The Battle of Rabaul, also known by the Japanese as Operation R, was fought on the island of New Britain in the Australian Territory of New Guinea, in January and February 1942. It was a strategically significant defeat of Allied forces by Japan in the Pacific campaign of World War II, with the Japanese invasion force quickly overwhelming the small Australian garrison, the majority of which was either killed or captured. Hostilities on the neighbouring island of New Ireland are also usually considered to be part of the same battle. Rabaul was significant because of its proximity to the Japanese territory of the Caroline Islands, site of a major Imperial Japanese Navy base on Truk.
Following the capture of the port of Rabaul, Japanese forces turned it into a major base and proceeded to land on mainland New Guinea, advancing toward Port Moresby. Heavy fighting followed along the Kokoda Track, and around Milne Bay, before the Japanese were eventually pushed back towards Buna–Gona by early 1943. As part of Operation Cartwheel, throughout 1943–1945, Allied forces later sought to isolate the Japanese garrison on Rabaul, rather than capturing it, largely using air power to do so, with US and Australian ground forces pursuing a limited campaign in western New Britain during this time.
By the end of the war, there was still a sizeable garrison at Rabaul, with large quantities of equipment that were subsequently abandoned. In the aftermath, it took the Allies over two years to repatriate the captured Japanese soldiers, while clean up efforts continued past the late 1950s. Many relics including ships, aircraft and weapons, as well as abandoned positions and tunnels, remain in the area.
Rabaul lies on the eastern end of the island of New Britain. At the time of the battle, the town was the capital of the Australian-administered Territory of New Guinea, having been captured from the Germans in 1914.In March 1941, the Australians despatched a small garrison to the region, as tensions with Japan heightened. The small Australian Army garrison in New Britain was built around Lieutenant Colonel Howard Carr's 700-strong 2/22nd Battalion, an Australian Imperial Force (AIF) infantry battalion. This battalion formed part of Lark Force, which eventually numbered 1,400 men and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Scanlan. The force also included personnel from a local Militia unit, the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR), a coastal defence battery, an anti-aircraft battery, an anti-tank battery and a detachment of the 2/10th Field Ambulance. The 2/22nd Battalion Band—which was also included in Lark Force—is perhaps the only military unit ever to have been entirely recruited from the ranks of the Salvation Army. A commando unit, the 130-strong 2/1st Independent Company, was detached to garrison the nearby island of New Ireland.
Throughout 1941, the Allies had planned to build Rabaul up as a "secure fleet anchorage" with plans to establish a radar station and a strong defensive minefield; however, these plans were ultimately shelved. Allied planners later determined that they did not have the capacity to expand the garrison around Rabaul, nor was the naval situation conducive to reinforcing it should the garrison come under attack. Nevertheless, the decision was made that the garrison would remain in place to hold Rabaul as a forward observation post.The main tasks of the garrison were protection of Vunakanau, the main Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) airfield near Rabaul, and the nearby flying boat anchorage in Simpson Harbour, which were important for the surveillance of Japanese movements in the region. However, the RAAF contingent, under Wing Commander John Lerew, had little offensive capability, with only 10 lightly armed CAC Wirraway training aircraft and four Lockheed Hudson light bombers from No. 24 Squadron.
For the Japanese, Rabaul was important because of its proximity to the Caroline Islands, which was the site of a major Imperial Japanese Navy base on Truk. The capture of New Britain offered them a deep water harbour and airfields to provide protection to Truk and also to interdict Allied lines of communication between the United States and Australia.Following the capture of Guam, the South Seas Detachment, under Major General Tomitaro Horii, was tasked with capturing Kavieng and Rabaul, as part of "Operation R".
