World War II New Guinea Campaign: New Guinea Native Peoples

World War II New Guinea natives
Figure 1.--This snapshot shows two Papuan boys, probably in 1943-44. There is no caption, but the Tommy helmet suggests that they were working with the Australians. Given there age, it is unlikeky that they had combat role, more likely working around a camp. The weapons and shoes were presumably borrowed for the snapshot, suggesting a close personal relatiobship with the Australians. We have never seen anything lke this on the Japanese side.

New Guinea was perhaps the most isolated place in the world. It was a huge island, the second largesr island in the world, with a very small population. The Papuans were some of the most primitive people in the world at the onset of the Pacific War. They were stone-age people had very little contact with the outside world. The island was administerd by the Dutch in the West and the Australians in the east. There were mission posts and some government posts along the coast, but there was virtually no European presence in the interior. Few Papuans knew that a war was being fought and that they would soon be emerged in it. The Dutch and Australian colonial administrations were light and relations with the Papuans were generally good because of both the misionaries and nedical care. As a result there was limited anti-European sentiment that existed in other areas such as the Burma, the Dutch East Indies, and Malaysia. There were many tribal groups and some did not like the Australians and other Euopeans. The primary examples were among the more war-like tribes that objected to Asudtralian efforts to end inter-tribal warfare and head hunting. Some cooperated withthe Japanese, but eventually switched sides after some experience with them, especoally assaults on their women. The Japanese, after finalizing the Java Campaign, began landing along the northwest coast of New Guinea (February 1942). There was little fighting at this point as neither the Dutch or Australians garisoned the island. Papuans from an early stage offered their services to the Allies, especially the Australians. The Japanese primary interest was Australia and this was a step in serving a base for the upcoming invasion of Australia. Kapanese attrocities are almost unbelievable in the Pacific War. Japanese policies toward the Papuans, however, were generally correct during 1942. New Guinea was lightly populated and the Papuans were not a threat. The Japanese troops were ordered not to fraternize which largely prevented any conflicts. And the military authorities were reportedly strict with their men. Japanese commanders were apparently attempting to maintaining good will and a potentially useful source of labor as needed. Along with a no fratenization policy, the Japanese sought to undermine relations with the former European colonial authorities. The small number of Dutch and Australian civilians, mostly missionaries, were interned. The Japanese used the European civilians as slave labor and encouraged the Papuans to watch them. The first extensive combat occurred on the Kokoda Trail which after being turned back in the Coral Sea (May 1942) the Japanese used in an effort to cross the Ownen Stanley Mountains to seze Port Moresby (July 1942). Suddenly Papuans near the Trail found themselves in the Middle of the Pacific War. Some assisted the Australians. Some 45,000 indigenous Ppuan people volunteered to work with the Australian army, mostly as stretcher bearers and other laboers. The Australians affectionally called them 'Fuzzy Wuzzies' because of their characteristic frizzy hair. They became a welcome sight for the embattled Australian soldiers on the Trail--the Fuzzy Wuzzie Angels. Anything that moved on the trail had to be carried in or out. Many Australian soldiers remember the streacher bearrs with considerable affection. The Papuans also helped moved tons of supplies, provided intelligence on Japanese poitions and movement, and sometimes carries messages. A small number even became members of Australian military groups and fought in uniform. Americans also had fond memories. One account relates, "Barely escaping the stricken aircraft, Fred Hargesheimer parachutes into dense jungle where the likelihood of death at the hands of enemy troops is just one of the perils he faces. Then the villagers come. To Fred's relief, they're not headhunters. Instead, they take him to their village and, in the six months that follow, feed him, care for him, go fishing with him, worship with him and hide him from the Japanese soldiers that patrol the beaches, risking torture and certain death themselves. When Fred catches malaria and is too weak to eat, one of the village women feeds him cups of her breast milk to keep him alive." [Gratzer] We are not sure to what extent the Japanese used the Papuans as bearers. Few Japanese survived the fighting along the Trail. The Allies after Guadalcanal (August-December 1942) and the withdrawl of the Imperial Fleet began moving up the northern coast of the Island. This is when the the benign relations with the Japanese began to deteriorate. The Japanese were unable to adequately supply their Pacific garrisons, not onle with military equipment. but alo with food. And this sutuation worsened as Allied naval ad air power expanded. Hungary Japanese soldiers behan raiding Papuan villages and vegetable plots. Pigs weee a specual attraction. Papuans who resisted were shot. Reprisal actions increased and the Japanese began suspecting the Papuans as spies which only increased brutal actions. The Papuans thus retreated into the jungle and began supporting the Allied troops, provinfing needed labor or serving as scouts. The Australians organized some Papuan combat units. The Papuan economy must had affected the relationship between the Papuans and the contening military. Money meant nothing to the papuans, espcially paper money. The did everything by barter. The australians had somethings the Ppuans wanted. The Americans had a material anundance beyond the comprehesion of the Papuans. And thus the Papuans were drawn tonthe Allies. In addition the allies generally behaved in an honorable fashion. The Japanese in contrast had very little to barter. Japanese troops were not well-supplied and were expected to live off the land. This led to inevitable conflicts with the Papuans over food. There are also reports of mistreating women

