Page 282

Chapter 12: Across the Danmap

THE first contingent of the 17th Brigade now set out into the Torricellis, where its first task would be to make deep patrols into the Japanese-occupied area. With the object of firmly securing the Tong area whence General Stevens intended to launch an advance early in 1945, Brigadier Moten formed “Piper Force”, which included two companies of the 2/5th Battalion and was commanded by Major I. H. McBride. It was to relieve the 2/7th Commando Squadron, ensure that the Tong area was cleared of the enemy, patrol to Mimbiok–Yanatong, and establish bases at Musimbe and Musu near Asiling. Moten instructed McBride to keep his force

mobile, make good use of air support, and not become involved in set-piece attacks. On 16th December Piper Force was carried along the coast in vehicles, and next day it set out inland on foot. Despite the sudden flooding of the Harech River it was at Tong by 20th December, and next day had one company at Tong and one based on Yambes.

That day Major Goode of the 2/7th Squadron reported that, except for foraging parties, the area which he had been ordered to patrol had been cleared of the enemy. The squadron had killed 26 Japanese and lost two killed and five wounded; two attached Papuan police had been wounded. The squadron’s headquarters were now moved to Lambuain and it began its new task: to clear the Walum area. Walum village was occupied on 30th December after clashes in which several Japanese were killed. Documents captured by the squadron that day indicated that the main enemy line of communication from the coast to Balif was via Walum–Womisis–Womsak.

2/5th Battalion, 

2/5th Battalion, December–January

Page 283

The enemy groups in the area now entered by Piper Force were apparently engaged mainly in foraging, and at first they moved out, keeping 24 hours ahead of the Australians. No contact was made until the 27th when a patrol of five led by Lieutenant Doneley1 ambushed 22 Japanese near Perembil and killed 15; Doneley was wounded but carried on and covered the withdrawal of the patrol. The Musimbe area was occupied on the 28th and Musinau on the 29th. Eight more Japanese were killed by patrols up to 1st January. That day the commander of the 2/5th, Lieut-Colonel A. W. Buttrose, arrived, and in the next few days the remainder of the battalion, less one company, reached the area. Piper Force had succeeded in clearing the enemy from the country west of a north-south line through Yambes. Now the 2/5th Battalion was close to the enemy’s main defences on a line New Sahik–Perembil–Malbuain–Apos, and faced two Japanese regiments which together were about 1,100 strong.

Meanwhile, in the coastal sector the 19th Brigade had moved forward in accordance with Stevens’ orders of 26th November that it should relieve the 2/7th Commando Squadron, clear the enemy from the area west of the Danmap, and concentrate round Babiang and Suain in preparation for operations east of the river. A company of the 2/4th Battalion had therefore relieved the 2/7th Squadron at Suain and Babiang on the 29th and 30th November. In the next 16 days patrols clashed with small groups of Japanese on seven occasions, and killed 28 without loss to themselves. Some of these Japanese were sick and hungry and poorly armed, and some in good condition with their arms and equipment well cared for. About one-quarter of the Japanese who were encountered carried swords. These early patrols made the useful discovery that the presence of groups of Japanese who were living off the land could be detected by the smell of rotting sac sac which became noticeable from a distance of 100 to 200 yards.

On Albu Creek (wrote the diarist of the 2/4th) one party of six Japs was found living in small lean-to shelters in the most appalling conditions of filth and squalor with nothing but a very small quantity of sac sac in the way of food. Yet no more than 400 yards away the same patrol came upon a second party whose quarters were spotlessly clean, equipment laid out in inspection order, mess tins and water bottles polished, and with plenty of food including tinned milk (American), rice, a dark brown paste of Jap make, also tinned, and grain of an unrecognised type.

On 10th December two emaciated Indian prisoners of war were brought in by a patrol. They had been making their way through the bush from Wewak for 45 days. In the following months the arrival of escaped Indian soldiers, brought to New Guinea by the Japanese as labourers, was to become a fairly frequent occurrence.

On 14th December Stevens gave the 19th Brigade a larger task: to capture a line from Abau east of Dogreto Bay to Malin some four miles

Page 284

due south, and destroy the enemy between the Danmap and that line.2 It was estimated that there were some 700 enemy troops mostly of the 237th Regiment in the area to be captured and perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 in the inland area from Malin to Amam, these, as mentioned, being of the 238th and 239th Regiments. Broadly the 19th Brigade’s task was to deny the enemy the route from the coast to the Maprik area via Walum.

