Chapter 9: The Floods and the Cease Fire
BY June, after six months of operations, the main Japanese force in south Bougainville had been thrust into an area some 30 miles by 15; in the north the enemy was confined to Buka Island and the narrow Bonis Peninsula; in the east, inland from Numa Numa and Tinputz, they were being increasingly harassed by Australian infantry patrols and the AIB. Above Kieta, Captain Mackie of the AIB was planning actually to assault that town with guerilla forces. So far as the main body of the Japanese force was concerned the situation of 1944 had been reversed. Then the American garrison had held a perimeter about fourteen miles in length with some outposts beyond it. The main Japanese force was now hemmed in behind a defended line of about the same length but protecting a somewhat larger area than the Americans’ Torokina perimeter had contained.
It was estimated that the strength of the Japanese army on Bougainville was now about 14,500 and that, in the main areas, they were distributed as follows:–
|Shortland, Fauro and near-by islands||1,310|
|Numa Numa .||1,630|
These totals excluded some other army troops, an estimated 1,500 civilian labourers, and the naval troops – perhaps 3,000 – about whom virtually no information could be obtained from captured soldiers. The rough estimate of the total strength was now 19,000 to 20,000.1
These figures, based on recent secret information, were considerably higher than the estimates of April, when, as mentioned, the total army strength had been considered to be only about 11,000. Incidentally, there were indications that in the past few months the Buin area had been reinforced from the Shortland and Fauro Islands and Kieta. The strength of the Australian forces on Bougainville was now 32,000, including 7,600 in the Base Sub-Area. At 9th June II Corps was 2,528 below its war establishment, the base 245 below.
Only twenty-eight miles separated the leading Australians from the Japanese base area round Buin, but densely-wooded and wet country made a rapid overland advance impossible. General Savige considered that he
did not have enough craft and other equipment to make an effective landing farther along the coast; in any event there were no suitable all-weather landing beaches west of Moila Point, and east of it he would be within range of the Japanese anti-aircraft and coast guns defending their big base. He concluded that the only course was to continue a steady advance along the Buin and Commando Roads.
Savige’s problem was to find enough fresh forces to carry out the tasks he planned. It will be recalled that for the coming phase the 3rd Division was to include the 11th, 15th and 29th Brigades; the 7th (formerly part of this division) was in need of rest and leave. Savige hoped to have it and the 15th rested and refreshed for a final assault on the Japanese inner fortress. If the 7th was to be given some leave and the 11th, after a rest, sent to the 3rd Division, the 23rd must take over both central and northern sectors.
From April onwards, in the background of Savige’s planning and that of other commanders in Australian New Guinea was the knowledge that their operations were being subjected to increasing criticism in newspapers and Parliament in Australia. The problem faced by the field commanders was expressed in a letter sent by General Sturdee to Savige on 18th July:
As you are aware as much as I am, we are on rather a hair trigger with operations in Bougainville and in 6 Div area in view of the political hostility of the Opposition and the Press criticism of the policy of operations being followed in these areas. The general policy is out of our hands, but we must conduct our operations in the spirit of the role given us by C. in C., the main essence of which is that we should attain our object with a minimum of Australian casualties. We have in no way been pressed on the time factor and to date have managed to defeat the Japs with very reasonable casualties considering the number of the Japs that have been eliminated.
Meanwhile, on 28th June General Savige had given General Bridgeford, as his next immediate role after securing the line of the Mivo, an advance to the line of the Silibai River, still along the two main tracks – the Buin and Commando Roads. The rate of advance was to be determined by that at which roads and jeep tracks could be built and protection of the line of communication provided by the reserve brigade. At first the 15th Brigade was to be relieved not later than 1st July, but as the battalions of that brigade were already moving up to an attack towards the Mivo, Savige gave permission for the relief to be deferred until their objectives had been reached. Then the 29th Brigade would come forward and secure the Mivo line. This brigade was now commanded by Brigadier N. W. Simpson, a forceful infantry officer who had led the 2/17th Battalion in battle in North Africa and New Guinea.
This account of planning has run somewhat ahead of the narrative of the 3rd Division’s operations. As mentioned earlier, the 57th/60th Battalion, having completed its wide outflanking move on 16th June, was on the Buin Road and advancing towards the Mobiai.
On the 17th a company of this battalion tried to outflank the enemy position between it and the Mobiai but was blocked by a Japanese position
well north of the road. Next day it made a wider outflanking move and reached the road behind the enemy. There it was attacked but pressed on, and on the 19th the Japanese withdrew, having destroyed the field gun whose presence had prevented the tanks from advancing. In the following days the battalion thrust steadily forward, gaining a few hundred yards at a time, and on the 23rd was close to the Mobiai. There on the 24th a strong and determined enemy force was encountered with a 37-mm gun which scored three hits on the leading tank but failed to damage it. A heavy bombardment failed to dislodge the Japanese that day, but on the 25th they had gone leaving behind their gun, which had been buckled by fire from a tank.
Brigadier Hammer wished to advance to the Mivo before the enemy had recovered and reorganised. His plan was to relieve the 57th/60th Battalion on the Mobiai with the 58th/59th, move the 24th and 57th/60th to Musaraka whence they would advance with tanks round the enemy’s northern flank, the 24th to the Buin Road between the Koopani and Ivana Rivers and the 57th/60th to Shishigatero. The 58th/59th would create a diversion across the Mobiai and south of the Buin Road. By the 27th both leading battalions were in the concentration area and a track for tanks had been made on this flank from the Mobiai to a track – Killen’s – which ran just west of the Mivo to Shishigatero on the Buin Road.
That day when the 24th Battalion reached the assembly area from which the march to the Buin Road was to begin, the leading company found a party of Japanese in occupation, attacked them, killing nine, and dug in some 200 yards away while the artillery bombarded the enemy. Next day when the 57th/60th reached its area, farther forward, its leading company was attacked by about 100 Japanese as it was digging in. There was a fierce fight lasting half an hour in which 2 Australians were killed and
10 wounded and 11 Japanese dead left on the field. Nevertheless by dusk the battalion was packed and rationed ready to move off early next morning-29th June. All that night it rained, and in the morning there being no sign of the Japanese who had attacked the previous day, two companies, each with a troop of tanks, set off over boggy ground behind an artillery barrage which lifted 200 yards every eight minutes. By 4 p.m. the leading companies were on the Buin Road – their objective. Meanwhile the 24th advanced behind a similar barrage and the devastating bombing and strafing of 44 Corsairs. The bush was so dense that at times the advance of the barrage had to be delayed, but by 3 p.m. one leading company was on the Buin Road at the Ivana River, the other at the Koopani River. At 12.30 p.m. two companies of the 58th/59th with a troop of tanks set out to open the road to the 24th Battalion about 1,000 yards away but met sharp opposition. Lieutenant L. S. Proby led a charge which took one post but by dusk the companies had gained only 300 yards. Thus by the end of the day the 24th had bitten a piece out of the Buin Road about midway between the Mobiai and the Mivo, the 57th/60th was astride the road at the Mivo with Japanese to the east and west; and the 24th was pushing forward to join the 57th/60th.
