Additional material is available for the New Guinea campaign.
The New Guinea Campaign
Concurrently with the occupation of the Philippines and Indonesia the Japanese advanced into the large island-studded area north of Australia. Within 3 weeks after the fall of Manila in January 1942, the first landings at Rabaul (New Britain) and Kavieng (New Ireland) took place. From Rabaul, which became the center of strength in the Southwest Pacific Area, the Japanese staged a two-pronged drive designed to establish a line of defensive positions through this area and to isolate Australia from the United States. Their forces moved southeastward through the Solomons and westward into New Guinea, the last important island barrier between northern Australia and her advancing enemy.
The land mass of New Guinea, covered with impenetrable jungle backed by high mountains, includes an area of more than 300,000 square miles and extends in a northwesterly-southeasterly direction for 1,500 miles from Cape Sansapor to Milne Bay. Because of the difficult terrain and heavy jungle, land routes of communication at the beginning of the war were almost nonexistent and were never developed to the point where they were of military importance. Consequently the movements of both sides were confined to amphibious jumps along the coast line, and air power and air transport were especially important in this theater.
During the first week of March 1942 the Japanese made their initial landings in New Guinea at Lae and Salamaua on the west shore of the Huon Gulf and commenced construction of air facilities in preparation for further advances. During this operation they were attacked by United States carrier planes which succeeded in damaging one light cruiser, one mine layer and one destroyer, and in sinking three 7,000-ton merchant ships. In the first week of May 1942 a Japanese invasion force, rounding the eastern tip of New Guinea and bound for Port Moresby, was checked by United States naval forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea. This was the first setback sustained by the Japanese in their southward advance, and the Allied success prepared the way for the offensive operations which moved westward, step by step, along the New Guinea coast until finally Sansapor was secured on 30 July 1944.
In contrast to the Allied organization which provided separate commands for the South Pacific and the Southwest Pacific, the Japanese command, the Southeast Area Fleet and the Eighth Area Army, established at Rabaul, was charged with the direction of all operations in the Southeast Area. Since it involved a direct threat to Rabaul and Truk, the Solomons Campaign as fought was considered more important by the Japanese than the New Guinea Campaign, and consequently the majority of Japanese naval air and surface strength in the Rabaul Area was directed towards the Solomons. Indeed it was not until October 1943 that the Japanese Ninth Fleet was activated in New Guinea with headquarters at Wewak, and even then it was not an operational fleet but served only as an administrative command designed to maintain closer liaison with the Japanese Army. With the exception of the Coral Sea Battle there were no major naval engagements in the New Guinea Campaign. By the time the Allies gathered sufficient strength to commence the drive to the Admiralties and Hollandia, the Japanese Navy based at Rabaul and Truk had been so reduced by constant losses in the Solomons and by carrier strikes in the Central Pacific that it did not move to oppose the amphibious forces of the United States Seventh Fleet.
After checking the Japanese offensive at the Battle of the Coral Sea the United States and her Allies commenced gathering forces for a counteroffensive. The tasks outlined by the United States Joint Chiefs
Beginning of the Allied Offensive
of Staffs involved the seizure and occupation of three general objectives, namely: (1) the Santa Cruz Islands, Tulagi and adjacent positions; (2) the remainder of the Solomon Islands and the Northeast Coast of New Guinea including Lae and Salamaua; and (3) Rabaul and adjacent positions in the New Guinea-New Britain-New Ireland Area. The latter two operations were further divided into five phases: (a) the capture of the airfield at Gasmata and of Lae and Salamaua, (b) the occupation of Cape Gloucester and Madang, (c) the capture of Lorengau, (d) the capture of Kavieng, and (e) the capture of Rabaul. The speed with which the tasks could be performed as well as the timing of the separate operations was governed by the availability of shipping and the speed of development of bases and airfields necessary to insure air superiority.
On 21 and 22 July 1942 the Japanese landed at Buna-Gona and Sanananda on the northeast coast of New Guinea, and in August they began to push southward across the Papuan Peninsula in a renewed drive on Port Moresby, which had been saved from invasion in May. This renewed Japanese offensive in New Guinea, together with the fact that the Guadalcanal-Tulagi operation was prolonged over a period of months, delayed the Allied drive to Lae and Salamaua until September 1943. To support the overland drive on Port Moresby the Japanese, during the last week of August 1942, landed troops at Milne Bay. Here, after suffering heavy casualties at the hands of the Australian troops the Japanese, for the first time during the war, were forced to evacuate. By the autumn of 1942 the Australian forces had gathered sufficient strength to shift from defensive tactics to counterattacks against the Japanese entrenched in the Papuan Peninsula.
While the Japanese concentrated a major portion of their available naval, air, and land strength on the battle of Guadalcanal, the Allies executed an envelopment which brought the Buna Campaign to a successful conclusion. The Allies were now in a position to commence preparations for offensive action against Lae and Salamaua.
The defeat of the Japanese in the Papuan campaign impressed them with the existing threat to the Lae-Salamaua control of the Dampier Strait. In an effort to provide reinforcements they successfully sailed a high speed convoy to Lae in January 1943 and landed supplies and troops with light losses. Encouraged by this success they repeated the attempt in March but were intercepted in the Bismarck Sea and turned back by land-based planes operating from New Guinea.
Japanese Attempts to Reinforce Lae and Salamana
On the afternoon of 1 March 1943 a large enemy convoy was sighted by B-24's north of Cape Gloucester bound for Lae in an effort to reinforce Japanese troops in the Lae-Salamaua area. The convoy consisted of eight destroyers (Shikiname, Ukikaze, Asakumo, Uranami, Arashio, Asashio, Shirayuki, Tokitsukaze), a special service vessel (Nojima) and eight transports (Shinar Maru 3,800 tons; Teiyo Maru 6,870 tons; Oigawa Maru 6,500 tons; Kyokusei Maru 5,500 tons; Taimei Maru 3,750 tons; Aiyo Maru 2,746 tons; Kenbu Maru 700 tons, and Kokoku Maru 543 tons). On board the convoy was a force of about 5,000 ground troops assigned to the 51st Japanese Division. In addition the Kenbu Maru was loaded with aircraft, fuel, and spare parts, sorely needed in the New Guinea area.
