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War History World War II in Papua New Guinea. Australian and Japanese soldier who fought the battle, died and buried in Bomana (Port Moresby), Lae cemetary, Wewak, Relics and Wreckages.

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Old 09-03-2003, 12:27 PM
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Lae - Operations in New Guinea

IN March 1942, Japanese forces landed at Lae and Salamaua on the mainland of New Guinea. The only defending forces in the area were small detachments of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles based on Wau, a gold-mining town, in the highlands to the south.

These riflemen, well served by native followers, established observation posts in the bush close to the enemy's bases. In May the defending force was strengthened by the addition of an independent company, and in June detachments of the combined force raided Japanese bases with some success.

In January 1943, having failed to reach Port Moresby by their advance over the Owen Stanley Mountains, the Japanese reinforced their troops at Salamaua and made a rapid thrust towards Wau. The Australian independent company and the New Guinea riflemen fell back and reinforcements were flown into Wau. These-the 17th Brigade and other units-stopped the Japanese within half a mile of the mountain airfield, and thrust them back towards the coast.

On April 23rd the commander of the 3rd Division, Major-General S. G. Savige, took control of the force in the Wau-Bulolo area, but for the present this force included only four infantry battalions and a few other units because of the difficulty of maintaining a larger force by air in this remote mountain area.

In April and Maya series of company attacks on Japanese positions dominating tracks leading towards Salamaua met with little success, and demonstrated the advantages possessed by the defenders in such country. Greater success was achieved by an independent company which harassed the Japanese with raids and ambushes. Both Japanese and Allied aircraft gave support to their troops on the ground and engaged in air battles overhead, some- times as many as fifty aircraft from each side being involved.

It was decided to seize an advanced base on the coast at Nassau Bay from which the Australians round Mubo could be at least partly supplied by sea and also to capture the heights dominating the coast north of the bay. It was hoped that these moves would draw Japanese forces towards Salamaua and away from Lae, the main objective in the opening phase of the coming offensive.

On the night of June 29th/30th part of an American regiment were landed at Nassau Bay, where an Australian patrol awaited them, and in the following ten weeks the combined force-three Australian brigades (17th, 15th and 29th) and the American regiment fought its way forward.

The Japanese were driven from one stubbornly defended position after another until by August 6th the Allied force had broken the enemy's outer defences and were pressing close to Salamaua. In mid-August the dominating Mount Tambu on which the Japanese had established strong positions was isolated and captured, and the enemy was being thrust back into Salamaua so rapidly that orders were given to restrain the advance because it might lead to the fall of Salamaua before a far larger offensive opened early in September.

On May 6th, 1943, General MacArthur had issued orders for a series of operations in the South and South-west Pacific Areas. In the latter area the first main steps were to be the seizure of the Markham Valley and Huon Peninsula, where airfields would be established to support a move eastward into the western end of the island of New Britain.

On the mainland the advance was to continue to Madang. The seizure of bases in New Britain was allotted to divisions of the Sixth American Army; the tasks on the New Guinea mainland to I Australian Corps, including the 7th, 9th, 5th and 11th Australian Divisions.

The Markham Valley extends some 380 miles from Lae at the mouth of the Markham River to the mouth of the Ramu River and is flanked on either side by ranges rising to 13,000 feet.

On the morning of September 4th landing craft put the 20th Brigade of the 9th Division ashore at beaches east of Lae, where they secured a beachhead from which the 26th Brigade, which landed next, advanced westward and then north-west with the object of cutting off the escape of the Japanese garrison round Lae.

The 24th Brigade, which landed on the night of-the 5th/6th, moved towards Lae along the coast. A main obstacle was the wide Busu River, which the 24th Brigade crossed against opposition on September 9th. A few days later all three brigades of the division were advancing on Lae.

On September 5th the 503rd U. S. Parachute Regiment with a detachment of Australian artillerymen had descended unopposed near Nadzab in the lower Markham Valley, about 20 miles from Lae, and with the help of an Australian pioneer battalion and engineers, who reached Nadzab overland the same day, began preparing an airfield on which transport aircraft began landing next morning.

On September 7th the headquarters of the 7th Division and troops of the 25th Brigade began landing at Nadzab. The brigade advanced down the valley, overcoming strong opposition, and entered Lae in the morning of September 16th. Salamaua had fallen to the 29th Brigade on September 11th.