Isolated Native Population

New Guinea was perhaps the most isolated place in the world. It was a huge island, the second largest island in the world, with a very small population. The Papuans were some of the most primitive people in the world at the onset of the Pacific War. They were stone-age people with not only very little contact with the outside world, but not all that much contact with very many tribal groups in New Guinea itself. People along the coast had some limited contact wih the outside orld. Tribes in the interior had virtually none. There are still decades fter the War, groups being found living in isolation. At the time of the Pacific War, this as the condition of most of the interior. As a result, it was home to the world's most diverse range of indigenous cultures based on ancestral life-ways. Nothing could demostrate the isolation of the Papuan people more than the language diversity with in the islands. Anthropologists estimate that Papua New Guinea alone is home to about one-third of the world's languages. Some 780 distinct vernaculars have been identifid.

Pre-War Situation

The island was administerd by the Dutch in the West and the Australians in the east. There were mission posts and some government posts along the coast, but there was virtually no European presence in the interior. Few Papuans knew that a war was being fought and that they would soon be emerged in it. The Dutch and Australian colonial administrations were light and relations with the Papuans were generally good because of both the enligted care of the misionaries and availability of medical care. We are not sure how the Durch and Australianns compared. As a result of the light approach, there was little limited anti-European sentiment that existed in other areas such as the Burma, the Dutch East Indies, and Malaysia. There were some tribal groups and some did not like the Australians and other Euopeans. The primary examples were among the more war-like tribes that objected to Asudtralian efforts to end inter-tribal warfare and head hunting. These tribes were mostly located in the interior, and the World War II events would mostly playout in the coastal areas along the northern coast.

Japanese Invasion of New Guinea (February 1942)

The Japanese after Pearl Harbor launched a carefully planned series of invasions. Their stunning conquests and naval victories left them in command of Southeast Asia and the western Pacific, what they called their Southern Resource Zone. After finalizing the Java Campaign yhe Japanese turned to New Guinea and the Solomons. They began landing along the northwest coast of New Guinea (February 1942). New Guinea was of little value to the Japanese. But Australia to the south was. And New Guinea was a step in serving a base for the upcoming invasion of Australia. And New Guinea offered bases that could be used to begin the conquest of Australia. It was also the pathway to the Solomons which were needed to begin the campign to sever the sea lanes between Australia and America. There was little fighting at this point as neither the Dutch or Australians garisoned the island.

Kokoda Trail (July-November 1942)

The first extensive combat occurred on the Kokoda Trail which after being turned back in the Coral Sea (May 1942) the Japanese used in an effort to cross the Ownen Stanley Mountains to seze Port Moresby (July 1942). Suddenly Papuans near the Trail found themselves in the Middle of the Pacific War. This was the only significant Japanese move into the interior. The Japanese needed help moving supplies and equipment. We are not sure to what extent the Japanese used the Papuans as bearers. The Japanese soon short of food. For the most part they were ordered to find food along the trail. And the soldiers were not about to feet natives while they starved. As a result the soldiers were soon on thir own as the natives disappeared into the forest. The Australian infantry stopped the Jaopanese a few miles from Port Moresby. The Japanese were forced to withdraw. What began as a retreat tuned into a rout. Few Japanese survived the fighting along the Trail and made it back to their coastal bases. This same dynamic would destroy Japanese relations with the coastal people as well. The Australians on the other hand treated their bearers well. And they became trusted allies, not only carry supplies and equipment, but tenderly carrying the wounded to aid stations. They became a welcome sight for the embattled Australian soldiers on the Trail--the Fuzzy Wuzzie Angels. Anything that moved on the trail had to be carried in or out or dropped by American C-47 cargo aircraft. Many Australian soldiers remember the streacher bearrs with considerable affection. It cemented a bond between them.

