World War II New Guinea Campaign: Drive up the Northern Coast (1943-44)

World War II New Guinea
Figure 1.--New Guinea before World War II was one of the nost remote and isolated plasces on earth. The resulting inter-actions between the stone-age New Guinra natives and gum-chewing, swing era American GIs involved a good deal of culture shock on both sides. As a result of of the enlightened Australian administration before the War and the brutality of the Japanese invaders the natives turned against the Japanese. A factor hre was not only the brutality of the Jpanese, but the fact that the soldits were hungary. The Japanese did not have the logistical capability to supply their Pcufic garrisons. The soldiers would thus seize food from the natives and not infrequently rape the women. The natives soon made friends with the Americans who not only did bot steal food and rape, but offered all kinds of swag to natives willing to work with them. As aresult, the ntives provided important support in oerations aginst the Japanese. This snapshot was taken by an American sodier and sent home, but the location along the New Guinea coast was not identified.

After the fierce naval battles around Guadacanal (August-December 1942), the Imperial Fleet began to withdrew from the South Pacific. They decided after the loss of Guadacanal to reinforce New Guinea with troops from China and Japan and making a stand there. Allied aircraft spotted and attacked one of the troop convoys in the Bismarck Sea (March 1943). The United States Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked the convoy from Rabaul carrying troops to Lae. Most of the troop transports were sunk. Japanese losses were severe. The Japanese hoped that their Central Pacific island and New Guinea garisons could stop the Americans without naval support. The Marines at Tarawa and the Army in New Guinea proved that they could not. The New Guinea campign was overseen by General MacArthur. The Allied offensive in the Solomons soon was joined by landings along the northeastern coast of New Guinea. The Australians pursued the Japanese accross the Owen Stanleys. The Allies has substanial supply problems and against the well-entrenched Japanese, the going was a first slow. After retaking Buna, the Allies begam moving west along the northern coast in a series of amphibious operations. New Guinea is a huge island, but the lack of roads meant that the numerous Japanese bases along the northern were more like isolated small island bases. The Allies suceeded in defeating sdome of the Hapanese garisons and keap-frogging over and isolating other garisons as they moved west along the northern coast. The effort began at Buna. This was the southern prong of a dual Allied offensive (1943-44). The northern prong was Admiral Nimitz's drive across the central Pacific. The twin campaign made it difficult for the Japsnese to prepare for and antiicipate the next American strike. In New Guinea the Japanese fought the campaign with a series of garrisons spread all along the coast. Expanding American air and sea power largely imobilized the Japanese, making it difficult to concentrate or even supply their forces. American air power gradually reduced Japanese bases supporting forces on New Guinea. Land based and carrier strikes gradually reduced the powerful base at Rabaul. This was made even worse when American carriers attacked Truk (February-May 1944). The Imperial fleet was forced to withdraw and the air and naval facilities virtually wrecked. By the end f te War, the Japanese gasrisons thsat were cut off were near starvation. Finally the Allies secured New Guinea and the two prongs converged on the Phillippines (October 1944).

Solomons

After the fierce naval battles around Guadacanal (August-December 1942), the Imperial Fleet began to withdrew from the South Pacific. As a result, in the Japanese effort to hold the northern Solomons and New Guinea, the Japanese soldiers would have little baval support. No only would the Imperial Fleet not opposed American landings, but the Marus would find it more and more difficult to deliver reinforcements and supplies.

Reinforcements

The Japanese decided after the loss of Guadacanal to reinforce New Guinea with troops from China and Japan and making a stand there. Most of the Japanese Army was in China. The battles in the Pacific werrte conducted by relatively small forces. And increasing American naval and air power was beginning to male it very difficult for the Japanese to transfer these forces to the Pacific and support them once they got there. A major turr\ning point in the American interdiction effort was the Battle of the Philippines Sea. The Navy and Marines has carried the bruntt of the Air War in the South Pacific. Americam bombers trained in high-altitude attacks proved in effective. New leadership and new tactics began to bwear fruit in the Bismarck Sea. The Japanese high command decided to transfer troops to the South Pacific. This effort was funneled through their base at Rabaul. There a convoy was organized to bring a division strength grouo (over 10,000 men) to Lae to reinforcde their position in New Guinea. American intelligence picked up the activity in Rabaul. And American flyers spotted the slow moving convoy in the Bismarck Sea (March 1943). The United States Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked the convoy. Most of the troop transports were sunk. Japanese losses were severe, essentialy nearly an entire division. But even more important, this ended not only the Japanese buildup on New Guinea, but the ability to support the ctroops there in a meningful way. The Japasnese began using barges and submarines, but this meant that the supplies delivered were only a fraction of whast could be delivered by Marus. The Japanese hoped that their Central Pacific island and New Guinea garisons could stop the Americans without naval support. It proved to be a false hope.