The plan provided that after the fall of Lae a brigade group should land near Finschhafen, where an advanced air and naval base was to be established. Consequently on September 22nd the 20th Brigade was landed on a beach about six miles north of Finschhafen against strong resistance. By nightfall, however, the enemy had been overcome in the neighbourhood of the beach and the leading battalion was two miles to the south. The brigade fought its way southwards and on October 2nd had occupied Finschhafen.

In the meantime an airborne force had been landed in the Ramu V alley, where since January 1943 a commando force had been patrolling on the western flank of the Japanese. An independent company had advanced and taken Kaiapit on September 19th, and from September 21st two brigades of the 7th Division were flown in.

About six miles west of Finschhafen a steep-sided mountain named Sanelberg, 3,400 feet in height, dominated the surrounding country, and after the fall of Finschhafen the Japanese concentrated mainly round this feature.

Against determined opposition the 9th Division. began to fight its way up the slopes of Sanelberg, but this move was interrupted by a powerful Japanese counter-attack from the 16th to the 19th of October, which was defeated, although not before one brigade had been tem- porarily isolated and the defenders compelled to establish a close perimeter to protect their base at Scarlet Beach, where the initial landings had been made.

This attack having been defeated, the 26th Brigade, supported by the 1st Australian Tank Battalion, pressed on to Sanelberg, which fell on November 25th after nine days of bitter fighting. Meanwhile strong Japanese attacks on the Australian right flank had been defeated. The division now advanced northward both along the coast and along the highlands overlooking it, and by mid-December the Japanese were in full retreat, although their rearguards were fighting stubbornly. After the 9th Division had reached Sio the 5th Australian Division took over the advance on January 20th, 1944.

In the Ramu Valley the 7th Division, still entirely supplied by air, was faced by a strong Japanese position at Kankiryo Saddle, which lay across the valley at an elevation of 4,800 feet and about eight miles north of Dumpu. On January 21st, 1944, the 18th Brigade opened an attack on this obstacle, and after six days of heavy fighting it was taken.

On the 8th of April, 11 th Division relieved 7th Division and assumed command of all units in the Ramu Valley sector. The 15th Brigade took over the advance towards the coast and reached Bogadjim on April 13th and Madang on April 24th. A few days later the 8th Brigade occupied Alexishafen without opposition and in June patrols reached the Sepik River.

Thus the Japanese were driven from all of the mainland of Australian New Guinea except that part which lay west of the Sepik.
From the opening of the offensive on September 4th, 1943, until April 1944, 1,038 Australians were killed in action or died of wounds and 364 died of other causes.

Beyond the Sepik, in October 1944, the 6th Australian Division began to take over the Aitape area, seized earlier in 1944 by American troops.

These formed a defensive line round the airfield and harbour of Aitape with outposts farther east. It was estimated that the Japanese force totalled 24,000, including three depleted divisions. Australian patrols were operating south of the Torricelli mountains, which overlook the narrow coastal strip and from which fast-flowing rivers descend to the sea at intervals of from three to ten miles.

In October and November the 2/6th Commando Regiment patrolled south into the Torricellis and east to the Danmap River, 50 miles east of Aitape. At first the division was ordered to harass the enemy and gain information. In November, however, General Blarney approved a limited offensive.

In general terms it took the form of an advance along the coastal strip and a parallel advance along the Torricellis, with the base of the Eighteenth Japanese Army at Wewak as the final objective.

In November the 19th Brigade began to move into the forward area. It drove the enemy's outposts back and established a base at Malin.

Meanwhile the 17th Brigade had advanced deep into the Torricellis. Patrols of the command regiment linked the two brigades. The forward positions were soon about half way between Aitape and Wewak; troops in the coastal area were supplied along a road 42 miles long with 46 bridges.

Late in January 1945 the 16th Brigade relieved the 19th. Torrential rains flooded the rivers and halted the advance. In mid-February, however, after a hard fight at Nambut Hill, the brigade advanced to the Anumb River (February 23rd), But airfield (March 17th) and Dagua airfield (March 21st).

For a fortnight the 16th Brigade was engaged driving' the enemy from the high ground inland from Dagua. It then resumed the advance to the Hawain River, crossed on April 27th.

At the same time the 17th Brigade had maintained a corresponding advance in the inland sector south of the Torricellis. Its leading battalion (2/5th) relieved the 2/7th Commando Squadron at Tong on December 21st and, supplied by air, patrolled forward, driving small enemy groups from the villages in which they were billeted so that they could live on food from native gardens.

