*** World War II -- island territories New Guinea

World War II Pacific Island Territories: New Guinea (1942-45)

World War II New Guinea
Figure 1.--This photograph was taken by a GI stationed at Port Moresby. Native women and boys are shown at a market in a village near Port Moresby. Typewritten on the back of the photograph. "Native village - July 1944. Sherfy, Johnson, Madam Queen, Roberts, Bachor, Wichmann, Amos, Andy, Hester, Baby Rastus". By this time, Port Moresby was a secure back area of the Pacific theater.

"In addition to all our other difficulties, there was New Guinea itself, as tough and tenacious an eneny as the Japanese." -- Gen Douglas MacArthur

"Heaven is Java. Hell is Burma. But no one returns alive from New Guinea" -- Japanese troop saying in New Guinea

Perhaps the most unlikely battlefield of World War II was New Guinea one of the most remote and primitive places on earth. Not only was New Guinea a major battlefield, but the battle lasted more than 2 years. Many Pacific islands that became caught up in World War II were small islands some like Iwo Jima were not even populated. This was not the case of New Guinea. The island was a huge island with a substantial, albeit primitive population. It was perhaps the most isolated corner of the world, virtually unknown to the rest of the world. This changed suddenly after Pearl Harbor. The Japanese lunched an offensive that swept over the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. The Allies suffered one stunning defeat after another. It was on New Guinea that the Allies first succeeded in stopping the Japanese. This set up a 2-year struggle for the island. The Japanese Army succeeded in taking the western and northern sides of the island. The rugged Owen Stanley Mountains prevented the Japanese from striking south to seize the southern part of the island around Port Morsesby defended by a small Australian garrison. Instead a naval task force was dispatched to mount an amphibious operation. This task force was stopped and tuned back by U.S. carriers in the Battle of the Coral Sea (April 1942). Further amphibious operations were rendered impossible by the subsequent American victory at Midway (June 1942). Instead the Japanese mounted a land offensive over the Owen Stanleys. They were stopped by the Australians only a few miles short of Port Moresby and forced back. It was at this time that the American marines landed on Guadalcanal (August 1942). The Japanese Army, unaware of the losses at Midway and fully committed on New Guinea, failed to fully appreciate the importance of Guadalcanal. The Allied offensive in the Solomons soon was joined by Allied (American and Australian) landings along the northeastern coast of the island and gradually moving up the coast in a series of amphibious operations. The New Guinea campaign was overseen by General MacArthur. The Allies succeeded in cutting off and isolating several Japanese garrisons. American infantry began taking bases along the northern coast of New Guinea. MacArthur's goal from the beginning was to obtain bases from which he could return to Philippine Islands. After the American victory at Guadacanal, MacArthur launched a series of attacks along the northern coast of New Guinea, bypassing and isolating many Japanese bases. The Japanese made a najor stand in New Guinea. It proved aap, largely because the the Japanese did not have the logistical capability of feeding the men they committed to New Guinea. Buna was the first New Guinea base taken (January 2, 1943). This was the southern prong of a dual Allied offensive (1943-44). The northern prong was the Navy's drive led by Admiral Nimitz across the Central Pacific. Bases in New Guinea brought the southern Philippine Islands into range. Finally the Allies secured New Guinea and the two prongs converged on the Philippines (October 1944).

The Island

New Guinea is the second largest island in the world, only exceeded in area by Greenland. New Guinea is part of Oceania and is located in the Pacific island region known as Melanesia. The island lies at the southeastern edge of Southeast Asia, to the east of Indonesia, and north of Australia. In prehistoric times when sea level was lower, there was a land bridge connecting New Guinea with Southeast Asia. To the north is the Pacific Ocean to the south the Arafura and Coral Seas separate the island from Australia. The island is long and relatively narrow and is crossed by a rugged mountain range--The Bismarck and Owen Stanley Ranges. Much of the coast is swampy. The interior is covered with dense, tropical rainforests. The plains in the interior are fertile and well watered. There are extensive mineral (gold, silver, platinum, and copper) deposits, but at the time of World War II were undeveloped. There are also petroleum and natural-gas deposits. There were few roads. The island is located just south of the Equator. Thus the climate is tropical and climate. The island is especially notable for the many variety of exotic, magnificently plumed birds. The western half of the island is now the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya. The eastern portion is the independent state of Papua New Guinea.


