Remembering the war in New Guinea - How many died?

How many died? (QnA)
This page was contributed by Mr Damien Fenton (Australian War Memorial)


Approximately 202,100 Japanese soldiers, sailors and airmen died during the New Guinea campaign.

The largest number of deaths, 127,600, occurred in Papua and New Guinea with a further 44,000 dying on Bougainville and the remaining 30,500 dying on New Britain, New Ireland, and the Admiralty Islands.

Source: Japanese Ministry for Health and Welfare, compiled in 1964; Harry A. Gailey, Bougainville 1943-45, (Lexington, KA: University Press of Kansas, 1991): 211.


Approximately 7,000 Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen died during the New Guinea Campaign.

A total of 5,770 Australian soldiers are known to have died in Papua and New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Bougainville. The Royal Australian Navy suffered a total of 1,094 deaths in operations throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans against Japan. Just how many of these lives were lost in direct support of the Allied New Guinea operations as defined by this website is hard to determine. For example, HMAS Canberra was sunk on 9 August 1942 during the Battle of Savo Island with the loss of 84 lives, yet as this action was in direct support of American operations on Guadacanal as opposed to American operations on Bougainville the battle belongs to the Solomon Islands campaign rather than the New Guinea campaign (even though both islands are in the same geographical group). Similarly a total of 3,342 Royal Australian Air Force personnel died in the South West Pacific Theatre during the Second World War and while this includes New Guinea it also includes losses suffered in Indonesia and Australia itse
lf (e.g. in the defence of Darwin). Again there is no specific breakdown of losses solely related to New Guinea. Thus by a process of elimination of confirmed figures from other campaigns or operations it would appear that at least 1,200 Australian airmen and 100 Australian sailors died in the New Guinea campaign.

Sources: AMF Battle Casualties SWPA Operations 1942-45, AWM54, 267/4/7; Operations 8th Div and Attached Units AMF Battle Casualties 1941-42, AWM54, 267/4/7; Casualties and Miscellaneous RAAF, RAN and Army Part II, AWM54, 171/2/53.

United States

Approximately 7,000 American soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen were killed in the New Guinea campaign.

This figure includes the 2,102 US Marines killed during the landings at Cape Gloucester on New Britain and the fighting on Bougainville. It does not include those Americans who otherwise died during the Solomons campaign in actions such as the Battle for Guadalcanal or the fierce naval battles that took place in New Georgia Sound and the surrounding Solomon Sea.

Source: Frank A. Reister, Medical Statistics in World War II, Official History of the Medical Department of the US Army in World War II, (Washington DC: Historical Unit, US Army Medical Department, 1975).

Click images to enlarge. Makeshift wooden crosses mark the graves of three Australian soldiers killed in action near Orodubi, New Guinea, 29 July 1943.  A Catholic priest (second from left) conducts the burial service surrounded by the dead men's comrades, one of whom is covering the priest's prayerbook with his groundsheet to protect it from the rain.
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A Japanese memorial to the dead located near the former Japanese naval headquarters at Buin on the island of Bougainville, September 1945.  A memorial stone (right) is surrounded by wooden grave markers commemorating the names of individual soldiers and sailors.  It is unlikely that any remains or ashes were actually buried here as the Japanese, who traditionally cremated their dead, usually sent the ashes of the fallen back to their families in Japan or stored them until such time as it was possible to do so.
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The stars and stripes flys at half mast to mark the funeral of two American war correspondents at the American military cemetery in Port Moresby, 6 December 1943.  The two men were victims of a plane crash near the town and provide a stark reminder that not all deaths during the war were caused by enemy action.   The vast numbers of men and machines commtted to the conflict in New Guinea meant that such accidents were not uncommon.  Tropical disease and malnutrition also took their toll, with the Japanese forces suffering particularly heavy losses from this quarter as the war turned against them.
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Two Australian nurses inspect the grave marker of Petty Officer 2nd Class NAKAMOTO in the Japanese section of the military cemetery at Lae, November 1944.  In addition to looking after their own dead Australian Army War Graves units were also responsible for creating and maintaining the graves of those Japanese whose bodies were recovered by Allied forces.
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This page was last updated on 1 June 2004.
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