New Guinea-Papua Campaign, Phase 3
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Japanese Decision to Abandon New Guinea
30 Sep 1943
On 30 Sep 1943, the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan endorsed a plan to reduce Japan's defense perimeter, a plan which was drew up 15 days before. This new defense perimeter went from Burma through Dutch New Guinea, the Caroline Islands, and finally to the Marshall Islands. Although it was a serious effort to consolidate conquests and to shorten supply lines, this plan meant the abandonment of 300,000 troops outside of the perimeter, who were unable to be evacuated easily due to Allied air superiority. At this time, 120,000 Japanese personnel were located in eastern New Guinea island, many groups of which were running out of food and supplies. First Lieutenant Toshiro Kuroki commanded the Third Company of the 20th Engineer Regiment attached to the 20th Division, stationed in New Guinea at the time. He recalled the rice supplies running thin as days wore on:
Potatoes, potatoes! The battle in the Finschhafen area was full of potatoes. It would be impossible to live without potatoes. Since our arrival on November 11 we have had hardly any rice. We added a few potatoes to what rice we have had and continued the fight. We have an army, a division and an area army, with a commander-in-chief, a divisional commander, a chief of staff, a director of intelligence and what have you, but in the front line we have to contend with a rotten supply situation and live a dog's life on potatoes.
You will not find many smiling faces among the men in the ranks in New Guinea. They are always hungry; every other word has something to do with eating. At the sight of potatoes their eyes gleam and their mouths water. The divisional commander and the staff officers do not seem to realize that the only way the men can drag out their lives from day to day is by this endless hunt for potatoes. How can they complain about slackness and expect miracles when most of our effort goes into looking for something to eat!
With the Japanese troops stranded, Allied troops began their slow movement across this second largest island in the world.
The Battle of Cape Gloucester
15 Dec 1943-22 Apr 1944
On 15 Dec 1943, American 112th Cavalry Regiment landed at Arawe on the island of New Britain in the Bismarck Islands to disrupt Japanese supply lines, paving the way for the main invasion force of Major General William H. Rupertus' US 1st Marine Division that arrived on 26 Dec. Opposite of the American landers was Major General Iwao Matsuda's Japanese 17th Division, who resisted the American advance. Although the action on New Britain lasted through the following five months, the Allies had already achieved their goal with the invasion: with American troops present on the island, the use of airfields by the Japanese were limited, therefore further contributing to the primary objective of isolating the island stronghold of Rabaul.
26 Feb-25 Mar 1944
With a similar goal as New Britain, MacArthur wanted the Admiralty Islands to cut off Rabaul. Additionally, gaining the Admiralty Islands would secure the right flank of the Allied advance across the northern coast of New Guinea. Intelligence photos given to MacArthur showed airfields that appear abandoned, confusing his staff the actual number of defenders there; it was the tactic of Colonel Yoshio Ezaki, who wished to remain mysterious and keep his enemies guessing on his strength. All Ezaki's men were hidden in the jungles, ordered not to fire at enemy aircraft. US Army Air Forces thought the island was only held by a small number of Japanese troops, while the Army thought Ezaki's strength was somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000. Ezaki's actual strength was about 4,450.
On 29 Feb, Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid's ship provided transport for part of Brigadier General William Chase's First Cavalry Division, about 1,000 dismounted men, to Los Negros. Unlike typical amphibious assaults, the landing force was small, largely due to the lack of intelligence on Japanese strength. They were ordered to secure the nearby airfield, and either fall back if the airfield if it was heavily defended or hold the airfield if only moderately defended; in both cases, they would be reinforced later. The landing was conducted with surprise, and the airfield was taken relatively easily by the 2nd Squadron of the 5th Cavalry Regiment. They set up a defensive line near the coast so that any attacking Japanese would need to dash across the open airfield with little cover. Repeated Japanese counterattacks, all in the form of small night attacks during the next few nights, instilled fear with American soldiers, but all of the attacks were fought off. The support force finally arrived on 4 Feb, followed by the arrival of the 12th Cavalry Regiment on 6 Mar and the 2nd Cavalry Brigade on 9 Mar. The 2nd Cavalry Brigade secured the small adjacent islands over the following few days, including the landing on Manus on 15 Mar to occupy the Japanese airfield on that island.