Brigadier Martin ordered the 2/4th to cross the Danmap to seize the ground east of the river, as far as Rocky Point, and to establish a patrol base at Idakaibul to cover the main approaches from Walum and Malin. The 2/11th would then pass through and advance along the coast to Abau, and the 2/8th would take over the Idakaibul base and move east along the upper Danmap to secure the line Arivai Saddle–Malin. Malin would become a dropping ground for airborne supplies, but, until it was reached, progress would be governed by the number of carriers, then very limited, and the speed at which a road was built east from the Danmap.

By 17th December the main body of the 2/4th Battalion was at Suain, with a company at Idakaibul and one at Babiang. That day at dawn Captain Smith’s3 company crossed the Danmap at the mouth and Smith, with one platoon, reached Lazy Creek. Then a second platoon moved through to Rocky Point, beyond which from 20 to 30 Japanese were

Page 285

19th Brigade, 17th 
December–23rd January

19th Brigade, 17th December–23rd January

seen on the beach and were fired on by the artillery. In the day 18 Japanese were killed and three captured, one Australian being wounded. Next day Major Pegg,4 commanding the forward companies, led one company to Rocky Point while Smith’s moved back to the base through the foothills where it encountered enemy posts, and, in a fight at an ammunition dump just south of Lazy Creek, lost 2 killed and 3 wounded, but killed 7. Captain Cohen’s5 company crossed the Danmap next day and advanced against this enemy group, now estimated to be about 40 strong. It was well led also and ambushed the leading Australian platoon and killed five of them. On the 20th the Danmap was in flood and flowing at 10 to 12 knots. Cohen’s company broke contact while the artillery harassed the Japanese, and next day, which was hot and clear, Beaufort bombers bombarded them.

On the 21st the enemy’s position was again accurately attacked from the air and the Japanese began to move south, but ran into a standing ambush maintained by Lieutenant Healey’s6 platoon, which killed 28 out of perhaps 40 Japanese and lost one man killed – Private Paff,7 who had accounted single-handed for a machine-gunner and four riflemen. Next day the 2/11th, which had now come forward, was given the task of keeping in touch with the enemy round Niap, while the 2/4th, with two machine-gun companies under command, defended the area from Lazy Creek to the mouth of the Danmap.

Patrolling from Lazy Creek the 2/11th had two sharp clashes with the enemy force west of Niap on 30th and 31st December, three Australians and 11 Japanese being killed. At Matapau village, early on 2nd January, from 30 to 35 Japanese attacked the perimeter of Captain Royce’s8 company. Artillery fire was brought down and the Japanese withdrew leaving six dead. This was the beginning of five days of sharp fighting against Japanese who seemed determined to stop the advance along the Old German Road.

Page 286

As soon as the enemy’s attack had been repulsed Royce’s company pushed forward along the road to a spur whence the artillery observer, Captain Lovegrove,9 might direct fire. A platoon crossed the little Wakip River at 10.20 a.m. but came under fire from Japanese on the steep-sided spur. The infantry withdrew and accurate artillery fire was brought down. At 2.10 p.m. the spur was occupied and from it Lovegrove directed fire on a pocket of Japanese so close that he had “to almost whisper his orders into the phone”. In the day 14 Japanese were killed, and two Australians killed and five wounded, of whom four remained on duty. Next day, and on the 4th and 5th, there was sharp fighting round the spur and towards Niap, and on the 6th, after a strike by 11 bombers and a bombardment by the artillery, a platoon attacked across the Wakip but was held by the resolute enemy pocket at Niap. Later in the morning three tanks and a bulldozer were sent forward along the beach whence the bulldozer cut a track to the Old German Road. The tanks advanced along it, they and the infantry moved forward 500 yards, and at 4.42 p.m. Lieutenant Dewar’s10 platoon entered Niap.