Throughout this area the road was heavily mined and teams from the 7th Bomb Disposal Platoon (Lieutenant Woodward2) were busy.
These boys did a remarkable job (wrote the historian of the 2/4th Armoured Regiment); briefly it consisted of walking down a track through the jungle, in front of the tanks, with infantry creeping through the undergrowth on their flanks, while they prodded an old bayonet into the ground to feel if there were any mines there. The fact that the first sight that the Jap would have of the approach of our troops was that of a tank rolling down the road with a man walking in front brandishing a bayonet and frequently stopping while he deloused and pulled up a mine, didn’t appear to worry these fellows.3
In the first 10 days of June these bomb disposal men encountered about 20 mines a day ranging from 75-mm to 150-mm shells, usually in clusters of three. Thanks to their skill and devotion this very thorough mining caused no serious delay.
On the 30th the Japanese reacted by steadily shelling the 57th/60th with six guns. This long-range fire caused few losses but the 24th Battalion and engineers of the 15th Field Company who were thrusting along the Buin Road encountered a concealed gun which waited until a bulldozer was only 50 yards away and hit it repeatedly, killing 4 and wounding 6 of the engineers.
The position was a masterpiece of camouflage which accounts for the clearing patrols having not observed it although, as they now know, they had passed within feet of it (wrote a diarist). The gun was completely camouflaged with a cunning wire arrangement in the branches which opened to make a fire lane on being pulled and closed on being released.
The operations of the 15th Brigade, now nearing their end, had succeeded admirably. The brigade was the most experienced formation on Bougainville. Hammer had the advantage of the support of more heavy weapons than had been used before and he employed them to the full. His wide outflanking moves took time to prepare but probably saved casualties – although the brigade’s losses in battle were heavier than those of any other on Bougainville. The outflanking moves were carried out with few casualties; most of the losses were caused in “the many minor battles fought in between the major ones”.4
During its period in action the 15th Brigade killed and buried 803 Japanese and took 47 prisoners. It is probable that many more were killed by air and artillery bombardments, which were heavy during this phase.
On Bridgeford’s orders the 29th Brigade now began to move forward and take over. There were still Japanese on each side of the 57th/60th, and it was soon evident that the incoming troops would have to continue the fight for the line of the Mivo. Each incoming battalion had sharp clashes as it moved up, the 42nd to relieve the 24th, the 47th (now commanded by Lieut-Colonel Fry) to place a company on the Mivo, the 15th to relieve the 57th/60th. On 3rd July as Major McDonald’s company of the 47th was coming into its position it was fiercely attacked by from 80 to 100 Japanese. The onslaught continued all day until late in the afternoon when two tanks arrived on the scene with a platoon from the 15th Battalion and dispersed the enemy who were then only 10 yards from the forward weapon-pits. At least 20 Japanese were killed. The tanks brought wire and ammunition to the forward company. There were small attacks on the 4th but on the 5th McDonald’s signal line was cut and from 60 to 100 Japanese attacked from several directions. After the infantry and tanks had killed at least 15 Japanese the enemy withdrew. The rain had been incessant and the men were fighting from weapon-pits filled with water. On the 6th line communication with the beleaguered company and tanks was re-established and a fighting patrol took rations forward to it. That day the Japanese began a series of strong attacks on the company of the 15th Battalion nearest the Mivo ford, and shelled it persistently. On 9th July some 70 Japanese attacked with such vigour that some got within the defenders’ wire; 34 were killed including 4 officers, and 2 wounded men captured, the Australians losing 2 killed and 4 wounded.
The day on which Simpson’s brigade was to cross the Mivo was originally fixed at 3rd July but because of heavy rain it was postponed to the 10th. Meanwhile all battalions sent out patrols, many of which met such fierce opposition that it was soon evident that the enemy intended to offer a determined defence on the Mivo line. Patrols regularly captured useful documents from Japanese ambushed along the tracks leading to
their forward positions and a clear picture of the enemy’s intentions and dispositions was obtained. A patrol of the 42nd led by Lieutenant Oldfield,5 ordered to reconnoitre a crossing of the Mivo, found the river in flood, whereupon Oldfield and four others stripped, swam the river and, without weapons, scouted 500 yards beyond it. Because of the weight of the Australian artillery and mortar bombardments the enemy was now digging in less and employing instead a policy of hit-and-run raids and ambushes by parties of from three to ten men.
Before the 10th arrived, the persistent rain caused a second postponement of the next move forward; 24th July was now to be D-day. The rain became heavier. On the 10th even patrols could not cross the flooded Mivo. “Torrential rain flooded the divisional area, reduced the Buin Road to a sea of mud and created a series of islands between the various rivers.” On the 17th the rain became still heavier; 8 inches fell in 36 hours. The problem now was not to move troops forward but to feed them where they were. Virtually all the bridges on the line of communication were washed out, all the rivers flooded; the Mivo was running at 12 miles an hour. Soon the forward units could be supplied only by air. It would take weeks to repair the road and bridges. D-day was postponed until late August.
Even deep patrolling now became impossible. The conditions on and beyond the Mivo may be illustrated by an account of a patrol of the 42nd Battalion which set out on 14th July to establish a hidden patrol base about a mile east of the Mivo and about the same distance south of the Buin Road. It was led by Lieutenant R. B. Winter and included his platoon, Lieutenant Smith6 and a party of the Papuan Infantry, and an artillery observer and his team; it was to be out four days. On the first day, after seeing four parties of Japanese but being unseen by all but one of them, they reached a patrol base already established by Lieutenant Steinheuer on the Mivo about a mile south of the Buin Road. Next day Winter crossed the Mivo and set up his base about a mile to the east. The rain was falling so heavily on the forest that his men could not hear the bursting of ranging shots fired by the artillery. On the fourth day a second patrol under Lieutenant Shaw7 set out to relieve Winter in due course, but failed to reach him. The rain was becoming heavier and Winter’s patrol was running short of food. On such patrols the men spoke in whispers – the excited chattering with which Japanese usually accompanied their movement along the tracks was a main reason for the success of Australians in patrol actions.
Whispering finally got one of the lads down (wrote Winter in his diary);8 [he] started yelling his head off. What he said about the Nip and all armies in
general won’t stand repeating. Frightened hell out of me and everyone else. Damn near had to slap his ears off to quieten him. Poor kid only turned 19 the day before we left on this patrol. Seems OK now.
