Australia-Japan Research Project

Australian and Japanese attitudes to the war
Southern Cross: XVIII The defence of Hollandia and the withdrawal from Hollandia

On 25th November 1944, the Army entered the command of General ANAMI, G.O.C. of 2nd Area Army, and received new plans. Based on these, we drafted new operations plans which had to be approved. They had to be taken to the G.O.C., who was in command of operations at the Hansa Bay position, by the Staff Officer in Charge of Operations, Lt Col KITA. But unfortunately, when Staff Officer KITA was landing at Hansa airfield the plane crashed and caught fire, and he and the pilot were killed. This was the result of the unceasing activity of the enemy’s aircraft.

2nd Area Army’s plan was to strengthen Hollandia quickly and merge 2nd and 8th Armies into one area army for the defence of New Guinea, so this ran counter to 8th Area Army’s plan to hold a strategic point near the Bismarck Sea area.

From the point of view of securing supplies, I was pleased about 2nd Area Army’s plan, but would they give us enough time? This was a question of prime importance. If the defence of Hollandia were to be strengthened, it would take a division at least three months to be sent there. Hollandia had a potential for the construction of a land, sea and air base, and was a most important strategic point for central New Guinea. But the army, defending the Dampier Strait, with every effort of every man, for over a year past had continued its struggle at Lae, Salamaua and Finschhafen and up till the present had not had any troops over to garrison Hollandia.

Imperial General Headquarters had previously, when 2nd Area Army was formed in February 1943, directed that 1 Infantry Regiment and 1 Artillery Battalion from it, be allotted to Hollandia, and it seemed that the Area Army confirmed the need for this; but because of the vast extent of the area of disposition and from the strength point of view, this finally ceased. Then Imperial General Headquarters formed an Infantry Regiment on Palau Island, equipped with the latest type of material. These were sent about March 1944 to infiltrate into Hollandia, but while the transport vessels were on the way from Palau to Hollandia they were attacked by a submarine. Equipment such as many tanks and armoured cars, as well as almost all the Regiment, from the commander down, were lost, and only about a few hundred troops, headed by a captain, were saved by a destroyer and reached Hollandia.

So in fact there was no defence at Hollandia. Therefore the army, to strengthen quickly the defence of Hollandia, despatched as the commander of the Hollandia area defence Major General KITAZONO, the O.C. of 4th Field Transport Regiment, and at the same time decided to quickly send 66th Infantry Regiment. But, before 66th Infantry Regiment were despatched, the Americans landed at Hollandia, so that was impossible.

The Aitape defence was like that of Hollandia, but was weaker. The plan was, when 20th Division arrived, to eventually send them to Aitape, and before that to hurriedly send the Division’s reinforcements who were at Wewak. They were embarked on a transport, under the command of Army Kempei (T.N. – Military Police) Colonel NAGABAYASHI and were on the way there when they were sunk by an enemy plane, so this achievement was not accomplished.

The only way to reinforce the Aitape defence units would be to have self-supporting units there. They would have to produce their food there; but this seemed to be a difficult project, as they were few in number and there were many malaria cases in the units. To grow things sounded easy but to do so was a horse of a different colour. So the army decided to send an agricultural unit ahead of the units and prepare crops for them. So a self-supporting unit was formed with natives of Karkar Island, and under the command of Intendance Department Captain MAEDA, was despatched to Aitape in January 1944.

Since he landed at Madang in December 1942, Capt MAEDA had been engaged on native construction and cultivation of resources, and in particular the pacification of the Karkar Island natives, and his contribution towards self-supporting units was great. The Karkar natives had an enormous respect and affection for him, trusting him implicitly, and the officers and men had nicknamed him "King of Karkar". Going on to Aitape ahead of the others, he started farming nearby, with about 100 natives. There is no record of what happened to him after the enemy landed at Aitape. Whether the Karkar natives betrayed him, or the Aitape natives handed him over to the enemy we do not know.

