against a determined Japanese counterattack. [3] In November, the 25th Brigade relieved the 21st as the offensive was maintained, [6] and later in December and into January heavy fighting took place around Shaggy Ridge and the Kankiryo Saddle. [3] Shortly after Shaggy Ridge was captured, the 18th Brigade was replaced by the 15th Brigade, a Militia formation, [9] and the 7th Division advanced towards Bogadjim, linking up with the American forces there on the coast, before finally securing the Huon Peninsula on 24 April 1944 when they took Madang. [3]


Strategic situation [ edit | edit source ]

During September 1943, Australian forces from Major General George Vasey's 7th Division, advancing from Nadzab, had captured Lae, as part of a pincer undertaken in conjunction with Major General George Wootten's 9th Division, which had advanced along the coast from the east of Lae. Heavy rain had held up the Australian advance and much of the garrison had managed to withdraw inland, prior to the capture of the town. To follow these forces up, the 9th Division's focus then shifted to the Huon Peninsula, while the 7th Division – following the capture of Kaiapit – advanced from there to Dumpu and Marawasa, to prepare for the Australian advance through the Ramu Valley and into the Finisterre Range, towards Bogadjim near Madang on the northern coast. Ώ] ΐ]

Opposing forces [ edit | edit source ]

The Japanese formation in the campaign was the Nakai Detachment, a brigade-sized formation detached from the Japanese 20th Division under Major General Masutaro Nakai. Α] The area was defended by several battalions of the 78th Infantry Regiment, supported by the 26th Artillery Regiment and the 27th Independent Engineer Regiment. The II/78th and two companies of the III/78th were deployed forward around Kankiryo and Shaggy Ridge, with the I/78th spread out around Saipa and Yokopi and the remaining two companies of the III/78th at Yaula, the 239th Infantry Regiment held the rear around Madang, Erima and Bogadjim, along with 2,000 unassigned reinforcements this was a force of about 12,000 men. Ώ] It faced the Australian 7th Division, consisting of approximately 17,000 men, Β] under Vasey, and made up of the 18th, 21st and 25th Brigades, along with the 2/6th Commando Squadron. Γ]


In the fighting for Lae over 2,200 Japanese were killed. In contrast, the Australian casualties were considerably lighter, with the 9th Division losing 77 killed and 73 missing. [45] Despite the Allied success in capturing Lae, the Japanese had achieved a "creditable defence", which had not only slowed the Allied advance, but had allowed the bulk of the Japanese forces in the vicinity to get away, withdrawing north into the Huon Peninsula, where they could continue to fight on. [44]

At this point, the 9th Division's advance began to be hampered by a lack of supplies which, along with the rugged terrain, resulted in slow progress. [42] It was not until 9 September that they reached the Busu River. The 2/28th Infantry Battalion was leading the Australian advance at this stage and the soldiers waded across. The current was strong and many of the men – 13 of whom drowned – were swept downstream. Nevertheless, the 2/28th was able to establish a beachhead west of the river. At this point, heavy rain began to fall again, and the river rose once more, preventing any other units from crossing. This effectively isolated the single Australian battalion, which was then subjected to repeated attacks by the Japanese. [43] On 14 September, the 26th Brigade was able to force its way across and the advance continued. Along the coast the 24th Brigade was held up by a determined Japanese defence in front of the Butibum River, which was the final crossing before Lae. The stream was finally forded on 16 September, by which time Lae had fallen to troops from the 7th Division. [44]

Further Japanese air attacks came in the afternoon. A force of about 70 Japanese aircraft, coming from bases on New Britain, were beaten off over Finschhafen. Another group, however, achieved success around Morobe, attacking empty transports that were making their egress from Finschhafen, while off Cape Ward Hunt another group attacked an Allied convoy carrying follow-on forces, including the rest of Brigadier David Whitehead's 26th Brigade. [39] Aboard LST-471, 43 were killed and another 30 wounded, while eight were killed and 37 wounded on LST-473. [40] This did not prevent the flow of supplies and the arrival of further reinforcements in the shape of the 24th Brigade, under Brigadier Bernard Evans, the following day. [41] The Australians then began the arduous advance west towards Lae, passing through "thick jungle, swamps, kunai grass and numerous rain-swollen rivers and streams" which, along with heavy rain, slowed their progress. [42] On the night of 5/6 September, the Japanese launched an attack on the lead Australian battalion, but they were unable to prevent its advance. At this point, the 26th Brigade moved inland to strike towards Lae from the north-east while the 24th carried the advance along the coast. [42]

After training in Queensland and at Milne Bay in New Guinea, the 9th Division embarked upon US ships assigned to Rear Admiral Daniel Barbey's naval task force – VII Amphibious Force – as part of what was the "largest amphibious operation. undertaken by Allied forces in the South-West Pacific" to that point in the war. [35] The 20th Brigade, under the command of Brigadier Victor Windeyer, was chosen to spearhead the assault with a landing at a beach 16 miles (26 km) to the east of Lae. [33] In preparation, early on 4 September 1943, five destroyers laid down a heavy bombardment that lasted six minutes. [36] Upon its conclusion, the 2/13th Infantry Battalion led the 20th Brigade ashore, with the brigade's other two battalions, the 2/15th and 2/17th, coming ashore shortly afterwards in the second and third waves. Unopposed on the ground, the Australian infantry quickly began to move inland as further reinforcements arrived. [37] About 35 minutes after the initial landing, as the Australian divisional headquarters and the 2/23rd Infantry Battalion were coming ashore, a small force of Japanese aircraft attacked the landing craft carrying the infantry ashore. As a result, two of these craft were heavily damaged and numerous casualties inflicted, including the 2/23rd's commanding officer, who was killed when a Japanese bomb landed on the bridge of LCI-339. [38]

[34] .Salamaua would fight a diversionary action around 162nd Infantry Regiment and the US 3rd Division At the same time, the Australian [33] . From Nadzab, the 7th Division would advance on Lae from the south to support the 9th Division's drive towards Lae.2/4th Field Regiment and the US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in the Markham Valley, which had been secured by parachute troops from the air to Nadzab would move by 7th Division The initial focus was upon securing Lae. The Allies formulated a plan to achieve this that would see the 9th Division conduct an amphibious landing east of Lae, while the [6]

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