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Research essay
Japanese retreat: New Guinea, Borneo and the South West Pacific, Jan 1943 to Aug 1945
Richard Reid

AWM P01275.015
Bismarck Sea, New Guinea, 3 March 1943: A Japanese merchant ship receives a direct hit from an Allied aircraft. The ship was part of a Japanese relief convoy carrying approximately 7,000 soldiers of the 51st Division from Rabaul, New Britain to Lae, New Guinea. On 1 March an American plane spotted the convoy in the Bismarck Sea and on 2 to 5 March a combined force of American and Australian aircraft attacked the convoy. All the transport ships were sunk as well as four of the eight accompanying destroyers. The battle of the Bismarck Sea established Allied air dominance in the region and thereafter all Japanese reinforcements for the New Guinea mainland were ferried in on submarines or barges.

AWM P01054.004
Townsville, Queensland, 22 March 1943: Members of the No. 1 Wireless Unit, Australian Japanese Kana Intercept Wireless Operators.

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Salamaua area, New Guinea, July 1943: Sergeant Gordon Ayre, MM (Military Medal), 58/59th Battalion, in the pouring rain helps his wounded mate Private William Johnson, of the same unit, across Allan’s Creek to an Advanced Regimental Aid Post. A Japanese grenade had recently wounded Private Johnson on 13 July during an attack. This image, a still from the Damien Parer film Assault on Salamaua, is one of the best known photographs in the Australian War Memorial’s collection relating to the war in New Guinea against the Japanese.

AWM 015487
At the foot of Mount Tambu, New Guinea, 10 August 1943: Father Theo O’Keefe, St Patrick’s Church, Camperdown, Victoria, celebrates mass within sound of rifle, artillery and mortar fire during the assault on Japanese positions in the Mount Tambu area.

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Mount Tambu area, New Guinea, 11 August 1943; Private Leslie Greenwood, Brisbane, Queensland, and Private Ken Punnell, Rockhampton, Queensland, in a slit trench. Private Punnell is firing at Japanese positions just 60 yards away.

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Salamaua area, New Guinea, 28 September 1943: High in the mountains behind Salamaua an Australian chaplain, Father English, conducts a burial service for three Australian soldiers killed in the advance on Japanese positions at Timbered Knoll.

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Near Lae, New Guinea, September 1943: Lance Corporal R. Purcell, Glebe, New South Wales, and Private G. Beardmore, Bankstown, New South Wales, take up position in an abandoned Japanese foxhole during the Australian advance on Lae.

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Australian soldiers from Western Australian and Victorian units rest after the fall of the Japanese base at Lae, New Guinea. The Japanese flag flew over Japanese Headquarters in Lae. In September 1943 Australian forces inflicted significant defeats on Japanese forces in New Guinea and recaptured the towns of Salamaua (11 September 1943) and the main Japanese base at Lae (15 September 1943).

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En route for Singapore, September 1943: Members of Z Special Unit on board the MV Krait during “Operation Jaywick”. The Krait sailed from Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, and on the night of 26/27 September a raiding party from the ship entered Singapore Harbour in three canoes where they attached limpet mines to seven Japanese ships. In this photograph the men are apparently staining their bodies in preparation for the raid.

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Rabaul, New Britain, 2 November 1943: A bomb from an RAAF aircraft sinks a Japanese gunboat off Vunapopo, New Britain.

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Simpson Harbour, Rabaul, New Guinea, 2 November 1943: Photograph taken from an RAAF aircraft during a raid on Japanese vessels at Rabaul.

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Sattleberg area, New Guinea, 17 November 1943: A wounded Australian of the 2/48th Battalion being carried back to an Advanced Dressing Station while other Australians advance against Japanese positions in the area. After the fall of Lae in September 1943 Australian units were landed against Japanese positions at the eastern end of the Huon Peninsula round Finschhafen and Sattleberg. Determined Japanese resistance in the area was maintained until mid-December 1943 by which time Japanese forces were in full retreat through the mountains and along the north coast of the Huon Peninsula. Approximately 3,000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives in this campaign and over 5,000 were wounded.

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Faria River area, Markham Valley, New Guinea, 7 November 1943: An Australian artillery officer watching the results of a bombardment on Japanese positions on Shaggy Ridge.

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Finisterre Range, New Guinea, 23 January 1944: Members of A Company, 2/9th Battalion Australian Infantry, digging in at Green Sniper’s Pimple after Japanese forces had been driven back during the battle for Shaggy Ridge. After the fall of Lae in September 1943 Australian forces advanced up the Markham Valley and between October 1943 and January 1944 fought a series of engagements with Japanese units in the upper Markham and in the Finisterre Range along the Kankiryo Saddle and Shaggy Ridge. By 31 January 1944, after fierce fighting, the Australians had driven the Japanese from the Finisterres and they could look down from the mountains to the north coast of New Guinea and the Japanese base at Madang.

New Guinea, c.1943: Formation of Japanese Mitsubishi G4M bombers, “Betty” bombers, in flight in the New Guinea area. This photograph is thought to have been taken by a coastwatcher. Coastwatchers were members of a covert operation around the coasts of Papua New Guinea and adjacent islands run by the Royal Australian Navy. Their main task was to keep watch on and report Japanese military movements.