Shipping Strike in the Bismarck Sea, 1-4 March 1943
When first sighted a heavy frontal weather condition provided the convoy with a certain amount of protection. However, beginning at dawn on 2 March, United States Army and Australian aircraft made repeated attacks on the convoy with good results, despite the defensive efforts of Japanese air cover from Rabaul. The weather again interfered and no effective attacks were delivered during the afternoon.
During the night of 2-3 March the convoy was tracked by Navy seaplanes which dropped bombs intermittently without results. At dawn fresh attacks were made on the Japanese ships which were then
approximately 60 miles east of Salamaua. Favored by good weather the Allied fighters and bombers shuttled continuously from New Guinea bases to the Huon Gulf and succeeded in sinking many ships.
During the night PT boats attacked a damaged cargo vessel which was lying dead in the water and sent it to the bottom. The following day, 4 March, the Allied Air Force brought the engagement to a close by sinking the only destroyer remaining in the area.
According to the Japanese a total of thirteen vessels were sunk. Only 4 destroyers (Shikiname, Ukikaze, Asakumo and Uranami) managed to reach a friendly port. The loss of personnel also was high, totaling about 2,900 men, despite the fact that 2,734 survivors were rescued by destroyers and submarines.
This shipping strike demonstrated to the Japanese that they could not run cargo ships or fast destroyer transports to any front on the north coast of New Guinea east of Wewak. Thenceforth, in order to reinforce their positions in northeastern New Guinea, they were compelled to rely upon barges, small craft and submarines.
Following the conclusion of the Papuan campaign Allied forces moved steadily along the coast of New Guinea. By April 1943 they had pushed 75 miles northwest of Buna. Meanwhile the enemy was reinforcing his land and air strength along a strong defensive line extending from Rabaul to Hollandia. Throughout 1942 Rabaul had been the headquarters for joint Army-Navy air operations directed against Allied positions in the Solomons and New Guinea. However during the spring of 1943 the Japanese Fourth Air Army, consisting of the Sixth and Seventh Air Divisions, was established at Wewak, which thereafter became steadily more important as an air and shipping center for operations in the New Guinea area. From that time on the New Guinea operations were primarily the responsibility of the Japanese Army while the Navy devoted its entire effort toward the Allied drive in the Solomons.
Strategic Situation -- Spring 1943
Allied plans in the Southwest Pacific called for the establishment of a series of air and naval bases along the north coast of New Guinea in order to facilitate the northward advance. The success of air supply at Buna, as well as the heavy though sporadic air strikes of the Japanese, again emphasized the absolute necessity for control of the air. The Japanese were of the same mind for during the first 6 months of 1943 they took no offensive ground action but instead concentrated all efforts on strengthening defensive installations, constructing airfields and launching air strikes at Allied front-line positions.
In a determined effort to establish air superiority in the New Guinea area the Japanese during the last weeks in March 1943 unleashed at widely separated points a series of heavy air strikes. This effort was not maintained although it flared up once more in the middle of May and again in June. By this time it had become evident that the extensive commitments which the Japanese had assumed in the early months of the war were imposing limits upon their ability to maintain continuous pressure simultaneously in both the Solomons and New Guinea theaters. By April 1943 the Allies had attained numerical as well as qualitative superiority over the Japanese Air Force and the ratio steadily increased until the end of the war. Thus, with control of the air assured, the Allies were ready in June 1943 to begin the first of a long series of amphibious operations.
Japanese Air Activity March-June 1943
As the initial phase of the general offensive movement the Allies planned to make simultaneous landings on Woodlark Island, and Kiriwina Bay, and Nassau Bay on the New Guinea mainland, on the morning of 30 June 1943. In its final form the plan called for the Sixth Army to be transported by the Amphibious
The Allied Landings on Woodlark - Kiriwina Islands
and Nassau Bay, 30 June 1943
Force, Seventh Fleet. Air cover was to be supplied by Fifth Air Force fighters based on Goodenough Island, previously occupied for that specific purpose, and Dobadura. The 5th Air Force was assigned the additional missions of antisubmarine escort and defensive reconnaissance. After staging at Townsville and Milne Bay, the three forces proceeded to their destinations where the troops were landed on schedule without opposition. The unloading was carried out as planned except for delays resulting from heavy seas, improper organization of troops and crews, and lack of experience. As a result of these difficulties the amphibious force learned valuable lessons which later enabled them to launch a series of operations which averaged about 35 days between landings for a period of 18 months.
Plans for the Lae Operation were formulated in July 1943. The plans involved a landing 15 miles east of Lae on the Huon Peninsula from which drives in two directions, one toward Lae and one toward Finschhafen, were to be initiated. Meanwhile Nadzab, an unused field 15 miles west of Lae, was to be seized by joint use of paratroop and airborne units. Troops in the vicinity of Salamaua were to complete the destruction of Japanese forces in that area. In addition to transporting the troops to landing points, the Seventh Fleet was assigned to tasks of blockade designed to deny the Japanese seaborne reinforcements, and of antisubmarine patrol. The Allied Air Force was to support the operation by (1) intensive aerial bombardment prior to and during the amphibious movement, (2) antisubmarine escort, (3) air blockade of the Lae-Salamaua area, and (4) close support of ground troops.
The Lae Operation
Throughout July and August 1943 there was hard fighting in the New Guinea theater, particularly around Salamaua. The Fifth Air Force made repeated air attacks upon enemy positions around Lae and Salamaua and in addition cooperated with the PT boats and United States Navy Patrol Planes in an air anti-barge offensive which destroyed or seriously damaged several hundred Japanese barges in a period of 10 days. Denied the use of regular shipping and unable to construct a road along the north coast of New Guinea, the Japanese were forced to use barges or sea trucks to transport troops as well as supplies. The loss of this equipment seriously interfered with the enemy ability to oppose the Lae landings.