The indigenous people of the island belong to three major groups: the Negritos, Melanesians, and Papuans. The population was one of the most heterogeneous in the world. There were thousands of small communities with little contact with neighboring communities, let alone the outsise world. The Australian and Dutch colonial aministration had very little impact on the locals. Most New Guinea communities both in the eastern Ausralian mMandate and the Dutch western colony were villages with only a few hundred people. The huge island was very lightly populated and the people were divivided by primitice technology, geography, language, customs, and tradition. Many of the communities were involved in endemic warfare with their neighbors. The rugged mountainous terrain and primitive technology divided even neighboring communities. Often villages had no connection with other villages only a few miles away. New Guinea culture was as a result highly varied as can be seen by the absence of a cimmon langage. No one really knows bit lingusts and ethnologists have have identified 650 Papuan languages have been identified and amazingly only 350-450 are related. This is the greatest lingusistic diveresity in the world. Most Papuan languages are unrelated either to each other or to any other important regional language. There are languages belonging to Austronesian language group used in Papua New Guinea. This means that more than 800 languages wereare spoken in Papua New Guinea and of course this means only western New Guinea. Many of these languages are spoken by only a few hundred up to to a few thousand people. The most important is the Enga language, spoken in Enga Province. The people at the time were just emerging from the Stone age and were largely untouched by the outside world. They subsisted by hunting, fishing, and cultivating bananas, maize, cassava, sago, yams, and other crops. Some kept pigs. They produced enough food to feed themselves, but there was no substantial surplus. Most lived in small villages and grew their own food, There were no sizeable cities. They used primitive agricultural methods. There was sufficent given the low population density, but there was no sizable surplus.


Perhaps the most unlikely battlefield of World War II was New Guinea one of the most remote and primitive places on earth. The Japanese had embarked on the Pavific War to secure the resources of the Southern Resource Zone, especially oil, but a range of other raw materials such as rubber, tin, and other strategic resources as well as rice and other agricultural products. New Guinea had virtually nothing of strategic value, at least that had been developed. Agricultural was largely subsistemce, which would redound on the Japanese who were would be cut off by the U.S. Navy. What New Guimea had was a strategic location. Many Pacific islands that became caught up in World War II were small islands some like Iwo Jima were not even populated. This was not the case of New Guinea. The island was a huge island with a substantial, albeit primitive population. It was perhaps the most isolated corner of the world, virtually unknown to the rest of the world. This changed suddenly after Pearl Harbor. The Japanese lunched an offensive that swept over the South Pacific and Southeast Asia with one victory after another. This brough the Japanese to New Guinea, a huge island in an around which the Japanese planned a series of war winning offenives. The Japanese assessment was that after seizing the DEI, they did not have the military strenth nd logistical capability to invade Australia And once American troops and equipment arrived in strength a Japanese invsion of Australia would become impossible. The Japanese developed the MO (New Guinea-Port Moresby), RY (Nauru and Ocean Island), MI (Midway), and FS (Fiji-Samoa) Operations to cut off Australia and pound it into submission. And if you look at the map, New Guinea was at the center of all these operations. Not only was New Guinea a major battlefield, but the battles lasted more than 2 years. New Guinea offered bases from which the Japanese could bomb Australia and support both RY and FS. The Japanese plan was to use the Imperial Fleet to carry out FS and interdict the sea lanes. after losing four fleet carriers at Midway, FS was no longer possible, but it would take Gudalcanal and a series of fierce naval battles near and around Guadalacal to secure the sealanes to Australia. After the Japanese withdrew the Imperial Fleet from the South Pacific, New Guinea's role shited. The Japanese no longer used it as a spring board, but rather as a carrier to protect their SRZ. The Allies also shifted. They began to seeNew Guinea not as a barrier, but as they moved up the coast as the pathway and staging area for the liberatiom of the Philippines.

