New Guinea campaign

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New Guinea Campaign
Part of the Pacific Theater of World War II
7 January 1943. Australian forces attack Japanese positions near Buna. Members of the 2/12th Infantry Battalion advance as Stuart tanks from the 2/6th Armoured Regiment attack Japanese pillboxes. An upward-firing machine gun on the tank sprays treetops to clear them of snipers. (Photographer: George Silk).
Australian forces attack Japanese positions near Buna
Date 23 January 1942 – August 1945
Location New Guinea
Result Allied victory


 United States
 New Zealand
 United Kingdom

 Empire of Japan
Commanders and leaders

U.S. Army:
Douglas MacArthur
George Brett
George Kenney
Robt. Eichelberger
Ennis Whitehead
U.S. Navy:
Arthur S. Carpender
Herbert F. Leary
Charles A. Lockwood
Australian Army:
Thomas Blamey

George Vasey

I.J. Army:
Empire of Japan Hitoshi Imamura
Empire of Japan Hatazō Adachi
Empire of Japan Tomitarō Horii

Empire of Japan Heisuke Abe [2]
Casualties and losses
42,000 total[3] 127,600 dead[4]

The New Guinea campaign of the Pacific War lasted from January 1942 until the end of the war in August 1945. During the initial phase in early 1942, the Empire of Japan invaded the Australian-administered territories of the New Guinea Mandate (23 January) and Papua (8 March) and overran western New Guinea (beginning 29/30 March), which was a part of the Netherlands East Indies. During the second phase, lasting from late 1942 until the Japanese surrender, the Allies cleared the Japanese first from Papua, then the Mandate and finally from the Dutch colony.


Strategic situation[edit]

Papua New Guinea, the Bismarcks and the Northern Solomons

The struggle for New Guinea began with the capture by the Japanese of the city of Rabaul at the northeastern tip of New Britain Island in January 1942 (the Allies responded with multiple bombing raids, of which the Action off Bougainville was one). Rabaul overlooks Simpson Harbor, a considerable natural anchorage, and was ideal for the construction of airfields. Over the next year, the Japanese built up the area into a major air and naval base.[citation needed]

The Japanese 8th Area Army, under General Hitoshi Imamura at Rabaul, was responsible for both the New Guinea and Solomon Islands campaigns. The Japanese 18th Army, under Lieut. General Hatazō Adachi, was responsible for Japanese operations on mainland New Guinea.[citation needed]

The colonial capital of Port Moresby on the south coast of Papua was the strategic key for the Japanese in this area of operations. Capturing it would both neutralize the Allies' principal forward base and serve as a springboard for the invasion of Australia.[5] For the same reasons, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander Allied Forces South West Pacific Area was determined to hold it. MacArthur was further determined to conquer all of New Guinea in his progress toward the eventual recapture of the Philippines.[6] General Headquarters Southwest Pacific Area Operational Instruction No.7 of 25 May 1942, issued by Commander-Allied-Forces, General Douglas MacArthur, placed all Australian and US Army, Air Force and Navy Forces in the Port Moresby Area under the control of New Guinea Force.[7]

Japanese capture of Lae and Salamaua[edit]

Due north of Port Moresby, on the northeast coast of Papua, are Huon Gulf and the Huon Peninsula. The Japanese entered Lae and Salamaua, two locations on Huon Gulf, unopposed in early March 1942.[8] MacArthur would have liked to deny this area to the Japanese, but he had neither sufficient air nor naval forces to undertake a counterlanding. The Japanese at Rabaul and other bases on New Britain would have easily overwhelmed any such effort (by mid-September, MacArthur's entire naval force under Vice Admiral Arthur S. Carpender consisted entirely of 5 cruisers, 8 destroyers, 20 submarines 7 small craft).[9] The only Allied response was a bombing raid of Lae and Salamaua by aircraft flying over the Owen Stanley Range from the carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown, leading the Japanese to reinforce these sites.[10]

Battle of the Coral Sea[edit]

Operation Mo was the designation given by the Japanese to their initial plan to take possession of Port Moresby. Their operation plan decreed a five-pronged attack: one task force to establish a seaplane base at Tulagi in the lower Solomons, one to establish a seaplane base in the Louisiade Archipelago off the eastern tip of New Guinea, one of transports to land troops near Port Moresby, one with a light carrier to cover the landing, and one with two fleet carriers to sink the Allied forces sent in response.[11] In the resulting 4–8 May 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea, the Allies suffered higher losses in ships, but achieved a crucial strategic victory by turning the Japanese landing force back, thereby removing the threat to Port Moresby, at least for the time being.[12]

After this failure, the Japanese decided on a longer term, two-pronged assault for their next attempt on Port Moresby. Forward positions would first be established at Milne Bay, located in the forked eastern end of the Papuan peninsula, and at Buna, a village on the northeast coast of Papua about halfway between Huon Gulf and Milne Bay. Simultaneous operations from these two locations, one amphibious and one overland, would converge on the target city.[13]

Kokoda Track campaign[edit]

"...the Owen Stanley Range is a jagged, precipitous obstacle covered with tropical rain forest up to the pass at 6500-foot elevation, and with moss like a thick wet sponge up to the highest peaks, 13,000 feet above the sea. The Kokoda Trail [was] suitable for splay-toed Papuan aborigines but a torture to modern soldiers carrying heavy equipment..."

