Australian War Memorial - AJRP

The Remembering the war in New Guinea project brings together Japanese, Australian and indigenous perspectives of the Second World War in New Guinea, to write a history of war in this theatre which truly reflects the experience of all the groups involved. With international participation, the project will focus on military activity at the strategic and tactical levels. It will particularly emphasise the human experience of soldiers on both sides, their perceptions of the experience of the other groups involved, and the effects of the war on the indigenous peoples.

A symposium was held from 19 to 21 October 2000 at the Australian National University in Canberra. The program of the symposium appears on the home page, and the full text of papers presented will be available later this year.

Lieutenant-General John Coates (Honorary Visiting Fellow in the School of History, University College, Australian Defence Force Academy)

Australians and Japanese (Adapting to war in New Guinea)
Examines the operations and tactics of both sides in New Guinea from the perspective especially of the 9th Australian Division and its principal opponent, the 20th Japanese Division, during the Huon Peninsula campaign of 1943-44. By then the Japanese were preparing to defend an Absolute National Defence Zone against the two major Allied thrusts: Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's powerful naval force in the Central Pacific Ocean Area; and General Douglas MacArthur predominantly land-based force in the South-West Pacific Area.

In New Guinea, the contest between the Australian 9th Division and the Japanese 20th Division had an ironic twist, because the latter began to use the tactics of "offensive-defence" against troops who had themselves mastered those tactics at places like Tobruk and El Alamein.

Professor Henry Frei (Tsukuba Women's University, Tsukuba)

Why the Japanese were in New Guinea (Higher strategy)
From the nineteenth century to World War II, Japanese interest in New Guinea was as weak as its presence was small in that country. Given New Guinea's small importance to Japan before the war, one asks why there was such bitter fighting between Japanese and Australians in New Guinea for three and a half years, with tremendous loss of life and materiel? Could not the island have safely been left out of Japanese WW II strategy?

The paper first shows how New Guinea was perceived in Japanese pre-war literature and pre-war plans. It reviews New Guinea's place in the early Japanese southward advance literature from the Meiji period, to the jingoistic books of the 1930s and 1940s. The paper discusses New Guinea's obscure place in Japan's threefold view of the Pacific (the "inner," "outer," and "real" South Seas); in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere concept; and in Japan's basic war plan.

The main part deals with the various reasons why the island gravitated into the fighting orbit of the Japanese Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It discusses the significance of Rabaul as an important link in the expansion of the war to Lae, Salamaua, and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Here it is argued that it was not so much expansion begetting expansion that drew New Guinea into the war. Rather, it was the result of four plans canvassed in the first six months of the Pacific war: Japanese plans to take Australia's north; revision of such plans into Operation FS (the invasions of Fiji, Samoa, and New Caledonia to cut off Australia from US supplies); the plan to take Port Moresby (Battle of the Coral Sea); and fourth, "Eastern Operations", the plan to take Midway (to prepare for the occupation of Hawaii). Although each of these plans ended negatively for Japan, as they were being processed, each fed into the other with ever wider implications for New Guinea's being drawn deeper into the Pacific War.

Dr Geoffrey Gray (AIATSIS)

The coming of the war to the Territories: forced labour and broken promises (Indigenous experience)
Australian authorities at the start of the war were concerned firstly about the loyalty of its subject peoples and secondly with how colonised people could serve the interests of Australian rule. The Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU ) was charged with overseeing the war effort in the territories of Papua and New Guinea; part of this charge was the recruitment of native labour for the war effort. In this process, New Guineans were often promised a number of things about the future – usually the making of a postwar new order – which had consequences for their relations with a postwar Australian and colonial rule: “thousands of labourers, servicemen and villagers listened to speeches, sometimes in languages that they half understood, and heard themselves praised, thanked and promised a richer life in the future.”

ANGAU was often described as a harsh employer with the interests of the army put ahead of those of New Guineans. The burden of the war was heavier for New Guineans than for Australians on the mainland, especially in terms of the disruption to their lives and the consequences that had for village life. It was a war in which they had little control and were put at the service of either the white “masta” or the incoming Japanese.

