Australia-Japan Research Project

AustraliaJapan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial
Australian and Japanese attitudes to the war
Southern Cross: XVII The big transfer of the Army’s main strength from the Madang area to the Wewak area

With the enemy landing at Gunbi, the defence of Sio, to hold the last strategic point on the west coast of Dampier Strait, became meaningless.

Thus, with the Strait finally returning to the possession of the enemy, he was through the front gate and an advance to the Bismarck Sea area was possible; the battle arena changed, moving from the Solomon Sea area to the Bismarck Sea area.

Accordingly it became unavoidable that the Army should decide in what way to continue the campaign in view of these circumstances. After Gunbi, where would the enemy land? This was the problem it was necessary to solve first of all. When it was first considered, they wondered whether it would be Magiru (coast facing Karkar Island, north of Madang) or Hansa. Whichever it was, landing at the rear of the Madang area, where the main strength of our troops were, they would again cut off our supplies, and in the various places would be able to wipe out the units, cut off as they were from Madang - this was the first plan.

The second plan was to land at Wewak and in one go wipe out the Army’s base area.

The third plan was to land west of Wewak – for preference in the Hollandia area – and completely isolate the whole eastern New Guinea army.

The plan to land at distant Hollandia meant that not only was the distance from the enemy’s air base at Nadzab very great for combined raids, but also that he must by-pass our air base at Wewak. And since the American army was very careful and did not take risks, rather landing in areas away from the main strength of our forces, there was no alternative but for the army to assume he would adopt his usual procedure, probably among 2nd Area Army, deployed in Western New Guinea.

As for the first plan, today, when the enemy was able to advance to the Bismarck Sea area, the places we considered the enemy likely to land would not be the ones he would adopt.

The upshot was that the second plan was considered to be the most likely to be chosen. Not only could combined raids be made on the Wewak and But areas from Nadzab airfield, but also, if Manus Island were occupied, transport convoys would be completely protected, the landing could be covered, and immediately after the landing our air base could be used.

As a result, it was necessary to meet circumstances and for the army to defend the Wewak region and try to keep this strategic point. It would be necessary for part of the forces to hold Hansa and Aitape and for the main strength to be stationed in the area of But and Wewak – and this was an urgent measure.

And what of the enemy’s timing for a landing?

From the Hopoi landing until the Gunbi landing, about 4 months elapsed. Judging from the example of the Bougainville landing, the interval between the enemy’s landings was 3-4 months. If it were early, it would be the beginning of April 1944; if it were late, it would be the beginning of May, and probably April could be considered the danger period.

On the basis of these two factors plans were advanced, and in early February Staff Officer IMAIZUMI, in charge of operations, came from 8th Area Army H.Q. on a special visit for liaison.

He was on his way back from carrying out operational liaison with 2nd Area Army (G.O.C. General ANAMI) who were advancing to Manado.

According to Staff Officer IMAIZUMI, the Army was soon to come under the jurisdiction of 2nd Area Army; in future the Army would make the Madang and Hansa areas the important place, and with Manus in the Admiralty Islands and Rabaul would hold a triangle of positions in the hope of being successful in the Bismarck Sea campaign.

Having had a year and a half in the south east area, under Gen IMAMURA’s splendid and warm-hearted command, I felt it was beyond imagination to be separated from him. And all the officers and men were keen to go right through the war under his kindly hand. We all prayed we would stay with him.

Because of the merry gamboling of the enemy planes, our Wewak supply base had lost its value, and now the Army had to withdraw it to Hollandia. The distance from Hollandia to the Madang Area was 300 RI (T.N. 1 ri = 2.44 miles). Supply would be absolutely impossible over such a long distance even if landing barges were used to carry out a mouse-like transport.

When the interview with Staff Officer IMAIZUMI was ended, I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of a loud voice. I listened to hear what was happening, and found it was Senior Staff Officer, Colonel SUGIYAMA, and Staff Officer IMAIZUMI, in another room, having a great discussion about the future of the army and exchanging their views. Abandoning my zeal as a senior Staff Officer, I put my head down and went to sleep. Although Staff Officer IMAIZUMI and Staff Officer SUGIYAMA exchanged opinions about the problem, they did not eventually arrive at any conclusion. Since the time had already arrived for his return, he went to Alexishafen airfield at dawn and returned to Rabaul. However, when the plane in which he was travelling left the airfield, it had an engine failure and Staff Officer IMAIZUMI was killed when it crashed in the Adelbert Range.

