An unsung fight
To the Editor:
September will mark the 70th anniversary of a crucial moment for Australia. By late August, 1942, troops of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) were on the Island of New Guinea. Landing on the northern shore, the IJA's goal was to push towards the southern shore, and capture the Allied base of Port Moresby. While the Japanese first sought to capture Moresby by sea, the Battle of the Coral Sea in May forced them to abandon that plan. Hoping to avoid engaging Allied (many of them Australian) forces across the Owen Stanley Range; the Japanese planned another amphibious landing. This time, their goal was to take the small town of Milne Bay, on the far eastern tip of the island. In addition to being on the southern side, Milne Bay contained an airstrip. The task fell to troops of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Allied intelligence was tipped off about the operation, however, and there was a rush to stop the invasion.
Fighting around Milne Bay lasted from the 25th of August to September 7th. Though there was some militia, the majority of troops were from the Australian Imperial Force Throughout those eleven days of combat, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) provided close air support for those on the ground by day. At night, the Allies were forced to yield control of the sea to the Japanese, due to submarine threats. By the 7th, however, the Japanese were forced to abandon the campaign due to stiff resistance and logistics failings. Less than two thousand Japanese were committed to the battle, with over 900 casualties. In contrast, close to nine thousand were involved; around 300 became casualties, the majority Australian.
While fighting in New Guinea would last for several more years, Milne Bay marked the first time in which the Japanese were forced to abandon a land campaign. While setback with the Battle of the Tenaru, the IJA were still on Guadalcanal. Milne Bay was also a morale booster for the Allies, diminishing the aura of Japanese superiority. As 70 years have passed, I would like to ask everyone to give a moment of silence for those lost in this important battle.
(Reference: Winston Groom, 1942, 310-311; Dan van der Vat, Pacific Campaign 204-205)
Stafford Springs, Conn. and Danville, Vt.