The Japs were mortaring the strip and we went into action straight away ... it took us about 4 or 5 days to really clear them out of there. ... It was really on for young and old ... the first time I'd been in action and a lot of others too.

Corporal Noel Anthony Carey, 2/3rd Independent Company (later 2/3rd Australian Commando Squadron). Listen to his story.

In April 1942, the Australian Army established a small guerilla unit, called Kanga Force. It was made up of men from the 1st and 2/5th Independent Companies, as well as the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles.

The 17th Brigade later reinforced Kanga Force, by then concentrated around Wau. Their position was strategically located across a series of tracks and waterways that connected the north and south coasts across the mountains to the west of the Kokoda Track.

On 21 January 1943, Allied forces detected Japanese movement toward Wau. Several companies of the 2/6th Battalion moved east of the town to block their approach.

On 28 January, advancing Japanese ran into A Company of the 2/6th Infantry Battalion under Captain Wilfred Holden Sherlock at Wandumi, 3 km from Wau.

Japanese attacked with machine guns and mortars. The battle raged during the night, but Sherlock and his company held on. Sherlock was killed the next day trying to break through Japanese lines.

The Japanese got to within a few metres of the Wau airfield. Captain Sherlock became known as the 'Saviour Of Wau' due to his early actions.

The Allies knew they had to defend the Wau Aerodrome. A Company had bought them some time.

On 29 January, the Japanese started bombing the airfield. Meanwhile, battle-ready troops were airlifted to Wau and went straight into action.

Over the next few days, many reinforcements arrived by air. On 31 January, 35 aircraft made 71 trips. On 1 February, 40 aircraft made 53 trips.

The Japanese again tried to cut off this stream of troops by bombing the airstrip. Bad weather hampered this attempt and the Japanese returned to Rabaul.

On 6 February, Allied pilots downed 24 Japanese aircraft and the Japanese forces continued retreating toward Mubo. Australian Army personnel advanced on their heels.

The Battle of Wau was the last attempt by the Japanese to advance towards Port Moresby. Their defeat marked the end of their significant offensive on New Guinea.

The Battle of Wau led to 349 Kanga Force soldiers and officers killed, while Australian troops counted 753 Japanese dead.

Papua New Guinea
29 January to 6 February 1943
Image caption
Australian troops have a well-earned rest after successfully defending Japanese attacks on the Wau Aerodrome.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AMW 014370. Photo by Frank Bagnall.

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