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Australian Army Campaign Aitape-Wewak
via Australian Army Campaigns in New Guinea

On 3 November the Australians accounted for their first Japanese in the Aitape area. It was found that the Japanese were in poor condition and that he was carrying out foraging patrols near the coast. Otherparties had left the coastal area and had moved up into the foothills of the Torricelli mountains. Patrols extended to the Suain plantation, Luain and as far east as the Danmap River. Continuous contact quickly brought Japanese casualties to sixty-four killed and seven captured at a loss of one killed and one wounded. The Japanese were not anxious to stay and fight, and when he did was hopelessly outclassed.

RAAF bombers of 71 Wing were flying long hours on army co-operation strikes. Daily raids were made on the main supply bases of Wewak, Kairiru and Dagua, and soon the Japanese were unable to use transport in daylight. With increased activity on the coastal area, the Japanese began to move into the foothills, and it was obvious that an offensive would have to be launched to drive him out.

In the middle of November the arrival in the coastal area of the 2/4th Battalion of the 19th Brigade,commanded by Brigadier J E G Martin) released the 2/7th Commando Squadron to move up the newly established line of communication from Nialu to Tong. The natives in this area were friendly and provided the long supply trains needed to get equipment and food to the troops. With a base established at Tong, the 2/7th Commando patrols moved into the villages and soon cleared a large area of the Japanese who were then forced to move farther into the mountains. The villages of Yambes were captured, and the patrol base moved forward. The Japanese launched a number of unsuccessful day and night attacks on Middle Yambes in an attempt to regain the village, which was one of the vital outposts of the main Japanese force in the Maprik area.

Having cleared the Danmap area on the coast, and as far as Idakaibul, the 2/4th Battalion crossed the Danmap River on 17 December and began to drive the Japanese towards the main positions on the Anumb River. The battalion pushed down the coast as far as Rocky Point, but a large party of the Japanese were found in the rear. They occupied a position on high ground about 800 yards from the east bank of the Danmap River, menacing Australian supply line. An air strike was made and the Japanese, vacating the positions, ran into a standing patrol and were annihilated.

As the supply position presented difficulties in the central sector, so it did on the coastal strip. The only road in the area was an old German one in a bad state of disrepair. The divisional engineers were faced with the difficult task of establishing an efficient line of communication down the coast. The monsoon rains had started and the creeks and rivers were rising rapidly, making bridge-building a hazardous business. A road had to be made and widened to carry the heavy vehicles of the supply units. In a very short time a usable road was constructed. Temporary bridges to be replaced by permanent ones when time and opportunity permitted were built. Extensive damage was done to these temporary structures when the rivers and creeks rose after heavy rain in the mountains. The sappers were often working in floodwaters up to their necks repairing the damage.

The remainder of the 19th Brigade had arrived in the Aitape area while 2/4th Battalion was pushing down the coast to the Danmap River and had reached the Driniumor River. Patrols of the 2/8th Battalion moved up the last named as far as Afua. Owing to bad weather the activity on the coast was limited to patrolling but, in the central sector, the 2/7th Commando Squadron was increasing its tally of Japanese killed. Two companies with support detachments from the 2/5th Battalion, known as Piperforce) moved up from the coast on the 16 November and established a headquarters in the Yambes villages. They relieved the 2/7th on 21 December.

In the latter half of December, the relief of 2/4th Battalion by the 2/11th was begun and the 2/8th moved forward from its base on the Driniumor River to Suain plantation. From its headquarters at Rocky Point the 2/11th Battalion sent strong fighting patrols as far as Matapau and on 1 January this feature was secured. A squadron of the 2/4th Armoured Regiment had moved up the coast from the Aitape area and was in reserve at Rocky Point. The country was not well suited for tanks but they proved useful for clearing small bodies of Japanese snipers from the escarpment overlooking the beach.

The 25 pounders of 2/3rd Field Regiment were in position to give covering fire from the Rocky Point area. In the early hours of 2 January they were called on to support the infantry at Matapau. A small party of Japanese had attempted to infiltrate the positions held by the 2/11th Battalion, and, when this had been proved impossible, launched a full-scale attack. Artillery and concentrated small-arms fire broke up the Japanese attack. The Australians, quickly following up their advantage, pursued the fleeing Japanese and drove them from their positions.