By the end of August 1943 pressure against the Japanese was mounting throughout the Pacific theater. During July and August the Allies occupied New Georgia and also made landings in Vella LaVella thus by-passing Kolombangara. Hard pressed for shipping and having expended a fatal number of ships and aircraft in the unsuccessful attempt to defend the Solomons, the Japanese were in no position to jeopardize their overall defensive position by reacting in strength to the invasion of the Huon Peninsula.
The Allies therefore decided to carry out the invasion after a succession of preliminary air strikes designed to neutralize forward enemy air bases in the operating area.
On 17 August a sustained air offensive against Wewak was begun by the Fifth Air Force. Within 5 days the Japanese Air Force was effectively neutralized. About 250 aircraft were destroyed on the ground and in the air and the Japanese were compelled to withdraw their air support all the way back to Hollandia. This concentrated offensive was followed up by further attacks.
Preliminary Air Strikes, 17 August-1 September 1943
By the time of the landings the only real air threat remaining was the forces of the Eleventh Air Fleet in Rabaul, which, hard pressed by United States forces in the Solomons, could provide little assistance.
Staging from Milne Bay and Buna the amphibious forces proceeded up the coast without contacting the enemy. The Japanese apparently anticipated a landing at Salamaua and disposed their troops accordingly;
Landing Operations, 4 September 1943
consequently the Allied landings on the Huon Peninsula were totally unopposed during the initial stage. During the continuing landing operations enemy troops were pinned down by heavy bombing attacks by B-24's.
Shortly after the first landings the Japanese commenced light but continuous air attacks against landing craft and beaches. Several landing craft and auxiliaries were damaged and some personnel casualties occurred but operations continued on schedule.
On 5 September, Nadzab, which commanded the chief escape route of the Japanese, was captured by airborne troops and by 6 September the field at Nadzab was operational. Meanwhile, Allied troops closed in on Lae and by 7 September were within 6 miles of the Lae airfield. On 16 September the troops entered Lae which had been previously pulverized by heavy air attacks on pillboxes, trench defenses, and gun positions. The surviving Japanese offered only slight resistance before they fled north.
With the capture of Lae the last serious threat to southeastern New Guinea was removed. The Allies were now assured virtual control of Huon Gulf with all.its strategic advantages, and Vitiaz Strait was now open for the use of Allied patrol boats, operating against enemy barge traffic between New Guinea and New Britain. The occupation of Lae did not, however, bring Rabaul within closer range of Allied land-based planes.
Following the capture of Lae, plans were formulated for an amphibious operation north of Finschhafen. The purpose of the Finschhafen operation was to make possible the development of that area as a concentration and staging point for further operations and as an advance base for aircraft and light surface ships.
Finschhafen Operation -- 22 September 1943
In support of the operation the Fifth Air Force was assigned the routine tasks of (1) preliminary aerial bombardment, (2) air support of convoys, and (3) aerial blockade of the Finschhafen Area. Photographic reconnaissance of Wewak, Alexishafen, and Hollandia indicated that the Japanese, as in the Lae operation, would be unable to offer serious aerial resistance. Strong surface opposition was not expected.
Staging from Buna and Lae the amphibious forces proceeded to the landing area without opposition. However, as the landing craft approached the beach they were attacked by several waves of Japanese bombers but suffered no damage. After some confusion caused by lack of information as to the character of the beach, the troops landed in the face of moderate opposition. Again the Japanese launched continuous but ineffective air attacks against Allied supply routes. After hard ground fighting the Japanese, on 22 October, were driven from Finschafen (sic) and henceforth no longer threatened the Cape Cretin Area.
The capture of both Lae and Finschhafen within a month's time clinched the Allied air and surface control of Huon Gulf. During the next few months the Finschhafen area was developed into a great supply base capable of being used as a staging area for further amphibious operations along the north coast of New Guinea. Both the Hollandia and Aitape operations were staged from Finschhafen and, after the original landings in New Britain and the Admiralties, Finschhafen handled most of the supplies which were fed into those points. With the capture of Finschhafen the first phase of the New Guinea campaign was ended. The succeeding efforts of the Allies were devoted to the neutralization of Rabaul in order to insure the success of the projected Admiralty and Hollandia operations.
The purpose of the Arawe landing was to isolate the Japanese in western New Britain from supplies and reinforcements furnished from Rabaul and at the same time to insure the protection of Vitiaz and Dampier Straits which were to be used during the planned occupations of Cape Gloucester and the Admiralty Islands.
The Advance Into New Britain and the Admiralty Islands
The Landing on Arawe -- 15 December 1943
A force of 4,750 troops was assembled to oppose the estimated 500 troops on Arawe. The invasion convoy proceeded from Goodenough Island to Arawe and after an uneventful approach commenced landing troops as scheduled.
Due to lack of fire support and the fact that the Japanese were apparently forewarned, one assault wave was repulsed after suffering 50 percent casualties. Much confusion existed because of faulty communications with the landing boats. Other landings, however, were successful and positions were quickly consolidated.
The air support consisted of heavy bomber attacks, antisubmarine sweeps by seaplanes, close support by 6 B-25's and high cover by 8 P-38's. Although there was no surface opposition, 33 Japanese Navy planes from Rabaul managed to slip by the fighter cover and attack the invasion craft. One United States coastal transport was sunk and other vessels were damaged. This attack did not, however, prevent the landings and Arawe was secured as planned.
It was considered necessary to capture and develop the Cape Gloucester Area, including airfields, in order to facilitate the isolation of Rabaul and other projected operations in the Bismarck Archipelago.