The rain discouraged even the carrier pigeons. “Sent a long message to brigade by pigeon,” wrote Winter. “The –––– won’t fly. Ceiling too low. Up in a tree and not a stone in sight. ... Bloody sorry I didn’t eat them the other night when they were making so much din.” On the fifth day out there was still no sign of Shaw and the rations that day were one biscuit per man per meal. Two of the Australians had been wounded, one accidentally, and two had malaria. Sergeant Winter,9 brother of Lieutenant Winter, arrived back with a small patrol from the Lagoons area to the north where they had killed nine Japanese, and the whole patrol set off westward to the Mivo. On the 19th they recrossed the flooded river. Meanwhile Shaw had crossed the river some distance to the south. The Japanese had now been “stirred up” by the presence of Lieutenant Winter’s patrols and there were several clashes, in one of which four Japanese were killed – two by Private Rowbottom,10 who continued to fire his Bren after his arm had been broken by a grenade – and four Australians wounded. On the 19th and 20th Shaw’s patrol was surrounded by swirling waters but after narrow escapes from drowning managed to recross the river with the help of ropes and reached home on the 22nd.
On 16th July the 15th Battalion had sent a patrol across the Mivo. It met a far stronger enemy group which fired with three machine-guns and forced it to withdraw after seven men had been hit. Private Minchin,11 the forward scout, a youth of just 20, was forced to remain hiding behind a log very close to the enemy. When they advanced he fired with his Owen, killed four, and drove the others to cover. He stayed where he was for nearly two hours, firing on the Japanese whenever they moved while they searched for him with the fire of two machine-guns. The Australian artillery then fired and forced the Japanese out, whereupon Minchin followed them, and slept that night in the jungle just east of their bivouac. Next morning, he moved back through their position, noted the layout, recrossed the Mivo and brought the information back to his company.
On 21st July, Corporal Whitton12 of the 42nd led out a patrol of four towards the Mivo. After 600 yards, as the leading scout entered a clearing, the patrol was fired on by 10 Japanese. Whitton advanced alone across the clearing firing his Owen. He silenced one machine-gun and then he was hit in the arm and the fore-grip of his gun shot away.
He threw grenades into a second enemy machine-gun post killing or wounding six. He then returned to his men and, despite his wound, led a patrol back to clear the enemy out of their position.
Late in July and in early August the rain moderated and patrolling was intensified, long-range patrols penetrating up to and beyond the Oamai River. In a clash on the northern flank on 24th July a patrol of 24 of the 47th Battalion was fiercely attacked by some 60 Japanese. Reinforcements arrived and extricated them but not before 3 Australians had been killed and 11 wounded, including the commander, Lieutenant McLellan,13 and the artillery observer, Lieutenant Glass.14
Glass brought down artillery fire on Japanese positions only 60 yards away and, despite a severe wound in the left arm, continued to fire his sub-machine-gun with his right. McLellan directed the patrol from a stretcher. Soon only 12 men remained unwounded. Finally Corporal Tucker,15 himself hit in three places, organised the withdrawal of the patrol and its wounded.
On 4th August, Sergeant Steinheuer16 led a party from the 15th Battalion to patrol the east bank of the Mivo. Crossing the flooded river Lance-Corporal Henderson17 was swept downstream. Steinheuer and Private Mattingley18 went to his rescue. Henderson struggled to the east bank and so did Steinheuer and Mattingley. These three, armed only with grenades, patrolled north along the east bank covered by the others from the west bank. Near the Buin Road the Japanese exploded a mine by remote control killing Henderson and wounding Steinheuer. Mattingley gave first aid and brought Steinheuer out across the Mivo.
On 3rd August a deep patrol of the 15th Battalion, led by Lieutenant Young,19 surprised 15 Japanese in a group of huts well to the east of the Mivo and killed 6, the others fleeing. Next day patrols of the 15th killed 19, and on the 5th a platoon commander and six men from each rifle company crossed the Mivo and patrolled to the Wapiai River reconnoitring the route over which the battalion planned to advance on 17th August.
In this period Japanese patrols were fiercely harassing the Australian lines of communication. At dawn on 5th August when engineers of the 7th Field Company (Major Fitz-Gerald20) had partially built a Bailey bridge over the Hongorai, three Japanese appeared at the western end and seemed
to be determined to blow it up. Sergeant Brown,21 in charge of the early morning shift, saw them and tried to fire his Owen gun but it jammed. One of the Japanese lit a charge he had placed in position. Brown left his men under cover, obtained more ammunition, went forward and hurled the charge into the river two seconds before it exploded. The Japanese ran away.
On 7th August, a party from this company, going to work in trucks was ambushed by about 35 Japanese just east of Hammer Junction. In an action lasting fifteen minutes seven sappers were killed or mortally wounded and seven less severely wounded.
As a result of this and earlier attacks by Japanese infiltrating ever more boldly the 7th Field Company contrived a truck protected with sandbags and armed it with Bren guns and several Owens and it was used to escort engineer convoys.
The continuance of operations by the infantry depended now, as earlier, on the efforts of the engineers and others who were building and maintaining the roads and bridges. The main road from Torokina to the Mivo, 75 miles long, had been built through virgin coastal scrub on volcanic sandy soil, and through swamp forest, often on clayey soil, cut by many rivers and lagoons. In addition the engineers and infantry had built 21 miles of lateral roads, 25 miles of corduroyed jeep and tank tracks, and more than 50 miles of tracks that were temporarily made capable of carrying tanks or jeeps and then abandoned. In the southern sector the engineers built 30 permanent or semi-permanent bridges totalling 9,500 feet. Frequent flooding made maintenance a heavy task, and the two major floods – the first in April and now this bigger one in July – caused great destruction and much earlier work had to be remade. After the campaign the Chief Engineer of the Corps (Brigadier W. D. McDonald, who had replaced Brigadier Mann22 in May) recorded that the engineer stores were adequate: 5,000 tons as an initial allotment and 1,700 tons a month thereafter.23
On 14th August, a native reported that a large number of Japanese about Hanung wished to surrender and Corporal Geai was sent out with a patrol. Near Hanung three Japanese with hands upraised were met. Geai went forward to take their surrender when he saw a camouflaged machine-gun covering the tracks and several armed Japanese moving stealthily about. He shouted to his men to take cover and opened fire killing the crew of the machine-gun. The patrol was now under intense mortar, rifle and machine-gun fire. Geai was wounded in the arm and hand but rushed forward and killed seven with his Owen. He was now wounded also
in the leg but carried on and organised a withdrawal. Only one other native was hit.24
By the first week in August the rains in southern Bougainville had put a stop to large-scale operations for over a month. News of the dropping of an atomic bomb in Japan convinced the troops that the end of the war was near. On the 9th came news of the dropping of a second atomic bomb and the invasion of Manchuria by the Russians. On the 11th the forward battalions were ordered to withdraw all long-range and fighting patrols forthwith, but to remain on the alert. On the 16th they learnt that fighting was to have ceased the previous day. But when would all the isolated parties of Japanese know what had happened? An Australian patrol searching for the body of a man killed on patrol some days before met a group of Japanese who seemed to have learnt the news: “Neither party knew whether to advance or make off. After observing one another our party returned to company area.”25
Meanwhile, on the inland flank, commando patrols early in June had found the Commando Road area clear of enemy troops from the Mobiai to the Mivo. Later, however, the enemy began probing vigorously and patrols reached points close to squadron headquarters. Clashes occurred every few days. On 10th July a particularly sharp fight occurred near the Mivo crossing. Lieutenant Smith’s26 section of 18 men found about 40 Japanese foraging in a garden, but they were in small groups and did not present a good target for surprise attack. Smith, therefore, stealthily set an ambush on the track leading to the garden. When the leading enemy party had moved from the garden and was fully enclosed in the ambush the Australians opened fire and killed all these Japanese, but those who remained in the garden opened fire. After an exchange of fire, in which Smith was killed, the Australians withdrew. Next day 20 fresh enemy graves were found.