Japanese Invasion (January-April 1942)

The Japanese plan of conquest made New Guinea a priority target. The First Carrier Fleet as soon as it had returned from immobilizing (only two the battleships were destroyed) the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor (December 1941) was resupplied and outfitted for its next assignment, to support operations in the New Guinea area. Admiral Nagumo's Carrier Fleet departed from Hiroshima Bay, with four of the six Japanese fleet carriers ( Akagi, Kaga, Shōkaku and Zuikaku (January 1, 1942). His assignment was to support Admiral Kajioka's invasion force in the New Guinea sector, including the Admiralty Archipelago north of the Solomons. The Japanese seized Rabaul (January 23). They rapidly transformed it into the most potent military base in the South Pacific. They seized Lae with weak ground opposition (March 10). An air strike by the Lexington Task Force inflicted damage on the transport force, but did not disrupt the invasion. The Japanese seized Hollandia (April 1), again against minor opposition. Hollandia was a port on the northern coast of New Guinea, part of the Dutch East Indies. It was the only important anchorage between Wewak to the east and Geelvink Bay to the west. It provided an important logistical base for the Japanese drive to the east into the Australian mandated territories of New Guinea.

The Admiralties

The Japanese seized Rabaul on New Britain (February 23, 1942). They proceeded to build air strips and improve anchorages, covering Rabaul into the most formidable forward operating base in the South Pacific. Five air bases were built around Rabaul: Lakunai, Keravat, Vunakanau, Rapopo, and Tobera. To the north in the Carolines was Truk a key naval base, christened by the Japanese as the Gibraltar of the Pacific. Naval engineers used Korean laborers along with Indian, Australian, and British POWs in the construction work. The Japanese also landed at Talasea, Sag Sag, Gasmata and Kokopo. Next the Japanese began landing on New Ireland: Kavieng which offered an important anchorage and suitable terrain for an air strip. The Japanese also landed at Lawagan and Muliama and also landed in New Hannover and Hermit Island. There had been a short battle at Rabaul, but most of the landings were unopposed. Neither the British or Australians had sizable forces on these islands. And it did not make sense to draw down the limited forces in Australia to defend these islands, especially as the Japanese held naval dominance. The Japanese as they acquired these bases drew down available offensive combat power. The bases also created an increasing logistical burden on the Japanese maru fleet that was adequate in peace time, but had not been expanded for war-time operations. The Australian authorities there did the best to evacuate south to Australia. New Britain is located just east of New Guinea and Rabaul and Kavieng as the airfields and naval bases came on line became staging areas and air and sea support for operation to the west on New Guinea and to the south in the Solomons. After securing Java with its critical oil fields, the Japanese began landing along the northwestern coast of New Guinea.

New Guinea

After finalizing the Java Campaign, Japanese forces began landing along the northwest coast of New Guinea (February). Admiral Nagumo carriers launched attacks on Lae and Salamaua. The Japanese landed along the northeastern coast at Huon Bay, Lae and Salamaua. There were no military airfields in place. There was a small strip used by gold miners. The Japanese saw New Guinea and the Admiralties as part of a southeastern defensive chain to protect their new empire. The stunning success also allowed them to begin to think about Australia. Subsequent Japanese landings were conducted along the northern coasts, moving westerly along the coast. The Japanese took Hollandia in Humboldt Bay and taking Aitape, Wewak, Bogia, Hansa Bay, Sarang, Madang, Melamu, Bibi, Sialum, Finch Harbor, until Buna, Tufi, Gona, Baniara, Morobe and Kokoda. Other forces landed along the northwest coast at Sarmi, Demta Nuboai, Bosnek (on Biak Island), Serui (on Yapen island), and other sites. They also landed along the southwest sector to take up Tanahmerah near the Digul River in the interior. When the Japanese landed they immediately began building airfields or expanded the few existing strips. Japanese military doctrine put a great emphasis on combat and limited attention to non-combat operations. There was nothing like the Sea-bees in the Japanese military. Usually poorly fed slave or conscript labor was used. As a result, construction usually proceeded slowly despite the military need. (This would prove disastrous on Guadalcanal.) Eventually the only position left in Allied hands was a small enclave south of the Own Stanleys at Port Moresby, an important natural anchorage. Here the Australians made a stand. Japanese bombers from the new New Guinea airfields began bombing Port Moresby. There were also raids on Northern Australia, especially Darwin. This set up a 2-year struggle for the island. The Japanese Army succeeded in taking the western and northern sides of the island. The rugged Owen Stanley Mountains prevented the Japanese from striking south and seizing the southern part of the island around Port Morsesby defended by a small Australian garrison. Instead a naval task force was dispatched to mount an amphibious operation.