The Landing on Cape Gloucester -- 26 December 1943
In another routine operation, 2,400 United States Army troops, plus the First Marine Division and Air Force Engineers, departed Cape Gudest on Christmas Day and after an uneventful approach commenced landings on beaches well prepared by air and naval bombardments. The estimated 7,500 Japanese furnished negligible resistance to the landings and the beachheads were quickly consolidated.
Prior to the landings the Fifth Air Force heavily attacked the surrounding enemy air bases at Rabaul, Gasmata, Hoskins, Wewak, and Madang. In addition 400 tons of bombs dropped on the beaches at Cape Gloucester caused partial withdrawal of the enemy forces.
There was no enemy naval reaction to this operation and the air reaction was very late. Expecting a reinforcement of Arawe instead of an assault on Cape Gloucester, the enemy attacked Arawe first. However, at 1430, 20 medium bombers covered by 50 or 60 fighters attacked the invasion forces at Cape Gloucester. Ten planes succeeded in penetrating the Fifth Air Force fighter cover, and sank one destroyer and damaged 3 destroyers and 3 landing ships, tank. At dusk 18 planes again attacked the landing ships, tank, convoy but all were destroyed before inflicting any damage. After this flurry of activity Japanese sorties rapidly decreased and 3 days after the landings they ceased altogether.
The significant points concerning the Cape Gloucester landing were the comparative ease with which surprise was achieved as well as the sluggish manner in which the Japanese reacted both in the air and on the ground.
In keeping with the assigned mission of extending Allied control westward, the landings on Los Negros Island were planned as a reconnaissance in force of Momote air strip, with the intent that the landing force would remain on in occupation in case the area was found to be only lightly held. If opposition was heavy it was planned to withdraw. Photo reconnaissance showed no signs of enemy activity but scouts put ashore by seaplane 2 days before the landing reported 4,000 to 5,000 Japanese in the vicinity of the air strip. Acting on this information the volume of fire support was increased but no other change was made in the plans. The force staged from Gudest Point on the New Guinea coast and arrived at the objective on time and unopposed. Despite a certain amount of light weapon cross-fire and fire from heavier shore batteries the assault waves reached the beach and within 1 1/2 hours the Momote air strip was secured. Naval gun fire was the critical factor in the success of the landings since weather delayed the air support, scheduled
Landings in Admiralty Islands
to be provided by B-24's and B-25's. Shortly after the landings were begun rain set in and the resulting reduced visibility was an important factor in protecting the landing boats.
Since the Japanese Naval Air Forces at Rabaul had been withdrawn to Truk on 19 February to replace losses inflicted by United States carrier strikes on 17 February, and since the Fifth Air Force had neutralized Japanese bases in New Guinea there was no air opposition to the landings. Lacking air support the Japanese did not risk surface action.
Ground fighting continued throughout March. Nine days after the landings cargo ships commenced unloading at Seadler Harbor and on 15 March new landings were made on Manus Island resulting in the capture of the Lorengau air strip. By 11 March the Momote air strip became operational for heavy bombers, and by 29 March all major resistance in the Islands was overcome.
The Allied occupation of the Admiralty Islands provided complete control of the Bismarck Sea and the approaches to Rabaul, Kavieng, and the northeast coast of New Guinea. It also brought the entire Caroline Chain and western New Guinea within range of heavy bombers and search planes.
The object of the Hollandia landings, which were the largest operations yet undertaken by Southwest Pacific Forces, was to seize and occupy Tanahmerah Bay, Humboldt Bay and the Aitape Area and there to establish major air facilities, an intermediate supply base and minor Naval facilities for the purpose of supporting further operations to the westward.
The Landings in the Hollandia Area, 22 April 1944
This jump of 400 miles along the New Guinea coast was made feasible by the fact that the isolation of Rabaul had reached its final stages, and that the Japanese Fleet had been forced back to the southern regions. The South Pacific Forces had occupied Green Island, north of Buka, and. Emirau Island north of Kavieng. This, with the seizure of the Admiralty Islands and the United States Marine advance along the west coast of New Britain, had made Rabaul a position of no strategic importance. That it was so considered by the Japanese was indicated by allowing the withdrawal of all aircraft to Truk and the abandonment of all efforts to furnish air replacements.
On the New Guinea coast the Japanese had been cleared from the Huon Peninsula. However, a force estimated to be about 16,000 remained in Madang, isolated from support by sea; and with all airfields destroyed by constant attack by the Fifth Air Force. The next garrison, 100 miles to the west at Hansa Bay in the Wewak area, had also received constant pounding resulting in virtual neutralization of the Japanese Air Force as well as of 35,000 ground troops.
West of Wewak a string of Japanese airfields and garrisons stretched along the north coast of New Guinea with centers and estimated strength as follows: Aitape, 2,000; Wakde, 3,000; Hollandia, 9,000 to 12,000; Vogelkop Peninsula, 15,000 scattered over several airfields.
For 6 weeks prior to the landings the Fifth Air Force continually pounded the Japanese air bases from Wewak to Wakde. Heavy strikes in early March against Madang and Hansa forced the Japanese to withdraw what remained of their forces to the Wewak and Hollandia Areas. Between 11 and 27 March heavy strikes were made on the 4 airfields at Wewak and the effort was then shifted further west to Hollandia. The overall result was the virtual destruction of the Japanese Sixth Air Division with the attendant removal of any danger of effective interference with the Hollandia operations.
Allied Air Preparation
Long-range operations against Manokwari and Jap airdromes west of Hollandia: served to hinder the Japanese in their effort to bring in reinforcements from the Philippines.
As a deceptive measure the invasion forces of over 200 ships and about 80,000 men departed from eastern New Guinea and followed a circuitous route toward the Admiralties, thence westward and finally southward to the objective.
The Approach and Attack
On 22 April, landings were effected as planned and came as a complete surprise to the Japanese. Preceded by intense carrier and land-based air bombardment and naval gun fire which eliminated all opposition, landings were effected with no casualties. Both Aitape airfields were captured the first day and fighters commenced operations on 24 April. Hollandia airfield was captured on 26 April and one strip was ready by 30 April.
