Battle of Milne Bay

One of the Japanese barges after the battle

One of the Japanese barges after the battle

The Battle of Milne Bay (RE operation) was a battle of the New Guinea campaign, theater war in the Pacific during World War II.  Japanese troops attacked the base Australian of Milne Bay, on the eastern tip of New Guinea on 25 August 1942 and fighting continued until the Japanese withdrew the 5 September 1942.  However, armed resistance is not complete until the 7 September 1942.  This was the first battle of the Pacific campaign in which Allied troops inflicted a decisive defeat of Japanese ground forces, forcing them to withdraw and completely abandon their goal.

The Japanese hoped to get an air and naval base to provide air and naval support for the Japanese Kokoda Track campaign to take Port Moresby in New Guinea by capturing newly built airfields in Milne Bay.

Japanese forces had experienced local setbacks before: their first attack on Wake was postponed and American troops defeated the Japanese at Guadalcanal in the Battle of Tenaru, four days before the Battle of Milne Bay begins.  But unlike Milne Bay, these actions have not resulted in the complete withdrawal of Japan and the abandonment of the military campaign.

Forces

In fact, it is the elite of the Marines Japanese, known for Kaigun Rikusentai (海军特别陆戦队Special Forces Japanese landing (FSDJ)) rather than the Imperial Japanese Army forces that attacked Allied to Milne Bay.  The Japanese high command had committed approximately 850 infantrymen of the 5th FSDJ led by Commander Shojiro Hayashi, a company of the 5th FSDJ, led by Lieutenant Fujikawa, the 10th Naval Landing Force and the 2nd group Airborne with 350 non-combatants of the 16th Group shipbuilding.  The Japanese force was first commanded by Commander Shojiro Hayashi.

The Allies, commanded by Major-General Cyril Clowes Australian, had to defend three runways strategically important.  The troops consisted of the 18th Infantry Brigade of the 7th Australian Division, the 7th Brigade, training the militia , companies A, C, and a platoon of Company E of the 14th Brigade of the 55th Battalion, 9th Battery 2/3 Regiment of anti-air defense, 709th American air defense battery and battery 9th from 2/5 th Field Regiment.  In addition, part of the Corps of Engineers of the Army of the United States, the 46th Engineer Regiment, was deployed on site to build airfields.

While Allied forces have counted 8824 people, only about 4,500 were affected in the infantry.  The Japanese have enjoyed a significant advantage by having light tanks that the Allies had not deployed.  The Japanese also had complete control of the sea during the night, for their strengthening and evacuation if necessary.  However, squadrons No. 75 and 76 of the Royal Australian Air Force, flying P-40 Kittyhawk and the Hudson Group No. 1 Milne Bay have played a crucial role in the fierce battle that took place on site had an uncontested advantage in the day.

The battle

From 4 August 1942 , Japanese planes began bombing Milne Bay for their landing.

The main Japanese invasion force left Rabaul on 24 August.  The fleet consisted of two light cruisers Tenryu and Tatsuta, three destroyers, Urakaze, Tanikaze and Hamakaze, troop transports and Kinai Nankai Maru Maru and two hunters submarine under the command of Admiral against Mitsaharu Matsuyama.

On August 25, the headquarters of Milne Bay was alerted by an Australian bomber Hudson Island Kitava in the Trobriand Islands and the Coastwatchers the presence of a convoy of six destroyers and three troop transports Japanese approaching the area of ​​Milne Bay.  HMAS Arunta and the carrier left the SS Tasman region of Milne Bay to Port Moresby after learning the arrival of the invading force.  Australian planes strafed the convoy and attempted to bomb the transport ships, with 250-pound bombs near Rabi Island.  The convoy had only limited damage and not one ship was sunk.  As night approached, the planes returned to their base.

The second convoy of invading troops, most of Buna, a village in the northern province was composed of 350 sailors from the 5th FSDJ Sasebo, led by Commander Tsukioka, ran aground on Goodenough Island, after seeing her barges destroyed by P-40 squadron Australian No. 75.  It was originally planned that the second convoy Taupota to disembark, cross the Stirling Range and attack from behind the defenders of Milne Bay.

Because of the attack on their convoy, the Japanese could not land their troops Rabi, near the airbase Milne Bay as planned.  At 11 h 30, August 25, the Japanese landed 1,150 soldiers and two tanks Type 95 Ha-Go to Ahioma on the north shore of Milne Bay, seven miles east of their landing zone provided.

D Company of 61 Battalion was captured near the landing site to Ahioma, trying to get back on the mission KB in a small skirmish.  The luggers Bronzewing and Elevala were heavily damaged but the star Dadosee escaped.

At dawn on 26 August, the Japanese had reached the main position of B Company 61 Battalion around the Mission KB.  The Japanese suffered a major setback when their base was attacked at dawn by the Curtiss P-40 and Hudson, as well as the B-25s , B-26 and B-17 of the U.S. 5th Air Force , killing one number of enemy soldiers, destroying their supplies and a number of landing craft beached near the KB Mission.  The destruction of landing craft prevented their use to outflank the Australian battalions.  The basis of Curtiss P-40 was very close to places of combat aircraft to strafe Japanese positions shortly after takeoff.

