Group portrait of pilots and aircrews of Nos. 8 and 100 (Beaufort) Squadrons RAAF returning after an operation over enemy territory.

A couple of times we got hauled out of bed at sunrise to get a plane out of a bog. It was too wet to get a tractor in so what we would do was to get as many 'bodies' as possible to get a purchase on the plane and to push. The pilot would start up and 'gun' the engines and we would push. We had the slip-stream to push against as well as an unsure footing underneath and a bit of flying soft mud, but we would get them out onto firmer ground.

Henry 'Tony' Booth, aircraft mechanic, No. 100 Squadron RAAF. Read more about his account.

In late June and early July 1942, Allied forces established the first airstrips at Milne Bay. By the end of August, there were more than 8,800 Allied ground troops based at Milne Bay, including:

  • approximately 7,500 Australians
  • approximately 1,300 from the US

Around 4,500 of these were infantry. There were also approximately 640 personnel from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

On the night of 25 August, the Japanese landed a small force of Special Naval Landing Parties and Naval Pioneers near Milne Bay. Poor intelligence meant that they had significantly underestimated the number of Allied troops.

Heavy rain made trails and roads impassable, hampering the Japanese advance. They also struggled with the difficult terrain, allowing the Australians to hold the only practical routes along the coastal flats. The low clouds also gave cover to RAAF bombers, which struck the Japanese supply base during breaks in the weather.

On 27 August, the Japanese forces were reinforced with marines. The Australians prepared a defensive position against Japanese tanks near No. 3 Airstrip. However, both sides were hampered by the rain and mud. The Australians couldn't get anti-tank guns to the forward troops. The Japanese tanks also got bogged and couldn't get to the airstrip.

This was the turning point in the battle. Milne Force, under the command of Lieutenant General Cyril Clowes, drove back the Japanese forces. This prompted them to withdraw. They were evacuated by sea during 4 to 7 September.

In the Battle of Milne Bay, 171 Allied servicemen were killed and 216 were wounded. Of the 2,800 Japanese who were landed, only 1,318 re-embarked. Of the almost 1,943 Japanese troops, 625 were killed and 311 were evacuated wounded. 21 Japanese aircrew were also killed.

This was the first time in the war that the Japanese had been comprehensively defeated on land. The Allied victory at Milne Bay provided a much-needed morale boost to troops fighting on the Kokoda Track and at Guadalcanal.

Continue on to learn more about the Japanese retreat from Milne Bay.

Papua New Guinea
25 August to 7 September 1942
Image caption
One of the Japanese invasion barges used in their abandoned landing attempt at Milne Bay, salvaged and put into use by Australian engineers.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 026639. Photo by Thomas Fisher. September 1942.

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The Milne Bay Remembrance Trail

5 Steps