Their weapons are definitely inferior to ours, being old & crude yet effective. I cannot see how they can possibly have a chance at all.

Sergeant Tom 'Diver' Derrick. Read more of his account.

After the Allies captured Finschhafen, the Japanese retreated to the high ground on Sattelberg Mountain.

Major-General Wootten led the 9th Division, known as the 'Rats of Tobruk' following their success in the Middle East. They moved inland from Scarlet Beach to take Sattelberg.

At first, they encountered heavy resistance on the arduous terrain, filled with thick scrub, steep inclines lined with slippery mud. The main road ran west along one ridge, then took a sharp turn right to cross the valley.

The Japanese took advantage of their higher ground. But by early November, the Allies had control of Jivevaneng just south-east of Sattelberg. Wootten was ready to move on the attack, supported by tanks, artillery and air support.

Matilda tanks moved into position under the cover of an artillery barrage. They wanted to mask the noise of their approach until they were ready to attack. Flanking the Japanese from two sides, they moved north-west from Jivevaneng and south from Kumawa. Then, they met at the 792-metre-high position 'Steeple Tree Hill' before preparing for the final attack on the summit.

The Australian attack began on 17 November. Over the coming days, they took heavy fire from Japanese hidden in the higher ground. As they got closer to Sattelberg, the more difficult the terrain became.

On 18 November, the Allies launched coordinated air and land attacks. They disrupted the Japanese supply route to prevent fresh ammunition and food from being delivered to their troops. Air forces bombed the fortress around Sattelberg and destroyed the Japanese defensive positions.

On 22 November, they reached the final ridges and slopes. Ready to engage in their final assault on the summit, the terrain prevented use of tanks and artillery. Troops could only proceed on foot.

On 24 November, a surprise attack on the Japanese from the southeast failed. They rained gunfire and grenades on the Allied forces, holding them back.

Sergeant Thomas Derrick with the 2/48th Battalion tried to outflank the enemy's position. They were ordered to retreat.

At dusk, with supporting fire from his platoon, Derrick went against orders. He moved forward alone, using grenades to methodically destroy 10 enemy posts, before finishing the job with his rifle.

His platoon defended the ground they won until reinforcements came the next day and found the summit abandoned. Derrick was given the honour of raising the Australian flag on the summit, to signify the end of the battle.

Derrick had already won the Distinguished Conduct Medal at El Alamein. These actions at Sattelberg earned him the Victoria Cross.

Not long afterwards, tanks finally reached the Japanese positions at 2200 and 3200 features, only to find them abandoned. The Japanese had withdrawn north towards Wareo.

Papua New Guinea
3 October to 25 November 1943
Image caption
Australian troops move in behind Matilda tanks for a dawn attack on the Japanese held village of Sattelberg. A wounded soldier is carried back from the forward area, 16 November 1943.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 016207. Photo by Neil Brown.

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