Japanese planning began with aerial reconnaissance of the town, which sought to identify the dispositions of the defending troops. Planners, who had been flown from Guam to Truk, determined three possible schemes of manoeuvre based on these dispositions: a landing near Kokop, aimed at establishing a beachhead; a landing on the north coast of Rabaul, followed by a drive on Rabaul from behind the main defences; or a multi-pronged landing focused on capturing the airfields and centre of the town. They eventually settled upon the third option.For the invasion, the Japanese established a brigade group based on the 55th Division. Its main combat units were the 144th Infantry Regiment, which consisted of a headquarters unit, three infantry battalions, an artillery company, signals unit, and a munitions squad, as well as a few platoons from the 55th Cavalry Regiment, a battalion from the 55th Mountain Artillery Regiment and a company from the 55th Engineer Regiment. These forces would be supported by a large naval task force, and landing operations would be preceded by a heavy aerial campaign aimed at destroying Allied air assets in region, so that they could not interfere with the landing operations.
Most civilians who were not necessary to the defence of the base were evacuated in December 1941, shortly before Japanese air raids began.Starting on 4 January 1942, Rabaul came under attack by large numbers of Japanese carrier-based aircraft. After the odds facing the Australians mounted significantly, the RAAF commander, Lerew, signalled RAAF HQ in Melbourne with the Latin motto "Nos Morituri Te Salutamus" ("we who are about to die salute you"), the phrase uttered by gladiators in ancient Rome before entering combat. On 14 January, the Japanese force embarked at Truk and began steaming towards Rabaul as part of a naval task force, which consisted of two aircraft carriers—Kaga and Akagi—seven cruisers, 14 destroyers, and numerous smaller vessels and submarines under the command of Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue. On 20 January, over 100 Japanese aircraft attacked Rabaul in multiple waves. Eight Wirraways attacked and in the ensuing fighting three RAAF planes were shot down, two crash-landed, and another was damaged. Six Australian aircrew were killed in action and five wounded. One of the attacking Japanese bombers was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. As a result of the intense air attacks, Australian coastal artillery was destroyed and Australian infantry were withdrawn from Rabaul itself. The following day, an RAAF Catalina flying boat crew located the invasion fleet off Kavieng, and its crew managed to send a signal before being shot down.
As the Australian ground troops took up positions along the western shore of Blanche Bay where they prepared to meet the landing,the remaining RAAF elements, consisting of two Wirraways and one Hudson, were withdrawn to Lae. Once the aircraft had departed with a number of wounded, the Australians destroyed the airfield. The bombing continued around Rabaul on 22 January and early that morning a Japanese force of between 3,000 and 4,000 troops landed just off New Ireland and waded ashore in deep water filled with dangerous mudpools. The 2/1st Independent Company had been dispersed around the island and the Japanese took the main town of Kavieng without opposition; after a sharp fight around the airfield the commandos fell back towards the Sook River. That night, the invasion fleet approached Rabaul and before dawn on 23 January, the South Seas Force entered Simpson Harbour and a force of around 5,000 troops, mainly from the 144th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Masao Kusunose, began to land on New Britain.
A series of desperate actions followed near the beaches around Simpson Harbour, Keravia Bay and Raluana Point as the Australians attempted to turn back the attack.The 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Kuwada Ishiro, was held up at Vulcan Beach by a mixed company of Australians from the 2/22nd and the NGVR, but elsewhere the other two battalions of the South Seas Force were able to land at unguarded locations and began moving inland. Within hours, Lakunai airfield had been captured by the Japanese force. Assessing the situation as hopeless, Scanlan ordered "every man for himself", and Australian soldiers and civilians split into small groups, up to company size, and retreated through the jungle, moving along the north and south coasts. During the fighting on 23 January, the Australians lost two officers and 26 other ranks killed in action.
Only the RAAF had made evacuation plans. Although initially ordered to turn his ground staff into infantrymen in a last-ditch effort to defend the island, Lerew insisted that they be evacuated and organised for them to be flown out by flying boat and his one remaining Hudson.In the days that followed the capture of Rabaul, the Japanese began mopping up operations, starting on 24 January. Australian soldiers remained at large in the interior of New Britain for many weeks, but Lark Force had made no preparations for guerrilla warfare on New Britain. Without supplies, their health and military effectiveness declined. Leaflets posted by Japanese patrols or dropped from planes stated in English, "you can find neither food nor way of escape in this island and you will only die of hunger unless you surrender". The Japanese commander, Horii, tasked the 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment with searching the southern part of the Gazelle Peninsula and securing the remaining Australians. Over 1,000 Australian soldiers were captured or surrendered during the following weeks after the Japanese landed a force at Gasmata, on New Britain's south coast, on 9 February, severing the Australians' line of retreat. Following this, the Japanese reorganised their forces, occupying a line along the Keravat River, to prevent possible counterattacks.
