Operation Campaign for the Huon Peninsula

The 'Campaign for the Huon Peninsula' was a series of battles fought between Allied and Japanese forces in north-eastern New Guinea for the Huon peninsula (22 September 1943/1 March 1944).

The campaign formed the initial part of an offensive which the Allies launched in the Pacific theatre late in 1943 and resulted in the Japanese being pushed north from Lae to Sio on the northern coast of New Guinea over the course of a four-month period. For the Australians, a significant advantage was gained through the technological edge that Allied industry had achieved over the Japanese by this phase of the war, while the Japanese were hampered by a lack of supplies and reinforcements as a result of the Allied interdiction efforts at sea and in the air.

The campaign was preceded by an amphibious landing by troops of Major General G. F. Wootten’s Australian 9th Division on the coast to the east of Lae on 4 September 1943. This was followed by an advance to the west along the coast toward the town of Lae, where they were to link with elements of Major General G. A. Vasey’s Australian 7th Division advancing from Nadzab. Meanwhile, Australian and US forces mounted diversionary attacks around Salamaua. Heavy rain and flooding slowed the advance of the Australian 9th Division, which had to cross several rivers, and the Japanese rearguard also put up a stiff defence: as a result, Lae did not fall until 16 September, when troops of the Australian 7th Division entered the town ahead of those of the Australian 9th Division, and the main body of the Japanese force escaped to the north into the Huon peninsula. Less than a week later, the Huon peninsula campaign began as the Australians undertook another amphibious landing farther to the east, this 'Diminish' being aimed at the capture of Finschhafen.

Following 'Diminish', the Allies set about an advance to the south in order to secure Finschhafen, which also resulted in fighting around Jivevaneng. In the middle of October, the Japanese launched a counterattack against the Australian 'Diminish' beach-head, and this lasted for about a week and resulted in a small contraction of the Australian lines and a splitting of their force before the Japanese assault had been defeated. After this, the Australians regained the initiative and began to pursue the Japanese, who withdrew inland toward the high ground around Sattelberg. In the course of heavy fighting and a second failed Japanese counterattack, Sattelberg was secured late in November and the Australians began an area advance to the north to secure a line between Wareo and Gusika. This had been completed by a time early in December, and was followed by an Australian advance along the coast through Lakona to Fortification Point, overcoming strong Japanese forces fighting delaying actions.

The final stage of the campaign saw the Japanese resistance finally break. A swift advance by the Australians along the Huon peninsula’s northern coast followed, and in January 1944 the Australians captured Sio. At the same time, US forces landed at Saidor in 'Dexterity'. After this, mopping-up operations were undertaken by the Allied forces around Sio until March, and Madang was captured in April. A period of relative inactivity then followed in northern New Guinea until July, when US forces clashed with the Japanese around the Driniumor river. This was followed by further fighting in November 1944 when the Australians opened a fresh campaign in the area of Aitape and Wewak.

The Huon peninsula is situated on the north-eastern coast of New Guinea, and extends from Lae in the south on the Huon Gulf to Sio in the north along the Vitiaz Strait. Along the coast between these two points, numerous rivers and streams cut the terrain, and of these the most prominent are the Song, Bumi and Mape rivers. These flow from the mountainous interior, which is formed through the conglomeration of the Rawlinson mountain range in the south with the Cromwell mountain range in the east. These meet in the centre of the peninsula to form the Saruwaged massif, which joins the Finisterre mountain range farther to the west. Apart from a thin, flat coastal strip, at the time of the 'Campaign for the Huon Peninsula' the area was thickly covered with dense jungle, through which very few tracks had been cut. The terrain is rugged and for the most part the tracks, until improved by engineers, were largely impassable to motor transport and as a result throughout the campaign a large amount of the Allied resupply effort was undertaken on foot.

During the planning stage of their offensive, the Allies identified three areas as key and decisive terrain in the region: the beach to the north of Katika, which was later codenamed 'Scarlet' by the Allies; the 3,150-ft (960-m) peak called Sattelberg some 5 miles (8 km) to the south-west, which dominated the area as a result of its height; and Finschhafen, which possessed a small airfield and was sited on the coast in a bay which offered a protected harbour 5.6 miles (9 km) to the south of the 'Scarlet' beach. The Japanese also regarded Sattelberg and Finschhafen as key areas and, in addition to these, identified a ridge running between the village of Gusika on the coast, about 3.4 miles (5.5 km) to the north of Katika, and Wareo 4.7 miles (7.5 km) inland to the west. The importance of this ridge lay in the track that ran along it, over which the Japanese supplied their forces around Sattelberg. It also offered a natural barrier to any advance to the north from Finschhafen, making it a potential defensive line.

By 1943, Japanese expansion in the South-West Pacific Area had come to an end. The Japanese advance in Papua New Guinea had been halted the previous year by the blocking action that Australian forces had fought along the Kokoda Track. Subsequent defeats at Milne Bay, Buna/Gona and Wau, and on Guadalcanal island, had forced the Japanese to begin planning for a defensive rather than offensive/defensive war in this theatre. As a result of these victories, the Allies were thus able to seize the initiative in the region from the middle of 1943 and began making plans to continue pushing back the Japanese in New Guinea.

Allied planners began formulating their plans for the future direction of the fighting in the wider Pacific with a focus upon retaking the Philippine islands groups and the eventual capture of the Japanese home islands. The linchpin to Japanese strength in the region was their main base at Rabaul toward the north-eastern tip of New Britain island. The reduction of this base came to be seen as a key tenet of success in the South-West Pacific Area for the Allies, who formalised the concept as 'Cartwheel'.

