A voice roared 'Watch out for the bastards now'. Peering down the hill, I felt my heart pound as I saw the points of bayonets moving slowly forward. Instead of crouching with rifles flat to the ground, the Japs were crawling, their rifles held perpendicular.

Sergeant Harry Wells. Read more of his account.


Sattelberg is a mountain mission station 900 metres above sea level. It is 8 kms inland from Scarlet Beach in the Huon Peninsula region of New Guinea. German Lutheran missionaries set up the station in the late 1800s.

The location was of strategic importance because it was on high ground overlooking Finschhafen.

Japanese forces retreated to Sattelberg after the Allies captured Finschhafen. While there, Japan amassed a force of about 5,000 men.

Fighting focused on Sattelberg after the fall of Finschhafen.

Strategic situation

The Japanese occupying Sattelberg threatened Australian lines of communication.

In 1943, the Allies were ready to move against the Japanese on all fronts. Orders were issued to seize the Huon Gulf area. At first, the focus fell on Lae and Markham Valley, then on the Huon Peninsula, from Finschhafen, Sattelberg to Sio, about 85 km northwest of Finschhafen.

The Allied hold on Finschhafen was not secure until they captured Sattelberg.

Capturing Sattelberg would threaten the main Japanese supply route north of Sattelberg, between Gusika on the coast and Wareo, about 8 km inland. It would also stop major large-scale counterattacks on the Huon Peninsula.

Allied forces moved against Sattelberg with a combination of armour, artillery and air support.

Geography and terrain

The Sattelberg road ran west along a ridge, then turned sharply right to cross a valley before climbing up the steep Sattelberg ridge to the village.

The settlement sat on the summit. It was protected by steep 'razor-back' ridges, vertical cliffs and thick kunai grass, scrub and jungle. This restricted the use of tanks once the terrain became too arduous and difficult.

Heavy rain caused landslides. The Allies made slow progress crossing rain-swollen rivers and streams as the Japanese continued to harass them from their positions high above the Allies.

The outcome

Between the landing at Scarlet Beach to the withdrawal of the Japanese at Sio on 21 January 1944, 283 men of the 9th Division were killed, and one man listed as missing.

In return, the 9th Division inflicted well over seven times that number of casualties upon the Japanese. Only about 4,300 of the Japanese force of 12,600 originally forward of Sio escaped.

The Huon Peninsula operations were the largest yet undertaken by the Australian Army. The success of those operations was the start of a handover to a much bigger Allied army.

Papua New Guinea
3 October to 25 November 1943
Image caption
A wounded soldier of the 2/48th Australian Infantry Battalion is carried back to the advanced dressing station. Tanks and infantry continue to move forward.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 060615. Photo by Robert John Buchanan.

Related Trails

The Huon Peninsula Remembrance Trail

22 Steps