At Buna that year it rained about a hundred and seventy inches (4,300 mm). I have found out since that we got more than our share in December and January 1942–43.

- Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger. Read his full story.


Buna is a coastal village on the north coast of Papua.

In November 1942, the Japanese occupied Buna, with its handful of houses and huts, and one airfield. Along with Gona and Sanananda, it was the site of a fierce and costly battle for the Allies known as the Battle of the Beachheads.

Strategic situation

After the Allies' victory on the Kokoda Track, the Japanese were pushed back into three positions along the beaches of the north coast of Papua. General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Allied forces in the South West Pacific Area, demanded a quick victory at the Beachheads, no matter the cost. MacArthur not only underestimated Japanese capability, but he also underestimated the difficulties the Allies faced in terms of the terrain and climate.

Terrain and climate

Allied forces found themselves fighting in tough terrain. Tidal swamps and impenetrable jungle made movement difficult.

The heat was oppressive and climbed to temperatures around 50˚C in the thick kunai grasses. It was the wet season, which brought a deluge of rain. Malaria was rife, causing many casualties for both sides.

Visibility in the jungle was poor, so units had to stick together. Officers had to stay in the thick of fighting, which drew the attention of Japanese snipers, resulting in disproportionately high casualties. This affected command.

Intelligence gathering on Japanese positions was often incomplete. Aerial photos could be deceptive as the dense jungle blocked views. Tanks provided welcome fire support in the Buna area, but they were not designed for operation in the thick jungle. They often hit stumps, logs and craters or became bogged, making them targets of enemy fire.

Discover what happened when US forces attacked Buna.

Papua New Guinea
November to December 1942
Image caption
Australian troops on the way to Buna cross a stream on an improvised bridge, in December 1942.