Los Negros Island was cleared of Japanese forces on 25 Mar, but Manus Island was not cleared until May. At the Admiralty Islands, about 4,400 Japanese were killed and 75 prisoners were taken. The Americans, all of whom belonged to the US 1st Cavalry Division (Special), suffered 290 killed and 977 wounded. Despite outnumbering the American forces at the start of the battle, which was extremely rare at this stage of war, Colonel Ezaki was unable to capitalize on the numerical advantage to secure a victory, which would have provided the morale boost that Japan desperately needed. With Admiralty Islands under Allied control, MacArthur commented that "the noose was complete." Rabaul was now choked off with its large garrison of troops idling in frustration.
Aitape and Hollandia
22 Apr 1944-Aug 1944
On 22 Apr 1944, a two-pronged attack was launched to attack Aitape and Hollandia on the northern coast of New Guinea island in the Australian Territory of New Guinea. MacArthur had hopes that these two locations would provide the valuable airfields needed to further his attack across the island, and perhaps even bomber fields that might later be used to attack the Philippine Islands. Both landing forces achieved complete surprise. "No withering fire met us at the beach", said MacArthur. "Instead, there was only disorder-rice still boiling in pots, weapons and personal equipment of every kind abandoned. No more than token resistance was met at any point, and there was no interference from the enemy's air or naval forces. In postwar interrogations, Jo Iimura, a Japanese defender in the region at the time, said "[t]he allied invasion of Hollandia and Aitape was a complete surprise to us. After considering the past operational tactics of the enemy... we believed they would attempt to acquire an important position somewhere east of Aitape.... Because we misjudged... we were neither able to reinforce nor send war supplies to their defending units."
Once on land, however, Eichelberger's troops discovered that Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi's 18th Army had regrouped. Adachi's men counterattacked in strength multiple times near Aitape, causing serious casualties. "I cannot find any means nor method which will solve this situation strategically or tactically", said Adachi to his troops. "Therefore, I intend to overcome this by relying on our Japanese Bushido." The first of the such massed attacks took place on 11 Jul, attacking in multiple waves despite heavy casualties from Allied machine guns and artillery. For the next two weeks the Japanese attacks persisted, but to little success. Adachi later acknowledged that he felt he lost ten thousand men during the offensive. On 13 Jul, the Allied forces launched a double enveloping counteroffensive that divided Adachi's remaining troops into two groups, soon rendering them useless. All effective resistance ceased on 10 Aug, though small elements harassed Allied troops in the region until the end of the war.
17 May 1944-Aug 1944
Even before Aitape and Hollandia were secured, MacArthur had already marked Wakde as his next target, mainly due to the fact that Aitape had proved to be unsuitable for the building of major airfields. Lieutenant General Walter Krueger's Sixth Army ("Alamo Force") landed at Wakde on 17 May. They met a similar level of stubborn resistance at Wakde mainly because of Wakde being well established with numerous storage depots. MacArthur claimed to have gained Wakde as an usable base of future operations, but some troops were bogged down in the area until nearly the end of the war.
27 May 1944-22 Jul 1944
Across Geelvink Bay north of western New Guinea island lay the island of Biak and its three airfields, which could prove to be dangerous as Allied troop transports operated closer and closer to the western tip of New Guinea. With its additional strategic value as an excellent jump-off point for the Philippines, MacArthur sent Major General Fuller and his 41st Division on Operation Hurricane to take the island. "The light enemy resistance at the beachhead held little hint of what was to come", recalled MacArthur. Lieutenant Colonel Naoyuki Kuzume put up a fierce defense that included tanks, which was rare for Japanese troops in this theater of the Pacific War. Kuzume utilized his knowledge of the island's topography and devised a brilliant defense plan that fully utilized the terrain. He was further reinforced by the Second Amphibious Brigade of the Southern Army from Mindanao via "Tokyo Express" during Operation Kon. His effective defense even rendered the airfields, newly captured by the Allies, useless. On 28 Jun, Kuzume's command post, located in one of the numerous caves, was breached. He committed ritual suicide. The remaining caves continued to fight ferociously. Frustrated American troops soon discovered the brutal tactic of simply dynamiting the caves, causing the cave roofs to collapse on the defenders hiding inside. The island was finally secured on 22 Jul.