In this operation the Seventh Fleet was augmented by the Fast Carrier Task Force of the Pacific Fleet which afforded protection against any show of force by the Japanese Fleet and also made available powerful preliminary air bombardment as well as close air support. The presence of the Fast Carrier Task Force increased the total strength of the Allied Air Forces engaged by 800 planes.
The Hollandia operations marked the first time during the long series of amphibious operations conducted by Southwest Pacific Forces in which carrier-based aircraft were used as close air support. Although provision was made for additional land-based cover from the Admiralties, Finschhafen and Gusap, only one squadron succeeded in arriving over Hollandia due to unfavorable weather. The ready availability of carrier air support demonstrated to the amphibious commanders the superiority of this type of support over that based some distance from the scene of action and resulted in its use in succeeding important operations.
The successful conclusion of the Hollandia operation resulted in the acquisition of an important base as well as the isolation by land, sea, and air of approximately 50,000 Japanese troops in the jungles to the eastward.
The object of the Wakde landing was to seize and occupy by overwater movement the Wakde Area and establish air and limited naval facilities.
The Toem-Wakde Landings (17-18 May 1944)
The invasion force staged from Humboldt Bay on 15 May and proceeded to the initial landing area on the mainland at Arara undetected and unopposed. Without employing preliminary air or surface bombardment unopposed landings were made as scheduled. The following day shore to shore movements were made to Wakde which was secured in 2 days after some opposition. The Allied casualties numbered 100.
Here again there was no enemy naval or air opposition which was surprising in view of the heavy reinforcements of the 23d Air Flotilla at Sorong.
After the capture of Hollandia it was found that the Allied heavy bombers could not operate from Hollandia because of the limited size of the airfields. Furthermore aerial reconnaissance failed to reveal sites suitable for heavy bomber strips to the westward, short of Biak.
The Landing at Biak (27 May)
Without strips in the forward areas the heavy bombers were forced to continue operations from 440 miles to the east of Hollandia. This situation made the capture of Biak an operation of such strategic urgency that it was hurriedly executed without adequate planning or preparation.
Nevertheless the invasion force of 12,000 troops sortieing from Humboldt Bay was successful in achieving tactical surprise despite limited air activity by the Japanese. Against very light opposition troops were landed with practically no casualties.
Fifth Air Force medium bombers and attack planes furnished close support while B-24's bombarded the area. As in the Hollandia and Admiralty operations the air support schedule was interfered with by
bad weather. A front between Biak and Hollandia delayed the arrival of fighter cover until 1110; just 10 minutes too late to intercept the only 3 enemy aircraft which appeared over the landing area during the day. Within 10 days the first air strip was secured and Allied troops were successfully advancing across the Island.
Compared to the other numerous invasions conducted by Southwest Pacific Forces the Biak operation is unique since it created the first and only positive Japanese naval reaction to the advance along the New Guinea Coast. Realizing that the Allied capture and development of Biak would introduce a direct air threat to Halmahera and the Philippines, the Staff of the Combined Fleet devised and on 29 May placed into effect the "Kon" plan. This operation, based on previous experience in the Solomons, had as its main objective the continuous transportation of reinforcements to Biak by combat ships. The secondary objective was the Naval bombardment of Allied land positions when the situation permitted.
The Japanese Attempt to Provide Reinforcement
The first actual attempt to proceed to Biak was made by six destroyers, three of which carried troops, departing from Sorong at midnight 7-8 June. Despite air cover provided by the 23d Air Flotilla, the Japanese destroyers were attacked by bombers of the Fifth Air Force. Although one destroyer was sunk and others damaged the force proceeded to Biak as planned, arriving about 2230 the night of 8 June. Just as the troops were about to be disembarked, however, the Japanese force was set upon by a group of Allied cruisers and destroyers and driven westward. A voluminous exchange of fire resulted in no important damage to either side. The Japanese escaped to the westward and disembarked the troops at Sorong, the original point of departure.
To insure success, the Japanese planned to execute the next reinforcement attempt by employing a force of two 18-inch gun super-battleships, four heavy cruisers and eight destroyers, which were ordered to rendezvous south of Halmahera Islands, embark troops and proceed to Biak. The power of this force far exceeded that available to the Allies and had it been brought to bear would have seriously threatened the Allied position.
However, this operation never materialized. The impending Allied assault on Saipan was discovered and on 11 June the Japanese cancelled the "Kon" plan and executed the "A" plan in defense of the Marianas. Consequently all Japanese Naval air and surface forces were ordered north and the defense of New Guinea including Biak was left to the hard pressed garrisons. All enemy ground resistance on Biak ceased on 2 July.
To obtain the air installations previously used by the Japanese, Southwest Pacific Forces on 2 July made an unopposed landing on Noemfoor, southwest of Biak. Softened by air and surface bombardment the small Japanese garrison offered only light resistance which was easily overcome within 4 days. By 25 July the two fields on Noemfoor were in operation.
The Noemfoor Landing, 2 July 1944
The object of the Sansapor landings was to extend the Allied lines 200 miles to the westward, thus completing the neutralization of the Japanese in New Guinea, and at the same time obtain air bases within range of Halmahera, Molucca Passage, Banda Sea and Makassar Strait.
The Sansapor Landings, 30 July 1944
The invasion force of 20,000 troops departed Maffin Bay at 2300 on 27 July and arrived at the destination unopposed and undetected. Landings were made at Cape Damari and on the offshore islands of Amsterdam and Middleburg on 30 July, and at Cape Sansapor on 31 July. The Japanese offered no opposition
to the amphibious operation which ended the 1,500-mile trek by the Allies along the north coast of New Guinea.
The amphibious landing on Morotai Island in the Moluccas was the final westward thrust of the Southwest Pacific Forces prior to the move into the Philippines.