An attack against the 61 Battalion pushed the Japanese mission KB, but after six hours of intense fighting, the 61st Division withdrew behind the Gama River.  The 61st Battalion was 15 killed, 14 wounded and some missing, and the 25th Battalion, 3 dead and 2 missing.

The 2/10 Infantry Battalion received from General Cyril Clowes order to cross the river and Gama embarked on the offensive.  However, he had to face the Japanese light tanks and tried to make them harmless with sticky bombs that could not hold because of the moisture conditions in the tropics.  Japanese troops backed by tanks inflicted heavy losses on the Australians were 43 people killed and 26 injured.  The Battalion was forced to withdraw north of Turnbull Field south of the strip Kilarbo on 27 August 1942.  Airport Turnbull Field was being built by the 46th Engineer Regiment at the time.  The 25th Battalion could contain the Japanese advance and a two-day lull ensued.

August 29, Japanese reinforcements were landed composed of 768 men of the 3rd Kure FSDJ and 5th FSDJ Yokosuka, under the command of Minoru Yano, who succeeded Hayashi.  The warships of the Allied convoy bombed positions in Gili Gili while discharging their reinforcements.  Light tanks were discovered on August 30 by an Australian patrol near Rabi bogged down and abandoned.

On August 31, at 3 o’clock in the morning 00, three suicide attacks were repulsed at Turnbull Field by machine gun fire and mortar of the 25th and 61st battalions and the 46th Engineer Regiment and 2/5 th Regiment artillery.

The 2/12 Battalion launched an offensive against-9 am 00 am on Aug. 31 and pushed the Japanese forces along the north coast of Milne Bay.  He was joined by the 2/9 Battalion 3 September and stood before a significant Japanese resistance on 4 September.  The advance of a platoon in the battalion 2/9 th was blocked by fire from three Japanese machine-gun positions.  Corporal John French suggested that other members of the squad to go to shelter until he destroyed the guns with grenades.  French destroyed the first two and then attacked the third position with his machine gun.  When Japanese gunfire had ceased, the Australian forward pack to find the French gunners killed and died in front of the third.  The Victoria Cross was awarded to him posthumously.

The Japanese withdrawal

On September 5, the Japanese high command ordered a retreat.  On 6 September, the Australian offensive reached the main camp of the Japanese landing force.  The 2/9 Battalion had 30 killed and 90 wounded, the Battalion 2/12 e 35 dead and 44 wounded.

Three Beaufighters of No. 30 Squadron and six Beauforts of No. 100 Squadron arrived at Milne Bay September 6, 1942 to provide additional support against landings and provide anti-ship missions.  On the night of September 6, the Japanese light cruiser Tatsuta, assigned to evacuate Japanese troops after their defeat, bombarded the Gili Gili wharves and sank the Chinese merchant vessel MV Anshun.

On the night of the 7th, the Japanese war ships bombed positions over the ground.  Patrols of Australian soldiers hunted down and killed the Japanese troops trying to regain Buna overland.

Consequences

According to official figures, 311 Japanese were killed, including 301 missing in action.  The Japanese Navy evacuated 1318 people.  Of the 534 Australian victims, 161 were killed or missing in action.  U.S. forces lost 14 killed and several seriously injured.

The Japanese committed war crimes during the battle including the killing of prisoners of war and civilians.  None of the 39 Australian soldiers captured by the Japanese survived.  All were killed and some even mutilated.  In addition, at least 59 civilians were killed.  These events have been documented by the Royal Commission Webb in Australia after the war.

The effect on the morale of the military allies in Asia and the Pacific was important, especially for other Australians fighting against the Japanese rearguard on the Kokoda trail, U.S. marines at the same time leading the Battle of Guadalcanal and the troops of the 14 th army of William Slim retreating in Burma.

References

1. Bullard, p.  153.

2. Lundstrom, Guadalcanal Campaign, p. 168.

(En) Clive Baker, Milne Bay, 1942, Loftus NSW, Australian Military History Publications, 3rd ed. (ISBN 978-0-646-05405-6 )

(In) Japanese army operations in the South Pacific Area New Britain and Papua campaigns, 1942-43, Canberra, Australian War Memorial, 2007 (ISBN 9780975190487)

(En) Christopher D.  Coulthard-Clark, The encyclopedia of Australia’s battles, Crows Nest, Allen & Unwin (ISBN 978-1-86508-634-7) (LCCN 2002416656)

(En) John B.  Lundstrom, First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942, Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 1st ed (. ISBN 978-1-59114-472-4 ) ( OCLC 61177012 ) ( LCCN 2005280205)

(Fr) Anthony K.  Macdougall, Australians at War: A Pictorial History, Noble Park, The Five Mile Press (ISBN 978-1-86503-648-9 ) (LCCN 2002491198 )

(En) Gordon Maitland, The Second World War and Its Australian Army Battle Honours, East Roseville, New South Wales, Kangaroo Press (ISBN 978-0-86417-975-3 )

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