Salamaua; An account of the battle, with maps.

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Salamaua

This is a shortened "quick-read" version of the full account which appears below. Click here for the full version.

The 3rd Australian Division slowly fought its was towards Salamaua in a series of exacting and grim battles from April to August 1943. 

It was a campaign largely overshadowed by the Papuan campaign the preceded it and by the capture of Lae that followed. 

The Salamaua campaign was designed to screen the preparations  for the Lae offensive and to act as a magnet to draw reinforcements from Lae to Salamaua. 

The capture of Lae, the centre of the Japanese defensive line in New Guinea, was the allied target after the defeat of the Japanese in Papua. General Sir Thomas Blamey, the Australian Commander-in-Chief, directed that Salamaua be starved out after Lae was captured.


The Japanese landed at Lae and Salamaua on 8 March 1942. The New Guinea Volunteer Rifles and survivors of the 2/22nd Battalion from Rabaul destroyed all military supplies and withdrew into the hinterland where they observed the Japanese build-up. In May, Kanga Force, which included the 2/5th Independent Company, was airlifted into Wau to operate as a guerrilla force against the Japanese in the Markham Valley. On 29 June Kanga force raided Salamaua inflicting heavy casualties and capturing the first Japanese equipment and documents taken by the Australian Army.
On 31 August a strong Japanese group arrived at Mubo but with the Japanese on the offensive along the Kokoda Trail and at Milne Bay reinforcements were not available for Kanga Force until October when 2/7th Independent Company joined.

Recapture of Salamaua

On 26 August, Savige and his 3rd Division headquarters were relived by General Milford and his 5th Division headquarters. 

The 5th Division conducted the final operations around Salamaua which was occupied by the 42nd Battalion on 11 September, a week after the Lae offensive opened and five days before the 7th and 9th Australian Divisions entered Lae.

The 3rd Division's long winter campaign of 1943 achieved impressive strategic gains. A great part of the strength of the XVIII Japanese Army had been diverted from the areas which were to be the objectives of the offensive which could not be mounted until the spring, when veteran divisions would be rested and retrained, landing craft available, and air superiority increased. At the same time immensely valuable experience had been gained in jungle tactics and in methods of supply.


For the first time Australian infantry and independent companies had worked closely together in a lengthy campaign and each had learnt from the other. Artillery had been used on a scale hitherto unattained in mountain warfare in New Guinea. Doctrines were developed which gave the Australians decisive tactical and administrative superiority over the Japanese in bush warfare. In the six months to August 1943 the strength of the XVIII Japanese Army had been depleted and dispersed while, behind the front on which the 3rd Australian Division fought, the Allied strength in the South West Pacific had greatly increased .


This is a fuller account of the actions that lead up to the battle for Salamaua. It has been copied directly from the Vetnet site

3rd Division

On 23 April, the 3rd Division under command of Major-General Savige assumed control in the Wau-Bulolo area and Kanga Force ceased to exist. Savige's force originally included only the 17th Brigade and three Independent Companies (2/3rd, 2/5th and 2/7th). Savige was instructed to turn the area into an active operational zone for mobile defence. It was estimated that there were 5,500 Japanese around Lae and Salamaua with between 6,000 and 8,000 at Madang and from 9,000 to 11,000 at Wewak. Savige, who was ordered not to attack Salamaua directly, decided to establish firm bases as far forward as possible and to harass the enemy with patrols. However, only small forces could be maintained in the forward area and no useful military purpose was served by attacks and raids which were not properly organised, supported by superior fire and fully driven home.

The Japanese were dug in on the Pimple, Green Hill and Observation Hill along the main track from Wau to Mubo. On 24 April a company of the 2/7th attacked the Pimple and Green Hill, Four aircraft strafed the Japanese position and then the company advanced in two columns supported by mortar fire, but the enemy were firmly entrenched on the precipitous feature and the Australians were halted. Next day another attack, supported by aircraft and the 1st Mountain Battery, limited to fifty rounds a gun, also failed. On 7 May a company attack was again launched against the Pimple but again it failed. On 9 May the Japanese themselves attacked in the Pimple area and surrounded the forward Australian company, which was not relieved until the afternoon of the 11th, by which time it had withstood eight attacks by parts of two Japanese battalions.

The 2/3rd Independent Company had been probing deeply and seeing that the Japanese were only lightly holding Bobdubi Ridge obtained permission to attack it. On 3 and 4 May the Japanese were pushed off part of Bobdubi Ridge and in the following days drove back Japanese moving up to retake it. From Bobdubi, the 2/3rd Independent Company was able to severely harass the Japanese with raids and ambushes. So successful were the 2/3rd Independent Company's tactics that Savige felt constrained to warn them not to attempt too much; `premature commitments in the Salamaua area could not be backed at present by an adequate force', he signalled. The pressure was kept up round Bobdubi and on 11 May a patrol found the ridge to be abandoned, quickly occupied it, and exchanged fire with the enemy on Komiatum Ridge on which the main track travelled. The Japanese reacted strongly to this threat to their communications, launching a full-scale attack supported by guns and mortars on the 14th and forced the Australians to withdraw. On 15 May, over 100 Japanese aircraft attacked the Australian positions in three heavy raids. The Japanese maintained their air attacks in the following days, but generally against targets farther to the Australian rear. On 17 and 18 May large formations of Japanese aircraft raided Wau airfield.

