I just could not believe it when we were told that the war was over. It all seemed to happen too quickly. We were resting and regrouping at Torokina in preparation for another bash at the Japs. There was a feeling of relief but it was several days before the reality sank in.
Private Jack Stevens, 55/53rd Infantry Battalion, Australian Army. Read more about his experience.
Bougainville is a group of islands to the east of New Guinea. The two main islands are Bougainville Island and Buka Island. Torokina is on Bougainville Island.
In March 1942, Japanese forces landed on Bougainville as part of their campaign to seize territory across the Pacific. They used their bases on Bougainville to support campaigns in Rabaul and elsewhere in New Guinea.
Only a small Australian force of around 20 soldiers, plus a handful of Coastwatchers, were present during the invasion. The soldiers were evacuated, but some Coastwatchers remained to provide intelligence.
After their victory at Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands, US forces began 'island hopping' across the Pacific. Their aim was to retake islands from the Japanese.
Admiral Yamamotu, the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor, was shot down and killed by USAAF fighter aircraft over Bougainville in April 1943 as part of Operation Vengeance. The wreck of his aircraft is still there.
US forces land at Torokina
US forces landed at Torokina in western Bougainville in November 1943. New Zealand and Fijian troops supported them. They established a base with airfields and supply depots.
The aim was to use this base to support operations further afield, especially in New Britain. The US never intended to retake Bougainville and Buka from the Japanese.
Australians take over
In mid-1944, Australian forces took over the Torokina base from their US counterparts. The US forces had focused on defending the base. However, Australian political and military leaders decided Australian troops should attack the Japanese.
Several bloody jungle battles followed. These included the battles of:
- Pearl Ridge
- Tsimba Ridge
- Slater's Knoll
- Hongorai River
- Porton Plantation
Porton Plantation was the only battle the Australian forces lost. The 31/51st Infantry Battalion suffered heavy casualties.
The Bougainville campaign was one of the costliest of the Pacific War for Australia. During the campaign, more than 520 Australian soldiers were killed, and approximately 1,500 were wounded, including members of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB). The Japanese death toll was much higher.
When the Americans landed at Torokina, there were around 65,000 Japanese troops on Bougainville. By the end of the war, there were just over 23,800. Many were killed in combat, while another 30,000 died from sickness and disease.
The civilian death toll was also very high. Historians estimate around 25% of Bougainville's pre-war population of 52,000 died either during or as a result of the War.
The Bougainville campaign continued until the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945. The official surrender in New Guinea occurred on 8 September 1945 at Torokina. Lieutenant General Kanda, commander of the 17th Imperial Japanese Army, and and Vice Admiral Samejima, surrendered to Lieutenant General Stanley Savige, General Officer Commanding II Australian Corps.