From mainland New Guinea, some civilians and individual officers from the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit organised unofficial rescue missions to New Britain, and between March and May about 450 troops and civilians were evacuated by sea.Notwithstanding these efforts, Allied losses, particularly in relation to personnel captured, were very high and casualties during the fighting for Rabaul in early 1942 were heavily in favour of the Japanese. The Allies lost six aircrew killed and five wounded, along with 28 soldiers killed in action, and over 1,000 captured. Against this, the Japanese lost only 16 killed and 49 wounded.
Of the over 1,000 Australian soldiers taken prisoner, around 160 were massacred on or about 4 February 1942 in four separate incidents around Tol and Waitavalo. Sturgeon.Six men survived these killings and later described what had happened to a Court of Inquiry. The Australian government concluded the prisoners were marched into the jungle near Tol Plantation in small groups and were then bayoneted by Japanese soldiers. At the nearby Waitavalo Plantation, another group of Australian prisoners were shot. The Allies later placed responsibility for the incident on Masao Kusunose, the commanding officer of the 144th Infantry Regiment, but in late 1946 he starved himself to death before he could stand trial. At least 800 soldiers and 200 civilian prisoners of war—most of them Australian—lost their lives on 1 July 1942, when the ship on which they were being transported from Rabaul to Japan, the Montevideo Maru , was sunk off the north coast of Luzon by the U.S. submarine USS
According to Japanese author Kengoro Tanaka, the operation to capture Rabaul was the only operation of the New Guinea campaign that was completely successful for the Japanese.Following the capture of Rabaul, the Japanese quickly repaired the damage to Rabaul's airfield and Rabaul became the biggest Japanese base in New Guinea, and the lynchpin to their defences in the region. The Australians tried to restrict Rabaul's development soon after its capture by a bombing counter-attack in March. The Japanese eventually extended their control across New Britain, establishing airfields at Cape Gloucester on the island's western tip and several small outposts along the coast to provide stop-over points for small boats travelling between Rabaul and New Guinea. Meanwhile, a handful of Lark Force members remained at large on New Britain and New Ireland and, in conjunction with the local islanders, conducted guerrilla operations against the Japanese, serving mainly as coast watchers, providing information of Japanese shipping movements.
For the Japanese, the capture of Rabaul was followed with further operations on mainland New Guinea, beginning with operations to capture the Salamaua–Lae region beginning in March 1942.Throughout 1942 and into early 1943, the Allies and Japanese fought along the Kokoda Track, at Milne Bay and around Buna–Gona as the Japanese sought to advance south towards Port Moresby. By mid-1943, the tide turned in favour of the Allies, who began an offensive in the Pacific, aimed at advancing north through New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. By late November 1943 the Japanese force in Rabaul had been reduced by airpower, with a large raid being mounted from the aircraft carriers Saratoga and Princeton on 5 November. According to author Eric Larrabee, "thereafter no Japanese heavy ships ever came to Rabaul."
Allied planners had considered capturing Rabaul, but they eventually settled on isolating it and bypassing it as part of Operation Cartwheel. In December 1943, U.S. Marines and Army soldiers landed in western New Britain at Arawe and Cape Gloucester. Subsequently, Allied operations on New Britain gradually restricted the Japanese force to the area around Rabaul. In November 1944, the Australians returned to the island when advanced elements of the 5th Division landed at Jacquinot Bay on the south coast, and relieved the US 40th Infantry Division.The Australians then conducted a number of other landings around the island as they conducted a limited advance north, securing a line across the base of the Gazelle Peninsula between Wide Bay and Open Bay. After this, they sought to isolate and contain the main Japanese forces around Rabaul. When Japan surrendered in August 1945, there were still around 69,000 Japanese troops in Rabaul.