Central Pacific

The U.S. Pacific Fleet by 1943 began receiving bew ships in large numbers. Of particularly importance was the new Essex-class carriers and their advanced high-performance aircraft--the F6F Hellcat. The Japanese withdrew their fleet, feeverisly trying io to replace the damage dione in the Solomons. They were hoping ghat heabily defended island garisons could withstand Anmerucan fire power. To their horrior they were priven wrong. The Marines at Tarawa and the Army in New Guinea proved that Japanese troops even with fanbatical devotion to the Emperor could not stand up to American fire power. The Japanese withdrew their fleet. They believed that heavily armed garisons could withstand Allied attacks. hey were able to bloody attacking forces, but without navakl and air support not stop them. The New Guinea campign was overseen by General MacArthur. MacArthur's New Guinra campaign was the southern prong of a dual Allied offensive (1943-44). The northern prong was Admiral Nimitz's drive across the central Pacific which also kicked into gear (1943). The twin campaign made it difficult for the Japsnese to prepare for and antiicipate the next American strike. In one island battle after aother, island fortresses fell. And on most the Japanese casualties were much greater than the American invasion forces. Theu ultimately ended with Japanese suiside Banzai charges. The Central Pavufic campaign ended in the Marianas, penetrating the Japanese inner defense circele abnd giving Ametica air bases to begin the srratehic bombing campaign.

Port Moresby: Khoda Trail (July-November 1942)

The U.S. Pacific Fleet at considerable cost stopped the Japanese effort to take Port Moresby by sea (May 1942). The sunsequent American success at Midway fundamentally changed the balance of power in the Pacific (June 1942). The America Pacific Fleet weakened at Pearl Harbor, however, did not yet have the combat power to take the fight to the Japanese. And Japanese land forces had not yet been stopped anywhere in Asia or the Pacific. The Japanese still had their eye on Australia and Port Morseby continued to be seem as the stepping stone to Australia. American code breakers warned General MacArthur that the Japanese were planning landings in eastern New Guinea. He failed to reenforce the area held lightly by the Australisans. The Australians had limited ground forces and the America were just beginning to build up their forces in ustralia. A major landing up the New Zealand coast was probably illadvised. The difficulty the Pacific Fleet would have in keeping Guadalcanal, far to the south, supplied confirms this decesion. Foiled by sea, the Japanese still in the throws of vicory disease and not fully understanding the reasons for their series of land victories set their sights on a land attack and h Khoda Treai. This is where Buna enters history. Buna along the northeast coast of New Guinea, was a small village with a tiny anchorage and grass airstrip. Virtually no one outside of a few Australians has ever heard of it. Thus was the case of so many Pacific battle sites. The Japanese after Midway were feverishly seeking a way to take Port Morseby land and on available maps found the Khoda Trail which ran across the Owen Stanley Mountains from Buna to Port Moresby. They had no real idea how primitive the Khoda Trail was or how rugged the Owen Stanleys were. The Japanese with some 1,900 troops and 1,200 native laborers from their new base at Rabaul landed at Buna (July 22, 1942). Allied aircraft attacked the transports. They set one transport afires, but the Japanese force landed largely in tact and unopposd. The rest of the South Seas Detachment (Horii) came ashore (August 18). The fact that this occurred reflects how the Japanese commanders did not at first take the Marine landings on Guadalcanal very seriously (August 7-8). They wete still focused on New Guinea/Australia and Port Morseby. What the Japanese found at Buna was not what they expected. The Khoda Trail turned out to be noting more a primitive jungle track over the towering Owen Stanleys. Well equipped hikers might have made it, but transporting heavy weapons and and any quantity of equipment and supplies was a very different matter. Even so the Japanese went ahead with their plan to attack Port Moresby over the Kokoda Trail. It is a tribute to the stamina and fierce devotion of the Japanese soldier that they managed to come within a few miles of Port Moresby bfore being stopped by Australian infantry and the need to divert resources to Guadalcanal. New Guinea's Oro District of which Buna is a part is populated by the Orokaiva, a warlike people which had practiced ritual cannibalism as part of genocidal tribal warfare. Only Western intervention (German and Australian) had ended the practice. Some of the Orokaiva had converted to Christianity, but much of the population was hostile to Europeans, in part because of the campaign against tribal warfare and canabilism. As a result, the Japanese found a native population willing to cooprate, providing laborers and scouts. They even turned in Allied civilians and soldiers who committed unspeakable attrocities against the captives. The cooperation with he Japanese did not last. Japanese brutality, especially the raping of native women, caused the Orokaiva to switch sides. The support of native people would play a major role in the Australian victory on the Kokoda Trail. In fact a real bond was gorged with native people. After stopping the Japanese, the Australians launched a counter-attack (September 25). The Australians pursued the Japanese accross the Owen Stanleys. A retreat turned into a rout. The few soldiers who made it back across the Owen Stanleys regrouped in Buna which became the major Japanese base in northeastern New Guinea. The sampy terraine made it a formidable position with which the Allies would have to deal with. The Australians could approach New Guinea over the Khoda Trail, but there was no way to bring a force and supplies up over the Khoda Trail that wre neeed to take Buna. This effort was already begiining at the very tip of the island.