In order to achieve this, the Allies needed access to a number of air bases in the region. The Allies most senior commanders, including General Douglas MacArthur, directed that two air bases be secured: one at Lae and the other at Finschhafen. The capture of Lae would provide the Allies with a port to supply Nadzab and would facilitate operations in the Markham river valley. Gaining control of Finschhafen, and thus the wider Huon peninsula, was an important precursor to the conduct operations on New Britain island by providing a natural harbour, and enabling control of the strategically important Vitiaz and Dampier Straits.

At this time, there were no US ground forces under MacArthur’s command in action against the Japanese, and the task of securing Finschhafen was allocated to the Australian 9th Division. A veteran formation of the all-volunteer 2nd Australian Imperial Force, the 9th Division was highly experienced, having fought in the North African campaign, where it had held Tobruk against a German onslaught earlier in the war and had been heavily engaged at the '1st Battle of El Alamein' and '2nd Battle of El Alamein'. Early in 1943, the division had been brought back to Australia, and had subsequently been reorganised and retrained for jungle warfare. With an establishment of 13,118 men, the division consisted of three brigades of infantry (the 20th, 24th and 26th Brigades), each comprising three infantry battalions, along with organic battalion-level engineer, pioneer artillery and armoured units attached at divisional level. In support of the 9th Division, militia infantry units of from the Australian 4th Brigade would also take part in the fighting after the initial fighting. US forces would also be involved, mainly in the provision of logistical, naval and engineering support services.

Air support was provided by the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 9 Operational Group, which included several squadrons such as No. 4 Squadron flying Commonwealth Boomerang single-engined fighter-bombers and Commonwealth Wirraway single-engined close support aircraft, and No. 24 Squadron equipped with Vultee Vengeance single-engined dive-bombers. These units undertook numerous close air support and resupply missions throughout the campaign. The US Army Air Forces provided Republic P-47 Thunderbolt single-engined fighter-bombers and Lockheed P-38 Lightning twin-engine fighter-bombers of the 348th and 475th Fighter Groups, which were also used to provide fighter cover for Allied shipping, while heavy and medium bombers of the US 5th Army Air Force carried out strategic bombing missions to reduce the Japanese air bases around Wewak and on New Britain, and raided Japanese lines of communication in concert with PT-boats. Given the complete impracticality of of using wheeled transport in the jungle, Allied logistics was undertaken primarily by means of water transport such as landing craft and barges, which moved supplies along the coast, with overland supply to combat units completed by New Guinean porters and, at times, by Australian combat troops themselves after being re-roled on a temporary basis to undertake portage tasks but augmented where possible with Jeeps.

The main Japanese force in the campaign was the 18th Army under the command of Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi, who had his headquarters in Madang. This army comprised three major formations (the 20th Division, the 41st Division and the 51st Division) and a number of smaller units which included naval infantry and garrison units. Around the Finschhafen area in the middle of September 1943, the main forces were drawn from Lieutenant General Shigeru Katagiri’s 20th Division (80th Regiment and 26th Field Artillery Regiment), Lieutenant General Heisuke Abe’s 41st Division (238th Regiment), the naval 85th Garrison Unit and Lieutenant General Hidemitsu Nakano’s 51st Division (one company of the 102nd Regiment). These forces were commanded locally by Major General Eizo Yamada, commander of the 1st Shipping Group, although tactical command was devolved to local level as a result of the geographical spread of the Japanese units. These units were situated across a broad area between the Mongi river, east of Lae to Arndt Point, Sattelberg, Joangeng, Logaweng, Finschhafen and Sisi, and on Tami island. The largest concentrations were around Sattelberg and Finschhafen, where the main forces came under Katagiri’s command. The strength and efficiency of the Japanese units had been considerably reduced by disease, and by their employment in road construction tasks between Madang and Bogadjim.

Like the Allies, the Japanese also relied on water transport to ferry supplies and reinforcements around the coasts of New Guinea, using a force of three submarines to avoid interdiction by Allied aircraft which had previously inflicted heavy casualties during the 'Battle of the Bismarck Sea'. These submarines were augmented by barges, although they were limited in supply and were subject to attack by Allied aircraft and PT-boats. Once the supplies had been landed, resupply parties were used to carry the stores overland on foot along a number of key tracks to the Japanese main troop concentrations around Sattelberg and Finschhafen. Air support was provided by Lieutenant General Kunachi Teramoto’s 4th Air Army, comprising primarily Lieutenant General Einosuke Sudo’s 7th Air Division and the 14th Air Brigade, along with some elements from Lieutenant General Giichi Itahana’s 6th Air Division. Based around Wewak, the Japanese aircraft were flown mainly to escort Japanese shipping and attack Allied shipping around the main beach-head during the campaign, with a secondary task of undertaking ground-attack missions in support of Japanese troops. Vice Admiral Jinichi Kusaka’s 11th Air Fleet, based at Rabaul, also undertook anti-ship missions. Despite the availability of these units to the Japanese, heavy Allied bombing of Japanese airfields around Wewak in August 1943 greatly reduced the number of aircraft available to the Japanese and limited their ability to apply airpower throughout the campaign.

The Japanese force lacked transport, engineer and logistical support and was hampered by the lack of cohesion resulting from its disparate command structure and poor infrastructure. In contrast, the Australian force had fought together in previous campaigns and was backed by a formidable logistical support base that could deliver the benefits of a technological and industrial superiority that the Japanese were unable to match.