The Morotai Landings, 15 September 1944
This operation, coincident with the assault by Central Pacific Forces on Peleliu, marked the convergence of Central Pacific and Southwest Pacific Forces. Development of air facilities on Morotai enabled long-range planes to raech into the Philippines, Celebes and Netherlands East Indies, and thus render support to the operations which followed.
Very heavy air assaults were made against Japanese airfields in the Halmaheras, Celebes and Ceram areas before the landings. These strikes were indirectly supported by the attacks of the Fast Carrier Task Forces of the Central Pacific against Philippine objectives in support of the landings at Palau, and directly on the day of landing by one fast carrier task group sent down for this purpose.
The invasion force mounting 16,842 troops proceeded to the objective without opposition. Supported by a surface force of two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and ten destroyers and a carrier force of six escort carriers and eight destroyer escorts, the troops found little opposition. The prospective airfield was quickly taken and construction of the air strip began on D-day.
There was no surface opposition by the Japanese and air opposition was extremely light. Although 45,000 troops had been put ashore by 1 October ground opposition was so light that the total Allied casualties amounted to only 9 killed, 33 wounded, and 2 missing.
Although not actually a part of the New Guinea campaign the invasion of Borneo is described herewith since it was a continuation of the innumerable amphibious operations conducted by the Southwest Pacific Forces in the drive westward. The invasion conducted by Australian ground troops was designed to seize the rich Borneo oil fields as well as to establish air and naval logistic facilities for future operations.
The Allied Invasion of Borneo, May - July 1945
On 1 May, the first Borneo operation was directed against the Island of Tarakan, approximately 185 miles southwest of Tawi Tawi. This was followed in turn by a landing at Brunei Bay on 10 June and an invasion of Balikpapan on 1 July. All three operations followed the familiar pattern of neutralization of airfields, air and ship bombardment, and finally assault by amphibious forces. With the exception of difficulties experienced in preinvasion mine sweeping, plus a spasmodic reaction from Japanese shore batteries, the opposition was negligible and casualties were very light. No naval and only very light air activity was encountered.
The almost complete absence of Japanese opposition to the Borneo invasion is easily explained. After the United States landings and advance into the Philippines the Japanese made the decision to withdraw all military forces from the Borneo, Celebes and Java areas to Sumatra and Malaya and leave only such Army forces as were deemed necessary to police fleet anchorages and important oil centers. Despite the shortage of transports two.divisions of troops were actually removed from the Borneo-Celebes area prior to the Allied invasion. Also, by March 1945 all large Japanese naval units had left the Singapore area for home waters and the few remaining naval units were ordered to report to the Commander of the Southern Army at Singapore for operational control. Consequently, prior to the Allied invasion of Borneo the Japanese Navy had completely withdrawn from the area and henceforth the Japanese plan was one of evacuation rather than reinforcement and defense.
The burden of the Japanese effort in New Guinea was carried first by the Navy, then by the Army, and finally again by the Navy. The following description of the organization of each force is submitted in order to clarify the part played by these forces as the strategic situation changed.
The Japanese Air Forces in New Guinea
With the exception of the Coral Sea action and the United States carrier strikes on Hollandia all aircraft, both Allied and Japanese, operating in the New Guinea area, were land-based. The first Japanese naval air operations were those conducted by the Eleventh Air Fleet at Rabaul, and the second, those operations in Western New Guinea conducted first by the 13th Air Fleet with headquarters at Surabaya and later by the First Air Fleet with headquarters at Palau. The operations were not coordinated and took place in different areas at different times.
The Japanese Land-Based Naval Air Force in New Guinea
When the Japanese established headquarters at Rabaul and commenced operations to the south in early 1942 they moved the Eleventh Air Fleet from Formosa and assigned it to the Southeast Area Fleet. The Eleventh Air Fleet was equipped with fighters, medium bombers and large seaplanes. Patrols were immediately initiated from Rabaul as far south as Horn Island and along the New Guinea coast to Madang.. After the Japanese occupation of Salamaua and Lae in March 1942, and Buna later in July, they constructed airfields for use in the Solomons operations as well as for staging attacks against Port Moresby.
Operations from Rabaul
Prior to 7 August 1942 the major Japanese air effort from Rabaul was directed towards New Guinea. However, the invasion of Guadalcanal by United States Marines presented a more direct threat to Rabaul and the Japanese henceforth conducted the majority of missions in the Solomon area. After the initial losses in the Battle of Guadalcanal the effective Japanese air strength was gradually built up by drawing reinforcements from the Marshalls, Truk, Marianas and Celebes areas. This served greatly to weaken these areas and resulted in the expenditure of a large part of the Japanese Naval Air Force.
As the Solomons campaign increased in fury the New Guinea air activities were of necessity confined to search missions sprinkled with a few night attacks against Allied ships and installations at Milne Bay, Buna and Port Moresby. However Japanese air activity flared up in May 1943 when large groups of fighters and bombers were launched against Buna. In July 1943, the Japanese Army Air Force assumed responsibility for the New Guinea area. But by the time the Allies commenced the move on Lae and Salamaua in September 1943 the United States Fifth Air Force had either destroyed or driven back the Japanese Army Air Forces in the Wewak area. Consequently only the 11th Air Fleet at Rabaul, although hard pressed in the Solomons, could strike at the Allied invasion forces. Employing 58 fighters and 18 medium bombers the Japanese delivered a sustained but ineffective attack against Allied amphibious units. Additional strikes were scheduled but they were seldom executed due to the heavy requirements in the Buin (Solomons) operation. At the end of November 1943, when the issue in the Solomons had been decided, the Japanese planned to devote a large part of their effort to the Finschhafen area, but by that time the 11th Air Fleet had been rendered impotent by continuous attacks by United States Army and Navy planes.
The last Japanese air activity in the Eastern New Guinea area occurred during Allied landing on Arawe, New Britain on 15 December 1943. Continuous but ineffective day and night attacks were delivered until January after which infrequent night attacks only were launched.