– Samuel Eliot Morison, Breaking the Bismarcks Barrier, p. 34

Buna was easily taken as the Allies had no military presence there (MacArthur wisely chose not to attempt an occupation by paratroopers since any such force would have been easily wiped out by the Japanese). The Japanese occupied the village with an initial force of 1,500 on 21 July and by 22 August had 11,430 men under arms at Buna. Then began the grueling Kokoda Track campaign, a brutal experience for both the Japanese and Australian troops involved. On 17 September, the Japanese had reached the village of Ioribaiwa, just 20 miles from the Allied airdrome at Port Moresby. The Australians held firm and began their counterdrive on 26 September. "...the Japanese retreat down the Kokoda Trail had turned into a rout. Thousands perished from starvation and disease; the commanding general, Horii, was drowned."[14] Thus was the overland threat to Port Moresby permanently removed.[15]

Battle of Milne Bay[edit]

"Thenceforth, the Battle of Milne Bay became an infantry struggle in the sopping jungle carried on mostly at night under pouring rain. The Aussies were fighting mad, for they had found some of their captured fellows tied to trees and bayoneted to death, surmounted by the placard, 'It took them a long time to die'."

– Samuel Eliot Morison, Breaking the Bismarcks Barrier, p. 38

While it was beyond MacArthur's capabilities to deny Buna to the Japanese, the same could not be said of Milne Bay, which was easily accessible by Allied naval forces. In early June, US Army engineers, Australian infantry and an anti-aircraft battery were landed near the Lever Brothers coconut plantation at Gili Gili, and work was begun on an airfield. By 22 August, about 8,500 Australians and 1,300 Americans were on site.[16] The Japanese arrived and the 25 August – 7 September Battle of Milne Bay was underway. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison summed up the results this way:

...the enemy had shot his bolt; he never showed up again in these waters. The Battle for Milne Bay was a small one as World War II engagements went, but very important. Except for the initial assault on Wake Island, this was the first time that a Japanese amphibious operation had been thrown for a loss ... Furthermore, the Milne Bay affair demonstrated once again that an amphibious assault without air protection, and with an assault force inferior to that of the defenders, could not succeed.[17]

Allied recapture of Buna and Gona[edit]

"In the swamp country which surrounded the area were large crocodiles ... Incidence of malaria was almost one hundred per cent. At Sanananda the swamp and jungle were typhus-ridden ... crawling roots reached out into stagnant pools infested with mosquitoes and numerous crawling insects ... every foxhole filled with water. Thompson sub machine-guns jammed with the gritty mud and were unreliable in the humid atmosphere ... "

– John Vader, New Guinea: The Time Is Stemmed, pp. 102–103

The Japanese drive to conquer all of New Guinea had been decisively stopped. MacArthur was now determined to liberate the island as a stepping-stone to the reconquest of the Philippines. MacArthur's rollback began with the 16 November 1942 – 22 January 1943 Battle of Buna-Gona. The experience of the green US 32nd Infantry Division, just out of training camp and utterly unschooled in jungle warfare, was nearly disastrous. Instances were noted of officers completely out of their depth, of men eating meals when they should have been on the firing line, even of cowardice. MacArthur relieved the division commander and on 30 November instructed Lieut. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, commander of the US I Corps, to go to the front personally with the charge "to remove all officers who won't fight ... if necessary, put sergeants in charge of battalions ... I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive."[18]

"Also formidable was the tenacity of the enemy, who would fight to the death in these stinking holes, starving, diseased and with their dead rotting and unburied beside them."

– John Vader, New Guinea: The Time Is Stemmed, p. 93

The Australian 7th Division under the command of Maj. Gen. George Alan Vasey, along with the revitalized US 32nd Division, restarted the Allied offensive. Gona fell to the Australians on 9 December 1942, Buna to the 32nd on 2 January 1943, and Sanananda, located between the two larger villages, fell to the Australians on 22 January.[19]


Two dead Japanese soldiers in a water filled shell hole somewhere in New Guinea
Australian soldiers resting in the Finisterre Ranges of New Guinea while en route to the front line
Soldiers of the 1st Marine Division display Japanese flags captured during the Battle of Cape Gloucester


22 April 1944. US LVTs (Landing Vehicles Tracked) in the foreground head for the invasion beaches at Humboldt Bay, Netherlands New Guinea, during the Hollandia landing as the cruisers USS Boise (firing tracer shells, right center) and USS Phoenix bombard the shore. (Photographer: Tech 4 Henry C. Manger.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Biography of Lieutenant-General Heisuke Abe
  2. ^ 1886–1943, Died after suffering from Dracunculiasis.[1]
  3. ^ New Guinea: The US Army Campaigns of World War II. 8,500 prior to January 1943, 24,000 between January 1943 and April 1944, and 9,500 from April 1944 to the end of the war. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  4. ^ 大東亜戦争に於ける地域別兵員数及び戦没者概数 Ministry of Health and Welfare, 1964. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  5. ^ Morison 1949, p. 10
  6. ^ Morison 1950, pp. 31–33
  7. ^ GHQ SWPA.
  8. ^ Morison 1950, p. 31
  9. ^ Morison 1950, p. 32
  10. ^ Morison 1950, p. 31
  11. ^ Morison 1949, pp. 10–11
  12. ^ Morison 1949, p. 63
  13. ^ Morison 1950, p. 33
  14. ^ Morison 1950, p. 43
  15. ^ Morison 1950, pp. 33–34
  16. ^ Morison 1950, pp. 36–37
  17. ^ Morison 1950, p. 39
  18. ^ Vader, p. 90
  19. ^ Vader, p. 102


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]