Large quantities of equipment were subsequently abandoned around Rabaul after the war, and it took over two years for the Allies to repatriate the Japanese garrison that was captured after Japan surrendered. In the late 1950s, Japanese salvage companies began work to salvage many of the ship wrecks around Rabaul. However, many abandoned positions, tunnels, and equipment relics such as aircraft and weapons can still be found in the area.
The Battle of Milne Bay, also known as Operation RE or the Battle of Rabi (ラビの戦い) by the Japanese, was a battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II. Japanese naval infantry troops, known as Kaigun Tokubetsu Rikusentai, with two small tanks attacked the Allied airfields at Milne Bay that had been established on the eastern tip of New Guinea. Due to poor intelligence work, the Japanese miscalculated the size of the predominantly Australian garrison and, believing that the airfields were defended by only two or three companies, initially landed a force roughly equivalent in size to one battalion on 25 August 1942. The Allies, forewarned by intelligence from Ultra, had heavily reinforced the garrison.
The 8th Division was an infantry division of the Australian Army, formed during World War II as part of the all-volunteer Second Australian Imperial Force. The 8th Division was raised from volunteers for overseas service from July 1940 onwards. Consisting of three infantry brigades, the intention had been to deploy the division to the Middle East to join the other Australian divisions, but as war with Japan loomed in 1941, the division was divided into four separate forces, which were deployed in different parts of the Asia-Pacific region. All of these formations were destroyed as fighting forces by the end of February 1942 during the fighting for Singapore, and in Rabaul, Ambon, and Timor. Most members of the division became prisoners of war, waiting until the war ended in late 1945 to be liberated. One in three died in captivity.
The Battle of the Bismarck Sea took place in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) during World War II when aircraft of the U.S. Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked a Japanese convoy carrying troops to Lae, New Guinea. Most of the Japanese task force was destroyed, and Japanese troop losses were heavy.
The Battle of Singapore, also known as the Fall of Singapore, was fought in the South-East Asian theatre of World War II when the Empire of Japan invaded the British stronghold of Singapore—nicknamed the "Gibraltar of the East". Singapore was the major British military base in South-East Asia and was the key to British imperial interwar defence planning for South-East Asia and the South-West Pacific. The fighting in Singapore lasted from 8 to 15 February 1942, after the two months during which Japanese forces had advanced down the Malayan Peninsula.
The Borneo campaign of 1945 was the last major Allied campaign in the South West Pacific Area during World War II to liberate Japanese-held British Borneo and Dutch Borneo. Designated collectively as Operation Oboe, a series of amphibious assaults between 1 May and 21 July were conducted by the Australian I Corps, under Lieutenant-General Leslie Morshead, against Imperial Japanese forces who had been occupying the island since late 1941 – early 1942. The main Japanese formation on the island was the Thirty-Seventh Army under Lieutenant-General Masao Baba, while the naval garrison was commanded by Vice-Admiral Michiaki Kamada. The Australian ground forces were supported by US and other Allied air and naval forces, with the US providing the bulk of the shipping and logistic support necessary to conduct the operation. The campaign was initially planned to involve six stages, but eventually landings were undertaken at four locations: Tarakan, Labuan, North Borneo and Balikpapan. Guerilla operations were also carried out by Dayak tribesmen and small numbers of Allied personnel in the interior of the island. While major combat operations were concluded by mid-July, mopping-up operations continued throughout Borneo until the end of the war in August. Initially intended to secure vital airfields and port facilities to support future operations, preparatory bombardment resulted in heavy damage to the island's infrastructure, including its oil production facilities. As a result, the strategic benefits the Allies gained from the campaign were negligible.
The Battle of Balikpapan was the concluding stage of Operation Oboe, the campaign to liberate Japanese-held British and Dutch Borneo. The landings took place on 1 July 1945. The Australian 7th Division, composed of the 18th, 21st and 25th Infantry Brigades, with a small number of Netherlands East Indies KNIL troops, made an amphibious landing, codenamed Operation Oboe Two, a few miles north of Balikpapan. The Allied invasion fleet consisted of around 100 ships. The landing had been preceded by heavy bombing and shelling by Australian and US air and naval forces. The Allied force totalled 33,000 personnel and was commanded by Major General Edward Milford, while the Japanese force, commanded by Rear Admiral Michiaki Kamada, numbered between 8,400 and 10,000, of which between 3,100 and 3,900 were combatants. After the initial landing, the Allies secured the town and its port, and then advanced along the coast and into the hinterland, capturing the two Japanese airfields. Major combat operations concluded around 21 July, but were followed by mopping-up operations, which lasted until the end of the war in mid-August. Australian troops remained in the area until early 1946.