On 12th April, in accordance with General ANAMI’s orders, I paid a visit of liaison for operational purposes to Lt Gen NUMATA, the Chief of Staff. It was a very convenient arrangement, and as a result the army and the area army were in complete agreement and close alliance. However, suddenly, and before they had time to get anywhere, on 22nd April it was reported that a large force of the enemy had landed at Hollandia and Aitape. This was an acceleration of the tempo of the New Guinea campaign.

About 20th April there was a signal from Rabaul 8th Area Army H.Q. that there was a big movement of enemy units on the north coast of New Guinea. However, the aircraft which could have been used for reconnaissance had already left for Hollandia, and there was not a single plan at Wewak. And since the moving enemy units did not come into vision of the reconnaissance posts on the shore, the only step taken was to tighten the garrison, and to expect a sudden enemy air raid.

What of the state of the flying units at this time?

4th Air Army and 6th Air Division had already left the But and Wewak area and in late March had transferred to Hollandia; all that was left in Wewak were a few ground duty units.

What of the position at Hollandia, replacement aircraft from Japan were gradually assembled, and there were about 200 of them; the air personnel had also been transferred from Wewak, so that this might be considered a revival of the New Guinea air force. But from the end of March till early April there were continuous air raids and they were pulverised; in addition to this, in the August of 1943, before the Hopoi landing, there was a big raid on Wewak, and heavy damage was suffered, so that they were almost wiped out. Just before this, Lt Gen SAKABANA, commander of 6th Air Division, was relieved by Major-General INADA. As soon as Maj-General INADA succeeded to this confused Division, the big enemy landing took place. It was really a pitiful piece of luck and I felt deep sympathy for him.

The 4th Air Army retreated to Manokwari, on Yogelkop Peninsula in Western New Guinea. So they lost the opportunity, at the enemy landing, of attacking the enemy on the sea. Perhaps they lost the opportunity of breaking the attack. The enemy planned the landing because our air force was smashed. If we had had the strength to repress the movement of the enemy units, the enemy would not have planned the landing. Because of this movement of enemy troops, our Combined Fleet had received an annihilating blow in mid-Pacific, and we were unable to check the enemy fleet at sea.

What of the position in the Aitape area?

As I have already related, the Aitape defence was almost a case of no defence. There was only a mixed unit formed of 20th Division replacements, with a few naval and air force liaison personnel; it was not a fighting strength.

At dawn on 22nd April, immediately after intense bombardment from ships, the big force of the enemy began its landing. Our mixed unit tried an attack, but had to withdraw, being unable to oppose the swarm.

The unit commander got his men together, gave careful consideration as to whether he should make for Hollandia or the Wewak area, and decided to return to the main strength of the Division; they broke through the sentry line of the enemy, who had already completed their landing, and at Marujip were able to join up with the Division main strength.

As a result of this unit report, the army understood the position in the Aitape area for the first time; and knowing very well the terrain between Marujip and Aitape, they realised that it was a valuable material for the Aitape attack.

As I have already mentioned, at the time of the enemy landing at Aitape and Hollandia, the army units were transferring, with a crab-like movement, westwards, westwards, by road through Wewak, Aitape and Hollandia. These transferring units, as a result of the Aitape landing, were cut in two.

Those who were east of Aitape were all able to make their way to Wewak, but those who were west of Aitape were sandwiched between there and Hollandia; they were unable to advance or to retreat. They tried taking to the mountains and almost all were lost there; but what about those who were able to contact the Hollandia garrison? There were very few of them.

These units wandered in the mountains, in twos and threes like children separated from their parents. They had no maps, perhaps not even a compass. They wandered backwards and forwards, became sick and were attacked by hunger.

Immediately after the end of the war, on Mushu Island, I requested the Australian Army of occupation for information about survivors from that area, but heard no news that any survivors were held there.

