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World War II in Papua New Guinea

This island nation in the Southwest Pacific was highly contested.

To protect their important base on Rabaul, the Japanese moved into northeastern New Guinea in 1942.

The Japanese suffered their first major setback of the Pacific war -- the Battle of the Coral Sea -- when they attempted an invasion by sea of Port Moresby on the southeastern coast of New Guinea in May 1942.

Having been repulsed in this attempt to take Port Moresby by sea, and another attempt in August 1942 by the Australians at Milne Bay, the Japanese pushed toward their objective over the Owen Stanley Mountains from the Buna-Gona area in southeastern New Guinea. Two Australian divisions, one U.S. Army division, and a separate U.S. Army regiment had to be committed to the fight before the fall of Gona (December 9), Buna (January 2, 1943), and Sanananda (January 23).

In mid-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.

Later, the Allies planned two routes of advance to reach the Philippines: 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.

General MacArthur with American and Australian forces seized the island from the Japanese in April 1944.


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