We waited as patiently as we could, not knowing how many warships were at sea, but at least by leaving land we were escaping a death trap. To us, this peninsula at the east end of New Guinea was a nightmare of a place ... I grasped the hand extended from the side of the ship and was dragged on to the deck where there were those previously evacuated, some lying, some seated. They were silently grouped in the darkness as if suddenly overtaken by exhaustion. They had the air of a defeated force.

Lieutenant Chikanori Moji, a marine of the 5th Kure Special Naval Landing Force, Japanese Imperial Navy. Read more about this account.

Japanese retreat

The Japanese failure to capture the No. 3 airstrip was the turning point in the Battle of Milne Bay. The Japanese troops were exhausted after the fierce fighting in their advance towards the airstrip on 28 August. They regrouped and waited for reinforcements from 29 to 30 August. Lieutenant General Cyril Clowes, the commander of Milne Force, also took the chance to reorganise his forces to defend the strip.

In the early hours of 31 August, Japanese ground forces attacked the airstrip. They were repelled by the Australian 2/12th Battalion and 61st Battalion. The Japanese retreated from their position.

Between 1 to 6 September, Australian infantry troops advanced against Japanese positions on the northern side of Milne Bay. Supported by RAAF Kittyhawks and artillery from the 2/5th Field Regiment, they pushed the Japanese back to their original 25 August landing site. The fighting was fierce, with heavy casualties on both sides.

On 6 September, the Australian 2/9th Battalion advanced into the centre of the main Japanese landing area and base. They captured equipment as they went. From 4 to 7 September, Japanese warships evacuated survivors.

Sinking of the MV Anshun

Japanese warships roamed the bay without being harassed under the cover of darkness.

MV Anshun was an Australian Merchant Navy ship used as a transport and munition carrier between Australia and New Guinea. At dawn on 6 September, the Anshun, escorted by the destroyer HMAS Arunta, arrived in Milne Bay. It docked at Gili Gili wharf to unload. According to the ship's master, Captain W. Miller, the plan was to put to sea around 4 pm, escorted by Arunta. This was to avoid the risk from Japanese ships overnight. However, he received verbal orders from local authorities to keep unloading cargo. Arunta left Milne Bay to join two other Allied ships on escort duties between Australia and New Guinea.

While the Anshun was unloading during the night, two Japanese warships approached. The Japanese cruiser Tenryu and the destroyer Arashi began shelling the Anshun. The Anshun's guns were hit early on and were never fired. The ship took 10 hits and eventually keeled over and sank. Two US navy gunners were killed and one was wounded, as was one ship's gunner. The Allied hospital ship Manunda, which was also in the bay, was lit up by searchlights but wasn't fired upon.

The Tenryu and the Arashi returned the following night and shelled some Allied shore positions. Apart from some air raids, these were the last significant actions of the Japanese at Milne Bay.

Papua New Guinea
6 to 7 September 1942
Image caption
Gili Gili wharf seen from the air, with the Chinese freighter Anshun lying on its side in the shallows after being sunk by Japanese warships.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 014681. Photo by Norman Brown.

Related Trails

The Milne Bay Remembrance Trail

5 Steps