Early in February the advance had to be halted- temporarily because of a shortage of supply-dropping parachutes. Late in February the 17th Brigade plus commando units began a converging attack on the strongly-held Maprik area, which was captured in the third week of April.

The retreating Japanese were pursued eastward. Near Maprik an airstrip able to take heavy transport aircraft was made, and the supply problems of a force operating far inland in rugged country were greatly relieved.

On April 30th General Blarney approved a plan for the capture of Wewak and the destruction of its garrison. Accordingly the 19th Brigade advanced along the coastal strip to the outskirts of Wewak, which, with tank support, it captured on May 11th.

That day the 2/6th Commando Regiment landed on a beach east of Wewak, and in the next few days Wewak airfield was taken. Some hard fighting followed in the hills south of Wewak against rearguards left to hold the routes leading inland, whither the main body of the Japanese force had withdrawn.

The 19th Brigade defeated the Japanese here late in June. Meanwhile the 17th Brigade had continued its advance eastward, on August 8th reaching Kiarivu, about 15 miles from the positions held by the troops thrusting south from Wewak. Australians killed in the whole Aitape- Wewak operations numbered 363; 5,200 Japanese dead were counted and 219 taken prisoner.

The Royal Australian Navy had a continuous part to play in the operations in the New Guinea area from Salamaua to Aitape during the period from March 1942 to the end of the war against Japan.

Much of it, in the earlier months, was background work, escorting troopships and supply ships from the Australian mainland, but later the R.A.N., in addition, surveyed the New Guinea routes leading westwards from Milne Bay, and gradually extended seaborne supply lines as the army drove the enemy westwards. In these later months the Navy was represented in many assault operations.

The Landing Ships (Infantry) Manoora and Westralia took the 9th Division from Australia to Milne Bay for the assault landings east of Lae, in September 1943; and small units of the R.A.N. took part in the actual operation. In April 1944, R.M.A. cruisers, destroyers, and the three landing ships Westralia, Manoora and Kanimbla, took part in the Allied landings at Aitape and Rollandia.

The Navy was also represented at Madang when it was captured by the A.I.F. later in the month.

Throughout the final months, smaller ships (corvettes, frigates, motor launches) of the R.A.N. co-operated with the land forces, providing fire support and carrying out bombardments by arrangement as required; and the cruiser Hobart, with Australian destroyers and corvettes, assisted at the Wewak landing in May 1945.
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Old 09-03-2003, 12:40 PM
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The Lae Memorial

The Japanese attack on New Guinea, a necessary preliminary to the projected invasion of Australia, commenced with heavy air raids on Lae and Salamaua, followed by the landing of troops. At Lae, a town and port at the mouth of the Markham River on the Huon Gulf, 3,000 Japanese landed on March 7th, 1942.

There were landings too at Salamaua. The enemy did not however immediately attempt the conquest of the island, but on July 21st he landed troops at Buna and Gona on the east coast, below Salamaua, in preparation for a drive through the Owen Stanley mountains across the Papuan peninsula to Port Moresby.

The vital stage of the New Guinea campaign dates from that time. Lae and Salamaua became bases from which this southward drive was launched and maintained until it was stopped at Ioribaiwa Ridge, a point within 35 miles of Port Moresby.

When in January 1943 the Japanese renewed their attempts to reach Port Moresby, this time by the Markham and Bulo1o valleys, their first objective was Wau, with its airfield. With reinforcements landing on the airfield only 800 yards from the enemy, the attack was held and the Japanese withdrew in February.

Thereafter the initiative passed to the Australian troops who steadily forced the Japanese back. On September 11th, 1943, Salamaua was captured and on September 16th, after attack by seaborne and airborne forces, Lae was taken.

The Lae Memorial was designed to commemorate officers and men of the Australian Army, the Australian Merchant Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force who lost their lives in these operations and who have no known grave.

Men of the Royal Australian Navy who lost their lives in the south-western Pacific region, and have no graves but the sea, are commemorated on Plymouth Naval Memorial in England, along with many of their comrades of the Royal Navy and of other Commonwealth Naval Forces.

The Lae Memorial is in Lae War Cemetery, where rest many who fought and died with those whom it honours. Contained within the entrance building, it takes the form of bronze tablets, fixed to walls linking the end columns of the building, upon which are engraved the names of 348 members of the Australian Armed Forces. Above the tablets is an inscription which reads:


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