Battle of the Coral Sea: Operation MO (May 1942)

It would be on New Guinea that the Allies first succeeded in stopping the Japanese advance. The first important Allied effort to stop the Japanese sweep through the Pacific occurred in the Coral Sea (May 3-8). The Japanese planned to seize Port Moreseby--Operation MO. This would have completed their conquest of New Guinea. There was also a smaller operation in the Solomons at Tulagi. Port Moresby would have provided a launching pad for an invasion of Australia itself. (At the time, most of the Australian Army was in North Africa fighting Rommel's Afrika Korps.) The Japanese landing force was escorted by the front-line carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku. The Japanese naval task force en route to seize Port Moresby was intercepted by an American carrier force, alerted by American code breakers who were cracking the Japanese naval code--JN-25. The Coral sea was the first carrier to carrier engagement in history. The Japanese launched an attack on the Americans, but found only a destroyer and oilier. In the meantime the Americans sank the Japanese light carrier Shoho covering the invasion fleet (May 7). The next day the two carrier forces fought a major engagement. The Japanese succeeded in sinking Lexington and heavily damaging Yorktown (May 8). The Americans heavily damaged Shokaku and devastated the air crew of Zuikaku. The substantial Japanese pilot casualties was very significant. Despite the American losses, the Japanese invasion force turned back, the first major Japanese reversal of the War. The Japanese assessment of the battle was that not only was Lexington sunk, but that Yorktown was either sunk or so badly damaged that it could no longer be deployed. This affected planning for the Midway operation. The engagement appears to have convinced Japanese naval planners that the American carriers were no mach for the Japanese carriers. The Japanese failed to perceive that the American carriers effectively fought the battle or that the surprise appearance of the American carrier in the Coral Sea to oppose the invasion of Port Moresby resulted from American code breaking. It also meant that they had lost a carrier, and large numbers of planes and pilots. This effectively removed two front line carriers from the Japanese order of battle. This reduced the available carriers for the Midway operation. Combined with the British damage to the First Air Fleet in the Indian Ocean, Admiral Yamamoto had allowed their carrier forces to be significantly weakened in operations of marginal importance. This was critical because if Japan was to win the War it had to be done in 1942 when they had overwhelming superiority in the Pacific. If the War developed into a war of attrition, the far greater industrial resources of the United States would prevail.

Port Moresby: Japanese Crossing the Owen Stanleys (July-November 1942)

The Japanese landings along the northern coast of New Guinea were unopposed. Port Moresby along the southern coast of New Guinea was, however, the prize that the Japanese sought in New Guinea. From Port Moresby, targets in northern Australia could be bombed. It was also a potential staging area for the eventual invasion of Australia. The Japanese effort to seize Port Morseby was code named Operation MO. And American codebreakers working on the Japanese naval coide (JN-25) learned of their plans (JN-25). The Japanese naval task force assigned to take Port Moresby was stopped and tuned back by U.S. carriers in the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942). Further amphibious operations on Port Moresby were rendered impossible by the subsequent American carrier victory at Midway (June 1942). Instead the Japanese decided to mount a land offensive along the primitive Kokoda Trail over the formidable Owen Stanley Mountains (July 1942). This was just as it was named, atrail, nit a road. There were no roads over the rugged mountains. This had to be conducted on foot using bearers and pack animals. As a result of Japanese brutality, the Papuan berarers disappeared into the jungle. We think that that they also lost most of their oack anumals, some eaten because of lack of food. We know the Australians were able to effectively use both bearers and pack animals. The Papual natives proved very loyal to the Ausrralians and were an important factor iun the Allied victory. We are less sure about the Japanese poack anumals. It proved a campaign of unbelievable physical demands. Both the Japanese and Australian troops suffered terrible torments and privations. The Australians were, however, relatively well supplied. The Japanese were not and conditions deteriorated for them the further they moved away from their supply bases. Unlike other early engagements, the Australians made sure that supplies did not fall into Japanese hands as they fell back. `This meant that the Japanese troops had increasingly severe supply lines as they advanced and supply lines lengthened. The Australians in contrast had fewer supply problems as they retreated. After 9 months of fighting, this was the first effective resistance that the Imperial Army encountered and they were focused on it. The Imperial Army and Navy had notoriously poor inter-service communications. The Imperial Navy had not informed the army about the extent of the Midway disaster. The Army's fixation on New Guinea meant that they did not respond quickly to the American invasion of Guadalcanal. The Australians finally stopped the Japanese only a few miles from Port Moresby. This meant that they had a long arduous way to go to get back to their supply bases. They were in an already weakened condition and almost no supplies left. Only a handful of Japanese troops managed to survive the retreat back across the Owen Stanleys (November 1942).

