Aitape-Wewak New Guinea November 1944-August 1945
This was the last campaign of the veteran 6th Division which had served with distinction since the outbreak of war in 1939; in North Africa, in Greece and Crete and in Papua New Guinea. The strategic necessity of this campaign has been the subject of debate and controversy since its inception.
In essence, the 6th Division was sent in to Aitape to relieve American forces which General McArthur needed for his much heralded 'return' to the Philippines.
When the Australians took over from the Americans at Aitape in September–November 1944, they found that their US allies had followed a relatively subdued approach pursuing a policy of remaining within a relatively small Area of Operations (AO) and not mounting major operations against the Japanese.
General Sir Thomas Blamey was keen to assign a task to the veteran 6th Division, which had been out of action and training for many months.
His intent was defined in the Operation Order issued by General Sturdee and communicated to the Division Commander Major General Jack Stevens, which prescribed three key tasks;
1. Protect the airfield and radar installations around Aitape;
2. To destroy Japanese forces in the area and prevent them from advancing westwards;
3. To support the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) and Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) in intelligence gathering, by establishing patrol bases and protecting the local population.
Conduct of the Campaign
Japanese forces in the area reatly outnumbered the Australians, but they were hampered by a lack of supply.
The Australians resolved to secure the highlands to deny the Japanese a withdrawal route of any troops displaced by a planned coastal advance, led by the 19th Brigade.
Patrol bases were to be established in the mountains, led by the Cavalry Commando Squadrons.
Work in progress
Reflection and Conclusion
The 6th Division sustained casualties amounting to more than 440 men killed and over 1100 wounded in action during the course of the campaign. Hospital admissions topped 16,000 because of sickness, as was often the case in jungle warfare.
The Japanese were through to have lost about 9000 killed and 269 captured. They also gave up about 7700 square kilometres of territory to the Australians, whose coastal advance to Wewak covered more than 100 kilometres along the coast and elements penetrated more than 70 kilometres inland during the course of the campaign.
The campaign made no substantive difference to the outcome of the war, but it certainly reinforced and enhanced the reputation of the Australians as masters of jungle warfare by this stage of the war, supported by excellent training and preparation at a host of training establishments back in Australia, including what later became the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra near the border ranges in SE Queensland.