At the conclusion of the Biak actions, Americans killed all but 150 of the 7,200 Japanese defenders (the 150 escaped), while losing 438 of their own. The Americans, similar to other Pacific actions, lost more men from the front lines to diseases than deaths and battle wounds. Biak turned out to be an important battle for another reason. It was the first time Japanese troops effectively used caves as defensive strongholds. Before this point, Japanese troops defended the islands at the beach; when all was lost, surviving troops formed a banzai charge, and the battle was over. After the battle, the Japanese began to include caves as an option, which dramatically increased American casualty rates during operations to secure the subsequent islands.
2-7 Jul 1944
Allied troops landed on the island of Noemfoor, a small island directly west of Biak in Dutch New Guinea, on 2 Jul. After sporadic resistance, the island was declared secure on 7 Jul.
Vogelkop Peninsula and the Conclusion of the New Guinea-Papua Campaign
The last obstacle in liberating all of New Guinea island was the Vogelkop Peninsula in Dutch New Guinea. The Japanese resistance on the peninsula gathered at Manokwari, and MacArthur did not wish to contest with this force. Instead, his "hit 'em where they ain't" strategy took the Allied forces to a number of undefended beaches near Cape Opmaria and Sansapor. Like Rabaul, the 25,000 men at Manokwari were now stranded, frustratingly idling uselessly.
In Sep 1944, Allied troops occupied the Halmahera Islands, concluding the New Guinea Campaign. MacArthur was now only several hundred miles from the Philippines. In his memoir, MacArthur attributed to the Allied victory over New Guinea to mobility and the ability to achieve surprise at key confrontations. Additionally, he also insisted that his refusal to deploy military governors over conquered regions helped his command focus on the task at hand. Instead, he brought in Dutch and Australian civil administrators immediately after the area had been deemed secure. "The success of this method was reflected in the complete lack of friction between the various governments concerned", he noted.
Although Allied attention would move toward the Philippine Islands by this time, small pockets of Japanese resistance would continue to fight until late May 1945.
Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences
William Manchester, American Caesar
William Manchester, Goodbye, Darkness
Gordon Rottman, World War II US Cavalry Units
Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign
New Guinea-Papua Campaign, Phase 3 Timeline
|4 Sep 1943||Lae-Salamaua on New Guinea was recaptured by Allied forces.|
|17 Nov 1943||Australian 9th Division launched an offensive to take Sattelberg, New Guinea.|
|29 Feb 1944||Operation Brewer: US troops invaded the Admiralty Islands.|
|2 Mar 1944||US 1st Cavalry Division captured Hayne Airfield at Los Negros Island, Admiralty Islands.|
|13 Mar 1944||Australian troops captured Bogodjim, New Guinea.|
|16 Mar 1944||American aircraft attacked a Japanese convoy near Wewak, New Guinea.|
|25 Mar 1944||US declared Manus, Admiralty Islands secure.|
|30 Mar 1944||US troops landed on Pityilu, Admiralty Islands.|
|12 Apr 1944||American troops cleared Pak Island off New Guinea.|
|22 Apr 1944||Allied forces landed on Aitape, Australian Territory of New Guinea and Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea during Operation Persecution.|
|25 Apr 1944||Australian troops captured Madang, New Guinea.|
|29 Apr 1944||American troops captured the Japanese airfield at Hollandia, New Guinea.|
|11 Jul 1944||Japanese 18th Army under Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi launched a counterattack in the Aitape-New Hollandia area in New Guinea, placing pressure on American troops but sustaining heavy casualties.|
|13 Jul 1944||Japanese 18th Army under Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi was divided by an American attack in the Aitape-New Hollandia area in New Guinea, making them effectively useless until their final defeat on 10 Aug.|
|10 Aug 1944||Japanese 18th Army under Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi was wiped out by the Americans in the Aitape-New Hollandia area in New Guinea.|
|9 May 1945||In New Guinea, the Australians continued to make gains.|
|11 May 1945||The Australians launched their final assault on the last Japanese strongpoint on the northern coast of Wewak, New Guinea. Cut off from support and defending a backwater that had been by-passed in the Pacific War, the Japanese nevertheless fought on fanatically until the 23 May when the surviving sick, starving and broken force retreated into the mountains.|
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Captain Henry P. Jim Crowe, Guadalcanal, 13 Jan 1943