Major Winning anticipated that, as the brigade was advancing so fast, he would be asked for “information” about the country ahead.
Consequently on 7th June a patrol led by Lieutenant Astill moved out along the Commando Road to probe deep into enemy territory. It passed through Kokopa, Tugiogu and Piarino near the Silibai without opposition and on the 9th reconnoitred at Kanaura a force of about 100 Japanese on whom they called down an air attack. Another deep patrol was made by an unusually strong group of 47 led by Captain Martin.27 They moved south on 5th June travelling to the east of the Mivo. A plan to reconnoitre the coast from Dio Dio to Tokuaka was abandoned because of thick bush and swamp.
As Winning had anticipated, General Bridgeford now instructed Winning to collect information about the Mobiai–Mivo area, Mivo–Oamai and Oamai–Silibai in that order of priority. The first task had already been completed, but on 20th June Lieutenant Lawson-Dook’s section set out into the second area and in five days had explored all tracks north of the Buin Road. On 21st June Winning and a few scouts set out to find a new base farther east. This proved a difficult task. Winning hoped to make a base at Kukugai on the upper Silibai River but could not find a site that was defensible and had access to water; in addition the Kukugai area overlooked the Buin plain and the enemy would be able to see the aircraft dropping supplies to the commando squadron and thus take bearings on its camp. Finally Winning established his base farther west at Kilipaijino. By 14th July the base was in use. “The difficulty experienced by me in finding a squadron site and a suitable L of C,” he wrote to Lieut-Colonel Hassett28 of Bridgeford’s staff, on 7th July, “is, I think, sufficient answer to the question of moving a brigade group around this flank [the plan being considered by Savige]. It is utterly impracticable. I’ve ransacked this country to the extent that I’m well towards wearing my second pair of boots out.”
A main task at the new base was to gain control of the Buin natives, large numbers of whom were working for the Japanese. It was expected that some 1,200 would be brought in from the Japanese-controlled area. In several respects Winning was now in a situation that differed from his previous ones. He was (in his words) “no longer working on the flank of a [Japanese] force covering its withdrawal” but “on the flank of his main force which ... has nowhere further to fall back to in Bougainville”. In addition he was in an area where large numbers of natives had been working for the Japanese, and one in which an AIB party (Stuart’s) had been at work. Winning considered that with the arrival of his stronger force the time had come to replace the AIB’s “attitude of appeasement” with “a strong disciplinary policy”; in short, that the Angau officer accompanying him should take control of the natives and lay down the law.
Corps had already proposed late in June that Winning should take over command of Stuart’s force, Stuart remaining as Angau adviser, but Stuart objected that he could not do his own job and at the same time look after the 2/8th’s needs. The proposal was dropped and Stuart’s group continued to send in valuable information until the end of the fighting.
In the meantime Stuart had had his own local problems. On 14th June his scouts reported that an enemy party about 100 strong was moving west towards them from Kikimogo and later that day there was a skirmish between this group and the scouts. Next day the native scouts withdrew, fighting, towards Stuart’s base. After losing about 10 men and killing two natives, the Japanese withdrew, but the natives followed up and made a successful night attack. The Japanese pressed on; an air strike failed to reach the right area; and on the night of the 16th–17th and next day Stuart and his men withdrew safely.
Meanwhile the question of control of the new area became submerged in other problems. Winning wrote to Hassett:
The halting of the 15th Brigade’s advance at the Mivo influenced the operations of the 2/8th Commando. The unfavourable flying weather prevented the building up of a reserve of rations large enough to permit strong long-range patrolling; the enemy probed vigorously in the area allotted to the squadron. It was decided not to send patrols south until the brigade was pressing strongly on the Mivo line; and, until the tracks were better secured, to leave the Papuan company at the former base at Morokaimoro.
Anxiety increased when, on 18th July, a courier from the 24th Battalion was ambushed near Kingori and a bag of official and unofficial mail for the squadron was lost. It was suggested by the 3rd Division that the base should be moved, but Winning contended that the Papuan patrols, the native watchers, and the flooded condition of the rivers provided security; and in fact the Japanese appear to have made no use of the valuable information they captured. Winning continued to plan means of gaining control of the natives in the new area. On 25th July he wrote to Hassett:
I consider it necessary, as do doubtless you, to rake in all kanakas now under Nip control.
At the moment the situation is:
(a) the majority of the natives right up to the Muliko is here.
(b) the minority is in the Mamamarino area, some compounded there.
Many moons ago when the native and the Nip in this area were friendly, the natives below catered to the Nip’s sexual lust and supplied him with concubines. Now by virtue of these concubines, the Nip holds a certain proportion of the native populace in thrall. As long as the marys are there the Nip is loth to leave.
Therefore, by hook and mainly by crook, I’ll have to remove the concubines and the natives.
Have lightly sounded those whom the Nip holds in bondage and I think it can be done by guile. The area will have to be thoroughly sounded and reconnoitred and the information passed rapidly back here.
Hence the two W/T OPs I mention, each manned by one sig, 1 Int wallah and 1 white scout and two police boys.
A big line of scouts has just completed a sweep through ... Tugiogu to Astill’s Crossing. The only Nips found was a party of 20 at Astill’s Crossing. Elsewhere, only odd tracks of a few. There is a red-skin with the Nips from Salamaua area. ... He’ll have to be bumped off as he is too deeply implicated for aught else.
The hold-up on Bde front may be propitious to me in that it gives me time to get the native situation ironed out, before which being done the movement of patrols would be greatly curtailed.