The New Britain campaign was a World War II campaign fought between Allied and Imperial Japanese forces. The campaign was initiated by the Allies in late 1943 as part of a major offensive which aimed to neutralise the important Japanese base at Rabaul, the capital of New Britain, and was conducted in two phases between December 1943 and the end of the war in August 1945.
No. 20 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) support squadron. Coming under the control of No. 96 Wing, it is responsible for the management of the airfield at RAAF Base Woomera, South Australia. The squadron originated as a maritime patrol unit during World War II. Raised in August 1941, it operated PBY Catalina and Short Empire flying boats from bases in New Guinea, Queensland and the Northern Territory, conducting search-and-rescue, mine-laying, anti-submarine and bombing missions against Japanese targets in the Pacific theatre. Following the conclusion of hostilities, the squadron was disbanded in March 1946. It was reactivated as an airfield support squadron in April 2015.
The Battle of Cape Gloucester was fought in the Pacific theater of World War II between Japanese and Allied forces on the island of New Britain, Territory of New Guinea, between 26 December 1943 and 16 January 1944. Codenamed Operation Backhander, the US landing formed part of the wider Operation Cartwheel, the main Allied strategy in the South West Pacific Area and Pacific Ocean Areas during 1943–1944. It was the second landing the US 1st Marine Division had conducted during the war thus far, after Guadalcanal. The objective of the operation was to capture the two Japanese airfields near Cape Gloucester that were defended by elements of the Japanese 17th Division.
The Huon Peninsula campaign was a series of battles fought in north-eastern Papua New Guinea in 1943–1944 during the Second World War. The campaign formed the initial part of an offensive that the Allies launched in the Pacific in late 1943 and resulted in the Japanese being pushed north from Lae to Sio on the northern coast of New Guinea over the course of a four-month period. For the Australians, a significant advantage was gained through the technological edge that Allied industry had achieved over the Japanese by this phase of the war, while the Japanese were hampered by a lack of supplies and reinforcements due to Allied interdiction efforts at sea and in the air.
The Salamaua–Lae campaign was a series of actions in the New Guinea campaign of World War II. Australian and United States forces sought to capture two major Japanese bases, one in the town of Lae, and another one at Salamaua. The campaign to take the Salamaua and Lae area began after the successful defence of Wau in late January, which was followed up by an Australian advance towards Mubo as the Japanese troops that had attacked Wau withdrew to positions around Mubo. A series of actions followed over the course of several months as the Australian 3rd Division advanced north-east towards Salamaua. After an amphibious landing at Nassau Bay, the Australians were reinforced by a US regimental combat team, which subsequently advanced north up the coast.
New Guinea Force was a military command unit for Australian, United States and native troops from the Territories of Papua and New Guinea serving in the New Guinea campaign during World War II. Formed in April 1942, when the Australian First Army was formed from the Australian I Corps after it returned from the Middle East, it was responsible for planning and directing all operations within the territory up until October 1944. General Headquarters Southwest Pacific Area Operational Instruction No.7 of 25 May 1942, issued by Commander-Allied-Forces, General Douglas MacArthur, placed all Australian and US Army, Air Force and Navy Forces in the Port Moresby Area under the control of New Guinea Force. Over the course of its existence, New Guinea Force was commanded by some of the Australian Army's most notable commanders, including Sydney Rowell, Sir Edmund Herring and Sir Leslie Morshead.
