Simpson Harbor is the flooded caldera of an ancient volcano that forms the eastern tip New Britain. Borders Rabaul and Sulphur Creek to the north and Matupit Island to the southeast. Toboi wharf, Komaki Maru (Wreck Wharf) and others smaller docks and wharfs provide access and Rabaul. Inside Simpson Harbor to the west are the Dawapia Rocks "The Beehives". Simpson Harbor borders to the south Karavia Bay and Blanche Bay.
On January 23, 1942 after midnight, the Japanese Army 144th Infantry Regiment 'South Seas Detachment' landed at several locations around Rabaul including Raluana Point and to the west of Kokopo and Kerawun and north of Vulcan. Also Malaguna, west of Praed Point and Nordup. By morning, Japanese forces occupied Rabaul.
Immediately, the Japanese developed Simpson Harbor into their principal
anchorage in the South Pacific, and used Simpson Harbor as a seaplane operating area with servicing areas at Sulpher Creek and Matupit Island.
During the war, Rabaul and Simpson Harbor were subjected to Allied aerial attacks starting in February 1942 until the Japanese surrender in September 1945. Allied missions included high altitude bombing raids, medium bombing raids and low level strafing and aerial mining missions.
Allied missions against Simpson Harbor
February 3, 1942 - 1945
On February 19, 1944 the last Japanese ship to enter Simpson Harbor was the Kokai Maru that unloaded barges, ammunition and food, then departed on February 25, 1944. Afterwards, only submarines managed to deliver small quantities of essential cargo to Rabaul.
On the September 6, 1945, the Japanese surrendered
all remaining Japanese Forces in New Guinea, New Britain and the Solomon
Islands. The ceremony took place aboard
HMS Glory. Representing the Japanese were General
H. Imamura, Commander 8th Army Area, Admiral J. Kusaka, Commander
South East Area Fleet.
On October 22, 1956 Japanese salvage companies Okadigumi Salvage Co. and Nayo Boeki Kaisha were given permission to salvage shipwrecks around Rabaul. During 1957-1958 salvaging shipwrecks including Naruto (Japanese Tanker No. 5301) that was loaded with scrap metal and then towed to Singapore and scrapped.
Reportedly 54 ships were sunk into Simpson Harbor and the surrounding
area, but only 10 are accessible or known to SCUBA divers. At least two former submersible barges abandoned after the war survived,
tankers around East New Britain and Duke
of York Islands well into the 1990s. But, they remained strictly on the surface
after the war, by expatriate Pat Roberts who ran an inter-island shipping business
Brian Bennett recalls:
"Pat Roberts (his place
was known just as Pat's wharf and is situated at the end of Dawapia
Road. Also known as Rabaul Shipping. Pat and his wife from
Buka are long gone now. After
the war a chap named Pat Roberts who ran a fuel and fresh
water provider business for many years for visiting ships acquired
several of these vessels and at least one was still in
use at the time of the eruption in 1994. Pat
also did metal salvage and his place was always a delight to search
for old brass fuse and stuff. I remember that after
he died his house became a bit run down and out in the front yard he had the
glass reflector dish out of the biggest of the Japanese Naval search lights."
Don Robinson adds:
"From 1952 to 1962, I operated a transport in Rabaul and transported
all of the scrap out of Rabaul, including hundreds of Japanese planes cut up for scrap. They were sold back to Japan to make cars. It was so common, I took no photos."
Prewar wharf located at the northwest corner of Simpson Harbor.
Dawapia Rocks "The Beehives"
Pair of volcanic rock outcroppings in Simpson Harbor, that look like a pair of beehives. Located in roughly the center of the harbor, west of Matupi Island and east of Malaguna.
Maru (Wreck Wharf)
Japanese ship confirmed sunk by Allied aircraft in Simpson
Sunk by B-25s on January 17, 1943. Covered by the 1994 volcano eruption
Sunk on January 17, 1944 covered by the 1994 volcano eruption
Salvaged post war
Sunk near the present day wharf area
Largest ship sunk in the harbor
Sunk on November 11, 1943. Hit by air attack, exploded loading torpedoes
Sunk April 18, 1943
P-39Q Airacobra Serial Number 44-2451
Pilot Bodge crashed March 12, 1944 wreckage located October 1986
Avenger Bureau Number 24264
Pilot Boyden crashed February 14, 1944 near the Rabaul Yacht Club
SBD-5 Dauntless Bureau Number 36913
Pilot Alford MIA June 16, 1944
Oogata Unkato No. 1 (Large Type Cargo Transporting Tube)
Japanese submersible fuel barges survived the war and was in use until the early 1980s
AWM Salvage of Japanese ships in Simpson Harbour, Rabaul F07356
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
March 17, 2019