Following MacArthur’s directive to secure the airfields at Lae and Finschhafen, the commander-in-chief of the Allied Forces, South West Pacific Area, the Australian General Sir Thomas Blamey, ordered the seizure of the Huon peninsula by Wootten’s Australian 9th Division, starting with the capture of Lae. The Allied plan formulated to achieve this was based on an amphibious landing by the the 9th Division to the east of Lae while the Australian 7th Division was delivered by air to Nadzab in the Markham river valley, which had been secured by airborne troops of the US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 2/4th Field Regiment. From Nadzab, the Australian 7th Division was to advance on Lae from the south to support the Australian 9th Division’s drive on the same objective from the east. At the same time, Major General S. G. Savige’s Australian 3rd Division and the US 162nd Infantry were to fight a diversionary action around Salamaua.

After training in Queensland and at Milne Bay at the south-eastern tip of Papua, the Australian 9th Division embarked in US ships of Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey’s VII Amphibious Force as part of what was the largest amphibious operation yet undertaken by Allied forces in the South-West Pacific up to that time. Brigadier Victor The 20th Brigade, under the command of Brigadier W. J. V. Windeyer’s Australian 20th Brigade was selected to spearhead the assault on a beach 16 miles (26 km) to the east of Lae. In preparation, early on 4 September five destroyers fired a heavy six-minute bombardment, and immediately after this bombardment’s end the 2/13th Battalion led the Australian 20th Brigade ashore, with the brigade’s other two units, the 2/15th and 2/17th Battalions, coming ashore shortly afterward in the second and third waves. Unopposed on the ground, the Australian infantry quickly began to move inland as further reinforcements arrived. About 35 minutes after the initial landing, as the Australian divisional headquarters and the 2/23rd Battalion were coming ashore, a small force of Japanese aircraft attacked the landing craft carrying the infantry ashore. As a result, two of these craft were heavily damaged and numerous casualties inflicted, including the 2/23rd's commanding officer, who was killed when a Japanese bomb landed on the bridge of LCI-339.

More Japanese air attacks came in the afternoon. A force of about 70 Japanese aircraft, operating from bases on New Britain island, were beaten off over Finschhafen. Another group achieved success around Morobe, however, attacking empty transport vessels which were departing Finschhafen, while off Cape Ward Hunt another group attacked an Allied convoy carrying follow-on forces, including the rest of Brigadier D. A. Whitehead’s Australian 26th Brigade. On board LST-471, 43 men were killed and another 30 wounded, while eight were killed and 37 wounded on LST-473. This did not prevent the flow of supplies and the arrival of additional reinforcements in the form of Brigadier B. Evans’s Australian 24th Brigade on the following day. The Australians then began the arduous advance to the west in the direction of Lae, passing through 'thick jungle, swamps, kunai grass and numerous rain-swollen rivers and streams' which, along with heavy rain, slowed their progress. On the night of 5/6 September, the Japanese launched an attack on the leading Australian battalion, but were unable to prevent its advance. At this point, the Australian 26th Brigade moved inland to strike toward Lae from the north-east while the Australian 24th Brigade continued the advance along the coast.

It was at this point that the Australian 9th Division’s advance began to suffer from a lack of supplies which, along with the rugged terrain, slowed progress, and it was therefore 9 September before the division reached the Busu river. The 2/28th Battalion was leading the Australian advance at this stage and the soldiers waded across. The current was strong and many of the men were swept away, 13 of them being drowned. Nevertheless, the 2/28th Battalion was able to establish a bridgehead to the west of the river. At this point, with a resumption of the heavy rain the river rose once more, preventing any other units from crossing. This effectively isolated the single Australian battalion, which was then subjected to repeated attacks by the Japanese. On 14 September, the Australian 26th Brigade was able to force its way across and the advance continued. Along the coast the Australian 24th Brigade was held up by a determined Japanese defence in front of the Butibum river, which was the final water crossing before Lae. The stream was finally forded on 16 September, by which time Lae had fallen to troops from the Australian 7th Division.

In the fighting for Lae more than 2,200 Japanese soldiers were killed while, in contrast, the Australian casualties were considerably lighter, with the Australian 9th Division losing 77 men killed and 73 missing. Despite the Allied success in capturing Lae, the Japanese had achieved a creditable defence, which had not only slowed the Allied advance, but had also allowed the bulk of the Japanese forces in the vicinity to get away, withdrawing to the north into the Huon peninsula, where they could continue the fight.

Lae had fallen sooner than had been anticipated, and the Allies were quick to exploit the advantage. The first phase of the new campaign consisted of an amphibious landing by Allied troops north of Siki Cove near the confluence of the Siki river and south of the Song river on 'Scarlet' beach. Positioned farther to the east on the peninsula from Lae, in terms of strategic importance Finschhafen overshadowed Lae in the minds of the Allied planners for its potential to support operations across the Vitiaz Strait into New Britain. As a result of faulty intelligence, which underestimated the size of the Japanese force in the area, the assault force chosen by the Allied commanders consisted of just the Australian 20th Brigade. Meanwhile, the Australian 7th Division was to move to the north-west from Lae in a separate campaign, advancing through the Markham and Ramu river valleys toward the Finisterre mountain range.