Guadalcanal (August 1942-February 1943)

The Japanese were turned back in front of Port Moresby at about the same time that American marines landed on Guadalcanal (August 1942). It was in the southern most island in the Solomons chain that American Marines conducted the first Allied offensive in the Pacific. Allied coast watchers reported the Japanese were building an air strip on Guadalcanal. From that base, the Japanese could threaten the sea lanes to Australia. The United States to defend communication and supply lines to the South Pacific decided it was important to prevent the Japanese from completing an air base on Guadalcanal. A great deal was at stake. The Allies were building up forces in Australia and clinging on to Port Moresby along the southern coast of New Guinea. The forces in Australia were to be used to take New Guinea and destroy the Japanese base at Rabaul. American Marines landed on Guadalcanal (August 1942). The first America land offensive in the Pacific occurred on the virtually unknown island of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. American planners had not planned for such an early offensive. The Japanese had concluded that an American offensive was several months away. A marine invasion force was rapidly assembled. It was a risky operation from the onset. Although dealt a serious blow at Midway, the Imperial Navy still dominated the Pacific and outnumbered the American Pacific fleet in virtually every class of warship--including carriers. The Japanese were surprised. While they responded quickly, they were not at first aware of the dimensions and capabilities of the American force. The rivalry between the Japanese Army and Navy complicated inter-service communication. The Japanese Army, unaware of the losses at Midway and fully committed on New Guinea, failed to fully appreciate the importance of Guadalcanal.

Drive up the Northern Coast (1943-44)

After the fierce naval battles around Guadalcanal (August-December 1942), the Imperial Fleet began to withdrew from the South Pacific. They decided after the loss of Guadalcanal to reinforce New Guinea with troops from China and Japan and making a stand there. Allied aircraft spotted and attacked one of the troop convoys in the Bismarck Sea (March 1943). The United States Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked the convoy from Rabaul carrying troops to Lae. Most of the troop transports were sunk. Japanese losses were severe. The Japanese hoped that their Central Pacific island and New Guinea garrisons could stop the Americans without naval support. The Marines at Tarawa and the Army in New Guinea proved that they could not. The New Guinea campaign was overseen by General MacArthur. The Allied offensive in the Solomons soon was joined by landings along the northeastern coast of New Guinea. The Australians pursued the Japanese back across the Owen Stanleys. The Allies has substantial supply problems and against the well-entrenched Japanese, the going was a first slow. After retaking Buna, the Allies began moving west along the northern coast in a series of amphibious operations. New Guinea is a huge island, but the lack of roads meant that the numerous Japanese bases along the northern were more like isolated small island bases. The Allies succeeded in defeating some of the Japanese garrisons and leap-frogging over and isolating other garrisons as they moved west along the northern coast. The effort began at Buna. This was the southern prong of a dual Allied offensive (1943-44). The northern prong was the Navy's drive across the Central Pacific, led by Adm. Nimitz. The twin campaign made it difficult for the Japanese to prepare for and anticipate the next American strike. In New Guinea the Japanese fought the campaign with a series of garrisons spread all along the coast. Expanding American air and sea power largely immobilized the Japanese, making it difficult to concentrate or even supply their forces. By the end of the War, the Japanese garrisons that were cut off were near starvation. This was made even worse when American carriers attacked Truk (February-May 1944). The Imperial fleet was forced to withdraw and the air and naval facilities virtually wrecked. Finally the Allies secured New Guinea and the two prongs converged on the Philippines (October 1944).