Initial Allied Offensive: Northeastern New Guinea (June 1942-January 1943)

The battle for New Guinea began at the far eastern tip of New Guinea and would contunue all the way along the norther coast. One of the longest campigns of World War II, over 1,500 miles. The Allied campaign to retake the island began in the souutheast because the supply situation was better than furthur west along the coast. The nval situation was still insecure, bt began to improve with the Battles the Coral Sea and Midway (May-June 1942). The first tenative Allied Step was a Milne Bay whene Australian troops landed and quickly built a small airfield (June 1942). The Japanese did not immediatly react, but did attempt to take the expanding base (September 1942). It would be the first unequivocable Japanese land defeat of the Pacific War. The Australian success in New Guinea were being replicated by Ameican success on Guadalcanal where the Japanese made their major effort. Feroocuous navak bttles occy=urred of Guadalcanal. After securing Milne Bay, the principal target became Buna where American infantry entered the fight for New Guinea for the first time. The Allies had substanial supply problems and against the well-entrenched Japanese, the going was at at first slow. Flawed leadership and MacArthur's failure to appreciate the situation were additional problems. The naval and air battles in the Solomons had seriously deplted Japanese forces (August-Novenber 1942). As a result there were no heavy naval battles off eastern New Guinea as was the case of Guadalcanal. Thus the increasing Allies naval and air dominance meant that the Japanese could not hold Buna, but thy could exact substantial casualties on the the still largely inexperinced and poorly supported Allied forces. The Australians in particular suffered heavy casualties.

Northern Drive

After retaking Buna at considerable cost, the Allies begam moving west along the 1,500 mole long northern coast in a series of amphibious operations. New Guinea is a huge island, but the lack of roads meant that the numerous Japanese bases along the northern were more like isolated small island bases. The Allies suceeded in defeating sdome of the Japanese garisons and keap-frogging over and isolating other garisons as they moved west along the northern coast. The effort began at Buna. In New Guinea the Japanese fought the campaign with a series of garrisons spread all along the coast. Expanding American air and sea power largely imobilized the Japanese, making it difficult to concentrate or even supply their forces.

Air Power

American air power gradually reduced Japanese bases supporting forces on New Guinea. American air power also helped prevent Japanse efforts and renifocement and supply. Land based and carrier strikes gradually reduced the powerful base at Rabaul. This was made even worse when American carriers attacked Truk (February-May 1944). The Imperial fleet was forced to withdraw and the air and naval facilities virtually wrecked. By the end f te War, the Japanese gasrisons that were cut off were near starvation.

Battle of Wau (January 29-February 4, 1943)

