At first light [on 26 December] Cape Gloucester could be seen to starboard as a dark line, and beyond, the mass of Mount Talawe’s 6,000 feet gradually took shape. No lights ashore, no reaction from the enemy, not a bogey on the radar screen.
Lieutenant Commander John Alliston, HMAS Shropshire. Learn more about his experience.
Cape Gloucester is a headland on the western tip of New Britain.
After Japanese forces captured New Britain in 1942, they constructed two airfields at Cape Gloucester. Its closeness to mainland New Guinea made this area strategically important.
General Douglas Macarthur, supreme commander of Allied forces in the South-West Pacific Area, wanted airfields in western New Britain. These would support Allied advances along the north coast of New Guinea.
Before landing at Cape Gloucester, the Allies made two manoeuvres to distract the Japanese. The first was on 29 November 1943, when five warships, including the Australian destroyers HMAS Arunta and HMAS Warramunga, appeared off the coast of Gasmata. The second was the landing of US Army troops at Arawe, supported by HMAS Westralia.
The diversions worked, and Allied forces landed at Cape Gloucester on 26 December 1943. Although a US destroyer was sunk by Japanese aircraft, the Allies soon prevailed.
First US aircraft and later Kittyhawks from Nos. 80, 78 and 75 Squadrons RAAF started operating out of Cape Gloucester. Boomerang fighters from 'B' Flight of No. 4 Squadron RAAF also flew from these airfields.
The victories in western New Britain gave the Allies momentum. By early 1945, the Japanese were increasingly isolated. The garrison at Rabaul was cut off by an Australian cordon across the Gazelle Peninsula.