51st Division (Imperial Japanese Army)
Soldiers attacking allied defenses on New Guinea
|Branch||Imperial Japanese Army|
|Engagements||Second Sino-Japanese War
Battle of Hong Kong
Battle of the Bismarck Sea
New Guinea campaign
The 51st Division (第51師団 Dai-gojūichi Shidan?) was an infantry division of the Imperial Japanese Army. Its call sign was the Base Division (基兵団 Moto Heidan?).It was formed on 10 July 1940 at Utsunomiya, Tochigi, simultaneously with 52nd, 54th, 55th, 56th, and 57th divisions. The 51st division was initially assigned to the Eastern District Army and placed under command of Lieutenant General Kenichiro Ueno.
To participate in the Special exercise of the Kwantung Army (actually a mobilization for the possible large-scale conflict with the Soviet Union) 2 July 1941 Prince Yi Un took over as commander of the division, leading them to China when they were transferred to the Kwantung Army in August 1941. The preparations for the war with the Soviet Union were officially cancelled 9 August 1941 though. In September 1941, the 51st division was transferred to Guangdong under command of 23rd army. Araki detachment of the 51st division, comprising 66th infantry regiment was used that time for the rearguard duties in Battle of Hong Kong. In November 1941, Yi Un handed over command to Lieutenant General Hidemitsu Nakano, who would remain in command of the division until after the end of the war.
The following year, in November 1942, the 51st Division was allocated to the 18th army, and was shipped to Rabaul. 28 February 1943, the parts of the 51st division has left Rabaul for Lae in New Guinea. The Allied aircraft have intercepted the convoy 2 March 1943 though, resulting in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, resulting in only 1200 troops of 6900 reaching Lae. Further 800 troops from 115th infantry regiment were rescued and ferried by destroyers Yukikaze and Asagumo to Finschhafen and travelled to Lae overland, while the rest of the 51st division have reached Lae in May 1943 in landing crafts following New Guinea coast from Madang or from Dampier Strait. The division eventually concentrated in Salamaua area, and subsequently took part in the Salamaua–Lae campaign. The Allies have performed Landing at Lae unopposed 4 September 1943, and 51st division was ordered to reinforce a Shoge detachment of 41st division. 8 September 1943, the Hidemitsu Nakano ordered a general retreat from Salamaua to Lae due imminent encirclement by enemy forces advancing from Landing at Nadzab inland.
The retreat to Lae has started 11 September 1943 and was complete by 14 September 1943. By this time, an order was received to evacuate to the north coast of Huon Peninsula, therefore the 51st division have tried to cross the Saruwaged Range, which proved to be nearly impassable. The division have lost all of the heavy equipment and even large fraction of rifles due exhaustion and hunger, and the passage took a whole month instead of expected ten days. By that time, the evacuation port of Finschhafen was already unusable after Landing at Scarlet Beach 22 September 1943. Also, about 800 Japanese troops were lost to the accidents. The Allied forces have entered Lae 16 September 1943, but besides a single contact with rearguard 13 September 1943, were unable to mount a pursuit across the inhospitable terrain in appalling weather conditions. Due lack of weapons and ammunition, the survivors of the 51st division were largely excluded from the Huon Peninsula campaign, with only one left-behind company from 102nd Infantry regiment participating in the Battle of Finschhafen. During 1944–1945 the main challenge of the 51st division was the starvation. Only 2,754 men survived until surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945.
- This article incorporates material from Japanese Wikipedia page 第51師団 (日本軍), accessed 2 June 2016
- Tanaka, Kengoro (1980). Operations of the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces in the Papua New Guinea Theater During World War II. Tokyo, Japan: Japan Papua New Guinea Goodwill Society. OCLC 9206229.