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Human face of war
Aitape–Wewak campaigns
American forces had bypassed Japanese positions at Wewak and landed at Aitape and Hollandia, in Dutch New Guinea, in April 1944. Japanese counter-attacks against Aitape by the 18th Army, led by Lieutenant General ADACHI Hatazô, had ended in failure. The strength of the 18th Army’s four divisions was drastically reduced, and in October 1944, they were stationed around Wewak, to the west of Wewak, and in the southern Toricelli Ranges. Many soldiers were sick owing to a shortage of supplies and medicines, with many others engaged in agricultural activities to provide food.

The Japanese employed local New Guineans as gardeners and labourers, realising that they would not have survived without their aid. There were locals who cooperated with the Japanese, but also those who were used by the Allies to gather intelligence on the Japanese.

Australian troops began aggressive patrolling after they had taken over from the Americans at Aitape in mid-1944. In late November, Australian forces began to advance east along the coast, as well as commencing attacks on Japanese troops hidden in the mountains to the south. These campaigns were costly to both sides. Most Japanese casualties died owing to lack of medical treatment, while some Australian casualties also died during the long haul back to medical facilities in rear logistical areas. Eventually, and airfield was established by the Allies at Maprik to solve this problem.

Australian troops were afflicted by supply shortages, but were assisted by air drops and supply by small ships in coastal areas. Japanese troops, meanwhile, were desperately short of food and supplies. Allied forces landed at Wewak in May 1945, forcing ADACHI’s army to retreat into the interior of the island.

These operations continued until the end of the war. The Australians stubbornly pursued the Japanese along the coast and into the mountains for around ten months. Though Australian casualties were light compared to the Japanese, many thought these mopping-up operations were an “unnecessary campaign” with no bearing on the overall state of the war. They were a bitter experience for those whose comrades had died.

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Aitape–Wewak campaigns
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