This paper examines, briefly, the experiences of New Guineans in the context of these promises, and what it meant for postwar Papua and New Guinea; it discusses some aspects and consequences of labour recruitment. Central to the paper is the question whether Australia had any right to impose such a burden on their colonial subjects.

Professor David Horner (Australian National University)

Strategy and command in Australia's New Guinea campaigns (Higher strategy)
There are numerous popular images of Australia's New Guinea campaigns. These include the terrible ordeal on the Kokoda Trail, the desperate days at Milne Bay, the swamp and futile attacks at Buna, Gona and Sanananda, the exploits of the Beauforts over the Bismarck Sea and many others - Wau, Salamaua, Nadzab and Lae - Shaggy Ridge, Sattelberg, Wewak and Bougainville. But these battles were only the outcome of strategic decisions made in the comfort of offices in Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Port Moresby. The real question is not whether the Australians fought valiantly and well, but whether the battles needed to be fought at all, or whether they were fought in the right place and at the right time. This paper examines these decisions and the command framework in which they were made. It explains that the New Guinea campaign must be seen in the context of over-all Allied strategy in which Australia had little capacity to make independent decisions. The instrument for exercising Allied strategy was the Commander-in-Chief South-West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur, who became the principal military adviser to the Australian government. Initially Australian and Allied strategy was one of merely reacting to the Japanese threat. Then the Allies took the initiative. But eventually a time came when Australia had to consider its own strategic interests. How seriously did Australia take this responsibility and what was the longer term legacy of these decisions?

Dr IWAMOTO Hiromitsu (Australian National University, Canberra)

Japanese images of the air war (War in the air)
Japanese images of the air war in Papua New Guinea are perhaps symbolized by the memoir of the late Sakai Saburo – a legendary pilot who shot down over 60 enemy planes. His book, with its descriptions of dog-fights between Allied planes and Sakai’s Zero, became one of the most popular narratives of the air and was translated into English with the catchy title of Samurai. Other veterans and writers have also described the air war in Papua New Guinea and similarly projected an image of heroic actions, emphasising the performance of the Zero, which excelled Allied planes in the early stage of the war. In a remarkable contrast, memoirs which recall land battles usually depict them as just miserable. This paper analyses the popular Japanese images of the air war in New Guinea.

Japanese and New Guinean memories of wartime experiences at Rabaul, 1942-1946 (Case Study: Rabaul)
When the war ended in August 1945, approximately 100,000 Japanese lived in Rabaul, Kokopo and the surrounding areas on the Gazelle Peninsula, together with a local population of about 20,000. Japanese memories of Rabaul vary according to unit and location. Similarly memories of villagers are not uniform, except for one main common reminiscence that it was a time of war and everybody had a hard time. This paper introduces the diversity of memories of both Japanese and New Guineans, focusing on how those two different races remembered each other.

Patrol reports: sources for assessing war damage in New Guinea (Indigenous experience)
It is a formidable task to assess the damage and loss caused by the Pacific War in Papua New Guinea. Narratives of villagers who attempt to recall the events over 50 years ago cannot escape being inaccurate in many instances, and sometimes tend to be emotional. This does not mean that their narratives are entirely useless for assessing the war damage, but that their memories are simply insufficient to quantify the damage uniformly in all areas affected by the war. But this difficulty can possibly be overcome with the information provided by the reports written by the patrol officers of the Australian administration. These reports, which contain statistical information on damage and losses, were submitted immediately after the war to facilitate payment of compensation for war damage. This paper examines the nature and quality of the patrol reports in order to examine their validity as sources for assessing war damage.

Dr Mark Johnston (Scotch College, Melbourne)

"Yet they're human just as we are." Australian attitudes towards the Japanese in the South-West Pacific, 1942-5 (Enemies and friends)
This paper identifies ways in which Australians evaluated the Japanese as both fighters and human beings in the SWPA. It will explore the sources of Australian hatred for the Japanese, and examine how military reverses at Japanese hands affected Australians' martial pride and disdain for the enemy. Using Australian letters and diaries, Mark Johnston will ask whether compassion and respect ever found a place alongside the ignorant hatred and frenzied brutality that characterised the conflict.