Next morning Major Dowling’s11 company joined Dewar (who was mortally wounded later that morning) and thrust towards Dogreto Bay, but met heavy fire and withdrew. On the evening of the 9th Lieutenant Mortimer,12 commanding the forward platoon, reported that he heard noises which suggested that the enemy was withdrawing, and next morning it was found that he was right. However, the Japanese did not pull back far, and a patrol moving round the slopes above Dogreto Bay was fired on. On the 11th at 10.15 a.m. a platoon and two tanks took up the advance, but the tanks were halted by difficult ground. On 10th January Lieutenant Birrell13 of Angau led six native constables on a deep patrol up Ulagamagin Creek which reaches the sea in the Matapau area. On the 14th and 15th patrols of the 2/11th probed forward to the slopes above Abau. On the 18th Captain Greenway’s14 company made a flanking movement through the foothills to Nimbum Creek and eventually moved into a position south of Abau whence on the 20th a platoon entered Abau without opposition. By the 23rd patrols had moved as far as “Rocky Foreshore”. In its advance from Lazy Creek to beyond Abau the battalion had lost 20 killed and 29 wounded and had killed 118 Japanese.

Meanwhile the 2/8th Battalion (Lieut-Colonel Howden15) had been thrusting into the foothills. By 28th December it had been concentrated

Page 287

at Luain, but shortage of native carriers prevented it from maintaining more than a company at Idakaibul, and the planned advance along the Danmap towards Malin had to be delayed. Until 5th January, however, patrols based on Idakaibul and “Fork” (the junction of the eastward-flowing Danmul with the westward-flowing Danmap) patrolled widely. By the 5th enough carriers were available to allow the establishment of patrol bases farther east; the 2/9th Commando Squadron (Major T. G. Nisbet) was placed under Howden’s command to patrol the hills south of the Danmap and make contact with the 2/7th Squadron based on Walum. On 8th January the leading company of the 2/8th Battalion entered Malin without opposition. In the first eight days of January the battalion’s patrols had killed 23 Japanese without loss to themselves.

In the next three weeks the 2/8th Battalion and the flanking commando squadron patrolled in the rugged country between Nimbum Creek in the north to the upper Danmap in the south, exchanging written signals with brigade headquarters by carrier pigeon. Generally these skilful patrols surprised such groups of Japanese as they came across. On 17th January, however, a commando patrol under Lieutenant Carins16 met a stronger enemy group and lost one killed and one wounded before it was extricated. Only in one area was effective resistance encountered by the 2/8th Battalion. On Long Ridge on 19th January a patrol under Lieutenant Turn-bull,17 an enterprising and skilful leader, came upon a well-armed party and in a fight lasting an hour and 40 minutes killed 9 and had 4 of their own men wounded. Next day Captain Diffey18 led out two platoons and an artillery observer, but found that the enemy had hurriedly departed, leaving their dead. On the 24th, however, at the same point a patrol came under heavy fire. One party, then a second and then a third were sent forward to support the patrol and, finally, to extricate it. The Japanese were active and aggressive and began to encircle the covering force. At dusk Diffey took out a platoon to cover a general withdrawal, but before it arrived the whole forward group had withdrawn under cover of darkness. In the long fight the Australians lost 3 killed and 5 wounded and killed 17 Japanese. Captured papers showed that the Japanese belonged to a raiding detachment under orders to advance by way of Long Ridge and retake Malin.

Stevens had now ordered the 16th Brigade to relieve the 19th and it began preparing to move forward. On 21st January there had been an ominous flooding of the Danmap. That day the rising water broke a bridge that the 2/2nd Field Company was building and swept three men out to sea. They were rescued. On the 25th Lieut-Colonel I. Hutchison’s 2/3rd Battalion, which was to relieve the 2/8th, moved up to Luain and along the Danmap to Idakaibul. “The mud, the gloomy atmosphere, and

Page 288

the prevailing smell of rotting vegetation and sweating bodies strongly recall the Owen Stanley campaign,” wrote the battalion diarist. On the 26th the 2/3rd relieved two companies of the 2/8th, but further relief was interrupted next day by disastrous floods. Heavy rain fell almost continuously that day and the rivers rose fast. The machine-gun platoon of the 2/3rd soon found itself on an island in the flooded Danmap near Mima Creek with 30 yards of swirling water on either side. By 9.45 p.m. the river was 12 feet over its banks, the island was covered, the water was roaring so loudly that even shouted conversation was inaudible. It was impossible to take lines across. Trees up to 4 feet in diameter and 60 feet high were being swept past at what seemed like 30 miles an hour. At 10.15 the river had risen another 8 feet.