Western (Dutch) New Guinea (1944-45)

The western half of New Guinea was part of the Dutch East Indies (DEI). The Japanese had occupied The Dutch portion of the island (early-1942). Mauritz Christiaan Kokkelink organized a Resistance effort. Unlike the main DEI islands, there was a very small Dutch presence. Hollandia was a port along the north central coast of New Guinea on the shore of Humboldt Bay. It was close to the border with Australian New Guinea. It was the only important anchorage between Wewak to the east in Australian New Guinea and Geelvink Bay to the west in the DEI. Holandia became an important base for the Japanese in their drive east into Australian New Guinea. Holandia thus became a major objective in the Allied drive west. The Allied South West Pacific Command decided that Holandia had to be seized and developed into an important staging area for the advance west along the north coast of New Guinea as part of the liberation of the Philippines. The Allies (Americans and Australians) in a series of operations which bypassed important Japanese strong points and seized control of northeastern New Guinea which had been an Australian Mandate (1942-43). General MacArthur saw the New Guinea campaign as a southern prong aimed at the eventual liberation of the Philippines. The northern prong was pursued by the Pacific Fleet under Admiral Nimitz. This confused the Japanese who did not have the resources to resit one if the prongs let alone two. The two prongs kept the Japanese off balance as they were unsure where and when the Allies would strike next. The Allies were ready to begin the Western campaign (early-1944). The Admiralty Islands were secured providing an air bases covering a seaborne invasion force (March 1944) U.S. I Corps launched the Western Campaign (April 22, 1944). Operation Reckless landings at Holandia were launched simultaneously with Operation Persecution, amphibious landings at Aitape to the east. Holandia was the first target in the Dutch portion of New Guinea. The Japanese were unprepared and unable to hold the area. They withdrew to a defensive line in the west. This was their last effort to hold the east of the island. They abandonment all positions that were not already cut off. Hollandia also provided another important air base. With air cover, the next Allied move was 125 miles west to land on the New Guinea coast near Wake Island (May 17). The next day the Allies landed on Wake to seize the airfield there (May 18). This was quickly followed by landings on Biak Island (May 27). Biak Island was 900 miles southeast of the Philippines. This was the first tome the allies pierced the 1,000 mile circle around the Philippines. The Japanese resisted fiercely. General Krueger, the U.S. Sixth Army Commander, could not declare the operation complete for over 2 months (August 20). The Japanese considered Biak vital. They thus made a major effort to reinforce the defenders. The Japanese Navy had not resisted the Allied offensive in New Guinea. The High Command decided to assemble a naval force to resupply the Biak garrison (early-June). They achieved a limited success against a surprised Allied naval force. The Japanese were still not aware of the immense scale of the resources being assembled against them. They were unaware that a huge American naval force was bearing down on the Marinas, they moved half their land-based aircraft in the Carolines and the Marianas to western New Guinea, to support efforts to retake Biak. To late to redeploy, the U.S. Pacific Fleet approached the Marianas. MacArthur pressed his attack. American troops landed on Noemfoor Island, some 90 miles west of Biak (July 2). Other units moved toward the western tip of New Guinea (late-July). The next target was Morotai Island, a DEI island about equal distance between western New Guinea and the southern Philippines. The Allies began bombing Morotai (August) and seized the island (mid-September). The Americans were now only 300 miles from the southern Philippines. Isolated Japanese units continued to resist even after cut off. No units surrendered and few individuals. Fighting in western New Guinea thus continued until the end of the war. The isolated Japanese were in very bad shape, many close to starvation.