Dr Morris Low (University of Queensland)

Japanese Perceptions of the Enemy (Enemies and friends)
This paper examines Japanese impressions of the enemy found in interrogation reports and Japanese wartime accounts published in English and Japanese. There is considerable variation in how the enemy is depicted. To what extent did the behaviour of Japanese fighting men depend upon the race and ethnicity of those who looked back? John Dower suggests that the Japanese have tended to be more concerned with elevating themselves above other races, rather than belittling them. This paper is a tentative attempt to explore such questions. Part of the reluctance of the Japanese to describe the Pacific War as a battle against white supremacism is that ideas of hybrid selves had been used to argue that the Japanese were in fact white. Japanese settlement in Manchuria and racial mixing were part of the drive towards the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. And Japan's alliance with Germany and Italy meant that any crass description of the war as a conflict between white and non-white was inappropriate. ÔOKA Shôhei's wartime account of his capture in the Philippines and POW experience suggests that the white enemy were sometimes held in awe. We only need to turn to interrogation reports of Japanese prisoners of war to understand the degree of ambiguity in their attitudes towards the enemy. As for the indigenous people in New Guinea, Japanese soldiers were encouraged to treat them kindly in the hope of eliciting their cooperation. The paper also examines the many accounts of the pilot SAKAI Saburô. SAKAI's experiences in New Guinea and elsewhere have appeared in a number of books in Japanese and English. Even in the Americanised version, we can identify a certain way of referring to the enemy.

Ms Kaori Maekawa (Sophia University, Tokyo)

Forgotten soldiers among the Japanese army Asian personnel in eastern New Guinea and Rabaul during the Second World War (Adapting to war in New Guinea)
Although many have focused on the fierce battles in eastern New Guinea from the Australian and Japanese perspectives, almost no one has examined the Asian soldiers who were sent to these battlefields by the Japanese Army. Most of them were brought from various internment camps in Malaya, Java and Singapore in the early period of the Japanese occupation. These amounted to more than 100,000 troops. In the south-west battle sphere, the number of these personnel is said to be 8,155 (5,463 British Indian, 607 Indonesian, 688 British Malayan, 1,397 Chinese), and in the South-East Pacific Area amounted to nearly 5% of the Japanese 8th Area Army.

As to the military and labour mobilisation in south-east Asian countries under the wartime Japanese empire, the Heiho-system (auxiliary troops enlisted in the Japanese military) was the first measure taken in order to cover the manpower shortage in the occupied Southern Area, especially in Burma, Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies from late 1942. A lot of research has been conducted on Korean and Taiwanese troops. However, these other Asian soldiers are largely forgotten, due to the loss of documents, high mortality in battle, and maltreatment by the Japanese. The threat of war crimes trials also prevented many Japanese survivors from talking openly about the heiho.

This paper examines these Asian soldiers' role and activity in Japanese units and the recruiting process to become auxiliary troops. Sources are drawn mainly from interrogation reports of Indian, Indonesian and Malayan soldiers taken by the AIB (Allied Intelligence Bureau) and NEFIS (Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service), and also records of war trials of Japanese soldiers held at the AWM. In addition, the statement of General Imamura Hitoshi on these soldiers and official unit histories held at NIDS (National Institute of Defence Studies, Tokyo) may be used.

Dr Tim Moreman (King's College, London)

The jungle, the Japanese and the Australian army: learning the lessons of New Guinea, 1942-44 (Adapting to war in New Guinea)
This paper examines the process by which the Australian army adapted to the exigencies of jungle warfare against the Imperial Japanese Army in New Guinea, in terms of devising an appropriate tactical doctrine and system of training. It argues that the Australian army adapted more readily and far more effectively to jungle fighting than other Commonwealth troops serving in east and south-east Asia. Lastly, it examines the wider significance of the lessons learnt by Australian troops in New Guinea, arguing that they had a significant input into restoring the morale and improving the fighting performance of British and Indian troops in south-east Asia.

