|Both Japanese and Australian forces held the view in early 1943 that Wau would be the next battlefield of major importance. For this reason, the commander of the Japanese 18th Army at Lae, Lieutenant General ADACHI Hatazô, ordered the Okabe Detachment, led by Major General OKABE Tôru, to attack Wau. The Japanese force, which was the target of guerrilla warfare by the Australian Kanga Force, planned to attack Wau along a track used by German explorers prior to Australian control of the territory. The Okabe Detachment departed from Rabaul in early January and then proceeded immediately towards Wau. However, the progress of the force was considerably slower than anticipated owing to the thick undergrowth. Furthermore, heavy artillery guns could not be carried over the steep terrain, adding to the problems of the force.
Meanwhile, the Australians were planning to reinforce the garrison at Wau by airlifting the 17th Brigade. The air transport of these troops, however, was delayed by bad weather. Nonetheless, the garrison at Wau had 28 officers and 535 men by 19 January 1943.
Australian scouts reported a large Japanese force approaching Wau on 24 January. The Australians at that time did not have the strength to attack the approaching Japanese force as their main battalion strength was stationed near Mubo. Transport of emergency reinforcements from Port Moresby was halted by bad weather, and many thought the base at Wau would soon fall. The clouds lifted during the morning of 29 January, however, allowing the transportation of 800 reinforcements. These units counter-attacked the nearby Okabe Detachment with artillery fire and machine-guns. The Japanese force, having suffered over 1,000 casualties, and with many more sick, were left with no option but to withdraw.
The Australians subsequently made preparations to further strengthen the base at Wau to support future counter-offensive operations against Lae and Salamaua.
Click images to enlarge.