No reinforcements were received in Rabaul after December 1943. Therefore there was a rapid decline in the Japanese Naval Air Forces towards the end of 1943. After the United States carrier attacks on Truk on 17-18 February 1944 the 120 remaining serviceable aircraft at Rabaul were ordered to Truk as replacements. By 20 February only 10 planes remained at Rabaul and the 11th Air Fleet as a fighting unit ceased to exist. The effective strength of the Japanese Naval Air Force in Rabaul is shown by Appendix 67.
The initial air operations in the Western New Guinea area were conducted by the Navy's 23d Air Flotilla under operational control of the 13th Air Fleet at Surabaya. With headquarters at Kendari, a base in the Celebes captured and developed during the Dutch East Indies campaign, the 23d Air Flotilla was assigned the following missions in the area southwest of New Guinea: (1) maintenance of air bases, (2) protection of the Celebes area against air attack, (3) convoy escort, (4) search of the sea area between New Guinea, Australia and Timor, and (5) monthly bombing attacks against Darwin, Australia, and Merauke, New Guinea. Additional airfields were established at Koepang, Ambon, Kai, Balikpapan, Makassar, Sorong, Nabrie, Soemba and Babo.
Air Operations in Western New Guinea
No serious losses were incurred while carrying out the assigned missions. However during 1943 the experienced air crews and their planes were gradually transferred to Rabaul to participate in the Solomons and Eastern New Guinea operations and as a result, by the winter of 1943-44, the 23d Air Flotilla had reached a very low state of efficiency.
After the United States capture of the Admiralties the headquarters of the 23d Air Flotilla was moved to Davao as the Japanese marshalled their forces against an anticipated attack on Palau. In addition the 23d Air Flotilla based aircraft at Wakde, Biak and Sorong and for the first time during the war assumed the responsibility of patrols along the north coast of Western New Guinea as far east as the Admiralty Islands. On 13 April 1944 the 23d Air Flotilla headquarters were moved from Davao to Sorong, since by that time the Japanese had accumulated sufficient information to indicate that there was no immediate threat to Mindanao and Palau, as previously thought, but that Allied Forces were massing in Eastern New Guinea preparatory to a possible invasion of Hollandia. An invasion of Hollandia also indicated the Allied intention to continue up the New Guinea coast to the Philippines. To combat such a move the 23d Air Flotilla was reinforced with units from Malaya, Japan and Truk. By the middle of May the aircraft available numbered 180 and operational control of the 23d Air Flotilla was transferred from the 13th Air Fleet to the First Air Fleet which in turn was directly responsible to the CinC Combined Fleet. At the same time 70 Japanese Army planes were ordered to Sorong from Manila and placed under operational control of the Navy. The mission of the combined force of Army and Navy planes was to search for and attack Allied invasion forces and to conduct night harassing attacks against Allied bases. To meet a major attack provisions were made to render assistance to the New Guinea Forces by drawing from the forces at Palau and Davao.
The 23d Air Flotilla operated against Allied invasion forces at Biak during May and June. However, after learning of the large Allied force advancing toward Saipan, the Japanese High Command on 11 June 1944 executed the "A" plan which had been devised for the defense of Palau or the Marianas. As provided in this plan all naval aircraft in New Guinea were immediately ordered to Palau and no further defense of New Guinea by naval aircraft was attempted. The 23d Air Flotilla headquarters withdrew to Ambon and subsequently functioned only as a field maintenance unit.
The Japanese Army Air Force was not established in New Guinea until July 1943. Prior to that time the Fourth Air Army had been based at Ambon with advance forces at Rabaul which provided air cover for New Guinea convoys and in some cases cooperated with the 11th Air Fleet in operations in the Solomons. During the first 6 months of 1943 the strength of the Fourth Air Army was rapidly increased and plans were made to move into New Guinea as soon as suitable bases were provided. The Fourth Air Army was composed of the Sixth and Seventh Air Divisions. The Sixth Air Division was assigned 324 planes while the Seventh Division was assigned 156 planes for use in the New Guinea area and 84 planes in the Ambon area. Between 1 August 1943 and 20 September the Fourth Air Army moved to New Guinea from Rabaul and Ambon and established headquarters at Wewak. From this time until the loss of Hollandia in April of
The Japanese Army Air Force in New Guinea
1944 the Fourth Air Army was responsible for the New Guinea area east of longitude 140° E. Operations were conducted from fields at Wewak, Dagua, But, Aitape, Tami, Hollandia, Nubia and Manus. Advanced staging fields were located at Madang, Alexishafen, Lae, Salamaua, Finschhafen and Saidor.
Immediately after the Fourth Air Army became operational at Wewak, it was attacked by the United States Fifth Air Force in preparation for the invasion of Lae and Salamaua. Very effective attacks were delivered on Wewak and But on 17-18 August and continued throughout September. As a result the Japanese Army Air Force was neutralized and unable to interfere as the Allies pushed up the coast. By November 1943 the Naval Air Forces in the Celebes area were weakened considerably from constantly furnishing replacements to Rabaul and it was therefore necessary to withdraw the Seventh Air Division from New Guinea and employ it in the Celebes area. During the winter of 1943-44 sustained attacks by the Fifth Air Force against the Sixth Air Division caused such high losses that on 25 March 1944 the Fourth Air Army was forced to withdraw from Wewak and establish headquarters at Hollandia.
Less than 1 month later (15 April 1944) the invasion of Hollandia appeared imminent and the Fourth Air Army headquarters was removed from the command of the Eighth Area Army at Rabaul, evacuated entirely from Hollandia, and established at Menado (Celebes) under the control of the Second Area Army. In the Hollandia operations the Sixth Air Division was completely destroyed and subsequently deactivated.