Professor Hank Nelson (Australian National University)

Images of the indigenous people (Enemies and friends)
In September 1945, a month after the end of the war, Gordon Thomas emerged from a Japanese internment camp. The world that he had left in January 1942 had been transformed, even his beloved town of Rabaul was scarcely recognizable. Thomas had gone to German New Guinea in 1911 as a printer with the Methodist mission, and in 1942 he was editor of the Rabaul Times and a correspondent for Pacific Islands Monthly. Words mattered to him, and in 1945 he measured change by the way new words had appeared and old words were used in new ways: jeep, ear bashing, spine bashing, bottle neck, bobby soxer, sweater girl, black market, and priority. But he gave most consideration to the "detested phrases", "Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels" and "Boongs", which were being applied to "our old New Guinea 'boys'". They were terms that, most of all, seemed to tell him that values that he had known and tried to preserve in his aggressive pre-war editorials were now being destroyed.

Thomas was right. There had been a transformation of Australian knowledge of and attitudes towards Papua New Guineans. Those attitudes varied: Australians were not offering social, economic or political equality; they still thought that they knew what was best for Papua New Guineans; and they believed that the war had confirmed that Australian control of Papua New Guinea was essential to the security of Australia. But the changed Australian attitudes underlay the modest reforms introduced in the postwar period, and they have persisted in the goodwill that Australians express in moments of calamity (as when the tsunami struck the Aitape coast in July 1998) and on formal occasions when Australian and Papua New Guinean leaders are more likely to recall the three and a half years of war than ninety years of Australian rule.

Rabaul 1942 (Case study: Rabaul)
Rabaul had been "not a town, but a tropical garden." It inspired Australians to make aggressive statements of admiration for its physical attractiveness and for the way of life that they enjoyed there. But in 1937 volcanoes had showered ash across the area, many people had died, and smoke plumes continued to float above Mutupit. The opening of the highlands was shifting Australian attention to mainland New Guinea and the decline in the copra industry diminished the significance of Rabaul as the centre of the territory’s commerce. Finally in 1941 the Australians began packing up departmental files and shipping the first of the government departments to Lae, the new capital of Australian New Guinea.

In January 1942 Rabaul was still the main town in New Guinea: its harbour and its central position relative to other islands made it strategically significant, and it was surrounded by rich, relatively flat land capable of supporting a large population. Rabaul was destined to be important in the war, and the Australians knew this, but expecting an attack, even knowing where it would take place, was different from being prepared. The Australians did not lack knowledge: they lacked both men and equipment and they lacked the appropriate plans for even the modest defence that they were able to mount. For Australians, Rabaul - the first time that a significant number of Australians faced the Japanese on Australian Territory - was a disaster. And then the Australians revealed that they had neither the plans nor the means to recover from disaster.

Mr Garth Pratten (Deakin University/Australian War Memorial)

Learning not to melt away under fire: the "Chocos" and the war in New Guinea (Adapting to war in New Guinea)
At the outbreak of the Pacific war, Australia's home-based militia forces were in a shocking state. Under-trained, ill-equipped and badly-led, they were the nation's first and last line of defence against Japanese invasion. Fortunately, this invasion never came. Instead the militia, nicknamed "Chocolate soldiers" or "Chocos", were gradually committed to the war in New Guinea. The early showings of these troops in battle were less than encouraging, lending a new meaning to the chocolate soldier tag: "when things get hot, they melt and run away".

By 1945, however, militia units were among the best jungle fighting battalions of the Australian Military Forces. This paper will explore the experience of the "Chocos" in New Guinea and chart their gradual mastery of warfare in the jungle.