In late May, the 2/6th Battalion relieved the 2/7th Battalion and the 15th Brigade headquarters and another battalion of that brigade began to arrive in Savige's area. During May Australian Beaufighters and Bostons with American Mitchells attacked Madang and Lae, maintaining steady pressure on these bases. The RAAF now had three squadrons tied more or less to the Salamaua operations with four squadrons based on Milne Bay and engaged chiefly in attacks on shipping and in reconnaissance. Two Catalina flying boat squadrons based on Cairns also played a part in the operations in New Guinea by dropping mines in the enemy's harbours, making night raids and supporting coast-watchers in enemy-held territory.

Instructions were issued for an advanced base on the coast to be seized within sixty miles of Lae, this being the farthest distance landing craft could carry troops in one night. Nassau Bay was chosen and its occupation would enable the force round Mubo to be at least partly supplied by sea. In addition to the bay, the high ground around Goodview Junction and Mount Tambu and the ridge running thence to the sea were to be seized. The focus of the operations towards Salamaua were to draw the Japanese away from Lae and Salamaua was not to be assaulted until after the Lae operation. Until the Lae offensive commenced, the Japanese were to be led to believe that Salamaua was the main objective.

On 19 and 20 June there were signs that the enemy was about to anticipate the allied attack. They were patrolling aggressively; during the 20th enemy aircraft made more than eighty bombing sorties against the Australian positions. The right forward company of the 2/6th, holding its wide area towards Nassau Bay, was under sharp fire on the afternoon of the 20th. Next morning an attack in strength was dispersed; in the afternoon a stronger attack was made and soon the Australians were closely engaged. A fresh company reinforced the one under attack. At nightfall the Japanese withdrew having lost an estimated 100 men, but they renewed the attack on the 22nd and 23rd, when the beleaguered troops were heartened by the sight of Beaufighters strafing along the track. That afternoon the Japanese attacks ceased. The 150 Australians on Lababia Ridge lost eleven were killed and twelve wounded. The had been attacked by two Japanese battalions, 1,500 troops, who lost forty-one killed and 131 wounded.

Nassau Bay

The 162nd US Regiment landed at Nassau Bay on the night of the 29/30 June and next morning moved out of the bridgehead. On 1 July the easternmost company of the 2/6th Battalion advanced to the coast along the south arm of the Bitoi driving off a company of Japanese. On the morning of the third day ashore, 2 July, the main American force remained clustered round the beach, but that afternoon one company advanced to the Bitoi. Next day four 75-mm guns were landed at Nassau, a most important reinforcement, and by the 4th more than 1,400 troops were ashore. Papuan soldiers advancing along the coast ahead of the 162nd US Regiment reached Lake Salus on 9 July and then pushed on to Tambu Bay.

On the morning of 7 July the 2/6th had attacked Observation Hill and by nightfall held most of it. Next day the leading Australian company advanced a stage farther towards a creek where it was to link with the Americans from the Bitoi. On the 9th, now supported by the American field guns whereas formerly there had been only two mountain guns behind them, five Australian companies pressed on with aggressive patrols until, on the 10th, only seventy-five Japanese survived in the area, and their line of retreat was cut. On the 12 May the Pimple was occupied. On 13 May there was a general advance and on 14 May Mubo airfield and Green Hill were taken. The Japanese still stoutly defended Old Vickers where they were strongly dug in to defend the track to Salamaua and on 7 and 9 July stopped attacks by the 58th/59th Battalion.

The US III/162nd Battalion (Major Archibald B Roosevelt) was assembled at Nassau Bay by 12 July as a preliminary move to establish artillery at Tambu Bay. On the 21st the American battalion reached Tambu Bay and supplies were being unloaded there. The Americans' task was to capture Scout Ridge, overlooking the bay. Attacks on the 22nd failed and a second battalion (the US II/162nd) was sent into reinforce the attack.

On 16 July a company of the 2/5th Battalion had assaulted Mount Tambu with great dash and captured all but the main northern knoll. The Japanese counter-attacked again and again that night, supported by mortar bombs and shells from a mountain gun. A second company reached the area next morning. On the night of the 18 May the Japanese attacked and almost encircled the two Australian companies on Tambu, and next day a fierce struggle developed. By 2.30 pm, after much slaughter of the Japanese, they accepted defeat and left the Australians in possession of the southern slopes. Farther north, on 15 July, after mortar and Vickers-gun fire, two platoons of the 2/3rd Independent Company attacked Ambush Knoll south of Namling, while the 58th/59th Battalion attacked towards Bobdubi in another effort to cut the Japanese communications. One platoon of the Independent Company drove the Japanese from their forward positions, the other thrust them from Orodubi, and that night the Japanese abandoned Ambush Knoll. The attack by the 58th/59th was upset, however, by Japanese counter-moves. In a renewed attack on the 17th the Independent Company again carried out its task but the 58th/59th was held up.