After a short period of preparation, the Australian 20th Brigade’s landing took place on 22 September. Navigational errors resulted in the troops being landed on the wrong beaches, some of them coming ashore at Siki Cove and taking heavy fire from the strong Japanese defences in pillboxes and behind obstacles. After reorganising on the beach, the Australians pushed inland. The Japanese put up stiff resistance around the high ground at Katika, but were eventually forced back. By the end of the day, having suffered 94 casualties, the Australians had secured a useful beach-head. Late in the day, a force of around 30 Japanese bombers, escorted by as many as 40 fighters, from the Wewak-based 4th Air Army was despatched to attack Allied shipping around Finschhafen. Forewarned by the US destroyer Reid, which was serving as an air picket and fighter controller in the Vitiaz Strait, the Allies were able to concentrate five squadrons of US fighter aircraft over the convoy, and in the resulting air battle 39 Japanese aircraft were shot down and the raid was turned back.

On the next day the Australians began their advance toward the village of Finschhafen, about 5.6 miles (9 km) to the south of the landing beach, with the 2/15th Battalion leading the way to the Bumi river. The Japanese had established strong defences along this river’s southern bank, which the Australians attempted to outflank by sending a force to the west, climbing through steep terrain. Once they had located a suitable place to cross the river, the Australians began wading across but were taken under fire by a group of Japanese naval infantry positioned on a high feature overlooking the river. Despite taking casualties, the Australians were able to establish themselves south of the Bumi river and at that point the 2/13th Battalion began to advance on Finschhafen from the west. Meanwhile, the 2/15th Battalion attacked the left flank of the Japanese who had opposed their crossing. After advancing up the steep slope under fire, sometimes on their hands and knees, the 2/15th Battalion took the position at bayonet point, killing 52 Japanese in close combat.

The continued Australian advance to the south spread them thin on the ground. As a result of concerns that the western flank was exposed, the 2/17th Battalion was sent along the Sattelberg track to deflect any Japanese thrusts from that point. At Jivevaneng, the battalion was stopped and there the Japanese 80th Regiment launched a series of determined attacks at it tried to break through to the coast.

At this point, Australian fears of a Japanese counterattack grew and the Australian command requested reinforcements from MacArthur, who denied the request as his intelligence staff believed that there were only 350 Japanese in the vicinity. Actually, there were already 5,000 Japanese around Sattelberg and Finschhafen, and in the early part of October this number grew to 12,000 as the Japanese began to prepare their counterattack. The Australians did receive a limited reinforcement in the form of the 2/43rd Battalion, whose arrival meant that the 2/17th Battalion, deadlocked around Jivevaneng, could be freed for the advance on Finschhafen, thus enabling the whole of the Australian 20th Brigade to be concentrated on that objective.

After an attack across the Ilebbe Creek by the 2/13th Battalion, which cost the Australians 80 casualties on 1 October, the Japanese naval troops holding Finschhafen began to withdraw, and on October, the town fell to the Australians and the Japanese abandoned the Kakakog Ridge amid heavy Australian air and artillery attacks. Once the Australian 20th Brigade was established in Finschhafen, it linked with the 22nd Battalion, a militia unit. This had cleared the coastal area in the south of the peninsula, advancing from Lae over the mountains. Meanwhile, the Japanese that had been around Finschhafen withdrew into the mountains around Sattelberg. Allied air operations from Finschhafen airfield began on 4 October, on the following day the 2/17th Battalion was sent to Kumawa to follow the retreating Japanese forces, and for the next couple of days minor clashes resulted before the battalion established itself at Jivevaneng again on 7 October.

The Japanese had begun planning a counterattack during the Australian advance on Finschhafen. The main part of the 20th Division was moved down from Madang as the Japanese began concentrating their forces around Sattelberg, where the main force arrived on 11 October. The Japanese plans became known to the Australians through captured documents, and by the middle of October 1943 Brigadier S. H. W. C. Porter’s Australian 24th Brigade had been brought up to reinforce the Australian 20th Brigade. When the Japanese counterattack came, signalled by a bonfire on Sattelberg, its first wave fell on the Australian 24th Brigade around Jivevaneng on 16 October but, committed in a piecemeal fashion, the attack was pushed back. On the next day Japanese aircraft attacked Allied forces around 'Scarlet' beach, and this was followed soon afterward by an amphibious landing which was all but destroyed at sea by fire from US and Australian anti-aircraft guns and machine guns. Only a small number of Japanese managed to make it ashore through the devastating fire and, by the following day, these men all had been killed or wounded by Australian infantry conducting mopping-up operations.

The main elements of the Japanese counterattack had penetrated the forward and thinly stretched Australian lines throughout the previous night. The Japanese exploited the gaps in the line between the 2/28th Battalion and the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion, and launched an attack towards the coast with the objective of capturing the high ground 1.7 miles (2.7 km) to the west of 'Scarlet' Beach, and splitting the Australian forces at Katika.

The Australian 24th Brigade withdrew from Katika and the high ground to the north of 'Scarlet' beach to strengthen the defences around the beach-head in response to the Japanese penetration, while the Australian 20th Brigade was moved into position along the Siki Creek to block the Japanese advancing toward Finschhafen. The Australian resistance was strong despite the fact that it had given up the advantage of the high ground, with field and anti-aircraft artillery engaging at ranges as short as 220 yards (200 m) over open sights. As result, the Japanese attack was turned away from 'Scarlet' beach and channelled down Siki Creek. Nevertheless, the Japanese succeeded in breaking through to Siki Cove by 18 October and effectively drove a wedge between the Australian 24th Brigade in the north and the Austtalian 20th Brigade in the south. In doing so, the Japanese captured a considerable quantity of Allied supplies, including ammunition, weapons and rations, helping to replenish their own dwindling supplies.

