Brought to Life
One of the final frontiers of the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea is a naturally beautiful, historically and culturally rich destination.
Unknown to many people, New Guinea was the site of conflict during both World War I and World War II, says Mat McLachlan, founder of Australia’s leading battlefield tour company, Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours and host of the Mat McLachlan WW2 History Cruise. In fact, the Anzacs’ very first action during World War I was not Gallipoli, but New Guinea.
New Guinea during WWI
The North-Eastern part of the island of New Guinea, plus a number of nearby islands, was part of the German colonial empire. This section of the island had been operated by a German protectorate from 1884, before it was taken by Australian troops in 1914.
In mid-August that year, just weeks after the outbreak of the World War I, 2000 soldiers and naval reservists set sail from Sydney Harbour to German New Guinea. The objective was to seize and destroy German radio stations transmitting from the island, ahead of the departure of Australian troopships for Europe and the Middle East. On 11 September 1914, 25 men went ashore at Rabaul to take out the Bita Paka wireless station. Although the mission was a success, the Battle of Bita Paka saw the first Australian soldiers die fighting for their country.
On 23 January 1942, the Japanese invaded New Guinea — landing at Rabual on the island of New Britain. The first coastal village to be captured by the Japanese, it was turned into a fortress so impregnable that the Allies never attempted to capture it. A massive military complex serving more than 97,000 Japanese soldiers and thousands of accompanying personnel, it was the main Japanese base in the South Pacific.
To guard against air bombardment, the Japanese dug 800 kilometres of tunnels to house their command centres, barracks, storehouses, and a hospital. The tunnels are still there and there are numerous war sites to see in and around the town.
Milne Bay was another key strategic point for World War II in the Pacific. Australian troops arrived in Milne Bay in June 1942 and worked alongside American comrades, carving roads and three airstrips out of jungle and swamp. For the Japanese, it was essential to claim this region back to progress their takeover.
During the night of 25 August 1942, 2,000 Japanese marines attacked the Allied base. The ensuing battle lasted three weeks and the Allies claimed victory. Today, remnants of Japanese landing barges used in the battle can still be seen.
“The Battle of Milne Bay was a turning point in the Pacific War as it was the first time the Allied forces decisively defeated a Japanese offensive on land. This battle largely marked the beginning of the end for World War II in the Pacific,” says Mat.
Words courtesy of Mat McLachlan