Having lost all effective air strength in New Guinea, and faced with the additional threat to the Philippines created by the United States invasion of the Marianas, the Japanese Army Air Force was never again a menace to Allied movements in New Guinea. Flying from fields in Biak, Noemfoor, Sorong, Samate and Lollabata, the few remaining planes of the Seventh Air Division continued to nibble at the Allied bases employing small attacks of only a harassing nature.
Considering the number of aircraft expended by the Japanese Army in the New Guinea campaign the results were far from profitable.
Delivery of aircraft to the combat zone never took place as planned. Due to faulty factory inspection, inexperience of pilots, and the poor condition of landing fields, ferry losses amounted to 30 percent and many of the aircraft that were delivered to the forward area were in an unflyable condition. After being assigned to an operating unit the aircraft were subject to all varieties of maintenance difficulties. Because of the interdiction of shipping by United States submarines and aircraft, spare parts and heavy maintenance equipment for aircraft and fields were never delivered. Not only did this reduce the plane availability but it also seriously interfered with the construction and maintenance of fields and dispersal areas. Furthermore the main repair base for Army aircraft in New Guinea was on Halmahera, 1,000 miles from Wewak. This base never functioned adequately and to make engine changes planes actually had to be sent to Manila, 1,500 miles away. As a result few engine changes were made and repairs in the field were limited to those of the simplest type.
The Japanese were unable to withdraw their planes before a threatened attack because of the low availability and were unable properly to disperse their planes because of the restricted clearings in the New Guinea jungle.
Disease also took its toll of Japanese pilots and this, combined with high combat and operational losses, resulted in an attrition of such high proportions that it could not be overcome by the limited resources of Japan. The effective strength of the Japanese Army Air Force in the New Guinea area is shown in Appendix 66.
The completion of the New Guinea campaign marked the successful execution of the primary mission of the Southwest Pacific Forces, which was to extend control to the westward and establish bases from which the Allies could launch attacks against, first the Philippines, then Formosa, and finally the Japanese
mainland. The entire campaign was based upon the progressive forward movement of air forces to provide fighter cover and bomber support for surface elements and upon the isolation of each separate position prior to the final assault. The progress of the Allied drive is shown by Appendix 65.
The campaign was slow in getting underway. When the Japanese strength was at its peak the Allied Forces were limited by the higher priority of the European theater. However, in 1943 sufficient air, naval and ground forces were finally assembled to commence the offensive which quickly moved as far as the Huon Gulf. That this initial Allied success made the Japanese realize that they had underestimated Allied strength, and that further defeats were impending, is reflected in the tenor of the following directive issued by Imperial Headquarters on 30 September 1943, "Make every effort to hold the important southeastern area extending eastward from the eastern part of New Guinea to the Solomon Islands by repulsing all enemy attacks in the area. "To accomplish this purpose: (a) Consider Rabaul as the center and make every effort for a protracted defense of important positions in the Bismarck Archipelago and Bougainville Areas. (b) Endeavor to hold out in the northern New Guinea Area by reinforcing important positions in this area. (c) Endeavor to destroy the attacking enemy before landings are made by using air and surface forces. (d) In case the enemy succeeds in landing operations endeavor to destroy him before he consolidates his position thereby disrupting his plan for counterattack. (e) Endeavor to concentrate military supplies for high speed transport to the above mentioned important positions, particularly to those in New Guinea."
But to "endeavor" was not enough. Beginning in the early part of 1944 the Allies possessed an ever increasing numerical superiority in all types of weapons. At the same time the continual attrition suffered during 1942 and 1943 had completely unbalanced the Japanese war machine in the New Guinea theater. The ground force was relatively unaffected but immobile due to the shipping shortage. The naval force was formidable but had suffered heavy losses in the Solomons and was withdrawn to the west. The air force was all but destroyed by Allied air strikes and thus unable to give support to ground troops or to render protection to the long lines of communication. Finally the air and submarine attacks throughout the Pacific had reduced the merchant shipping to such an extent that submarines, wooden vessels, barges and small craft provided the major source of supply. Further to complicate their problem in New Guinea the Japanese were confronted with the additional danger of the powerful Allied drive through the Central Pacific which became the major threat to their security.
From such a divided and unbalanced force the opposition was negligible. While the Allied air sorties were numbered in thousands those of the Japanese were numbered in tens, and while the Allies roamed the sea areas off the coast of New Guinea with large forces of carriers, cruisers, destroyers and merchant ships the Japanese had none.
In the New Guinea campaign the primary difficulties of the Allies would seem to have been in the logistic rather than in the military field.
- Action Reports: Commander Seventh Fleet and Commander Seventh Amphibious Force.
- I.J.N. Liaison Committee Reply to Naval Analysis Division Memorandum No. 4, (U.S.S.B.S. files).
- Translated War Diaries and Merit Reports of Air Flotillas 23, 24, 25, WDC Nos. 160155, 160157, 160158, 160303, 161142, 161725.
- The War Against Japan. Published by Fifth Air Force.
- War Diaries: Patrol Wings Ten and Seventeen.
- Operations in Pacific Ocean Areas. Published by CinCPac and CinCPOA.
- United States Strategic Bombing Survey Interrogations:
Nav No. U.S.S.B.S. No. Capt. Komota, I. J. N. (Solomons and New Guinea) 71 360 Capt. Sonokawa, I. J. N (22d Air Flotilla) 77 387 Comdr. Doi, I. J. N. (Mining Rabaul) 92 435 Col. Kaneko, I. J. A. (4th Air Army) 94 440 Capt. Ohmae, I. J. N. (9th Fleet Operations) 95 441 Capt. Miyazaki, I. J. N.
(Air Operations-Solomons and New Guinea)
Capt. Shimanouchi (Kon Plan) 104 462 Lt. Col. Sugita (Rabaul Operations) 113 484 Lt. Col. Tanaka (Rabaul Operations) ... ... Comdr. Nomura (Land-Based Air—Celebes and Rabaul) 116 601
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter * (7) Next Chapter (9)