PIB. Intend moving them forward in a few days. I had thought they would strike more around Morokaimoro, and be of some assistance on the flank while I was ironing out the native situation here. Have been disappointed in their performances.
Hope this explains things.
During the early days of August few contacts with the Japanese were made and on the 11th Winning received orders to cancel all long-range and fighting patrols.
On 26th June, General Kanda had issued orders for what he considered would be the final battle. He estimated that the Australians would cross the Mivo River early in August and by the first week in September would be approaching the Silibai. At that stage he would launch an offensive.
His plan provided that Colonel Muda, with the 13th Regiment, artillery and engineers, totalling 1,200, should move north of and parallel to the Buin Road to a firm base near Taitai. Thence he was to ambush supply trains on the Buin Road between Runai and Rusei, raid vehicle parks and stores, attack small parties of troops, set booby-traps but avoid a major action. A second force of 800 under Major Fukuda of the 23rd Regiment was to establish a base near the Mivo ford and harass the enemy on the Buin Road between the Mivo and Mobiai. The 4th South Seas Garrison Unit (about 1,000) was to assemble about Kara Aerodrome, keep the northern road clear, and destroy natives and patrols in the Oamai River and Katsuwa areas. A fourth force of 3,500 men, including the 45th Regiment from Kieta, the 19th Engineer Regiment, 6th Cavalry and smaller units, was to concentrate in the Luagoa and Laitaro areas and on the headwaters of the Muliko River, ready to swing south early in September, in combination with the 4th South Seas Garrison Unit, for a main offensive against the enemy on the Buin Road.
Kanda had reached an agreement with Vice-Admiral Tomoshige Samejima whereby Kanda assumed command of all naval troops except those at Samejima’s Eighth Fleet Headquarters. A force of 2,500 naval troops was to be formed to man the Silibai River line as far north as the Kanaura area. The remaining naval troops were mostly employed to guard the coast. Thus about 9,000 troops were committed to action; some 8,000 more in the rear area.
When the Australians attacked the Silibai River Kanda’s naval troops were to throw them back; promptly the 45th Regiment and attached troops would attack from the north and force the Australians back to the Mivo. Kanda realised that shortage of food would prevent him from following up this success, and while the Australians were reorganising after their setback all Japanese troops would move back into their inner defences – a line stretching from the mouth of the Little Siwi River north to the Uguimo River and along it to Kara Aerodrome, through Laitaro and Tabago to the Atara River and along it. Within this area, protected by minefields, the Japanese intended to fight the final battle. Within the perimeter would be 4 medium guns, 12 field guns, 70 anti-aircraft guns to be used as field artillery, and 90 medium and 144 light machine-guns – a light armament for perhaps 15,000 men and significant of the rate at which the Australians had been capturing or destroying their weapons. Fukuda had difficulty in carrying out his part in the early stage of this operation, because of the proximity of the Australians to the Mivo ford. On 9th July he attacked them in the Shishigatero area, without success. (This was the attack on a company of the 15th Battalion in which 34 Japanese were killed for a loss of 2 Australians dead.) However, “Fukuda was still able to continue with his harassing tasks to the enemy rear. This force was unable to establish any
static defensive localities because of enemy artillery, and Fukuda divided his troops into a number of mobile groups to attack patrols and camp areas.”29 These tactics were considered to have delayed the Australians and prevented them crossing the Mivo in strength during July and early August. (In fact it was the rain not the Japanese that achieved this result.) Thus Kanda was able to continue his re-deployment without undue haste.
On the last day of July Kanda issued a proclamation that the final and decisive battles on Bougainville were imminent; his forces would hurl their entire resources into the task of destroying the enemy; the first attack would open as soon as the enemy reached the Silibai and its object would be to throw them back to the Mivo, after which his force would retire to its inner perimeter, fight there until the last round of ammunition had been fired and then die for the Emperor. Kanda’s proclamation added that ships and aircraft were expected from Japan, where, he said, more aircraft were being produced each month than ever before.
He had lost some 18,000 killed or died of illness since the Australians arrived but still commanded 23,500 men.
In June and July in the central sector a fresh battalion had been thrusting forward. Lieut-Colonel H. L. E. Dunkley, commander of the 7th Battalion which had taken over this sector on 7th June, had served with the 2/6th in its Middle East campaigns and with the 2/7th in the Wau–Salamaua operations, and was one of an increasing number of officers who had risen from the ranks to command of a battalion since the war began. His battalion was given a more active role than that permitted to its immediate predecessors. Before Dunkley took over, Savige called him in, emphasised the need to avoid unnecessary casualties, and the unpopularity of the campaign in sections of the Press. He said that he expected the battalion to inflict four times as many losses as it received. In detail the battalion’s task would be to capture Wearne’s Hill, Base Point 3, Tokua and Sisivie, all of which had been thoroughly reconnoitred by its predecessor, the 27th Battalion, and to establish a company well forward in the Wakunai Valley from which the coastal area could be harassed. From this base the landing of a company north of Numa Numa was to be supported and at length an overland route cutting the island in two via Berry’s Hill and the Wakunai River maintained.
However, at this time Flight Lieutenant Sandford, the guerilla leader, who was given the task of finding a suitable landing place on the east coast, was in contact with strong enemy groups, and the plan was deferred for at least four days. On the 14th it was cancelled, and the company on the Wakunai was given the guerilla task of harassing the Japanese round Ibu and Buritsiotorara, avoiding becoming involved with strong bodies of the enemy known to be in the area.
When he took over Dunkley had under his command, in addition to his battalion, Captain Hunt’s30 company of the Papuan Infantry, a platoon of heavy mortars and a detachment of Angau; and he had the support of one battery of the 4th Field Regiment.
Before the relief of the 27th Battalion was complete Lieutenant Bonde,31 an experienced leader with previous service as an NCO in the 2/12th Battalion, had been sent out with a patrol to find a site for the company base on the Wakunai. He set out on 3rd June and on the 6th signalled that he had found an area suitable for a company base and dropping ground – for the troops there could be supplied only from the air – but that there were pro-Japanese natives along the route. Bonde’s patrol rejoined its company on the 8th. On the main trail the forward company (Captain Cameron32) patrolled aggressively with such promising results that on the 10th Dunkley ordered an attack next day. At 6 a.m. next morning the Japanese themselves attacked the leading platoon but were repulsed. Four hours later, after artillery and mortar fire, the Australians advanced, using a flame-thrower.33 They gained 300 yards and killed ten Japanese. Sergeant Bennett,34 gallantly leading the forward platoon, and two others were killed in the day, and two wounded, one (Sergeant Schurr35) fatally. Next day patrols found the enemy in position 250 yards farther on and killed two. In the next few days patrols gained more ground.
