New Britain

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This article is about the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. For other uses of the name, see New Britain (disambiguation).
New Britain
Newbritain lrg.jpg
New Britain from space, June 2005. Clearly visible are ash plumes from Langila and Ulawun volcanoes
New Britain is located in Papua New Guinea
New Britain
New Britain (Papua New Guinea)
Coordinates 5°44′S 150°44′E / 5.733°S 150.733°E / -5.733; 150.733
Archipelago Bismarck Archipelago
Area 36,520 km2 (14,100 sq mi)[1]
Area rank 38th
Length 520 km (323 mi)
Width 146 km (90.7 mi)
Highest elevation 2,438 m (7,999 ft)
Highest point Mount Sinewit
Papua New Guinea
Population 513,926 (as of 2011)
Density 14.07 /km2 (36.44 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Papuans and Austronesians

New Britain, or Niu Briten, is the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago (named after Otto von Bismarck) of Papua New Guinea. It is separated from the island of New Guinea by the Dampier and Vitiaz Straits and from New Ireland by St. George's Channel. The main towns of New Britain are Rabaul/Kokopo and Kimbe. The island is roughly the size of Taiwan.

While the island was part of German New Guinea, it was named Neupommern ("New Pomerania").


Topography of New Britain
New Britain, with selected towns and volcanoes
Ulawun Volcano and Lolobau Island

New Britain extends from 148°18'31" to 152°23'57" E longitude and from 4°08'25" to 6°18'31" S latitude. It is crescent-shaped, approximately 520 km (320 mi) along its southeastern coastline, and from 29 to 146 km (18–91 miles) wide, not including a small central peninsula. The air-line distance from west to east is 477 km (296 mi). The island is the 38th largest in the world, with an area of 36,520 km2 (14,100 sq mi).

Steep cliffs form some sections of the coastline; in others the mountains are further inland, and the coastal area is flat and bordered by coral reefs. The highest point, at 2,438 m (7,999 ft), is Mount Sinewit in the Baining range in the east. Most of the terrain is covered with tropical rainforest and several large rivers are fed by the high rainfall.

New Britain was largely formed by volcanic processes, and there are several active volcanoes on the island, including Ulawun (the highest volcano in Papua New Guinea), Langila, the Garbuna Group, the Sulu Range, and the volcanoes Tavurvur and Vulcan of the Rabaul caldera. A major eruption of Tavurvur in 1994 destroyed the East New Britain provincial capital of Rabaul. Most of the town still lies under metres of ash, and the capital has been moved to nearby Kokopo.

Administrative divisions[edit]

New Britain forms part of the Islands Region, one of four regions of Papua New Guinea. It comprises the mainland of two provinces:



William Dampier became the first known European to visit New Britain on 27 February 1700: he dubbed the island with the Latin name Nova Britannia, (Eng: New Britain).

In November 1884, Germany proclaimed its protectorate over the New Britain Archipelago; the German colonial administration gave New Britain and New Ireland the names of Neupommern (or Neu-Pommern; "New Pomerania") and Neumecklenburg (or Neu-Mecklenburg; "New Mecklenburg") respectively, and the whole island group was renamed the Bismarck Archipelago. New Britain became part of German New Guinea.

In 1909, the indigenous population was estimated at about 190,000; the foreign population at 773 (474 white). The expatriate population was practically confined to the northeastern Gazelle Peninsula, which included the capital, Herbertshöhe (now Kokopo). At the time 5,448 hectares (13,464 acres) had been converted to plantations, primarily growing copra, cotton, coffee and rubber. Westerners avoided exploring the interior initially, believing that the indigenous peoples were warlike and would fiercely resist intrusions.

World War I[edit]

On 11 September 1914, New Britain became the site of one of the earliest battles of World War I when the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landed on the island. They quickly overwhelmed the German forces and occupied the island for the duration of the war.

Between the world wars[edit]

In 1920 the League of Nations included New Britain along with the former German colony on New Guinea in the Territory of New Guinea, a mandated territory of Australia.

World War II[edit]

Two photographs of native New British Islanders, 1944
Main article: New Britain Campaign

During World War II the Japanese attacked New Britain soon after the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific Ocean. During January 1942, Japanese heavily bombed Rabaul. On 23 January, Japanese marines landed by the thousands, starting the Battle of Rabaul. The Japanese used Rabaul as a heavy base until 1944; it served as the key point for the failed invasion of Port Moresby (May to November, 1942).

New Britain was invaded by the U.S. 1st Marine Division in the Cape Gloucester area of the very western end of the island, and also by U.S. Army soldiers at some other coastal points. As for Cape Gloucester, with its swamps and mosquitos, the marines said that it was "worse than Guadalcanal". They captured an airfield but accomplished little toward reducing the Japanese base at Rabaul.

The Allied plan involved bypassing Rabaul by surrounding it with air and naval bases on surrounding islands and on New Britain itself. The large neighboring island of New Ireland was bypassed altogether. Much of the story from the Japanese side, especially the two suicide charges by the Baalen group, are retold in Shigeru Mizuki's Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths.

Since 1945[edit]

The population of the main town of Rabaul was evacuated as a result of a volcanic activity in 1994 which buried the town under a thick layer of volcanic ash.

People and culture[edit]

The indigenous people of New Britain fall into two main groups: the Papuans, who have inhabited the island for tens of thousands of years, and the Austronesians, who arrived around two thousand years ago. There are around ten Papuan languages spoken and about forty Austronesian languages, as well as Tok Pisin and English. The Papuan population is largely confined to the eastern third of the island and a couple of small enclaves in the central highlands. At Jacquinot Bay, in the south-east, they live beside the beach where a waterfall crashes directly into the sea.[2]

The population of New Britain was 493,585 in 2010. Austronesian people make up the majority on the island. The major towns are Rabaul/Kokopo in East New Britain and Kimbe in West New Britain.

New Britain hosts diverse and complex traditional cultures. While the Tolai of the Rabaul area of East New Britain have a matrilineal society, other groups are patrilineal in structure. There are numerous traditions which remain active today, such as the dukduk secret society (also known as tubuan) in the Tolai area.

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^
  2. ^ Tansley, Craig (24 January 2009). "Treasure Islands". The Age (Fairfax Media). pp. Traveller supplement (pp. 10–11). Retrieved 27 January 2009. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 5°44′S 150°44′E / 5.733°S 150.733°E / -5.733; 150.733