In the Yambes area Piperforce was carrying out long-range patrols and, assisted by Beauforts of 71 Wing, had cleared a number of villages, driving the main body of the Japanese to the Perembil group, where heavy bombing and strafing attacks were being made daily. The remainder of the 2/5th Battalion had moved up and the force was able to carry out a larger patrol programme. Clearing of the villages continued, but the farther the Japanese were driven into the Torricellis, the harder the terrain and the more tenuous the lines of supply became. The Douglas transports carrying out the air dropping were working overtime, making five or six flights a day. Large parties of refugee natives as well as troops and the natives working on the supply lines had to be provided with food.

To have easier access to the native gardens the Japanese were keeping to the villages, which were mostly situated on the ridge-tops. This made the task of the infantry a little easier, for while there were passable tracks on the ridges, the tangled undergrowth of the val1cys was almost impenetrable.

On the coast patrols had penetrated as far as Niap, Malin and Walum, some miles in land on the Danmap River. These patrols were forming a link-up between the 19th Brigade troops on the coast, the 2/7th Commando Squadron which had moved to Lambuain and had begun patrolling east to Walum, and the 2/5th Battalion of the 17th Brigade,under the command of Brigadier M J Moten) in the Yambes area.

In that area the Japanese were holding the Perembil villages in strength. The RAAF continued their softening up and on the 3 January, following a heavy air strike and mortaring, the infantry moved into Perembil. The Japanese fled after a brief encounter. The equipment left in the village was in excellent order, and the dead Japanese were found to be in good physical condition--a contrast to the troops on the coast. The Australians were consolidating when the Japanese launched the first of a number of heavy counter-attacks. This was successfully beaten off and the Japanese withdrew leaving a number of dead. During the night three more counter-attacks were repulsed and the Japanese finally withdrew from the vicinity of Perembil having lost another of the outpost villages.

The 2/11th Battalion captured Cape Djueran on the 6 January and, supported by accurate artillery fire and Matilda tanks of "C" Squadron, 2/4th Armoured Regiment, pushed on to attack a strongly defended position forward of the cape. Again the Japanese were driven back. Patrolling continued from the bases at Walum and Idakaibul and a strong line of communication was established between these points and the Yambes area. Captured documents revealed that this line was to be denied to the 6th Division, but the Japanese were not sufficiently strong to fulfil his intention.

In the mountains the 2/5th Battalion had pushed forward their patrols. Two more of the Japanese strong points had been overcome and the garrisons forced to withdraw from positions at Asiling and Selni to Selnaua, where they were digging in. The evacuation of wounded from the Walum area was proving more difficult than expected. The main patrol route was a two-day march over steep mountains and the alternative route was a four-day carry.

Tanks and artillery fire aided the 2/11th Battalion in the capture of Niap on the western extremity of Dogreto Bay. This bay was later to play a big part in the push down the coast towards Wewak. Although the Japanese were contesting the ground fiercely they was gradually being forced back to bases on the Anumb River. These bases were receiving constant attention from the Beauforts, and their store dumps were being systematically destroyed. In the Torricellis the 2/5th Battalion captured Samisa. The battalion, based on Perembil, now had its companies and platoons disposed in a number of the villages surrounding the headquarters, and in this manner a large area was subjected to daily patrolling. The villages were yielding a considerable amount of food to the Japanese, but the natives, being deprived of their food, were seeking the protection of the Australians.

By 16 January the division had killed more than a thousand Japanese, while a large number of others had wandered off into the jungle to die. Australian casualties had been remarkably light, and the rate of sickness from tropical diseases was low. On the coast the 2/11th Battalion pushed on and the Japanese strong point of Abau fell after heavy fighting. In the Malin area patrols of the 2/9th Commando Squadron pushed east to cut the Japanese lines of communication from the Anumb River through Mipel to Maprik, the main base in the Torricelli mountains.

Units of the 16th Brigade,commanded by Brigadier R King) were now moving down the coast to relieve the 19th Brigade, which had been fighting for nearly ten weeks. The battalions were moving into position when heavy rain set in, and on 26 January, when the relief was almost completed, the Danmap River rose to an alarming degree and changed its course. The river was running at twenty knots and a wall of water about two feet high swept through a defended area of the 2/3rd Battalion leaving men struggling for life in the water. This was the worst blow the elements had inflicted and the loss of life and equipment was heavy. Great damage had been done to the bridges and roads and the lines of communication down the coast were completely disrupted.

The supply problem was acute. The two Douglas transports allotted could not be expected to keep the supplies up to the brigades, as they were already fully occupied in dropping to the 2/5th Battalion and the commando squadrons as well as to scattered standing patrols. Consequently the LCTs which were being used to off load shipping at Aitape were called on to do the job. These craft could carry l00 tons on each trip and made two or three trips weekly. This interfered considerably with the port working and they were withdrawn and the smaller LCMs were called forward, with the LCTs running only emergency supplies.