The next objective was Wearne’s Hill, which was patrolled by Sergeant Walsh36 and a party on 14th June. On the 16th it was hit by 12 Corsairs which dropped depth-charges, blasting away the undergrowth. A platoon attacked taking two positions without loss but meeting heavy opposition at a third where two men were killed and three wounded. In a second attack next day the Japanese again fought back hard and the platoon commander (Lieutenant Baskerville37) was wounded. It was possible to maintain only one company forward on the main track and with the existing teams of native carriers this would be so until probably the middle of July when the tramway had been completed to haul supplies up the Barges’ Hill escarpment. On the 18th Captain Roberts’38. company, no longer needed for the east coast landing, relieved Cameron’s. Two days later this company attacked the Japanese position on Wearne’s, already blasted twice without success, and took it after a sharp fight in which Lieutenant Longmore39 and three others were killed and two wounded. Longmore appeared to have been hit by a dum-dum bullet, and next day a patrol killed a Japanese who had five rounds of such ammunition.
On the 25th, after the remaining Japanese positions had been much bombarded, the remainder of Wearne’s Hill was found to be clear of the enemy. But next day a fighting patrol met sharp opposition on Centre Hill and lost two killed and seven wounded. Here Lance-Corporal Evans,40 though mortally wounded, continued to direct fire and encourage his comrades. Next day in a platoon attack after an air strike on the same position two were killed and two wounded. In a third platoon attack on the 30th Warrant-Officer Schiele41 was killed and three wounded. Until 29th June the battalion was supported by the 10th Battery (Major Yott42). This battery was now out of range and henceforward support was given by the 2nd Mountain Battery (Major W. R. D. Stevenson).
However, on 6th July, Cameron, whose company had now again taken over the sector, and Keopili,43 an outstanding native scout, stalked on to Centre Hill and found that the enemy had withdrawn during the night to North Hill, which became the next objective. Artillery and aircraft harassed North Hill and patrols probed forward, and on the 13th a platoon (Lieutenant Elliott44) attacked and took it killing seven in a fierce fire fight and later two more. The Japanese forward post was now found to be on Cameron’s Hill, 150 yards forward. On the 17th a patrol was ambushed by a Japanese lieutenant and two men, but killed them all without loss to themselves. Next day Lieutenant Neville’s45 platoon took the hill, killing seven in a fight at close quarters and capturing a heavy machine-gun.
Meanwhile on the 13th, 14th and 15th June Captain Mclnnes’46 company of the 7th had moved out to a position on the Wakunai two and a half days’ march behind the enemy’s forward posts. By the 21st they had established observation posts overlooking Inus Point and the big Numa Numa Plantation and their patrols had had several clashes with the enemy. Lance-Sergeant Faux47 and a party succeeded in laying a line through the mountains to this company’s base.
One patrol had a particularly exciting experience. It set out on 27th June to examine and set an ambush on the coastal track – an ambitious venture. Sergeant Clohesy,48 the leader, set up a base 3,000 yards from the coast, and on the 28th, with ten others including a native scout set out for the coast leaving two signallers, a stretcher bearer and one other man with the wireless set and the native at the base. That evening the signallers sent back a message that the patrol had not returned. Next morning the
base was suddenly attacked by fifteen or twenty Japanese. The five occupants fired back from a range of fifteen yards. The native was killed in the fight, and the others at length withdrew, leaving behind packs, the wireless set and a Bren. As the men were making their way back to the company they heard heavy fire from the direction of their base. Clohesy had returned, found eight to ten Japanese in occupation and attacked and driven them off, killing one and probably two others. All the gear was retrieved.
The 7th continued to probe forward on the main track and inflict casualties. On 22nd July a patrol of the Papuan Infantry killed seven at Charlie Creek, the next main obstacle. On 2nd August Sergeant Clohesy’s platoon attacked McInnes Hill, the next ridge along the main track, but encountered Japanese who had tunnelled into a low cliff face; these fired at five yards’ range, killing two men. Another attack by Lieutenant Bonde’s platoon also failed. The trail behind this position was then blocked by a platoon of the 7th and one of Papuans and next day a patrol led by Lieutenant Rush49 found that the enemy had gone. From McInnes Hill on the 8th a successful attack was made across Charlie Creek.
In June the Japanese round Sisivie had been harassed increasingly and on 12th June Major Blaby,50 commanding the company there, led out a patrol and found it unoccupied. On 3rd July Tokua was similarly occupied, as a base for probing north towards Ibu. Much patrolling was carried out by this company, one party led by Lieutenant McPhee51 on 9th July ambushing nine Japanese in gardens at Nasisipok killing five. On the 26th a patrol led to Nasisipok by Lieutenant Murphy52 found about 30 Japanese in occupation and in the clash Sergeant Midgley53 was killed and two wounded. On the 30th McPhee took out a patrol of seventeen, including a native guide, to Buritsiotorara. While they were in the bush stealthily observing the Japanese in the village a party of Japanese walked into them; four were killed, including a captain, and the patrol made off.
On the afternoon of 11th August Savige’s order to suspend hostilities unless attacked reached Dunkley. On the 13th, however, enemy snipers fired on a forward platoon, killing one man (Private Bahr54) and wounding three, including Sergeant Clohesy, mentioned above. Sharp fire was exchanged that day and the next, and on the 15th snipers were still busy and one man was hit. The Australian artillery replied. On the 16th, 17th and 18th leaflets were distributed in the Japanese area by aircraft, by firing them from a mortar, and by Papuan patrols who left them lying on the enemy’s tracks, but no Japanese deserted as a result of these devices.
By the 27th it appeared that the Japanese had retired to Numa Numa. In more than two months in continuous action astride the Numa Numa trail this aggressive battalion killed 181 and probably 17 others, and lost 23 killed and 52 wounded. At the end Dunkley considered his men “never fitter, mentally or physically”.
In July Major-General Kijima of the 38th Brigade decided that the trend of Australian patrolling indicated that the Australians were about to advance down the Wakunai River and Ibu–Asitavi tracks in conjunction with a sea-borne landing at Numa Numa. Kijima recommended withdrawal, but Kanda ordered him to stay and fight, arguing that the troops were not fit to make the long march to the south, that their arrival after August would not help his plan, and that it was desirable to contain the enemy force round Numa Numa as long as possible. Between December 1944 and July 1945 some 1,500 reinforcements were sent to the Numa Numa sector.
