There was no seating accommodation; we sat on the metal floor and jammed ourselves against each other to protect the skin of our backsides as we were buffeted and slid around the floor of the aircraft. A few got sick enough to start an epidemic. The only repositories for our vomit were our steel helmets. Once filled we tried to hold them in an upright position until we landed.

Lieutenant Jack Scott, describing the aborted flight of 2/31 Battalion from Port Moresby to Nazdab on September 9, 1943. Read more of his story.

The Allies planned Operation Postern to take the Japanese base at Lae in a pincer movement, by land and sea.

As part of this operation, on 4 September 1943, five US destroyers supported the Australian 9th Division's amphibious landing at Lae.

Meanwhile, troops from the 2/4th Field Regiment of the 7th Australian Division, with 1,700 men from the US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, parachuted into Nadzab to secure the airfield before the advance overland towards Lae.

The 503rd was the first airborne regiment of the US Army to fight in the Pacific, and as an independent unit. Its first operation would be the landing at Nadzab.

The US regiment had no artillery, so they needed Australian support. Thirty-four men from 2/4th Field Regiment volunteered. The American paratroopers put them through intensive training.

The Australians took two short 25-Pounder field guns with them.

This was the first time Australian artillery had been parachuted into action.

The landing

The attack on Nadzab was the first major airborne assault in the Pacific. It involved 302 aircraft, coming from eight different Allied airfields. They met over Tsili Tsili and flew in formation to Nadzab.

The battle began with a bombing raid, then followed by a smokescreen to guard against any Japanese air attack.

The Commander of the Allied Air Forces, General George Kenny, as well as Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur, were each in an aircraft.

Kenney had told MacArthur that, "They were my kids and I was going to see them do their stuff." MacArthur replied, "You’re right, George, we’ll both go. They’re my kids, too."

The American Paratroopers arrived and jumped first.

Later that same afternoon, the men of the 2/4th Field Regiment took off from Tsili Tsili. They jumped at Nadzab with the dismantled 25-pounders.

The Australian gunners then had to locate and assemble their guns in the tall grass.

The Allies caught the Japanese by surprise. Nadzab Airfield fell without a fight. The Allies gained a major base and airstrip near Lae.

Lieutenant Colonel John J. Tolson said the landing at Nadzab was "probably the classic text-book airborne operation of World War II".

Three US paratroopers died and 33 were injured in the jump

Later that same day, the Australian 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, 2/6th Field Company, and B Company, Papuan Infantry Battalion, reached Nadzab. They had trekked overland from Tsili Tsili.

The outcome

Once the Allies had landed, troops began to prepare the airfield.

Over the next few days, the 25th Infantry Brigade, Australian 7th Division, gradually arrived by air.

On 9 September, they began to advance on land to Lae, which they later captured after the Japanese retreated.

The Australian Commander in the South West Pacific Area, Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey declared the capture of Lae and Salamaua to be "a signal step on the road to Victory".

Papua New Guinea
5 September 1943
Image caption
Paratroops of the 2/4th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, checking their equipment before taking off for the drop at Nadzab. Pictured, left to right: Gunner Ian George Robertson; Lance Bombardier William Donald. Laurie; Lance Bombardier William Gardener. Indian and Gunner Thomas Andrew Kettle.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 030141/24. Photo by Colin Thomas Halmarick

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