By watchers on the banks the machine-gunners had last been seen high in trees. The river fell rapidly and by 11 p.m. was down to high-water mark. Meanwhile the almost completed bridge over the Danmap and six other bridges had been swept away and others damaged. A box girder bridge over the Dandriwad at Babiang vanished completely. “A heart breaking scene of devastation,” recorded the 2/8th Field Company; the natives told the sappers that there had not been such a flood for 100 years.

The first man of the machine-gun platoon of the 2/3rd to report next morning was Corporal Parkinson,19 naked, cold, mosquito-bitten, and with a damaged foot, but “still wearing his broad, infectious grin”. He had been the last to leave the island. By 10 p.m., he said, the water had covered the island, and large trees were crashing downstream. They then decided to make a break. Several floated off on a big log and others left independently. There was no panic and everyone was in high spirits. Parkinson, a strong swimmer, reached the shore some hundreds of yards downstream where he waited until dawn.

An hour later a second survivor arrived in the battalion area. He could not swim but had been washed ashore on a log. Next came Private Gill,20 who had been sandwiched between two logs while another passed over his head. He was cut and bruised. Lieutenant Fearnside,21 the platoon commander (clothed and with compass and pistol), and three others, reached the bank opposite to that on which the battalion was camped. After unsuccessful efforts to get a line across to them, a message was shouted across the river that they were to return to Idakaibul to refit, which they did. Later others arrived back safely, but seven had been drowned. That morning the island was no longer to be seen and great rocks which had not been there the previous day were standing out of the stream.

In the 2/9th Commando Squadron’s area heavy rain began on the afternoon of 27th January and by 10.30 p.m. the river had risen 20 feet

Page 289

and carried away all trees on the banks, and the water was approaching the forward weapon-pits. The men drew back to higher ground. Next day the river fell somewhat, and on the 29th a patrol managed to cross it to collect rations at Malin. That afternoon five men from Captain Woodhouse’s 2/10th Squadron reached the 2/9th in search of rations, and with news that the troop at Walum had been isolated without food for two days, and four men had been drowned. The flood had swept 19 men away but 15 of these had reached the bank of the river.

The 19th Brigade’s intrusion into the area east of the Driniumor caused the Japanese heavy loss. The brigade group killed 434 and captured 13; its own losses were 36 killed and 51 wounded. Captured documents later showed that the advance across the Danmap had just forestalled an enemy plan whereby the II/237th Battalion was to occupy the line of the Danmap and advance thence to Luain. It was this force which had fought so hard in the foothills from 17th December onwards.

When Lieut-Colonel Buttrose of the 2/5th Battalion took command in the Torricellis it was believed that the headquarters group of the 41st Japanese Division, 500 to 600 strong, was around Balif; the 238th Regiment, about 800 strong, around Perembil; and the 239th Regiment, 500 to 700 strong, in the Womsak and Salata areas. Buttrose ordered that one company should form a base at Musinau and protect the right flank by pressing eastward and patrolling deep to the south; one should secure, in succession, Perembil, Asiling, Misim and Samisai; and a third should advance through Sumul, Walende, Maharingi and Selnaua. The aim was to secure Musu as a base for future operations.

At Perembil the Japanese occupied a strong position on a razor-back ridge and the only approach was up a steep face. Captain L. A. Cameron’s company attacked on 3rd January and drove the enemy out, but that night and next day about 40 Japanese made counter-attacks. In the first of them Private Escreet22 was caught in open ground, but brought his Bren gun into action and engaged the enemy, continuing to fire although thrice wounded. The enemy were finally driven off leaving 19 dead.

Only one aircraft was available for dropping supplies and on the day Perembil was taken Brigadier Moten signalled Colonel Buttrose that, until supplies improved, he should halt his advance but continue aggressive patrolling. The advance was resumed on 8th January with Asiling now an early objective; it was entered without opposition on the 9th. Moten suggested that Samisai rather than Musu be occupied and used as a base for patrols to the South-east. On 11th January Cameron’s company gained Samisai where it was relieved by Captain V. M. Walters’, newly arrived. Buttrose now ordered Captain Geer’s23 company on the left to secure Maharingi and this was achieved on the 15th.