When I had been Chief of Staff 2nd Area Army in Northern Manchuria he had been in charge of operations, and he assumed his position in the South-east area later than I, and this made his fate even sadder in my eyes.

The loss of the pivotal Staff Officer was an additional loss for 8th Area Army.

Well, as from the end of 1943 the activity of enemy aircraft became so intense that not a single plane could safely use the airfield in daylight. The result was that many pilots and others were lost. When Intendance Lt Col NAKAMURA, commander of the Goods Depot and Veterinary Major SHONO of the Veterinary Dept were flying to Wewak for operations liaison their plane was shot down on the Sepik River path and they were killed.

Now for the army there was the demanding and impending problem of restoring the battle strength and putting into orderly arrangement the units of 51st Division and 20th Division which, from about 20th February, were arriving in the Madang area.

At the same time as the various units were arriving in Madang and the army was about to continue the movement westward, there was an occurrence which changed the army’s decision. This was the U.S. Army landing in the Admiralty Islands on 29th February (it was a leap year). The enemy landing in the Admiralty Group rendered meaningless the Rabaul Area Army plan to keep the triangular strong points of Rabaul, Admiralty and Madang.

The Transport Regiment of 51st Division, which was defending the Admiralties, were quickly assailed, and about 10th March they were inevitably wiped out. The subsequent fate of garrison troops on the island has not been discovered even today, after the end of the war. I have only heard a few reports that on the low, narrow reefs of Manus Island they were mowed down by fire from the ships and crushed under tanks.

As is reported in Eichelberger’s "Bloody Chronicle", the Americans used this as a base to prepare for their landings at Hollandia and Aitape, but it was very unfortunate that our troops had no inkling about it.

In the meantime, there came a mainland order for 18th Army to transfer to the jurisdiction of 2nd Area Army. The date for the transfer was fixed for 25th March. So the curtain fell on the second act.

In mid-March the Madang Detachment (commanded by Maj-Gen SHOGE) was formed with part of 41st Division. It was to hold Madang for as long as possible while the main strength of 41st Division withdrew to Hansa to provide support in the area east of the Ramu River. In the meantime the main strength of the army would quickly transfer to the area west of the Sepik River, 51st Division would advance to Wewak, 20th Division would advance first to the But area and then to Aitape and the installations of the Wewak base would eventually be transferred to Hollandia.

So the great move westward of the whole army began. -Operation to move the Army over the Ramu and Sepik Rivers (see Chart No.10). The great problem of this movement was in fact the crossing of the lower regions of the Ramu and Sepik Rivers, with their great volume of water. Previously they had been attacked by the Finisterre mountains; now they were hampered by the waters of the Sepik. People talk about the dangers of water and fire, but this was a case of the dangers of water and mountains.

I have already explained the difficulties of crossing the New Guinea rivers. The Sepik is one of the four great rivers of New Guinea and the Ramu is fed by the waters of the Benabena and Hagen tablelands; both rivers are in a very hot and wet area. For a few score miles the two great rivers flow together and enter the sea; there is a continuous area of water, and in it water sago, mangroves and other similar plants, so that it is almost impossible to find any dry ground. If one wanted to cook it was not possible to find wood for burning; there was only water to drink.

The transferring units went along the coast from Hansa, coming out at the Ramu river mouth; they crossed the lakes at Wangan and Singari and after crossing the Sepik River near Majop landed at Kobu after passing along the Majop channel; or else, going upstream against the Sepik River they landed at Bin and via Marienburg reached Wewak. It was a watery journey of some score or more RI (T.N. 1 ri = 2.44 miles). On the way they did not even meet any natives, and no vegetables or other plants were obtainable; if they wanted to rest, they could not sit down; they could hardly move for mud. They sank waist deep in muddy water which took their shoes. The clothes they had obtained in Madang and Hansa were lost. As if this were not enough, amongst the officers and men who were suffering from a recurrence of malaria, dysentery broke out too. Although people died, there was no place to bury them, and it was really like hell. Then, with the thought that when they got to Wewak there would be hope, they pressed on with the one thought in mind – Wewak, Wewak. The greater part of the Army had already taken part in the big transfer, and the fact that losses were unexpectedly heavy was really a misfortune among misfortunes. It was a very great service by Maj-Gen NAKAI, commander of 20th Infantry Division to show his ability in commanding this march.