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New Georgia, Solomon Islands, March 1943: A blindfolded Japanese pilot, captured by the coastwatching unit known as “Kennedy’s Scouts”, is brought by canoe to the Segi Coastwatchers Station. The pilot came down over New Georgia due to engine failure. The members of the group escorting the prisoner were trained and commanded by Captain Donald Kennedy, British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force.

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Hopoi, New Guinea, 30 October 1943; Dahu, the chief of the Hopoi District, lights his pipe with Japanese New Guinea invasion banknotes to demonstrate their lack of value to his fellow tribesmen.

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Bisiatabu, New Guinea, 1 July 1943: Corporal Malaisa, 1st Papuan Infantry Battalion, practises charging with his machete on a figure of a Japanese soldier drawn on a tree. The soldier has significantly been given the name of the Japanese Prime Minister, General Hideki Tojo.

AWM 070744
Kelanoaa, New Guinea, 4 March 1944: Corporal Sala, MM (Military Medal), a Company, 1st Papuan Infantry Battalion. The original caption for this photograph states that A company were masters of jungle warfare having killed over 500 Japanese for the loss of one man. Corporal Sala was personally credited with killing 36 Japanese soldiers.

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Singorkai, New Guinea, 19 March 1944: Four Japanese prisoners being interrogated by Lieutenant C. E. Bishop, the commander of a patrol of the Papuan Infantry Battalion.

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Aitape area, north-east coast of New Guinea, c. April 1944: Naked Japanese prisoner of war crouching together while awaiting transport. They were captured by American troops who landed at Karoka village. The original caption suggests they were stripped because of their habit of concealing weapons and grenades.

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Aitape, New Guinea, July 1944: HMAS Arunta bombarding Japanese positions.

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Carlton, Victoria, 28 September 1944: Australian army personnel dressed as Japanese soldiers waiting to make a mock attack during a Military Tattoo at Princes Oval.

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Wewak area, New Guinea, 20 January 1945: Beaufort bombers of 100 Squadron RAAF heading for Wewak to attack Japanese fuel and ammunition dumps.

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Wewak area, New Guinea, 23 May 1945: Indian soldiers who have escaped from the Japanese line up at an Australian army cookhouse. Many Indian soldiers from the British Indian Army fell into Japanese hands at the fall of Singapore in February 1942. After the surrender at Singapore in February 1942 British Indian Army POWs were brought to New Guinea and the adjacent islands as labourers by the Japanese. The Indians in this photograph would have been liberated by the 6th Division, 2nd AIF, as it fought its way along the northern New Guinea coast from Aitape to Wewak between December 1944 and August 1945. Thousands of Indian soldiers died as a result of their treatment in New Guinea. Of 3,000 brought by the Japanese to Wewak in May 1943 only 210 survived the war. One of those rescued by the 6th Division wrote: We were suffering from terrible diseases and there was no hope of life; at this hour of our calamity the Division worked as an Angel for us.

AWM 093237
Wewak area, New Guinea, 17 June 1945: Australians of the 2/4th Infantry Battalion inspecting some of the 4,000 funerary urns found in a Japanese shrine on the Koigin Track. These urns were made of sandalwood and each one contained the ashes of a Japanese soldier. It was also inscribed with his name, military number, rank, unit and date of death.

AWM 093459
Wewak area, New Guinea, 27 June 1945: Private A. W. Bishop, 2/8th Australian Infantry Battalion, using a flame thrower to spray burning oil on Japanese bunkers during his unit’s advance up the slopes of Mount Shibarangu. An Australian soldier wrote of the Japanese resistance even at this late stage of the war: The artillery fired 2,000 shells in twenty minutes on the Jap positions. How in the hell anyone lived through it beats me. But as soon as the barrage lifted and the boys attacked he was full of fight. It is amazing how he survives and just shows what we have to fight.

AWM 093448
Wewak area, New Guinea, 27 June 1945: Private V. Riley, 2/8th Australian Infantry Battalion, being evacuated to an Advanced Dressing Station during his unit’s attack on Japanese positions on Mount Shibarangu. Between December 1944 and 15 August 1945 the 6th Australian Division, 2nd AIF, fought a campaign against the Japanese 18th Army along the coast and immediate hinterland of the north coast of New Guinea between Aitape and Wewak. During the campaign, fought in the last months of the war, this Division, which had been raised in 1939 and had fought in the Middle East, Greece, Crete and Papua, lost 440 men killed and 1,141 wounded. A further 145 died of disease and there were well over 16,000 admissions to hospital with tropical diseases.

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Canungra, Queensland, 5 April 1945: The interior of the Information Room, Headquarters, 3 Reinforcement Training Battalion (Jungle Warfare). To the left are pictures of Japanese equipment and Japanese armour. To the right is a life-sized dummy of a Japanese soldier in full battle dress.