Margaret Reeson (Canberra)

Searching for dad: unsolved mysteries of fate of Australians missing from New Guinea (Remembering the war)
Women and their children who were never in a war zone were profoundly affected by the events in the islands of New Guinea during the war. Their husbands and fathers, who were servicemen and civilians, had vanished in the middle of 1942, and they waited until the end of the war with no information. When other former prisoners of war began to return home, these women expected that at least some of their loved ones would come back. In October 1945, the women were told that their men had probably been on board the Montevideo Maru, which was torpedoed and sunk on 1 July 1942 by an American submarine. Over the fifty and more years which have followed, the women and their children have searched for the truth. The lack of final answers has affected health, legal situation, attitude to authority and many other aspects of their lives.

Professor TOYODA Yukio and Ms FUKUSHIMA Atsuko (Rikkyo University, Tokyo)

The war in New Guinea as portrayed in Japanese newspapers (Remembering the war)
This paper examines how Japanese newspaper articles since 1945 have dealt with the war in New Guinea, and Japanese perceptions as observed in these articles. The number of articles about the war in New Guinea is not large, but articles on Papua New Guinea do often focus on the war. The war in this area, where serious issues of war compensation or war responsibility were not raised until recently, has been much discussed.

Similarly to war veterans' memoirs, the newspaper articles focus on the misery and intensity of experience of the New Guinea campaign. They stress that many soldiers died, not in battle, but from sickness and hunger. New Guinea is often described as "a hell of the earth."

In the past, the articles did not deal with controversial subjects such as the causes of or responsibility for the war. But recent articles, especially since the late 1990s, have begun to focus on the issue of war compensation in New Guinea. Serious discussion has begun on the existence of brothels in New Guinea, and the harm done to the indigenous people by the Japanese.

This is probably related to the discussion of compensation in areas such as Korea and south-east Asia. Recent articles have suggested much higher levels of suffering by the people of Papua New Guinea than had earlier been supposed. These claims have not gone unopposed, however, with some readers claiming that they do not accord with their own experiences. The discussion is still going on.

Ms Beatrice Trefalt (Department of History, University of Newcastle)

Tarzans and living spirits of the war dead: Japanese stragglers in New Guinea (Fighting to the end)
The end of the war in New Guinea found the Japanese army in tatters. Supply lines had been cut some months before, and lack of provisions and ammunition, but more importantly food and medicine, made the life of Japanese soldiers on New Guinea particularly precarious. The disintegration of the military structure also meant that many soldiers did not hear of the end of the war. Most starved or died of illness, but occasionally some survivors were rounded up and sent home.

This paper concentrates on two groups of such survivors, or "stragglers" as they will be referred to in this paper. The first group, consisting of eight soldiers, was found towards the end of 1949, and were repatriated to Japan in 1950. The other group, consisting of four soldiers, was repatriated to Japan in 1955. The circumstances of both groups were similar: both groups had been separated from their units during a hasty retreat; both groups had survived initially more through luck than skill, on whatever they could find to eat; both groups eventually befriended local villagers, who alerted authorities to their existence. The Japanese government and, often with less certainty, the stragglers' families, presumed them to have died in the last months of the war.

This paper examines two particular aspects of the existence and repatriation of these groups. On the one hand, the existence of such stragglers in New Guinea (and in other areas - the last one came out of Morotai in 1974) documents the strength of the discourses that permeated the Japanese military's training of its soldiers. The stragglers' refusal to believe that the war was over, or their conviction that they would be killed, either by the Japanese army (for desertion), or the Allies, upon surrender, underpinned their understanding of their exile.

On the other hand, the return and the reception of these stragglers in Japan illuminates the discourses surrounding war experience, defeat, and surrender, and the development of these discourses over time. In the case of the New Guinea stragglers, it allows for a comparison between representations of soldiers in 1950, during the Occupation, and 1955, shortly after Japan's return to national sovereignty. While stragglers were exoticised and described as "Tarzans" in 1950, by 1955, the stragglers were identified, much more respectfully, as living "spirits of the war dead". Importantly, however, the stragglers' refusal or inability to surrender was never construed as heroic or particularly patriotic, highlighting the complexity of the negotiation of memory in early post-war Japan.