The Battle of Wau occurred just as Buna was falling to the Allies. It was part of the Japanese effort to strength its position in the Salamaua–Lae Campaign. The Japanese had seized all the port cities along the northern coast of New Guinea, including Buna which the Allies had taken back. While the Australins abd Dutch has lost control of the coast, the Australians still controlled Wau. Wau was a mining town inland from Salamaua and Lae and situated at an altitude of around 1,100 meters. Wau was the site of a Gold rush (1920s-30s). Miners landing at Salamaua struggled inland along the Black Cat Track to Wau. Eventualy a rough air field was built at Wau. The Japanese after taking Salamaua (March 8, 1942) did not mount an effort to take Wau. The miners had built houses and workshops, and established a water supply and an electricity grid. Thus it was a rare developed area in the interior of New Guinea. As a rsult, Wau became an evacuation center. Refugees Lae and Salamaua made their way from the coast. European women and children were evacuated by air. European men of military age were conscripted into the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, a local militia unit. Civilians were evacuated by civilian aircraft but as the Japanese began operating off the coast this vecame untenable. The Japanese bombed Wau (January 23, 1942). It thus became too dangerous to fly without fighter escort and fih=ghtrs were unavialble at the time. As a result some 250 European and Asian men were left stranded. Left with no alternative, they made a dangerous trek over the Owen Stanley Range on foot. When they reached the southern coast, the Australians realized that Wau could be reached overland. . New Guinea Force decided to establish a line of communications to Wau via Bulldog. A platoon of the 1st Independent Company left Port Moresby in the schooner Royal Endeavour and traversed the route, joining the men of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles holding the Wau area. This was the beginning of what became Kanga Force (April 23, 1942). The 21st Troop Carrier Squadron USAAF flew in commandos of the 2/5th Independent Company to join Kanga Force (May 22). The 2/7th Independent Company was flowin in (October 1942). Kanga Force actions alerted the Japanese to the dangers posed by Wau. The Battle of Wau was essentially a race between the Japanese struggling overland, slowed by the montaneous terrain, and the Australians, tranported by USAAF hampered by the weather and arcarious air strip. The Australians won the race. By the time the Japanese reached the Wau area in force, the Australian had been greatly reinforced by air. In the ensuing battle, the Japanese surpriswd the Australians(January 29), but were unabke to take Wau.

Lae-Salamaua Campaign (April-September 1943)

A volcanic eruptions occurred in Rabaul (1937). The Australins decided to move the capital of the Territory of New Guinea to Lae. That transfer was not yet complete when the Japanese launchd the Pacific War. The Japanese landed and occupied Lae (March 8). They turned Lae, Salamaua, and Rabaul into major bases. The Allies would soend half of 1943 reducting these Japanese bastions. After losing Buna, and defeats on the Kokoda Trail the Japanese began building of their forces in the Lae-Salamaua area. The Battle of the Bismarck Sea (March 1943) was a Japanese attempt to reinforce Lae with troops from Rabaul. It was foiled by American and Audtralian air attacks as well as PT boats. The Japanse suffered heavylosses and it was the last attmpt to reinforce the Lae garrison. The Salamaua–Lae campaign involved many weeks of fierce fighting. The Australians followed up their victory at Wau (january 29) by advancing on Mubo where the Japanese troops driven back at Wau were concentrating. A series of actions followed over the course of several months as the Australian 3rd Division advanced north-east towards Salamaua. The Americans mounted an amphibious landing at Nassau Bay south of Salamaua (June 30). Rough weather destroyed much of their equipment, but more men and equipment was landed and the Americans moved north supported by Australian flanling attaks from the west. As the Allies attacked the Japanese forces around around Salamaua, the Allies struck with surprise attacks on Lae.to the north. An airborne assault inserted a force at Nadzab west of Lae. It was both a parachute drop and landings by C-47 catgo planes. A ground force had seized the landing area. An amphibious landing was conducted mear Lae. The attacked Lae with simultaneous drives from the east and north-west. After battles with the the landing force, the Japanese decided to abandon Lae. The Japanese Army elected not to fight for Lae, preferring instead to withdraw over the Saruwaged Range. This proved to be a gruelling test of endurance and the Japanese soldiers suffered havy losses. As the situation around Lae deteriorated, the Salamaua garrison also withdrew and the town was captured (September 11). Lae fell pnly a few days later (September 16).

Bismarck Archepeligo (December 1943-February 1944)

By December the Army and Marines had moved lmost all the way up the Slomons. Before moving west from Buna and the rest of northeaster Guinea, Gen.MacArthure deemed it necessary the seize positions the Busmrck Archepeligo. This was needed to both increase the pressure on Rabaul and to protect the flank of the drive west in New Guinea. Especially important were air dtrips.

New Britain (December 1943)

New Britain approaches the New Guinea coast about a third of the borthern coast. The 112th Calvalkry Regiment with 1,700 and 158th Infantry Regiment landed at Araua. Rockets were used for the first time. The landings were attcked by a 30-plan strong air group attacked the Araua invasion force. One of the last major force from Ravauls dwinling air component.. Attached to the 158th IR was a group of Native American Scouts. The Araua landings was basically diversion. The 1st Marine Division, veterans of Guadalcanl landed at Cape Gloucester (December 26). THe 5th Air Force probided air support. Tnks helped secure the all-importnt airfield. The Army and Marines secured western New Britain fter 22 days. Japanese remanents flead toward o Rabul on the far eastern tip of New Britain Bombing of Rabaul escalated as the number of Allied air strips and air groups increased.

The Admiralties (February 1944)

The other imprtant island group in the Bismrck archepeligo was the smaller Admiralties to the northwest. They invaded on the small iland of Los Negros first (February 29). A furious battle erupted. The larger island of Manaus follwoed. This gave the ametricns strategic airfield that had been used by the Japanese.