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Pearl Ridge, Bougainville Island, 9 March 1943: Gunner R. Warner loading a cardboard container into a 25-pounder shell. The container holds propaganda leaflets, prepared by the Far Eastern Liaison Office, urging Japanese soldiers in nearby positions to surrender.

AWM 077303
Torokina area, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, 28 November 1944: Sergeant D. L. Bilbeck, 9th Australian Infantry Battalion, placing leaflets in a holder on a notice board erected by an Australian patrol in a Japanese area of the front line. The caption on the notice board reads: Japanese soldiers notice. There are surrender leaflets in the container below. Take one. Put on end of twig and present to any Allied soldier and you will receive humane treatment.

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Bougainville Island, Solomon Islands, 23 March 1945: Members of 5 Platoon, A Company, 1st New Guinea Infantry Battalion, escort a Japanese prisoner seized in a hut near gardens east of Barara.

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Bougainville, Solomon Islands, 26 April 1945: Australians of the 25th Infantry Battalion placing the bodies of Japanese soldiers in a mass grave. These men were killed in an unsuccessful Japanese attempt to take Australian positions on Slater’s Knoll.

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Bougainville, Solomon Islands, 24 May 1945: A patrol from D Company, 26th Australian Infantry Battalion, moving through kunai grass in the Ruri Bay area, north Bougainville. These men are engaged in clearing Japanese forces from the Buka passage area.

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Bougainville, Solomon Islands, 18 April 1945: Sister E. E. S. Lycett, Australian Army Nursing Service, dressing an Australian soldier’s shrapnel wounds in the 2/1st Australian General Hospital.

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Labuan Island, Borneo, 10 June 1945: Body of a Japanese sniper shot by Australians of the 2/43rd Infantry Battalion, 2nd AIF. The Australian operation on Labuan Island, Brunei Bay, Borneo, was part of the last major Australian campaign of the war conducted by the 7th and 9th Divisions, 2nd AIF, against the Japanese Army in Borneo at Tarakan Island, Labuan Island, Brunei and Balikpapan. Elements of the 9th Division landed on Labuan Island on 10 June 1945 and Japanese opposition there ceased soon after 21 June.

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Labuan Island, Brunei Bay, Borneo, 13 June 1945: Grave of an Australian soldier killed by a Japanese sniper during the Australian advance on Labuan.

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Near Brunei town, Borneo, 13 June 1945: A soldier of the 2/17th Australian Infantry Battalion, 2nd AIF, searching the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers for documents soon after the capture of Brunei town. The 2/1st and 2/15th Battalions landed near Brunei on 10 June.

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Near Brunei, Borneo, 17 June 1945: Members of 2 Platoon, B Company, 2/2nd Australian Machine Gun Battalion, 2nd AIF, firing on Japanese positions in a native village across a river. There were reportedly 400 Japanese soldiers in the village. In the Australian operations in north Borneo after the landings at Labuan and west of Brunei the Japanese army suffered approximately 1,234 dead and the Australian Army 114.

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Tarakan Island, Borneo, 7 June 1945: Members of the Australian 8 War Graves unit removing all signs of Japanese occupation from the area. They have knocked down a Japanese shrine and are shown breaking up its foundations for material to fill potholes in the road. Elements of the 9th Australian Division, 2nd AIF, landed on Tarakan Island on 1 May 1945. Japanese resistance on Tarakan was fierce and Australian mopping up operations did not cease there until the surrender of Japan on 15 August. The Tarakan operation cost Australia 225 killed and Japanese dead numbered over 1,540. Only 252 Japanese gave themselves up before the official surrender and 300 thereafter.

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Balikpapan, Borneo, 9 July 1945: Two members of C Company, 2/2nd Australian Machine Gun Battalion escorting a Japanese prisoner whom they captured shortly before on Muffle Feature. Elements of the 7th Australian Division, in the last large-scale amphibious operation of the Pacific war, landed near Balikpapan, Borneo, on 1 July 1945. In operations around Balikpapan up to the Japanese surrender of 15 August approximately 1,783 Japanese and 229 Australian soldiers were killed.

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Balikpapan, Borneo, 3 July 1945: A flame-throwing tank, 1st Australian Armoured Regiment, throwing flame at a Japanese bunker set in a hill beside Tank Road. The Japanese defenders of this position had temporarily held up the advance of A Company, 2/10th Australian Infantry Battalion.

AWM P00043.019
c.1943: Two unidentified Japanese children from a set of photographs probably taken from a Japanese soldier after the Australian landings on Balikpapan, Borneo, on 1 July 1945.

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On board HMAS Australia, July 1945: Ratings carrying the propeller and other parts from a Japanese kamikaze aircraft. On 21 October 1944 during operations in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines, Australia became the first Allied ship to be struck by a plane piloted by a Japanese kamikaze suicide pilot. On the Australia 30 men were killed or mortally wounded and 60 others injured. Later Australia took part in further operations between 6 and 9 January 1945 at Luzon, Philippines. At that time the ship suffered five kamikaze attacks and 44 of its crew were killed.

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At sea off Japan, 8 August 1945: Australian sailors man a 40 MM Bofors gun on HMAS Nizam during operations off the Japanese coast.

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