The Landing at Lae was an amphibious landing to the east of Lae and then the subsequent advance on the town during the Salamaua–Lae campaign of World War II. Part of Operation Postern, which was undertaken to capture the Japanese base at Lae, the landing was undertaken between 4 and 6 September 1943 by Australian troops from the 9th Division, supported by US naval forces from the VII Amphibious Force. The first major amphibious operation undertaken by the Australian Army since the failed Gallipoli Campaign, the Australians invested a significant amount of effort into planning the operation.
Lark Force was an Australian Army formation established in March 1941 during World War II for service in New Britain and New Ireland. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Scanlan, it was raised in Australia and deployed to Rabaul and Kavieng, aboard SS Katoomba, MV Neptuna and HMAT Zealandia, to defend their strategically important harbours and airfields.
The Invasion of Salamaua–Lae, called Operation SR by the Japanese, was an operation by Imperial Japanese forces to occupy the Salamaua–Lae area in the Territory of New Guinea during the Pacific campaign of World War II. The Japanese invaded and occupied the location in order to construct an airfield and establish a base to cover and support the advance of Japanese forces into the eastern New Guinea and Coral Sea areas. The small Australian garrison in the area withdrew as the Japanese landed and did not contest the invasion.
The Battle of Goodenough Island, also known as Operation Drake, was a battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II. The Allies attacked the Kaigun Rikusentai to deny the Japanese the ability to use the island prior to the Buna campaign. The Japanese troops had been stranded on Goodenough Island, Papua, during the Battle of Milne Bay. "Drake Force", consisting of the Australian 2/12th Battalion and attachments, landed on the southern tip of Goodenough Island at Mud Bay and Taleba Bay on 22 October and, following a short but heavy fight, the Japanese forces withdrew to Fergusson Island on 27 October. After the battle, Goodenough Island was developed by the Allies and became a major base for operations later in the war.
The Battle of Wide Bay–Open Bay was a battle during the New Britain campaign of the Second World War. Following the arrival of the Australians on New Britain in late 1944, replacing the US garrison on the island, they began a limited offensive against the Japanese forces on the island. Pushing east from the positions previously captured by the US troops earlier in the year, after landing at Jacquinot Bay on the southern coast in November, the Australians began advancing across the island towards the Gazelle Peninsula, where they sought to isolate the numerically superior Japanese garrison. This advance was effected along two axes: Cape Hoskins to Open Bay on the northern coast, and Jacquinot Bay to Wide Bay on the southern. Once the Australians had secured a line across the island between Wide Bay and Open Bay in March and April 1945, the fighting on New Britain died down as the Australians sought to contain the larger Japanese garrison while limiting their own casualties. This situation lasted until the end of the war in August 1945.
The 2/22nd Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. Raised as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force for service during World War II, the battalion formed part of the 23rd Brigade, attached to the 8th Division. It was captured by the Japanese during the Battle of Rabaul in 1942. After being captured, the battalion was not re-raised and a large number of its personnel died in captivity; those that did not were returned to Australia at the end of the war in 1945.
The Battle of Finschhafen was part of the Huon Peninsula campaign in New Guinea during World War II and was fought between Australian and Japanese forces. The fighting took place between 22 September and 24 October 1943 following the landing at Scarlet Beach, which was followed by a two-pronged advance on Finschhafen as the Australian 20th Infantry Brigade advanced on the town from the north, while the 22nd Infantry Battalion drove from the south, having advanced from the landing beaches east of Lae. After the capture of Finschhafen, the Japanese forces in the area withdrew towards Sattelberg where they sought to hold the Australians before launching a counteroffensive, which subsequently threatened the landing beach. This attack was repelled by American and Australian forces, with heavy casualties being inflicted on the Japanese. In the aftermath, the Australians went on the offensive, capturing Sattelberg, and then advancing towards the Wareo plateau.
The 2/21st Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army. Raised for service during Second World War as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force, it was formed on 11 July 1940 at Trawool in central Victoria as part of the 23rd Brigade of the 8th Division. It was subsequently deployed to Ambon as part of Gull Force in December 1941 following the Japanese invasion of Malaya; however, with the defence of the island considered untenable due to the limited military resources available and overwhelming Japanese strength it was subsequently captured despite determined resistance, surrendering on 3 February 1942. Most members of the battalion became prisoners of war, and a large number died in captivity.