During the night of 18/19 October, the Japanese cut the route that the Australians were using to supply the 2/17th Battalion defending Jivevaneng, and established a roadblock astride the road linking Jivevaneng and Sattelberg. The 2/17th Battalion and a number of other Australian units, such as most of the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion and part of the 2/28th Battalion, became isolated behind Japanese lines. In order to keep them supplied, emergency air drops of ammunition were made by aircraft of No. 4 Squadron.

At this point, the Japanese attack began to slow. The strength of the Australian resistance had inflicted in heavy casualties and as a result the Japanese were unable to take advantage of the gains they had made. This allowed the Australians to begin their own counterthrust on 19 October. Following a heavy artillery preparation, the 2/28th Battalion retook Katika. The Australians received reinforcements on the next day when a squadron of the 1st Tank Battalion’s Matilda infantry tanks arrived by landing craft at Langemak Bay amid tight security aimed at keeping the armoured vehicles' arrival secret from the Japanese. Accompanying the tanks was Brigadier D. A. Whitehead’s Australian 26th Brigade, whose arrival meant that the 9th Division had now been committed in its entirety. Although on 21 October the Japanese withdrew from Siki Cove, the fighting around Katika continued for four more days as the Japanese attempted to retake it against fierce resistance from the 2/28th Battalion. Katagiri gave the order for his forces to withdraw back to Sattelberg by 25 October after it had become clear that the counterattack had been defeated. The Japanese had suffered 1,500 casualties, including 679 killed. In comparison, the Australians had lost 49 men killed and 179 wounded.

Sattelberg lies some 5 miles (8 km) inland and as a result of its its size and its height of 3,150 ft (960 m), its possession by a large force of Japanese posed a significant threat in the minds of the Australian commanders. It offered good observation of the coastal area and could serve as a base for the Japanese to disrupt Australian lines of communication. As a result, Wootten decided to capture it. The main approach to the mission lay along the road running through Jivevaneng. Although the main thrust of the Japanese counterattack had been turned back by 25 October, Jivevaneng was still in doubt and the 2/17th Battalion was still fending off Japanese attacks. Consequently, the 2/13th Battalion was brought up and with the 2/17th Battalion began clearing operations. These had been completed by the night of 2/3 November, when the Japanese ceased their assault and withdrew from around the village. Follow-up actions on 6 November resulted in the destruction of the roadblock which the Japanese had established during October on the Sattelberg road to the east of Jivevaneng.

With the issue at Jivevaneng decided, the Australians began to advance westward in the direction of Sattelberg. The force that was chosen for this was the recently arrived Australian 26th Brigade, which would be supported by nine Matilda tanks. At the same time, the Australian 4th Brigade, a militia unit detached from the Australian 5th Division, was brought up to relieve the Australian 26th Brigade of garrison duties around Finschhafen. The tanks moved up to Jivevaneng under the cover of an artillery barrage designed to drown the sound of their engines and thus keep their presence secret until the start of the advance. On 16 November, the 2/48th Battalion, supported by the artillery of the 2/12th Field Regiment and the machine guns of the 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion, captured Green Ridge overlooking the track, which was the designated forming-up point for the advance that began on the following day.[69]

The advance got off to a bad start as it was hampered in the inland area by the prevalent rugged terrain, which consisted largely of thick jungle and steep razorback ridges. The ability of forces to manoeuvre in this environment was limited and Whitehead therefore opted to use infiltration. He sent columns of infantry, each of no more than one company, to advance along narrow fronts ahead of one or two tanks, with engineers in support to improve the track or deal with any booby traps or mines that were discovered. The brigade’s scheme of manoeuvre saw the 2/48th Battalion advance up the main track as the 2/23rd Battalion and 2/24th Battalion protected its flanks to the south and north respectively. The Australians took none of their first-day objectives. The 2/48th Battalion was held up in front of Coconut Ridge by stubborn resistance after one of the tanks had been disabled and two others damaged. On the flanks, both the 2/23rd and 2/24th Battalions also came up against strong defences in the shape of pillboxes and machine gun nests, suffering many casualties, and Coconut Ridge did not fall until the following day.

The advance then continued, and by 20 November Steeple Tree Hill had been secured by the 2/48th Battalion, with the 2/23rd Battalion advancing toward its southern portion from Kumawa and the 2/24th Battalion continuing to attack to the north toward the '2200' feature. Initially, this had just been conceived as a holding action to protect the 2/48th Battalion’s flank, but as a result of the slow progress on the main track, at this point Whitehead decided on a change, determining to use a double-pronged attack with the 2/24th Battalion also attempting to break through to Sattelberg from the north.

Elsewhere, in the north-east, closer to the coast, the establishment of observation posts on key terrain overlooking the Japanese main supply routes by Australian forces began affecting the supply situation of the Japanese forces around Sattelberg, as supply parties were ambushed as they attempted to deliver food and ammunition. The Australians were also short of supplies and, as a result, they paused on 21 November for resupply before the advance was resumed on the following day. The main thrust aimed for a jink where the track turned to the north. Here the 2/48th Battalion turned to the north-east, while the 2/23rd Battalion left the track and began advancing to the north-west toward the '3200' feature, which lay to the west of Sattelberg. Coming up against increasingly steep terrain and very strong Japanese defences around the '2200' feature, the 2/24th Battalion unsuccessfully attempted to bypass the position and strike toward Sattelberg. On the same day, in the north, the Japanese attempted another counterattack, aiming to relieve the supply situation around Sattelberg and to recapture Finschhafen. The counterattack failed, as it was blunted by the Australian depth position around Pabu and, lacking the tempo of the earlier counterattack in October, was ultimately beaten back, with little effect on Australian operations around Sattelberg.