Page 290

On 12th January, the supply position having improved, Stevens had told Moten that the policy was “to maintain pressure south of the Torricellis and destroy the enemy at every opportunity”. Moten thereupon ordered the 2/5th to establish contact with the commando in the Hambini area and to advance south of the Amuk River, to the Nanu River and to Pelnandu. The objective was the capture of Bulamita as a new advanced base. The advance of the 2/5th was resumed in three columns: I. H. McBride’s company on the right was aimed at the Luwaite villages, Walters’ in the centre at Bulamita, and Geer’s on the left at Bombisima.

Each day from 18th January onwards patrols clashed with parties of Japanese and inflicted losses. Near Auang on the 19th 6 were killed and 2 prisoners taken. On 20th January a group of 60 were encountered at Bulamita and 7 killed including 2 officers; this village was occupied on the 22nd, and next day, after an air strike, patrols found Hambini unoccupied. The Beaufort bombers from Tadji, guided by mortar smoke and radio telephone, were making accurate air strikes ahead of the advancing troops almost every day. On the 23rd two Beauforts collided and crashed; the infantry found the wrecks but only one man out of the 10 in the crews had survived. Next day a patrol of 15 led by Sergeant McGreevy24 encountered an enemy group about 30 strong east of Bulamita and killed 14. Soon afterwards a Japanese foraging party was ambushed at the captured Japanese position. A strong enemy party then approached. The patrol withdrew through the bush and soon heard the Japanese making a banzai charge on the position they had just left.

Buttrose was now calling down air strikes on the Balif villages, where some 300 Japanese were reported. His battalion was now deep in the enemy’s territory, and had by-passed groups of stragglers. On 20th January, for example, five Japanese including a medical officer surrendered to a carrying party north-west of Bulamita, whither battalion headquarters moved on 1st February.

By the end of January the battalion had made 77 patrols and had “expedited the enemy’s withdrawal” (as the battalion’s report put it) from a belt of mountain country about 12 miles from west to east and about 8 from north to south.

In this period a deep patrol was made by Captain Marshall’s25 “Jock-force”, comprising himself, Lieutenant Beenie,26 and 11 others. It left the 2/5th Battalion at Yambes on 12th January and moved south to Yalenge, Sileimbep, and Wogia. In the Wogia area the natives were hostile, resenting the activities of an AIB party that had been there earlier, but Marshall’s force was not attacked. Thence they reached an AIB base and, on 28th January, Masalanga where they formed a firm base. On 30th

Page 291

January they reached a village occupied by Japanese where they killed one and captured documents and gear. On 8th February after further patrols they rejoined the 2/5th Battalion, at Bulamita.

Until early January, because for so long there had been no contact with the enemy, little was known of their strength and dispositions. By that time, however, patrols had captured maps and documents and a more accurate and detailed picture could be constructed. The 41st Division, holding the Danmap River–Asanakor line, had the 237th Regiment, about 1,100 strong, on the coast and the 238th and 239th south of the Torricellis. The division was about 4,000 strong, but about 1,000 were sick men. The main defensive positions of the 238th had been at Sumul, Perembil and Malbuain; of the 239th at Musendai, Apos and Asanakor. As mentioned, the 20th Division was in reserve to the east, and the 51st deployed from Wewak to Boiken. At this stage the total strength of the XVIII Army was estimated at 21,000 – far fewer than the actual numbers.

In the past two years the three divisions of the XVIII Army were known to have suffered appalling losses and hardships. The 51st Division had borne the brunt of the Lae–Salamaua fighting in 1943, and had retreated thence through half the length of Australian New Guinea to Wewak; its 66th Regiment had been heavily engaged in the battle of the Driniumor River in July and August 1944. A small part of the 20th Division had fought round Lae and the whole division had fought through the Finschhafen–Ramu Valley operations, suffering grim losses before beginning the costly retreat to Wewak; two of its regiments had lost heavily in the Driniumor battle. One regiment of the 41st Division had fought at Lae–Salamaua, two in the Finschhafen–Ramu campaign and nearly the whole division in the Driniumor battle. All but one of the nine infantry regiments had made the long retreat from the Huon Peninsula, or even farther south and east, to the Aitape–Wewak area.