In view of the uncertainty of the supply position, the coastal campaign was restricted to patrol activity and no further advances were made until the engineers opened a road. On 29 January the 16th Brigade relieved the 19th in the coastal area; 2/3rd Battalion took over the patrol bases of the 2/8th; and 2/lst from the 2/11th.

As the 2/1st Battalion moved down the coast resistance stiffened and they were held down on the west side of Nimbum Creek by Japanese in positions on the forward slopes of Nambut Hill, or Hill 800. The Japanese launched a number of unsuccessful attacks, but finally withdrew to the hill. Attacks failed to dislodge the Japanese, and it was decided to take the ridge with two companies. One was to move along Nimbum Creek taking the Japanese in the rear, and the other to move up the slopes of the feature in a frontal attack. Unfortunately the company moving along the creek was held up by heavy fire and forced to withdraw. More air strikes were made, and artillery and mortar fire brought down. Following the heavy barrage the infantry moved forward and drove the Japanese back on to his second line of defence on the feature. Australian troops consolidated their gains. A fierce counter-attack was repulsed with losses to the Japanese. Australian casualties were negligible.

The Japanese withdrew down a gully and up another steep feature which became known as Japanese Knoll. It was slightly lower than Nambut Hill, but was covered with heavy scrub. It was subjected to a number of air strikes, and again the infantry drove the Japanese out. He withdrew again, this time to a feature known as Bunker Hill. One side was fairly steep with a track which could be covered easily by fire from the Japanese positions which overlooked it. The other side was considered by the Japanese to be unassailable, as it was a fifty to sixty foot rock-face dropping away sheer. The Japanese did not even worry to site weapons to cover it, but concentrated on the only logical line of approach - the track. A platoon of the 2/lst Battalion was sent around the base of the hill to the foot of the cliff and then began a perilous climb up the cliff-face using trailing vines as assault ladders. Reaching the top they attacked the Japanese from the rear and completely wiped out the holding force. To distract attention during the ascent, covering fire was brought to bear from in front of the position. The clearing of Nambut Ridge and satellite features had taken three weeks. With this important feature clear, the 2/2nd Battalion pushed forward on to the high ground around the Anumb River.

After the fall of Samisa the headquarters of 2/5th Battalion moved to this village and long-range patrols to the outlying villages continued. The advance was slow in the thick country, mainly because supplies could not be kept up to the forward troops in sufficient quantity. It was impossible to provide sufficient native carriers to bring the supplies up from the coast, and the two transport planes were insufficient to meet the requirements of the units working away from the coastal roads. As the Japanese were forced back resistance. became stiffer and better organised. The smaller bodies of troops were amalgamating into one command, and new troops had arrived, contesting Australian advance to a much greater extent than previously. The general trend of Japanese movement was towards Luwaite and Selnaua. Much information was being received from the natives who were coming to the Australians for food and help. There were other factors which contributed to this swing to Australian side.

Reports from patrols and natives stated that the Japanese had withdrawn in the direction of Balif and preparing defences there. On the 15 January a party of between eighty and one hundred Japanese had been forced out of the village of Maharinga by heavy air attacks and mortaring, and one platoon of 2/5th Battalion occupied the village. It was only on rare occasions that forces larger than one platoon were used to take a village.

A detachment of Far Eastern Liaison Office, which had been operating in the area for some time, prepared surrender leaflets and these were dropped on the Japanese around Balif. These told the Japanese that they had been deserted by their commanders and that it was useless to continue the resistance. Surrender and propaganda leaflets were also fired from mortars. The 2/7th Commando Squadron which had been operating in the Walum area for some time moved to Amam and contact patrols were sent out to link up with the 2/5th Battalion. More villages were cleared of the Japanese, Bullamita, Alumi and Hambini, and again the Japanese line of withdrawal was in the direction of the Balif group of villages.

Tactical reconnaissance by aircraft revealed Japanese in almost every village as far as Maprik. It was estimated that there were about 2000 in the Balif-Maprik area. Heavy air strikes were carried out on these villages daily, and in many cases the Japanese evacuated them afterwards, leaving numbers of dead. The RAAF bombers of 71 Wing were receiving help from the Combat Replacement Training Centre,American) at Nadzab, whose aircraft were bombing targets daily along the coast from Wewak and in the Balif area.