The establishment of the Nassau Bay base had made it possible to bring in and supply a substantial quantity of artillery. By 23 May two US field artillery battalions, two Australian field batteries, the 1st Australian Mountain Battery, the 2/6th Australian Survey Battery, and four anti-aircraft batteries were in place. On the right flank the American regiment was still making little progress. In the fourth week of July the US II/162nd battalion completed its arrival at Tambu Bay and was given the task of capturing 'Roosevelt Ridge' as it was now named. The battalion attacked and gained and held a foothold on the ridge. The Japanese were well dug in and not to be driven out by frontal attacks. Roosevelt's battalion, aided by Papuan patrols, was now employed cutting the enemy's supply route to the west.

On 28 July a flanking attack by a company of the 2/6th took a feature forward of Ambush Knoll. The same day 58th/59th Battalion supported by artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire at last took the stubborn Old Vickers position and drove the Japanese from Bobdubi Ridge. It was estimated that in the six weeks to 6 August, the 15th Brigade had killed 400 Japanese for a loss of forty-six killed and 152 wounded, an indication of the increasing tactical superiority of the attackers.

The leading battalion of the 29th Australian Brigade, the 42nd, was moved forward into the Nassau Bay area and thence marched northward and at length went into position between the Americans on the right and the 17th Brigade, of which it became part. As a preliminary to the capture of Mount Tambu the 42nd Battalion occupied Davidson Ridge between Tambu and Roosevelt Ridge. Then on 13/14 August the II/162nd Battalion took Roosevelt Ridge after a heavy artillery barrage which bared it of vegetation. The 15th Brigade's attack opened on 14 August. Twenty-nine heavy bombers accurately bombed Coconut Ridge with devastating effect, and guns, mortars and machine-guns brought down a barrage. A company of the 2/7th Battalion then attacked up a cliff so steep that the men had to crawl on hands and knees, but by early in the afternoon they had gained the North Coconuts position. On the night of the 16/17 August the Japanese abandoned South Coconuts.

The 2/6th Battalion opened its attack on Komiatum Ridge on 16 August. After about 500 shells had been fired into the Japanese positions two companies attacked and in twenty-five minutes had occupied the objective. The enemy in the Mount Tambu area were now surrounded, their routes to the north being cut on Komiatum and Davidson Ridges. It was expected that lack of rations (patrols had discovered they were delivered every three days) would cause the Japanese to attempt the break out on the third night. On 19 August patrols of the 2/5th found Goodview Junction deserted and US I/162nd Battalion occupied Tambu without opposition.

The 15th Brigade now pressed in towards the track leading to Salamaua. On 17 August after a bombardment two platoons of the 2/3rd Independent Company advanced; one occupied the junction of the Bobdubi-Salamaua track and another track from the south without opposition, but the other was held. Heavy fighting developed, the Japanese launching strong counter-attacks. On 19 August Savige ordered that every effort must be made to close the enemy's avenues of escape between Komiatum and Bobdubi Ridges. Next day the brigade attacked on a wide front, and the 58th/59th succeeded in cutting the Komiatum track in several places.

In preparation for the new offensive, Savige was instructed that his force should be so organised that by 28 August it could be maintained from the sea without air supply. From 21 August the 29th Brigade began to relieve the 17th Brigade (excluding the 2/7th Battalion attached to the 15th Brigade) which had been fighting its way through the jungle-clad tangle of mountains from Wau towards Salamaua since January. The Australians rapidly advanced towards Salamaua but Savige ordered that the Japanese were not to be pressed so hard that would cause an early evacuation of Salamaua.

Salamaua Falls

On 26 August, Savige and his 3rd Division headquarters were relived by General Milford and his 5th Division headquarters. The 5th Division conducted the final operations around Salamaua which was occupied by the 42nd Battalion on 11 September, a week after the Lae offensive opened and five days before the 7th and 9th Australian Divisions entered Lae.

The 3rd Division's long winter campaign of 1943 achieved impressive strategic gains. A great part of the strength of the XVIII Japanese Army had been diverted from the areas which were to be the objectives of the offensive which could not be mounted until the spring, when veteran divisions would be rested and retrained, landing craft available, and air superiority increased. At the same time immensely valuable experience had been gained in jungle tactics and in methods of supply. For the first time Australian infantry and independent companies had worked closely together in a lengthy campaign and each had learnt from the other. Artillery had been used on a scale hitherto unattained in mountain warfare in New Guinea. Doctrines were developed which gave the Australians decisive tactical and administrative superiority over the Japanese in bush warfare. In the six months to August 1943 the strength of the XVIII Japanese Army had been depleted and dispersed while, behind the front on which the 3rd Australian Division fought, the Allied strength in the South West Pacific had greatly increased.

 
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