The whole army was now running short of food, clothing, weapons, ammunition and medical supplies. Its aircraft had been destroyed and it could expect no naval help. Even if it was not required to fight, its losses from disease would inevitably be very high.

After the defeat of its attack on the Americans round Aitape the XVIII Army adopted a policy of withdrawing from contact with the enemy, leaving outpost forces in ambush positions, and dispersing its units over a wide area and particularly in places where they could grow their own food and regain their strength.27

Page 292

On their farms the Japanese cultivated sweet potatoes, yams, pawpaws, bananas, maize, tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, peanuts, copra, coconut oil. Machines were devised to crush and refine sago starch. Among the living things they caught and ate to supplement their mainly-starch diet were pigs, dogs, possums, mice, bats, kangaroos, snakes, lizards, frogs, worms, insects of many sorts, maggots, crocodiles, fish, crustaceans and birds.

The supply of ammunition was so short, however, that from 1st February 1945 its use was prohibited for hunting game. Animals and birds had to be trapped.

One consequence of these conditions was that

the method of command became slow and unsatisfactory due to the loss of many excellent staff members, the low physical strength of the soldiers due to the Aitape operation, the bad food after the operation and the conditions which forced them, even the staff members, to work in the fields. Batteries for wireless equipment were not sufficient. ... A major part of the headquarters communication {was] dependent on laborious trips and on messengers.28

Lack of signal equipment helped the commander to conceal from the lower formations discouraging news that might otherwise have come to their ears. Finally only two radio sets were in action, one at army headquarters and one at naval headquarters, and

the groups and units were informed only of those bits of news that the Army considered it necessary for them to know.29

Thus, in the brief accounts of Japanese operations in this and the following three chapters the reader should bear in mind that the Japanese troops were often hungry, if not weak from malnutrition, often sick and often lacking much of the equipment then considered essential to a modern army. One result of the shortage of equipment was that large numbers of technical troops could be converted into infantry. The units of the 6th Air Division, for example, having no aircraft to look after, became fighting units. The infantry regiments were reinforced and reorganised until they had been built to a strength of between 1,000 and 2,500 each.

In the last quarter of 1944 Adachi’s orders mainly concerned problems of food production. In his planning he had to keep in mind particularly that little food would be harvested in the gardens from January to April and therefore he must try to hold his gardens at least until this period was over.

During interrogation after the war General Adachi said that, when the Australian offensive opened, he considered that his enemy’s plan would be either to attack along the coast with two divisions with Wewak as the objective, or to make an amphibious assault, or to combine both operations. His subordinates said that they expected that, having taken Wewak, their enemy would drive inland, then east along the Prince Alexander Mountains; and attack along the Sepik.

Page 293

In October 1944 the XVIII Army, as mentioned, was about 35,000 strong. Forward between the Anumb and the Danmap (as the Australians knew) were the 237th Regiment and other detachments, about 700 men, under Major-General Kikutaro Aozu, formerly commander of the infantry group of the 41st Division, whose task was to delay and counter any advance along the coast. This force was augmented in December by an improvised group, perhaps of battalion strength. South of the Danmap in November lay the remainder of the 41st Division, about 4,000 strong, under Lieut-General Mano, with headquarters at Womsak; its role was to counter-attack from the mountains and cut the communications of any force advancing along the coast. In the But–Dagua area, defending the airfields, was the 20th Division (79th and 80th Regiments) about 8,000 strong; its 78th Regiment had been sent to Maprik because of lack of food on the coast. Round Wewak was the 51st Division (66th, 102nd and 115th Regiments), 10,000 strong, and the Ozihara Force, 1,000 strong. Muschu and Kairiru Islands were garrisoned by the 27th Naval Base Force plus some army troops, a total of 5,000 of whom 1,000 were labourers. Some 5,000 base troops are not included in the above totals.

Up to the end of December Adachi did not greatly alter his dispositions or plans, except that “instead of the whole of the 41st Division being available for counter-attack, part of the division was committed to holding the Australian advance from Tong”.30

As a result of the pressure by the 19th Brigade, however, Aozu’s force was progressively reinforced in the second half of January: by a company of the 80th Regiment, then a part of the 239th Regiment, then by a composite unit, and then by the III/115th Battalion. It was characteristic of the Japanese to draw reinforcements first from one formation and then another. Aozu now commanded units from each of the three divisions.