When the 23rd Brigade began to take over the northern sector on 20th June the attempted landing at Porton had recently failed and the dogged and enterprising Japanese naval troops were holding firmly across the neck of the Bonis Peninsula. Brigadier Potts was ordered to contain the Japanese in the peninsula and patrol towards Buka Passage. He was to employ only one battalion group for this task on which two battalions of the outgoing brigade had hitherto been used. On the other hand each battalion of the 23rd Brigade was as strong as the 26th and 31st/51st put together. However, as it was estimated that there were 1,200 Japanese on the peninsula and 1,400 on Buka Island, the incoming battalion – the 27th – which had been resting for a little more than a week after its six weeks in the central sector, was to be given a somewhat formidable task, and Potts sought leave to use also his 8th Battalion now being concentrated from the outer islands at Torokina. Savige agreed to this, provided that at all times, two companies were resting. By 28th June the 27th Battalion was in position on the right and the 8th (Major Moran55), now in action for the first time, on the left, with the guns of Major Berry’s56 11th Battery of the 4th Field Regiment in Soraken Plantation.
The track distance through the forward posts was nearly 8,000 yards and the Australian line of communication long and vulnerable. It was impossible to guard all tracks leading south. Japanese parties continued to raid the traffic behind the Australian positions as efficiently as before. Ration trains were ambushed, signal lines cut, mines laid. Indeed the incoming troops found that the situation existing in the central sector was reversed in the north. There constant deep patrols harassed the Japanese behind their lines; here the Japanese, employing a similar policy, were sapping the strength of the Australian force. One day early in July a wood-chopping party was fired on and two men of the field ambulance were killed; the next day a jeep was wrecked by a mine; next day Japanese
were seen round the headquarters of the 27th; next day Captain Ogden57 of the 8th was killed by a mine exploded under a jeep train and Lieutenant Webb58 of the same battalion killed while leading a patrol to lay an ambush. Lieut-Colonel Pope of the 27th placed standing patrols along the main jeep tracks and sought leave to redeploy his battalion. An entry in the diary of the 27th on 1st July indicates the mood of the unit at that time:
We’ve been promised tanks but they are yet to be sighted. One Bty 4 Fd Regt only in support, and so far we have no Engrs. The water situation is also difficult. ... The Bn is occupying 4,000 yds of front, twice the normal frontage for Bn in open warfare. And this country is densely vegetated. The L of C to C Coy is over 3,000 yds long, 2,500 yds of which cannot be covered, and consequently enables the Jap to ambush it just when he likes.
On 21st July the battalion recorded that in four weeks it had made no forward movement yet had lost 7 killed and 17 wounded in patrols and ambushes, 3 killed and 2 wounded by its own mortar fire, 12 wounded by its own booby-traps and 5 in other accidents. Potts wished to attack. Pope was convinced that he could clear the peninsula in a fortnight, but Savige was not willing to undertake further commitments in this area; the concentration was to be in the south. In these circumstances, Potts, unable to maintain an effective number of fighting patrols because so much of his strength was needed to protect his rearward tracks, sought Savige’s leave to withdraw from his right flank and concentrate on a 3,000-yard front round Buoi Plantation. This was approved on 22nd July.
Next day-23rd July – the 8th attacked Commo Ridge59 where the Japanese seemed to be establishing themselves strongly. After a bombardment by aircraft, Captain Reed’s60 company attacked with two tanks belonging to Lieutenant Scott’s troop of the 2/4th Armoured Regiment, which had been transferred to this sector early in July.61 One tank bogged and the other was halted by the swampy ground, and the air strike had been inaccurate; nevertheless the tanks were able to give good supporting fire and the ridge was taken in 20 minutes, six Japanese being killed there and six more by patrols later.
On 29th July a platoon of the Papuan Infantry surprised 25 to 30 Japanese in position covering the Ratsua Road–Umum Track junction. The platoon attacked and killed several Japanese but the survivors manned their defences and forced the Papuans into some old weapon-pits 20 yards away. A native soldier, Oaveta, was hit and called out that he could not
move. Lance-Sergeant Russell62 dashed across a fire lane and found Oaveta six feet from an enemy machine-gun pit. He killed the gun’s crew with grenades, dragged Oaveta out, dressed his wounds (which were, however, mortal) and withdrew the patrol in good order.
On 1st August a strong patrol of the Papuan Infantry, which was now protecting the open flank on the east, achieved a notable success when it surprised a Japanese ambush party inland from Ruri Bay and in ten minutes killed fourteen with grenades and automatic weapons. Major H. J. Jesser considered this independent role far more satisfactory than his former one of providing parties of native troops to accompany Australian patrols. On 7th August Lieutenant Sheargold63 took a fighting patrol of Papuans into the midst of the Japanese at Ruri Bay. As it went quietly forward one section moving between the road and the cliffs saw three Japanese. Corporal Maravera killed them all with his Owen gun. Twelve other Japanese who were near by panicked and ran not away from but into the patrol. Seven were killed. Ten more Japanese then appeared from the inland side and were all shot dead, six by one man, Nevato. The patrol withdrew without a single casualty.
The last series of actions in which Australians were engaged on Bougainville were fought by the 8th Battalion. On the afternoon of 24th July two platoons of Major Thompson’s64 company had attacked Base 5 after a bombardment in which a total of 900 shells and mortar bombs were fired. The advancing troops reached the first ridge without difficulty but then ran into heavy fire from well-camouflaged bunkers. Two men were killed and one wounded in the leading section. A section of the neighbouring platoon (Lieutenant Taylor65) began an encircling movement but it too came under heavy fire, particularly from a medium machine-gun in a bunker, one man – a Bren gunner – being killed and three wounded. Private Partridge,66 a young banana grower from northern New South Wales, though wounded in both arm and thigh, then rushed forward under hot fire, retrieved a Bren from beside the dead gunner and exchanged fire with the Japanese bunker. Finding his fire ineffective Partridge put the Bren down and shouted to Corporal Banks,67 his section leader, that he was going to throw a grenade into the bunker. He went forward with a smoking grenade in one hand and a rifle in the other and threw in the grenade when its fuse was half burnt through. As soon as the grenade burst he dived into the bunker and killed one of the surviving occupants. Other members of the platoon advanced, a second bunker was overcome, and the platoon held its ground long enough to bring in the wounded,
this task being organised with great coolness by Private Uebergang.68 Partridge remained in action until the end.69 Eight Japanese were killed and probably 3 others; 3 Australians were killed and 5 wounded, including Taylor.
This attack evidently shook the Japanese and on 5th August after careful patrolling, Base 5, now renamed “Part Ridge”, was occupied after only light opposition. More than 60 bunkers were in the area, some destroyed by artillery fire. After ensuring that no Japanese remained the company withdrew; on 11th August active patrolling ceased in this and in other sectors.
The long campaign on Bougainville was over except for the formal ceremonies of surrender. On 15th August four aircraft on whose under-wings had been painted in Japanese characters “Japan Has Surrendered” flew over the Japanese areas dropping 230,000 leaflets announcing the news. In later chapters the negotiations and ceremonies which followed, here and in other zones, will be described and certain problems common to these and other Australian operations in 1945 discussed.