What of the situation in the Hollandia area? As an accompaniment to the Aitape landing, at dawn on 22nd April there was a fierce naval bombardment and landings began from two sides – east, Humboldt Bay, and west, Demta Bay. In the Humboldt Bay area, the shipping unit and the naval unit, at the entrance to the Bay, were quickly attacked and dislodged from their position. The enemy then penetrated deep into the harbour with amphibious tanks and attacked the various army supply dumps on the shore of the bay. Major-General KITAZONO rallied together the units under ISHITSU L. of C. H.Q. and occupied the pass in the area of the airfield (it was called "Landing Barge Pass" because landing barges had had to be taken through it for use as transport on Lake Sentani). They put up a strong resistance, but part of the enemy troops had already broken through to the mountains and were pressing them from the rear, so in accordance with the Air Division’s order they retreated, abandoning the defence.

If you are a Japanese, you will feel deep admiration for Major-General KITAZONO; being under the command of the commander of Inada Flying Division, while holding back the enemy’s advance, he received orders to withdraw; and not taking into consideration violent aerial bombardment, he covered the Flying Division’s transfer, fighting with conspicuous bravery, with a rifle, against an enemy attacking, with a spearhead of tanks, his comrades in hospital and his store dumps.

To the west, in the Demta Bay area, there was no disposition of defending troops to oppose the landing, so officers and men of the airfield battalion were quickly despatched there, and they encountered the enemy’s units in the area between the shore and the airfield.

Division Commander INADA, understanding the overall position, knew that, with the shore area food and ammunition in the enemy’s hands, long term resistance would be impossible. Accordingly, he decided to transfer quickly to Sarmi and join up with friendly troops, in order to plan a second blow. He assembled all the Hollandia units in the Genim area, divided them into several echelons and began the transfer to Sarmi, 400 kilometres west, along the coast road and the mountain foot road.

When General ANAMI heard that the enemy had landed at Hollandia, he formed a unit, to seize Hollandia, formed of one infantry regiment and one mountain gun battalion, from the Sarmi Division and had them despatched quickly; but while this unit was on the march the enemy at their stronghold, Sarmi, and the plan to seize Hollandia had to be abandoned.

It was really a great pity that Hollandia, a strategic point in central New Guinea, was captured by the enemy with virtually no resistance. Previously, Hollandia had been a vital spot within the army’s sphere of operation, and to defend it was of course the army’s responsibility. But the army were in a hopeless position, and when they tried to advance they were unable to. Imperial General Headquarters were fully aware of the position, and the Area Army clearly understood; when they decided on the plan I have just mentioned, to use part of the Sarmi Group, it meant trying to oppose some three or four thousand enemy troops, or else awaiting a suitable time for attack, when they had been reinforced by the transferring units and would be able to offer a suitable attack. But perhaps General ANAMI felt that as Hollandia had been captured by the hands of God, it would not be possible for the Japanese to have it. However, from the point of view of the defence of Hollandia, if the enemy landed his main strength at Aitape, there was no need to place a limit on Hollandia.

The enemy had no time to waste building air bases on the coast of vast New Guinea. The essential thing was to choose the most suitable places which were weakly defended. This was the pathway for attacking the Philippines. This was the tragedy of having a weak airforce.

A month before the enemy landed, i.e. on 24th March, under cover of darkness, he made a reconnaissance of Aitape and Hollandia; a reconnaissance party was sent in on rubber rafts, and ascertained the weakness of our disposition.

To me, the most depressing aspect of the Hollandia landing was the annihilation of 4th Air Army and 6th Air Division.

The army at Boikin received reports of what had happened in the Hollandia and Aitape area. As it was not possible to send signals, it took a fair time, but they received most of the information for basis of conjecture.

As I have mentioned before, the army had conjectured that the enemy’s landings were forthcoming, but they had not guessed how quickly or into what depth of territory. The units transferring from the Madang area had not all crossed the Sepik River obstacle as yet. The units which had arrived near Wewak were exhausted and sick, and it was no easy matter to replace the equipment they had lost.

To replace their equipment etc meant that the army required a rest from fighting. But the enemy’s landing at Hollandia changed the situation and made a new plan necessary.

The enemy’s Hollandia attack meant the opening of the attack against our western New Guinea forces. It meant a desperate struggle for the Japanese army and navy. Aitape and Hollandia both became our sphere of combat.

Printed on 06/14/2024 03:53:26 PM