On 20th January the headquarters of the 41st Division was moved to Balif. The main forces under command were then: the 238th Regiment plus part (about 300) of the 239th round Salata; the main 239th and the 54th Garrison Unit round Bulamita. The 300 men of the 239th at Salata were ordered to attack the Australians (Buttrose’s force) in the rear, and departed on 23rd January with this object, but as a result of marching only at night and losing their way, with consequent shortage of rations, they abandoned the project, and the force arrived back at Salata on 15th February.

The maintenance of the Australian lines of communication was now becoming a major problem. For example, it took the 2/8th Field Company 10 days to put a 236-foot bridge with 42 piles across the Driniumor. About this time the company recorded that “road work progresses slowly owing to unavailability of dozer and shortage of tip trucks”. Only one grader was at work on the Rocky Point Road. Still only one transport

Page 294

aircraft was available to the 6th Division to supply the force in the Torricellis. Adachi would no doubt have greatly revised his estimate of the Australians’ intentions had he known that, largely because of a shortage of shipping and small craft, they were living from hand to mouth.

On 6th January Stevens had informed Sturdee that he would have secured the Abau–Malin–Walum line by the end of January. The division would then have to discontinue the eastward advance because of maintenance difficulties; it would hold the Abau–Walum line and patrol eastward. If, however, “additional maintenance facilities and air support” were provided it would be “possible for the division to adopt a vigorous policy aimed at the destruction of the enemy forces in the Wewak area”. He submitted the following three proposals:

(a) To capture in succession But–Dagua–Wewak

Method: Troops to be used:

6 Aust Div (less one infantry brigade and certain Div troops)

One infantry battalion to maintain pressure eastwards from Yambes.


As maintenance by road from Aitape would be impracticable with normal Divisional resources the following facilities would be required:

(i) If maintenance be by road: One heavy general transport company;

(ii) If maintenance be by air: 12 C-47 aircraft;

(iii) If maintenance be by sea: 4 LCTs.

Suitable small beaches for landing craft exist from inclusive Dogreto Bay eastwards. This operation would free the coastal area, deny the enemy the small amount of supplies he receives by submarine and destroy a substantial part of his force. It would not, however, appreciably affect the enemy forces in the Maprik–Yambes area.

(b) To destroy enemy forces in the Maprik–Yambes area

Method: One infantry brigade group to move south through Walum. One infantry brigade group to maintain pressure in the coastal area. One infantry battalion to maintain pressure eastwards from Yambes.


Maintenance by air is the only possible means under this plan. Five C-47 aircraft would be required in addition to facilities now available.

This operation would destroy the enemy forces in their present self-supporting areas or drive them south and east to the swamps of the Sepik River Valley.

(c) To destroy the enemy forces in the Maprik–Yambes area

Method: Drop one Australian paratroop battalion less two companies at Burui to seize airstrip there. Fly into Burui one infantry brigade group by D plus 4.

Maintain pressure in the coastal area with one infantry brigade group and eastwards from Yambes with one infantry battalion.


This would require approximately 50 C-47 aircraft based on Tadji from D minus 1 to D plus 4, and 15 C-47s thereafter for maintenance.

This plan (c) had every prospect of achieving the greatest success. It would prevent the escape of Japanese forces south to the interior, would destroy him or force him out of present self-supporting areas to the coast where his destruction would be easier and where he would find it difficult to survive on local supplies.

Page 295

For all three of the above plans it was considered the following additional air support would be necessary:

One Tac R flight

One squadron attack planes

Three squadrons medium bombers.31

A principle which Stevens considered fundamental to any planning was that an advance along the coast must be accompanied by a thrust through the Torricellis, because there was no point in letting the Japanese merely withdraw from the coast into their garden areas in the mountains or the Sepik Valley. On 10th February, in response to these proposals of 6th January, Sturdee ordered that the 6th Division should continue its advance along the coast towards Wewak “within the limit of its own resources and without becoming involved in a major engagement”. “This meant,” wrote Stevens later, “that none of the additional facilities ... were to be made available and that the operations would therefore be conducted under much greater handicaps than those just completed.”32