The fortress area round Sattelberg was methodically reduced by a five-day intensive Allied bombing effort ending on 23 November. On the same day, Japanese aircraft also undertook ground-support operations with a force of 44 aircraft which attacked the Australian positions round Jivevaneng. This did not change the situation around Sattelberg as by then the Australians had reached its southern slopes and the following day they began probing forward toward its summit. Throughout the day the Australians launched a number of attacks, but heavy defensive fire pushed these back until one platoon fought its way almost to the top. As the Australians had secured a toehold just below the summit for the night, the Japanese withdrew under the cover of darkness and the following morning the Australian advance to the mission was completed.

Although the Australian main effort shortly after the landing at 'Scarlet' beach late in September was the drive toward Finschhafen, some effort was made by the Papuan Infantry Battalion to carry out reconnaissance to the north of the main engagement area toward Bonga and Gusika, and throughout the time early in October the 2/43rd Battalion conducted a number of patrols in the area. Intelligence gathered by these patrols and through air reconnaissance revealed that the Japanese were using tracks in the area to supply their forces in the west at Sattelberg. The Australians therefore established observation posts and after further reconnaissance it became apparent to the Australians that one hill, which they named 'Pabu' and part of a larger feature dubbed 'Horace the Horse', was the key to holding the area. Its location placed it directly astride the main Japanese supply route, and its proximity to the Australian forward positions at North Hill meant that it was in range of direct-firing Australian artillery and could therefore be occupied by a small force that could be defended by indirect fire. In the middle of October, however, amid the Japanese counterattack, Evans, commander of the Australian 24th Brigade, had ordered the withdrawal of Australian forces on 'Pabu' as he sought to reduce the length of the Australian line in order to provide a sturdier defence of the beach-head.

After the October counterattack had been repulsed, the Australians sought to regain the initiative. Evans was replaced by Porter and Wootten decided to establish a position in depth behind the Japanese forward line, deciding to once again establish a force at 'Pabu'. On 19/20 November, three companies of the 2/32nd Battalion occupied the position and began to attack the Japanese resupply parties that were moving through the area, inflicting heavy casualties.

Meanwhile Adachi, commander of the 18th Army]/e], ordered Katagiri to launch another counterattack. The Japanese supply situation was acute by this stage of the campaign, with ammunition in very short supply and the men limited to one-third of their normal daily rations, but the counterattack was nevertheless scheduled for 23/24 November. However, the Australian occupation of 'Pabu' and the threat it posed to the Japanese supply route forced the Japanese commander to bring his schedule forward and also to divert some of the effort away from the recapture of Finschhafen and upon the Australian forces advancing towards Sattelberg in the south.

In an effort to retake 'Pabu' and the ground to the north of the Song river, a force of two Japanese battalions of the 79th Regiment and 238th Regiment advanced to the south along the coastal track from Bonga. From 22 November, the Japanese attacked the Australians around North Hill, which was defended by the 2/43rd Battalion. This effectively cut off the Australian forces on 'Pabu', which now comprised only two companies of the 2/32nd Battalion, and over the course over the next three days were subjected to almost continual attack. On 25 November, the Japanese assaults had been blunted sufficiently that the Australians could start to push forward reinforcements. The two remaining companies of the 2/32nd Battalion were sent forward on 26 November, supported by four Matilda tanks and artillery, and struck toward 'Pabu' to reinforce its garrison, which was under its heaviest attack since it had been occupied. The reinforcement reached 'Pabu' and in the process secured 'Pino Hill' to the south.

On the following day, the Japanese called a halt to their attack on the Australian right, and men of the 2/28th Battalion were then sent to the east to secure the position’s flanks. On 29 November, the 2/32nd Battalion was relieved by the 2/43rd Battalion, but in the course of this change the latter battalion was struck by a heavy Japanese artillery bombardment which killed or wounded 25 men. Over the 10 days that it had held 'Pabu', the 2/32nd Battalion had endured repeated mortar and artillery fire, and repeated infantry attacks, but with the assistance of strong artillery support it had held its ground and in doing so had helped blunt the force of the Japanese counterattack at a time when Australian forces were making heavy progress toward the Japanese fortress at Sattelberg. Adachi later singled out the Australian capture of 'Pabu' as one of the main reasons for his force’s defeat during the 'Campaign for the Huon Peninsula'. Losses during the fighting around Pabu were 195 Japanese and 25 Australians killed, and 51 Australians wounded.

With the second counterthrust beaten back and the loss of Sattelberg, Katagiri decided to fall back to the north, to form a defensive line around Wareo to wait for the Australians to follow up their victories with a further advance. By this time, Katagiri’s forces were suffering from a manpower shortage occasioned by losses and the lack of reinforcements, and the supply situation had still not been rectified. Wootten was keen to regain the initiative and decided to resume the advance in the north with a view to securing the remainder of the Huon peninsula in a plan whose first stage involved an advance to the north and securing a line along a ridge that ran between Gusika, on the coast, and Wareo, which is 4.35 miles (7 km) inland. This was to be achieved in two main drives: having secured Sattelberg, the Australian 26th Brigade was to advance to Wareo on the left, and the Australian 24th Brigade was to advance on the right up the coast to secure Gusika and two large water features, known to the Australians as 'the Lakes', about 2 miles (3.2 km) inland near the head of the Kalueng river. A third but lesser advance was to be made in the centre toward Nongora and the Christmas Hills, responsibility for which was given to the Australian 20th Brigade.

