Natives, with their superb intelligence system, were of the utmost value to the commandos. They could move, unmarked by the Japanese, wherever they wished ...
Lieutenant Shawn O'Leary, unit historian, 2/6th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment. Learn more about his experience.
Location and background
The Japanese occupied Aitape, on the coast in northern New Guinea, in 1942.
On 22 April 1944, US forces landed at Aitape. They captured it as part of a general advance towards the Philippines.
Australian troops of the 3rd Base Sub Area, which provided logistical support, and the 6th Division started to relieve the Americans from early October 1944.
Aitape was essentially a 'mopping-up' campaign.
The Australian commander-in-chief, General Sir Thomas Blamey, gave the 6th Division three jobs to do:
- protect the airfield and radar installations around Aitape
- destroy Japanese forces in the area
- support the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) and Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU)
The campaign involved small-scale patrolling and attacks, rather than all-out battles. The AIB and ANGAU had been conducting guerrilla operations for some time.
Initially, the Allies set up a primarily defensive barrier, restricting their operations to small patrols. The Japanese chose not to engage the Allies until the Australian troops arrived because they lacked the air and naval support of their enemy. They were also low on ammunition and other supplies.
The Allies and Australians began their attack in November 1944 from two directions. From Aitape, Allied forces advanced east toward Wewak. Facing them were 35,000 Japanese of the XVIII Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi from his headquarters near Wewak.
The Australian 2/6th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment moved towards Torricelli Mountains in the direction of Maprik. From here they could cut the Japanese off from most of their supplies.
Supply difficulties for the Allies also meant progress was slow. Casualties steadily grew from both battle and disease.
While there was doubt at the time about the necessity of the campaign, it was important for Australian troops to clear the Japanese from the region.
There was also no way of knowing the end of the war was just months away. Australian military leaders needed to do two things:
- Reduce the size of the army.
- Ensure there were enough troops on hand for any further operations toward Japan.
Australian troops remained steadfast and did their job in difficult conditions against a stubborn enemy.
More than 440 Australians died, with more than 1,100 wounded.
Learn more about the important events that happened at Wewak.