Aitape (April 1944)

By the begiinin of 1944, MacArthur had ammassed forces which could amount major operations. Aitape was 450 mile west of New Britain. It was the the largest landing in the southwest Pacific to date. United States Army forces, primarily the 163rd Regimental Combat Team from the 41st Infantry Division, landed and quickly captured the are around an important air strip (April 22). The mission was to secure the area around Hollandia. The americans developed Aitape as a base to support the continuing drive west towards the Philippines. American forcces expanded to include elements of the 31st and 32nd Infantry Division. They largely remained within a small defensive perimeter around the airfield, except for a major action at the Driniumor River (July). The Japanese 18th Army was badly weakened and scattered as a result of the battle. Japanese commander, General Hatazo Adachi, withdrew what was left of his command from forward positions and into the interior, but without needed supplies. Adachi's men had to forage in Torricelli Mountains and Wewak. Hunger and disease further reduced the Japanese force. The Aitape–Wewak campaign became one of the final Pacific campaigns. The Australian 6th Division was given the job of mopping up the scattered Japanese forces (November 1944). The rest of the Pacific War to the north would be fought by the americans. The 18th army was not capable of offensive operayions, but Adachi refused to surrender. The Australians cleared the Japanese from costal areas and followed them into the interior. The Australians suffered both conbat and disease casulties. Military historins have questioned the value pursuit of the campaign.

Holandia

he mericn 21st and 24 Divisions landded at Holandia. 125 miles further west in Dutch New Guinea. Holabdia offered an important port and three air strips. The swampy terraine meant, however, that they could not be major air bases.

Wakde Island (May 1944)

Another 145 miles west was Wakde Island. It was about hlf way between Holandia and Biak. It offered better airfields than around Holandia. The 163 IR landed (May 15). They had a sharp fight with a strong Jspsnese garrison.

Biak Island (May-August 1944)

Biak is an islandin the Schouten Island Group off the northwestern coast of New Guinea which dominates the entrance to Geelvink Bay. It was 350 miles West of Hollandia, the major American base in New Guinea. The Americans and Australians by early 1944 had fought their way up the northern coast of New Guinea, destroying or isolating Japanese garisoins. General MacArthur could now begin to consider the invasion of the Philippines. Biak was the last major Japanese obstacle to securing New Guinea. The Japanese has suffered defeat adter defeat in New Guinea. Japanese planners hoped that an island could be better defended and built up forces on Biak to about 11,000 men. The Americas landed 12,000 men on Biak (May 27). Colonel Kuzume Naoyuki decides not to oppose the beach invasion, but to make a stand inland at the airfield. General MacArthur tells the press, "... this marks the strategic end of the New Guinea campaign'. This proves to be premature. The first U.S. armoured battle of the Pacific war occurs on Biak where six tanks fight it out (May 29). The Japanese garrison stuborn resistance manages to force the partial re-embarkation of U.S. forces. American forces finally take Mokmer airfield on Biak is captured by U.S. troops (June 7). The Japanese, however, continued to resiust. The importance the Japanese gave to Biak czn be seen by the fact that a major relief force was being readied supported by the Imperal Fleet. It is at thisd time that an American invasion fleet appears off Saipan and the Imperial Fleet has to shift its attention to the new threat. Time and again in the Pcific War, the Jpanese were thron off ballance by having to contend with the two American drives, Nimitz in the Central Pacific and McArthur in the South Pacific.

Noemfoor Island (July 1944)

The 7,000 man 158th Regimental Combat Team landed on Noemfoor Island 85 miles further west (early-July 1944). They were expected to encounter heavy resistance on the one beach that could be used for the lasnding. encoutered relatively light resistance from a badly outnumbered Japanese garison. Even so the 503rd Parachute Indfantry Regiment was ordered to jump on the air strip. It was badly executed drop and there were heavy casualties even though the Japanese did not oppose the drop. In 5days all three .

Sansapor Island (July)

The 6th Division's landings on Sansapor Island were unoppsed as the Japanese were evacuting (late-July, 1944)). This brought the americans to the tip of western New Guinea and a position pptrosching the Philippines.

Moroatai (September 1944)

With New Guinea secuired, the Americans landed on Moratai in the Mollucans Islans, a group in the Dutch East Islands between New Guinea and the Philippines.

The Philippines

Finally the Allies secured New Guinea and the two prongs converged on the Phillippines (October 1944).






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Created: 6:33 AM 2/11/2010
Last updated: 11:39 PM 7/21/2018