Before the crossing of the Sepik he went ahead and took command of the big transfer move of the units, and together with Maj-Gen KOTO, commander of 7th Base H.Q. in mid-February left Motosan, heading for Wewak via Magiru, Uligan and Hansa. This place, Magiru, the next landing place, closely resembled AKASHI in Japan, and in front of it was Karkar Island, which resembled Ajiro.

Intending to renew my acquaintance with Colonel NARA, the Garrison Commander, I visited the Kodo anti-aircraft battery at Uligan and contacted 51st Division H.Q. which had already arrived at Hansa and found out how the Hansa units were.

For three days continuously after we arrived at Hansa there were heavy air raids.

This was 1st, 2nd and 3rd of March, 1944. The enemy’s objectives were limited to the airfield and the AA positions, which were attacked continually by 30 or 40 Consolidated aircraft, with a continuous rain of 500 kg. Bombs; the effect was similar to a series of earth tremors.

The 65th A.A. Battalion, paying no attention to the bombs dropping on all sides of them, retaliated with all their firing power. They shot down some planes into the sea, while others were damaged and crashed in the sea near distant Manam Island, and their crews could be seen being rescued by the enemy’s big flying boats. It was really a scene of bloodshed.

The AA units fought on bravely by themselves while all the other units huddled in air raid trenches for safety. Even though it was their duty, it was worthy of admiration. All the New Guinea AA units did a wonderful job.

For instance, at Buna, the 17th AA Battalion (commanded by Lt Col FUCHIYAMA), which had not been able to shoot down one aircraft in the Rabaul area, from late 1942 to early 43, achieved the shooting down of 72 enemy planes, to the surprise and delight of the south east area.

Again, at Erima (about 5 miles south of Madang) the 41st Independent AA battery managed to shoot down 41 enemy planes.

Seeing in person the achievements of the Hansa AA unit, I felt the deepest admiration for them.

When I was inspecting the Hansa positions, I had an opportunity of paying my respects at the war cemetery. On the sandy shore of Hansa beach the grave-posts were set out in rows, and I was stupefied to see how many there were. Facing the northern seas, by someone’s foresight they seemed to be gazing at distant Japan; as a result of the thoughtfulness of their comrades, on the graves were rice-tin lids for bowls, their helmets with shell fragments in them were raised over their heads, and here and there flowers that grow in New Guinea were planted over them.

The explanation why there were so many from the garrison was the Hansa heat. I also heard there was a type of sickness like the Japanese river fever. Many troops died as a result of this local disease.

On 4th April I went to Wewak by plane. As we approached the airfield many aircraft were taking off. There must be an enemy raid on the way, so that time was short. It was less than an hour after dawn. When I looked down at the airfield, there seemed to be a never ending line of planes as they lined up to take off, like green caterpillars. The planes taking off skimmed under our plane’s wings and headed northwards, disappearing into the distance.

After waiting for roughly an hour, we were allowed to land. After landing I visited Lt Gen SAKABANA, commander of 6th Air Division, and during conversation he told me that the delay had been caused by the fact that these planes, in order to avoid enemy attacks, were withdrawing to Aitape at dawn and returning to Wewak in the evening. It was as though Wewak was the planes’ sleeping quarters. I could not help feeling sympathetic about the plight of these flying unites.

Soon it would be necessary for the army to surmount the difficulty of the Sepik. It was very disturbing not to know where the next enemy landing would be. And it was painful to consider the situation of the air units, withdrawing to Hollandia and even to Aitape. I visited the G.O.C., TERAMOTO, at Cape Ohm, expressed the army’s wishes and made this statement: "I want to withdraw to Hollandia and prepare a base there, but because the great part of our material has been deployed at Wewak it is not easy to withdraw to Hollandia," was Lt Gen TERAMOTO’s answer.