On the 10 February a platoon of 2/5th Battalion occupied the village of Balaga. Malahum, to the south-east of Balif, was also captured and held despite heavy counterattacks. The Japanese employed about fifty troops in this series of counter-attacks. After Balif had fallen the main pocket of resistance moved in an easterly direction towards Maprik, but small parties were still to be found in almost every village. With Nambut Hill clear of the Japanese, the Australians began a drive along the coast towards the Anumb River. On the 26 February the 2/2nd Battalion crossed the river without opposition and, after patrolling the area, reported the west bank clear for some 1500 yards from the coast. Shortly after the crossing a Japanese 75-mm. opened up on the patrols at point-blank range from near the Sowom villages. With this exception Japanese opposition was negligible. A large ammunition dump was captured on the east bank of the river. It appeared that the Japanese had withdrawn to the Sowom villages to reorganise his defences.

Patrols of 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, which had been operating for some time as infantry, reported that the Japanese -named village of Arohemi,former headquarters of Major-General Aozu, the infantry group commander of 41st Division) was clear of the Japanese. Its evacuation indicated the intention of the Japanese to fall back on his defences to the east of the Anumb River. On the 25 February HMAS Swan bombarded Japanese positions in the Sowom area, and on the night of 26/27 February shelled targets around But. During the latter shoot Swan moved in close to the shoreline and used her secondary armament, and the Japanese replied with 75-mm. fire without effect. On the morning of the 27 February Swan engaged targets in the Kauk area, and Beauforts of 71 Wing dealt with the 75-mm. gun.

In the period 3 November I944 to 27 February I945, the 6th Division had killed 1776 Japanese and captured thirty-seven. Allowing for wounded, total Japanese casualties could be set down at about 2500.

On 21 February the 2/5th Battalion was relieved by the 2/7th Battalion which immediately took over the extensive patrolling programme, and within a few days cleared out a large pocket in the Malahum-Ilahop area, where between two and three hundred obstinate and well-armed Japanese had been holding up Australian advance. Natives stated that the Japanese were occupying and fortifying villages to the west of Maprik. This indicated an intention to oppose the Australian advance to the south where there were a number of well-stocked native gardens. Food had become the chief Japanese consideration as it was now impossible for supplies to be brought into the area owing to the patrolling of the infantry and the 2/7th Commando Squadron. These patrols were rapidly raising the total number of Japanese casualties. In four patrol clashes in two days, fifty-three Japanese were killed of seventy-three encountered.

The advance down the coast from the Anumb River continued. The 2/2nd Battalion captured the Sowom villages and moved forward to Simbi Creek, where some opposition was encountered. The clearing of this obstacle left only one large waterway--the Ninahau River--before But. A patrol moving towards the coast from the south passed through the But-Ninahau River area and encountered only a few small parties of Japanese. It appeared that the Japanese were evacuating the But positions and was retiring towards Dagua.

The main body of the 2/2nd Battalion moved forward and concentrated in the Sowom villages; patrols pushed across the Ninahau River and as far east as Gilagmar Creek. Crossing the flooded river was hazardous. After a number of heavy patrol clashes over the river the battalion fought its way through to But, captured the jetty, the airstrip and the mission. The position was secured on the 17 March. The capture of this important area yielded a large amount of equipment, artillery pieces, arms and stores, and a large dump of oil and petrol. With the capture of the But jetty LCMs came ashore and unloaded stores. The beach at But was ideal for landing barges, and the supply dump grew rapidly.

In the inland sector the 2/7th Commando Squadron which had moved back into the hills after a brief spell on the coast, was in position at House Copp, against which the Japanese launched a number of counter-attacks. One company of the 2/6th Battalion took over on 16 March. The 2/10th Commando Squadron had arrived in the Milak villages and ran into heavy opposition. Strong attacks were thrown against them and, although these were repulsed, they sustained a number of casualties. This squadron was also relieved towards the end of March by a company of 2/6th Battalion. Heavy fighting continued in the area for some time before the Japanese were driven back into the Kuminibus group due north of Mapnk.

The 2/7th Battalion continued its patrolling in the Balif-Suanambe-Ami area. Tactical reconnaissance planes of the RAAF reported large bodies of Japanese troops on the Sepik River. The RAAF carried out a successful attack on an unusual target on the Sepik: a canoe-building yard. The Maprik area was still the scene of intense patrol activity and a number of heavy clashes occurred, but the Japanese still held many closely linked villages in the Kuminibus group and around Maprik itself. Activity around Milak increased and the Japanese threw fresh troops into his fierce counterattacks with no result except the whittling down of his strength. By 20 March the number of Japanese killed had reached 2,200 with forty-two prisoners.

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