[Disease]...was a surer and more deadly peril to us than enemy marksmanship. We had to whip the Japanese before the malarial mosquito whipped us.

Lieutenant General Robert Eichelberger, US Army. Learn more about his account.


Gona is a coastal village on the north coast of Papua New Guinea.

In 1942, Gona was one of several settlements on a thin coastal strip separating the sea from a tidal swamp. Troops fought through tangled roots and mud. They had limited visibility unless they stood up and risked being shot.

Along with Buna and Sanananda, Gona was the site of a bloody battle that ended the Japanese occupation of Papua. It was known as the Battle of the Beachheads, or the Battle of Buna-Gona. The Japanese had earlier advanced from this area along the Kokoda Track.

Climate and terrain

This area is low-lying and the water table is shallow. While it's a tidal area, it was also fed by rivers from the Owen Stanley Ranges. Areas not waterlogged comprised either tall kunai grass, in which temperatures could reach 50°C, or dense jungle. There were coconut plantations in the wider areas of dry ground, but they had been neglected and had thick undergrowth.

Humidity during the Gona battle, which fell during the tropical wet season, could reach as high as 100%. It poured with rain, adding to the swampy conditions.


The area was one of the most malarial in the world. Other diseases, such as dengue fever, scrub typhus, tropical ulcers and dysentery were common. Some state that 85 to 95% of all Allied soldiers in the region suffered from malaria during the battle and were removed from active duty.


Because of the impenetrable jungle, the Allies had to rely on air drops. There was a high rate of loss and breakage. They faced critical shortages of ammunition and rations. Once they built landing strips, this situation improved, though bad weather still frequently affected supply.

Learn more about Australia's attack on Japanese forces at Gona.

Papua New Guinea
19 November 1942 to 9 December 1942
Image caption
Australian troops in hastily constructed trenches on the Gona perimeter.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 013760. Photo by an unknown Australian official photographer.

Related Trails

The Beachheads

11 Steps