Even without the war Milne Bay would have been a hell hole – it was a terrible place. The sun hardly ever shined and it rained all the time. It was stinking hot and bog holes everywhere and it was very marshy, boggy country. Even without the Japanese it would have been hard to live there. It was a disease-ridden place – it was terrible.

Unamed Australian serviceman. Read more about this experience.


Milne Bay is a sheltered 250 km2 bay. It's located at the eastern tip of the present day Papua New Guinea. In 1942, it was in the Territory of Papua. It's 35 km long and 16 km wide, and deep enough for large ships to enter.

The Allies chose Milne Bay as the site for three airfields because of its location and the flat landscape.

It was a perfect location for aircraft to patrol over the eastern seaward approaches to Port Moresby and launch attacks on Rabaul.

Allied base

The Allies started developing airfields in July 1942. Land for the airfield near Gili Gili was cleared by personnel of the US 96th Engineer Battalion and Papuan workers.

Kittyhawks from No 76 Squadron RAAF landed on 22 July. More aircraft from No. 76 and No. 75 Squadron RAAF arrived on 25 July.

While Marston Matting covered some of the runway, it often had water over it. Landing aircraft sprayed water everywhere. Sometimes they skidded off the runway and became bogged.

Work soon began on two more airfields.

Weather at Milne Bay

The Allies faced difficult weather when building the airfields. It rained every day and roads became impassable to vehicles. The men lived in rain-soaked tents on muddy ground.

It was a breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes. Many men became infected during their first weeks there. After several months, an epidemic broke out.

Battle of Milne Bay

Most of the almost 9,000-strong Allied forces at Milne Bay were non-combatant. They were building, maintaining and supplying the base and its airfields.

The location and the airfields made it a key stepping stone for the Japanese forces in their drive towards Port Moresby. The allies made preparations for a Japanese attack.

Late on the night of 25 August 1942, a force of 2,000 Japanese marines landed to capture the Milne Bay facilities. They underestimated the Allied defences.

Milne Force, under the command of Lieutenant General Cyril Clowes, drove back the Japanese forces, prompting them to withdraw and evacuate by sea on 6 September.

The Battle of Milne Bay was the first time a major Japanese operation had been comprehensively defeated.

The outcome

The defeat proved costly for Japan’s advance along the Kokoda Track. Milne Bay was the first time Japanese forces had been ‘defeated at a time and on ground of their own choosing’.

The Allies continued to develop the base at Milne Bay to support the counter-offensive along the northern coast of Papua and New Guinea.

On 14 April 1943, 188 Japanese aircraft attacked Milne Bay. A force of 24 RAAF Kittyhawk fighters responded to the attack. At least three Allied aircraft were shot down, while the Japanese lost seven.

The Allies used Milne Bay as a base until the end of the war, including as a staging location for the amphibious landing at Lae in September 1943.

Find out how the Allies established an airbase at Milne Bay.

Papua New Guinea
July 1942 to September 1945
Image caption
The 2nd/9th Light Anti-Aircraft Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery, mans a Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun position on the main fighter runway at Gili Gili airfield. In the background, there's a Kittyhawk fighter landing. Jack Quick is seated on the left. Robert (Bob) Waterman, is feeding the ammunition. Edward Preece is looking through binoculars on the far right.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 026629. Photo by Thomas Fisher.

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The Milne Bay Remembrance Trail

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