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Papua New Guinea

Introduction | Features

Introduction to Papua New Guinea

Having been repulsed in attempts to take Port Moresby in southeastern New Guinea by sea in May 1942 in the Battle of the Coral Sea, and again in August by the Australians at Milne Bay, the Japanese pushed a drive toward their objective over the Owen Stanley Mountains from the Buna-Gona area in southeastern New Guinea.

When by mid-September the Japanese came within 30 miles of Port Moresby, MacArthur committed additional Australian troops to push the invaders back across the mountains. By mid-November the Japanese had been driven back to their positions on the north coast at Buna, Gona, and Savanna, where they received reinforcements from Rabaul and clung desperately to their beachhead.

Two Australian divisions, one U.S. Army division, and a separate U.S. Army regiment had been committed to the fight before the fall of Gona (December 9), Buna (January 2, 1943), and Sanananda (January 23). An outstanding achievement of the campaign was the air supply of the Allied ground forces.

Following the Papuan and Guadalcanal campaigns there was a five-month lull for ground forces while the Allies prepared for the second phase of the drive on Rabaul, but there was plenty of action on the sea and in the air. During this period the Japanese made a major effort to reinforce their positions in the Solomons and Papua New Guinea.

A large convoy sent to reinforce the Japanese position at Lae, New Guinea, was sighted by planes of the Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Area (Lt. Gen. George C. Kenney commanding), and the Battle of the Bismarck Sea (March 1-3, 1943) was the result. Some 335 Allied planes based on Papua, assisted in the mop-up phase by 8 motor torpedo (PT) boats, attacked the convoy and destroyed 12 ships (including 8 transports), some 3,000 men, and 20 to 30 planes. Allied losses in the three-day running battle were 5 planes. In waters of this area, shadowed by American planes, the Japanese never again risked a transport larger than a small coaster or a barge.

In April, and again in June 1943, Japanese carrier and Rabaul-based planes tried but failed to knock out Allied air and naval power in the Solomons and Papua New Guinea. The loss of carrier planes and pilots during this air offensive further reduced the capabilities of the Japanese Combined Fleet whose commander, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, was shot down over Bougainville.

Papua New Guinea: Features

Heroes of Buna

Fascinating, inspiring stories and details about American heroes of Buna 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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