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New Guinea and the Approach to the Philippines

Introduction | Features

Introduction to New Guinea and the Approach to the Philippines

To reach the Philippines the Allies used two routes of advance: one through the central Pacific Area via the Gilberts, Marshalls, Marianas, Carolines, and Palaus; the other through the Southwest Pacific Area via the north coast of New Guinea.

An advantage of the second route -- urged by MacArthur -- was that it would provide for land-based air cover along the way. The double-pronged advance had the merit of keeping Japanese forces divided and of providing opportunities for surprise.

The advance along the southern prong aimed at the Philippines got under way in April 1944. Having by then secured the Admiralties.

MacArthur now made a long leap, bypassing Japanese concentrations at Wewak and Hansa Bay, and secured beachheads at points along 175 miles of the northern New Guinea coast. On April 22, Army forces landed at Tanahmerah Bay, Aitape, and Humboldt Bay. Within four days airfields at the three beachheads were in American hands. A large base was established at Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea.

Although fighting continued in some of the captured areas for some time, MacArthur in April 1944 was already two months ahead of schedule. Australian forces eventually assumed a major part of the responsibility for reducing the bypassed areas.

Covered by planes at Hollandia, Army forces next leaped 125 miles farther west to land, on May 17, on the New Guinea coast opposite Wake Island, which they invaded the following day to secure the Japanese airfield on the island.

On May 27, another amphibious force landed on Biak Island, about 900 miles southeast of the Philippines. The Japanese defenders of Biak fought desperately to retain the island, and General Krueger, the U.S. Sixth Army Commander, did not declare the operation over until 20 August 1944.

The Japanese made a determined effort to reinforce Biak Island. Early in June they assembled sufficient naval strength to destroy naval units under MacArthur's control and sent about half their land-based aircraft in the Carolines and the Marianas to airfields in western New Guinea, where they were within easy range of Biak. No sooner had this redeployment of naval and air forces been accomplished than the Japanese learned of the presence of the U.S. naval force in the Marianas.

MacArthur's and Nimitz' forces continued westward from Biak and the Marianas. On July 2, 1944 American troops had landed on Noemfoor Island, 90 miles beyond Biak, and near the end of the month other troops had pushed on to the western tip of New Guinea.

With the capture of Morotai Island in mid-September, MacArthur was at last in position to make his return to the Philippines. Except for an abortive attack in mid-July on Aitape by Japanese troops that had been bypassed at Wewak, and mopping-up operations in other areas, troops of the Southwest Pacific Command spent the next weeks in preparation for reconquest of the Philippines.

During this period a new army made its appearance in the Southeast Pacific and took over a share of the enormous operational, administrative, and logistic responsibilities which had been carried by Sixth Army alone. The U.S. Eighth Army, activated on June 10, 1944, arrived in New Guinea in August and set up headquarters in Hollandia where Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger assumed command on September 7, 1944.

New Guinea: Features

Heroes of New Guinea

Fascinating, inspiring stories and details about American heroes of New Guinea who were recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

[The primary source for this text is the U.S. Army Center for Military History. For a more general overview of the war see the Brief History of WWII e-text."]

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