The advance on the right saw the 2/28th Battalion advance toward Bonga and with armoured support, capture Gusika on 29 November. The battalion later crossed the Kalueng river and advanced toward the Lagoon farther to the north along the coast. The 2/43rd Battalion then advanced from 'Pabu' toward 'Horace’s Ears', where the Japanese made a stand which briefly checked the Australian. The battalion then continued to the east toward 'the Lakes', where it was to assume responsibility for the central drive from the battalions of the Australian 20th Brigade, which were then to be rested for the next stage of the campaign.

In the centre, the 2/15th Battalion set out on 30 November from Katika to capture Nongora. The battalion advanced over broken country and after the leading company had crossed the Song river, was engaged by machine gun fire from a strong defensive position. This held the company briefly until the battalion’s other companies arrived. Skirting the position, they continued toward Nongora, where they stopped short of the high ground and established a defensive position for the night. The following morning, the Australians launched a costly and unsuccessful company-level attack against the ridge, but after darkness the Japanese abandoned the position, allowing the 2/15th Battalion to occupy it and then clear Nongora on 2 December. After this, the Australians began to despatch fighting patrols toward the Christmas Hills area in the west, and to the east toward 'the Lakes' to establish contact with the Australian 24th Brigade.

The link took place on 3 December, and on the following day a composite force from the 2/32nd and 2/43rd Battalions took over the advance to the Christmas Hills, which were secured on 7 December after the Japanese abandoned the position in the wake of a series of flanking moves by the Australians, an intense artillery and mortar bombardment, and a frontal assault.

Meanwhile, on the left, the advance began on 28 November. On the map, Wareo is about 3.4 miles (5.5 km) from Sattelberg, but as a result of the terrain’s nature the actual distance to be travelled was estimated as four times that figure. For the advancing Australian infantrymen, the burden was made yet greater by heavy rain, which turned the tracks over which they were advancing into muddy morasses which could not be traversed by motor transport. Coupled with the unavailability of New Guineans to work as bearers, this meant that the Australians had to carry almost all of their own supplies. In an effort to keep the advance moving, the entire 2/24th Battalion was tasked with carrying supplies for the 2/23rd Battalion, which was leading the advance from Sattelberg.

On 30 November, the 2/23rd Battalion reached the Song river, fighting its way across, and on the following day, after sharp fighting in a renewed local counterattack by Japanese forces, Kuanko was taken. To the north of the abandoned village, the Japanese were positioned in strength and launched a strong counterattack, which retook the vital high ground but was checked from farther progress by a heavy Australian artillery bombardment. At this stage, the 2/24th Battalion was released from its portage task and it was sent to the west for a flanking movement around the Japanese position, cutting the track linking Kuanko and Wareo, and capturing Kwatingkoo and Peak Hill early on 7 December following a Japanese withdrawal. From there, it was a short march on to Wareo, which the Australians secured early the next day.

The main Japanese force then began to withdraw to the north in the direction of Sio, but intermittent fighting continued around Wareo over the following week as isolated pockets of Japanese resistance conducted rearguard operations to allow their comrades to get away. The most significant action during this time took place on 11 December when the 2/24th Battalion attacked the '2200' feature to the north-east of Wareo, near the Christmas Hills, which resulted in the deaths of 27 Japanese.

The next phase of the campaign involved the advance of Australian forces along the coast towards Sio, about 50 miles (80 km) from Finschhafen. Following the capture of Gusika, the responsibility for the first part of the advance to Sio was taken over by the infantry of the 4th Brigade, under the command of Brigadier C. Edgar. Early in December, the men were brought forward from Finschhafen, where they had been undertaking garrison duties, and on 5 December the 22nd Battalion began the advance, crossing the Kalueng river. Lacking the experience that the 2nd AIF units had, the militia battalions advanced more cautiously than they might otherwise have done. They were supported by US landing craft equipped with rockets, which bombarded Japanese positions along the coast, while the expansion of the airfield around Finschhafen and the establishment of a naval facility there enabled the Allies to use Consolidated PBY Catalina twin-engined flying boats and PT-boats to continued attacks on Japanese resupply efforts.

The Australian advance met strong resistance as the Japanese forces in the area fought hard to buy time for the Japanese falling back from Wareo by delaying the Australian advance. Initially, the 22nd Battalion’s attack was turned back. but fire support from artillery and armour helped overcome this opposition, and the advance continued with the 22nd Battalion and 29th/46th Battalion advancing in turns up the coast with the 37th/52nd Battalion moving on their left farther inland. Lakona was reached on 14 December and, after finding the Japanese forces there to be positioned in strength, the 22nd Battalion worked its way around the town, enveloping the Japanese defenders and pushing them back to the cliffs, where on 16 December tanks were used to launch the final attack. After this, the 29th/46th Battalion took over the coastal advance to Fortification Point, which it reached alongside the 37th/52nd Battalion on 20 December, crossing the Masaweng river and gaining the high ground to its north.

The 4th Brigade suffered 65 killed and 136 wounded on top of rising casualties from disease, and was now replaced by the 20th Brigade. The 26th Brigade took over the flank-protection role inland. The advance then rolled forward more quickly as the Japanese morale broke and organised resistance diminished. Large gains were made against only limited resistance, which often amounted to minor skirmishes against small groups of Japanese. Hubika fell on 22 December without opposition, and Wandokai two days later. Blucher Point was reached on 28 December, when the 2/13th Battalion regained contact with the retreating Japanese and fought a sharp contact. Elsewhere, on 26 December US and Australian forces landed on Long island, while US forces landed farther to the west at Saidor on 28 December.