Papuan Civilians

New Guinea was perhaps the most isolated place in the world. It was a huge island, the second largest island in the world, with a very small population. The Papuans were some of the most primitive people in the world at the onset of the Pacific War. They were stone-age people had very little contact with the outside world. The island was administered by the Dutch in the West and the Australians in the east. There were mission posts and some government posts along the coast, but there was virtually no European presence in the interior. Few Papuans knew that a war was being fought and that they would soon be emerged in it. The Dutch and Australian colonial administrations were light and relations with the Papuans were generally good because of both the missionaries and medical care. As a result there was little or no anti-European sentiment that existed in other areas such as the Burma, the Dutch East Indies, and Malaysia. The Japanese, after finalizing the Java Campaign, began landing along the northwest coast of New Guinea (February 1942). There was little fighting at this point as neither the Dutch or Australians garrisoned the island. Papuans from an early stage offered their services to the Allies, especially the Australians. The Japanese primary interest was Australia and this was a step in serving a base for the upcoming Australian campaign. Japanese atrocities are almost unbelievable in the Pacific War. Japanese policies toward the Papuans, however, were generally correct during 1942. New Guinea was lightly populated and the Papuans were not a threat. The Japanese troops were ordered not to fraternize which largely prevented any conflicts. And the military authorities were reportedly strict with their men. Japanese commanders were apparently attempting to maintaining good will and a potentially useful source of labor as needed. Along with a no fraternization policy, the Japanese sought to undermine relations with the former European colonial authorities. The small number of Dutch and Australian civilians, mostly missionaries, were interned. The Japanese used the European civilians as slave labor and encouraged the Papuans to watch them. The first extensive combat occurred on the Kokoda Trail which after being turned back in the Coral Sea (May 1942) the Japanese used in an effort to cross the Owen Stanley Mountains to seize Port Moresby (July 1942). Suddenly Papuans near the Trail found themselves in the Middle of the Pacific War. Some assisted the Australians as bearers. Anything that moved on the trail had to be carried in or out. Many Australian soldiers remember the streacher-bearers with considerable affection. We are not sure to what extent the Japanese used the Papuans as bearers. Few Japanese survived the fighting along the Trail. The Allies after Guadalcanal (Auguust-December 1942) and the withdrawl of the Imperial Fleet began moving up the northern coast of the Island. This is when the the benign relations with the Japanese began to deteriorate. The Japanese were unable to adequately supply their Pacific garrisons, not only with military equipment. but also with food. And this situation worsened as Allied naval ad air power expanded. Hungary Japanese soldiers began raiding Papua villages and vegetable plots. Pigs were a special attraction. Papuans who resisted were shot. Reprisal actions increased and the Japanese began suspecting the Papuans as spies which only increased brutal actions. The Papuans thus retreated into the jungle and began supporting the Allied troops, providing needed labor or serving as scouts. The Australians organized some Papuan combat units.

Japanese Death Trap

Japan in the Pacific War did notvhave the logistical capacity to supply its far-flung island garrisons. They simply seized food from the civiliam populations. This caused terrible famines in which millions of civilians starved (Chuna, the Dutch east Indies, Vietnam, and more localized famines in other areas). The locals starved, but the Japanese soldiers ate. This was not the case on the small islands incapable of growing food for large garisons. The garisons here, however were relativly small. New Guinea was not a small island, it was one of the world's largest islands. It was, however, primitive. And agriculture there was basically subsistence agriculture. The Japanese poured some 350,000 troops on to the island in an attempt to first seize it and then hold it. They did this with no capacity to supply them. They were expected to feed themselves by doing what other Japanese garrisons did, seize food from the local population. Only the locals and their subsistence agriculture did not did not have the capacity to feed large Japanese garrisons. And when the Japanese began seizing their pigs and yams, they simply disappeared inland into the forest where the Japanese could not get at them. The Allies had the logitical capcity to feed their soldiers. So The Allied strategy began lep-frogging attacks which just left many Japanese garrisons to starve. They were not allowed to surrender, thus they simply starved. Japanese losses on New Guinea were about 130,000 men. The U.S. air and sea blockade was extremely effectively. Besieged Japanese garrisons were denied shipments of food and medical supplies. One estimate suggests that an incredible 97 percent of Japanese deaths were from non-combat loses. [Parillo, p. 65.] This was primarily starvation and nutrition relted diseases.


Parillo, M. "The Imperial Japanese Navy in WWII", in S. Sadkovich (ed.), Re-evaluating Major Naval Combatants of WWII (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990).


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