From the next day the violent bombing of Wewak began, and there were considerable numbers of casualties once again. Once again I went to Wewak Peninsula, and called on Vice-Admiral ENDO, Commander in Chief of 9th Fleet. The commander smiled broadly at me and said, "The army calls me Ninth Bird Commander, so I hear (T.N. this is a pun on the Japanese kyukancho – commander, 9th Fleet, and kyukancho (different characters) commander, ninth bird), but I’m a bird without wings, eh? It’s called 9th Fleet but I haven’t a single tub worthy of being called a ship. Thinking I could use seaplanes, I asked you to prepare a secret position for them, but not a single seaplane has arrived."he army’s situation and in particular about their future plans, explaining that the army would like the navy to withdraw to Hollandia as quickly as possible and garrison the place. As if his mind were already made up, at this point the Commander-in-Chief said that wherever they went, it was only to assist the army. It was not very long the C-in-C assumed his duties in New Guinea, and since he had been in Wewak, he did not have much knowledge of the peculiarities of New Guinea fighting; the army installations at Hollandia were flimsy, and little hope could be held out for them. This is what I rudely pointed out. We would like the Navy to defend it. Although Humboldt Bay, where the Navy was, had beautiful scenery, it was very weak in the face of the enemy’s attacks. Therefore, what about quickly transferring to Demuta Bay? We parted, with the report that Army H.Q. also had chosen the Demuta Bay area. But the C-in-C did not go to the Demuta Bay area, but remained at the entrance to Humboldt Bay. When, in late April, the enemy landed at Hollandia, struck at the rear of the H.Q. position and cut off communications, I was rather ashamed about this.

After completing arrangements at Wewak, I returned to Mokinzan at Boikin, which had previously been decided on for A.H.Q. At the time the coastal road was full of troops making their way continuously to the Hollandia and Aitape areas. I often visited the positions of these units to see how they were faring and to encourage them.

This transfer to Hollandia involved a march of 375 miles, and would take about 6 weeks; but the L. of C. and other rear units had had no training for such marches, and on the way there was anxiety about whether they would be able to accomplish it in safety.

Ships would have been the quickest, but there were none. So aircraft had to be chosen for preference. All army units were on the march. The Engineers used for building roads and the various army store depots opened the advance. About the end of March I met Lt Col TAKAGI, commander of 36th Independent Engineer Regiment. The Lieutenant Colonel was a fine big fat fellow, but would he be strong enough for the march? He must get his huge body to Hollandia somehow. I sympathised with him and gave him the last horse there was, and we parted, with him telling me that he wanted to reach Hollandia quickly and press on with the construction of roads in the whole area. And off he went.

For about a month after he left Boikin, I prayed unceasingly that he would reach Hollandia, but before Takagi Regiment reached Hollandia the Allied landing there took place. According to subsequent enemy6 broadcasts, in the area south east of Sentani Lake, powerful units were seized and destroyed. Surely that would be Takagi Regiment?

What I have related above was the state of the Wewak area units. But what of the state of the transfer in the area east of the Ramu River?

Lt Gen SANO, Commander of 41st Division in the Madang area, entrusted the defence of Madang to the commander of Shoge Detachment and in mid-March headed for Hansa.

Shoge Detachment towered over the enemy in front of them, but on 24th April the enemy eventually tried a landing from boats at Oto and Madang, so they reluctantly demolished the Alexishafen airfield and finally headed for Hansa. The G.O.C. in late March went to Hansa and there supervised the westward movement, crossing the Ramu and Sepik Rivers, of all groups there; so that they could quickly transfer to the Wewak area; he conducted the defence there and on 12th April arrived at Mokinzan Army H.Q. and henceforth took over general command there.

51st and 20th Divisions, also transferring, crossed the rivers and eventually arrived at Wewak and planning to replenish their equipment headed for their respective assembly places.

In the meantime, Lt Gen KATAGIRI, commander of 20th Division, accompanied by his chief of staff, Colonel ONO, and several others, was on his way by boat from Hansa to Wewak. Immediately before entering Wewak they were confronted by an enemy torpedo boat; fierce fire was exchanged and their boat was sunk and the majority of the people on board were lost. It was very tragic, but fortunately Intendance Section Captain SHIINA and two or three others were able to reach the short after some time.

Towards the end of the transfer, on 22nd April, a big enemy group landed at Hollandia and Aitape and the army thereupon found itself completely bottled up on the continent of New Guinea.


Printed on 07/18/2018 04:49:51 PM