This sealed the Japanese decision to abandon the Sio area, and over the course of two weeks the Australians advanced swiftly up the coast, overcoming only sporadic opposition as the Japanese continued to withdraw to the west in the direction of Madang, seeking to avoid being cut off by the forces at Saidor. The 2/15th Battalion took over the advance on 31 December, reaching Nunzen on 1 January 1944. The Sanga river was crossed on the next day, and on the following day the 2/17th Battalion reached Cape King William. Further river crossings followed at the Sazomu and Mangu rivers as Kelanoa fell on 6 January. Next, the Dallman and Buri rivers were forded as Scharnhorst Point was rounded on 9 January. After a final action was fought at Nambariwa, the 2/17th finally reached Sio on 15 January.

The operations undertaken by the 9th Division during the 'Campaign for the Huon Peninsula' were the largest by the Australian army to that point of the war. Backed by significant industrial resources, which provided them with a major technological edge over the Japanese, the Australian campaign destroyed what offensive capabilities the Japanese had in the region, and enabled them to gain control of vital sea lanes of communication and airfields that furthered their ability to conduct offensive operations in north-western New Guinea and New Britain.

After the capture of Sio, on 21 January 1944 the 9th Division handed over to the 5th Division. The 5th Division was a militia formation, and its takeover was part of the wider Australian plan to re-allocate the veteran divisions of the 2nd AIF to more intense operations elsewhere, namely the Philippine islands group, while using the less experienced militia formations to undertake the lower-intensity work required to mop-up isolated pockets of Japanese resistance. In the event, the 9th Division was precluded from taking part in the fighting in the Philippine islands group as a result of inter-Allied politics, and it was subsequently employed in Borneo in 1945. Meanwhile, one of the 5th Division’s component formations, the 8th Brigade, undertook mopping-up operations around Sio throughout January into February and March 1944. They also effected a link up with US forces around Saidor.

The 9th Division suffered 1,082 battle casualties during its involvement in the 'Campaign for the Huon Peninsula'. This included 283 men killed in action and one man missing. In addition, the 4th Brigade also suffered several hundred casualties, bringing the Australian casualty total to 1,387 men. These losses were relatively light in the wider context of the division’s involvement in the war, for it had suffered more than twice that number during the fighting around El Alamein earlier in the war. Even so, a number of factors combined to make the 'Campaign for the Huon Peninsula', in the words of one participant, 'harder and more nerve-racking' than that in which the 9th Division had hitherto been involved. These factors included the harsh terrain, the closeness of the combat, and the lack of hot food, water and motor transport. Disease also proved significant, and during the campaign as much as 85% of the division’s personnel were ineffective due to illness at some stage.

Nevertheless, the single most significant factor was the fighting qualities of the Japanese soldier. One Australian veteran, who had previously fought against the Germans at El Alamein with the 2/17th Battalion, described the Japanese as 'tenacious, brave [and] self-sacrificing'. In the minds of the Australian soldiers, the Japanese had a reputation for being tough opponents and for not taking prisoners. Despite this perception amongst the Australians, there was a sense of confidence in their technological superiority.

For the Japanese soldiers, the technological edge that the Australians possessed and their relatively abundant supply of ammunition and both artillery and air support was the main psychological factor that governed their perceptions of the Australians as their opponents. In order to counter this, Japanese commanders exhorted their troops to draw upon 'spiritual strength' for the achievement of victory. In the end, although many of the significant actions of the campaign were infantry engagements which occurred a long way from the Australian base areas where their technological superiority was limited, the Australian use of combined-arms tactics ultimately proved decisive. Although preliminary aerial bombardment, particularly that which was employed around Sattelberg, proved largely ineffective in terms of its physical effects, it did serve to reduce Japanese morale. Used in combination with artillery preparation, which caused significant casualties, considerable disruption was caused to the leady stretched Japanese lines of communication. Suffering from ammunition shortages that limited their fire support, the Japanese defenders were overwhelmed by Australian infantry benefitting from a level of artillery support that was unprecedented for an Australian division in the Pacific theatre, and who advanced in concert with tanks that they employed in a manner that exploited the element of surprise.

Japanese losses during the campaign amounted to a significantly higher total than those of the Allies, although exact numbers have not been established. About 12,500 Japanese soldiers participated in the campaign and about 5,500 are believed to have been killed, although some sources suggest a possibly higher toll. With only 4,300 Japanese reaching Sio at the end of the campaign, it is possible that the figure is closer to 7,000 or 8,000. A significant amount of matériel was also lost during the campaign. Of the 26 field artillery pieces that the Japanese possessed in the region, 18 were captured by the Australians during the campaign, while 28 out of their 36 heavy machine guns were also lost.

At the start of the campaign, the Australian army had been the only ground force engaging in combat with the Japanese in the region. By the end, though, the involvement of US forces in the region had increased as the US Army took over from the Australians responsibility for the main Allied effort. Elsewhere, the 7th Division’s advance toward the Finisterre mountain range saw the capture of Shaggy Ridge and a subsequent advance toward Bogadjim and then Madang, which fell in April, to troops of the 11th Division, which had taken over from the 7th Division. With the capture of Madang, the Allied hold on the Huon peninsula was confirmed, bringing both the Huon peninsula and Markham river valley campaigns to a close. In July and August 1944, US forces subsequently clashed with Japanese forces, including some of those which had escaped from the Huon peninsula, around the Driniumor river.

Meanwhile, the Australian army’s efforts in the Pacific War were scaled back, and it was not until a time late in 1944 and early in 1945, when several campaigns were launched in Bougainville, New Britain, Aitape-Wewak and Borneo, that it once again undertook major campaigns against the Japanese.