Relations with the Japanese

Some tribal people cooperated with the Japanese, but eventually switched sides after some experience with them, especially assaults over food and women. Japanese attrocities are almost unbelievable in the Pacific War. Japanese policies toward the Papuans, however, were generally correct during 1942. New Guinea was lightly populated and the Papuans were not a threat. The Japanese troops were ordered not to fraternize which largely prevented any conflicts. And the military authorities were reportedly strict with their men. Japanese commanders were apparently attempting to maintaining good will and a potentially useful source of labor as needed. Along with a no fratenization policy, the Japanese sought to undermine relations with the former European colonial authorities. The small number of Dutch and Australian civilians, mostly missionaries, were interned. The Japanese used the European civilians as slave labor and encouraged the Papuans to watch them so as to destroy any respect that they had for the whites. It was part of a oncerted effort to undermine the established white order. The benign relations with the Japanese did not last long. The Japanese were unable to adequately supply their Pacific garrisons, not only with military equipment, but did not even try to supply food. And this sutuation worsened as Allied naval and air power expanded. Japanese military occupation policy was for their people to live off the local economy. Militsry equipment would be supplies, but food was to be obtained locally. This was necesitated by Japan's limited agricultural capability and the inadequare carrying capavity of the maru fleet. Hungary Japanese soldiers began raiding Papuan villages and vegetable plots. Pigs weee a specual attraction. Papuans who resisted were shot. Reprisal actions increased and the Japanese began suspecting the Papuans as spies which only increased brutal actions. The Papuans thus retreated into the jungle and began supporting the Allied troops. As Japanese units were cut off by the advancing Allies, hunger became an increasing pronlem. The soldiers increasingly stole food from the natives and often killed them if they resisted. From 1943 the atrocities, usually in reprisal for anything from espionage to suspicions of their trying to join or help the Allies, increased.

Relations with the Allies

Papuans from an early stage offered their services to the Allies, especially the Australians who they were familar with. Some assisted the Australians. Some 45,000 indigenous Ppuan people volunteered to work with the Australian army, mostly as stretcher bearers and other laboers. The Australians affectionally called them 'Fuzzy Wuzzies' because of their characteristic frizzy hair. The Papuans also helped moved tons of supplies, provided intelligence on Japanese poitions and movement, and sometimes carries messages. A small number even became members of Australian military groups and fought in uniform. Americans also had fond memories. And Americans impressed the native people even more, because they had more 'stuff' to offer and many more planes. One account relates, "Barely escaping the stricken aircraft, Fred Hargesheimer parachutes into dense jungle where the likelihood of death at the hands of enemy troops is just one of the perils he faces. Then the villagers come. To Fred's relief, they're not headhunters. Instead, they take him to their village and, in the six months that follow, feed him, care for him, go fishing with him, worship with him and hide him from the Japanese soldiers that patrol the beaches, risking torture and certain death themselves. When Fred catches malaria and is too weak to eat, one of the village women feeds him cups of her breast milk to keep him alive." [Gratzer] The Allies after Guadalcanal (August-December 1942) and the withdrawl of the Imperial Fleet began moving up the northern coast of the Island. And because the Aystralians and Americans were more than happy to pay the natives and supply them with all kinds of civeted itens luke tobacco anbd utensils as well as food,they were more thsn happy to work with the Allied troops. The natives provided needed labor or serving as scouts. The Australians organized some Papuan combat units. The Papuan economy must had affected the relationship between the Papuans and the contening military. Money meant nothing to the papuans, espcially paper money. The did everything by barter. The australians had somethings the Papuans wanted. The Americans had a material anundance beyond the comprehesion of the Papuans. And thus the Papuans were drawn to the Allies. In addition the Allied soldiers, like the Audtralian officials and midionaries before the War generally behaved in an honorable fashion. The Japanese in contrast had very little to barter. Japanese troops were not well-supplied and were expected to live off the land. This led to inebitable conflicts with the Papuans over food. There are also reports of mistreating womens.
.

Sources

Gratzer, Vunce. The school that Fell from the Sky: The Fred Hargesheimer Story.






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Created: 9:29 AM 6/20/2015
Last updatd: 6:42 AM 7/21/2018