I wanted to bring Cpl. Richards back, because he was my cobber, so I jumped out from the stump where I was sheltering and threw a few grenades over into the position where the Japanese were dug in. I did not kill them all, so went back, got a Bren gun and emptied the magazine in the post. That settled the Japanese.

Private Richard 'Dick' Kelliher, 2/25th Battalion. Private Kelliher received a Victoria Cross for his actions in the Markham Valley. Read more about Markham Valley experiences.


The Markham Valley cuts a wide, often grassy corridor through the mountainous terrain of the interior of Papua New Guinea. The shallow braided channels of the Markham River flow south-east through the valley for about 180km from its source in the mountains down to its mouth, near Lae, where it empties into the Huon Gulf. At its north-eastern end, the valley joins with the Ramu Valley, though which the Ramu River flows for about 720km in the opposite direction to the Markham. The ragged Finisterre Range forms a mountainous barrier between the north coast and the Markham and Ramu Valleys.

Before the Second World War, the only routes across these mountains were walking tracks.

In 1943, the Japanese started building a road from Bogadjim, on the north coast, towards the Ramu Valley. They intended to build one through to Lae. They planned to use it as an inland resupply route to counter losses from Allied attacks on their shipping. The road was never completed.

Strategic situation

The Allies wanted to develop the area around Lae as a major base to support troops, as Japan had done after occupying it in March 1942. They used it to support operations against the Allies, including the Kokoda Track campaign.

The Markham and Ramu Valleys were strategically important. They were flat and grassy, and well-suited to airfields, crucial for allied success.

The Japanese also knew the importance of these valleys.

The Allies needed the Markham Valley for their advance on Lae. They planned an airborne insertion of troops around Nadzab before moving on to Lae. This would occur in coordination with an amphibious assault on Lae and another land-based assault from the south.

Lae fell to the Allies sooner than expected, so they turned their attention to the Huon Peninsula.


Advancing to Lae from Nadzab, the Allies encountered the Japanese at Jensen's Plantation and at Heath's plantation. It was at the latter that Private Kelliher earned his Victoria Cross.

After Lae fell, the 21st and 25th Brigades advanced up the Markham and Ramu Valleys.

The 2/6th Independent Company seized Kaiapit on 19 and 20 September 1943. They cleared its overgrown airport so the 7th Division could fly in and advance from the head of the Markham Valley into the lower reaches of the Ramu Valley.

A company of 2/16th Battalion, 7th Division secured Dumpu on 4 October. The 7th Division were then ordered to contain the Japanese in the mountains.

Meanwhile, the Japanese had been ordered to block any Australian advance across the Finisterre Range.

Such an action could cut the Japanese supply routes along the north coast and cut off the forces operating further to the east.

Earlier in September 1943, the Australian forces had started a long campaign to take the Finisterre Range and the town of Madang.

During the first half of October, battalions of the 21st and 25th Brigades advanced into the Finisterres. They finally captured Madang on 24 April 1944.

The Japanese also held a major defensive position at Shaggy Ridge, which fell to the men of the 18th Brigade in late January 1944.

War supply challenges

During the entire advance, the Australian and US forces in the Ramu Valley were supplied by air.

It was proving a challenge to keep the 7th Division adequately supplied, so far from a major Allied base.


The heat in the area can be oppressive. Troops reportedly marched in temperatures up to 54°C among the tall kunai grass that covered much of the valley.

The outcome

The campaign through the Markham and nearby Ramu valleys took a toll on the Australians. Between 18 September 1943 and 8 April 1944, the 7th Division lost 204 men, with 464 wounded. Disease, however, led to the evacuations of nearly 14,000 personnel.

With the capture of Madang, the Allies held the Huon Peninsula, and the Japanese withdrew to Wewak.

Papua New Guinea
September 1943 to April 1944
Image caption
Troops rest in the Markham Valley after a 32-km march across sweltering kunai grass.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 015955. Negative by Gordon Short.

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