In the whole campaign on Bougainville 516 Australians were killed or died of wounds and 1,572 were wounded.70 If the Slater’s Knoll period be excepted, the number of Australian deaths ranged from two to 24 a week, the number of counted Japanese dead from 53 to 364 a week. The Japanese staffs burned their papers but, in a detailed investigation after the war, the conclusion was reached that 8,500 Japanese had been killed by the Australians and their native allies on Bougainville and 9,800 died of illness during the Australian period; 23,571 remained out of about 65,000 who had been on the island when the Americans attacked in November 1943, or had arrived soon afterwards.71
When the campaign ended the strengths of their infantry regiments, the 19th Engineers, the marines, and the naval garrison units were:
13th Regiment, 444; 23rd, 423; 45th, 838; 81st, 690; 19th Engineers, 704; 6th Sasebo, 1,683; 7th Kure, 1,174; 82nd Naval Garrison Force, 892; 87th Naval Garrison Force, 2,957, including civilians incorporated in the unit; 88th Naval Garrison Force, 457. In addition there were technical units, such as the 6th Field Artillery, 1,403 strong, which were used as infantry.
From an early stage in the operations the troops knew that the value of the campaign, and of their efforts, was being questioned by politicians and newspapers at home. The following extracts from a history of the 42nd Battalion express views fairly widely held:
In the first place the campaign was futile and unnecessary.
At Salamaua men went after the lap because every inch of ground won meant so much less distance to Tokyo. But what did an inch of ground – or a mile – mean on Bougainville? Nothing!
Whether Bougainville could be taken in a week or a year would make no difference to the war in general. Every man knew this.
The Bougainville campaign was a politicians’ war and served no other purpose than to keep men in the fight. They would have been much better employed on the farms, the mines and in building industries in Australia. Why they were not can only be answered by the few who decided that Australians must be kept in the war at all costs.
Every risk taken at Bougainville was one that could not be avoided; every life lost was begrudged. Men fought because there was no alternative. None wanted to lose his life on Bougainville. ... But despite all this men did fight and fought well. Lieut-Colonel Byrne said of the battalion: “I think that collectively the officers and men of the battalion did a grand job. It was filthy country; they were fighting what appeared to be a useless campaign and they knew it. Men are not fools and even though each man realised he was fighting for something which could benefit his country very little (and in addition his fighting received very little credit or publicity) he carried out orders energetically and in a very fine spirit.”72
The small amount of publicity given to this and other Australian campaigns of 1945 in the Australian newspapers was undoubtedly a main cause of dissatisfaction. An education officer on Bougainville wrote to the Broadcasting Commission to complain about the dictation-speed news broadcast for the troops. He pointed out that more than half the time was usually given to crimes and accidents in Australia – for example, of the total of 45 minutes 15 had recently been allotted to describing how a man had been bitten by a stingray in St Kilda Baths and how a woman had jumped from an upstairs window, nearly 30 minutes to news of the Russian front, less than a minute each to other fronts, and nothing at all to Bougainville or New Guinea. “The reason for the stingray story as any news editor will affirm, is that ‘the public is war-weary and does not want to read about the war’, wrote a diarist. ‘But the men up here aren’t, and they want to know what goes on in the world’.” Also they wanted to be assured that the people at home were being told about their achievements.
It was widely agreed that a policy whereby army public relations officers sent personal paragraphs about men fighting on Bougainville to appropriate small-town newspapers had a notable effect on the spirits of the men.
Another unfortunate outcome of the discontent and the political criticism that was linked with it was an order from Land Headquarters dated 21st June which deprived officers below the rank of commanding officer of a unit of the right to censor their own mail, the object evidently being to ensure that their letters did not contain remarks that might be used in public controversy at home. The removal of this time-honoured privilege, particularly at a time when the enemy was on the verge of final defeat and no genuine security considerations were involved was sharply denounced by officers from General Sturdee downwards. Sturdee wrote to the Chief of the General Staff, General Northcott, asking him to discuss the matter with General Blamey with a view to returning to the system which had been in force for over five years “without any dire results so far as I am aware”. Savige wrote to Sturdee that the order would “cause deep-seated discontent” and he enclosed extracts culled from officers’ letters including: “apparently they do not think that an officer can be trusted”, “this comic cuts army”, “the crowning achievement of the shiny-seat gents from Victoria Barracks”, “those senile simpletons that repose at LHQ for a few hours daily and imagine themselves soldiers”.
On the other hand a critical view of critics serving under him was expressed by Brigadier Simpson of the 29th Brigade in his report on the brigade’s operations:
Whilst basically there is little difference in the soldier in this Brigade and those of other Brigades in the AMF, I find that there is often an unreasoning resentment of the reputation – hard won in battle over years of service in various theatres of war – of the 6, 7 and 9 Divisions. This stupid attitude of mind is often present in some of the officers whose circumscribed army life had made them very narrow minded, self-satisfied and complacent. The result was a feeling that insufficient notice was being taken by the press and public of the operations in this theatre, an attitude not completely justified. If officers had made the troops realise that the high regard in which this Division is held was the direct result also of a gallant battle record, a high standard of discipline and efficiency, thus creating a reputation that no amount of press publicity can bestow, much of the jealousy would have quickly disappeared. ... I noticed a tendency among all ranks, including officers, to question vigorously the purpose and soundness of operations in the Solomons. It was necessary to bring to the notice of commanders the danger of permitting unchallenged discussion on such a contentious subject. A certain amount of tactful propaganda was necessary to combat the forceful but often misinformed arguments of certain individuals.
Indeed, the increasing public criticism of the policy of maintaining large-scale offensives against the Japanese on the New Guinea battlefields, and the echoes of that criticism in the letters that the troops were receiving from home, presented the brigade and unit and sub-unit commanders with a difficult problem, particularly as many of them secretly disagreed with the policy. Yet from top to bottom the troops accepted the task as one that had to be done with a whole heart. Brigadier Hammer, for example, wrote afterwards that his brigade’s morale
could not have been better if it had been fighting the Alamein battle or capturing Tokyo. Yet every man knew, as well as I knew, that the operations were mopping-up and that they were not vital to the winning of the war. So they ignored the Australian
papers, their relatives’ letters advising caution, and got on with the job in hand, fighting and dying as if it was the battle for final victory.
Discussion whether the offensives were justified is continued later in this volume, but at this stage let it be said that, in the light of later knowledge of the enemy’s strength on Bougainville – and even of the knowledge acquired by the second quarter of 1945 – the task that the II Corps undertook was too great for its resources. When its offensive opened the Japanese were in greater numerical strength than that part of II Corps which was on Bougainville. In eight months of fighting the Japanese lost about three-sevenths of their number, but in August they were still so strong that the reduction of Buin would undoubtedly have involved longer and costlier operations than those already endured.