Milne Bay - Papua New Guinea

Milne Bay is situated on the south eastern tip of Papua New Guinea; it was a vital forward garrison made up of Australians (7,459) and Americans who were mostly engineers (1,365) grouped in construction and support of the airfields.

At the time of the Japanese amphibious landing two squadrons of Kittyhawk fighters (No. 75 and No. 76 squadrons RAAF) worked from Gurney Field or No. 1 strip. Two infantry brigades one militia (25th battalion and 61st battalion) and the other AIF (2/12 th AIF) were grouped together under Major General Cyril Clowes and were known as “Milne Force”. 

The Japanese landed 2,000 marines to the east of the allies’ position over 11 kilometres from their intended target with the support of two light tanks on the 25 August 1942. On night of 27-28 August they reached No. 3 Strip eastern edge. A Japanese warship on the 29 August dropped another 800 marines and shelled an area between No.1 and No.3 Strip before the main battle at 3 am on the 31 August. The militia battalions and the American 41st Engineer Regiment countered three frenzied Japanese charges over open ground; the Japanese withdrew before dawn with heavy losses. 

At 9am Major General Clowes launched a counter offensive by sending the AIF after a retreating enemy, strong resistance by the Japanese was encounter from rearguard actions. On the 4 September this had covered ten kilometres with increasing resistance. On 6 September the 2/9 th Battalion occupied the enemy's main base. The Japanese evacuated only 1,318 marines by naval vessel. Milne Bay battle was a relative small scale battle but it became a vital piece in history as the first defeat of the invincible Japanese in the Pacific. This assisted moral and dispelled the myths surrounding the Japanese in the Second World War. 

Did you know that Papua New Guinea gained independence in 1975; it was an Australian Territory from 1906 which is why the militia battalions were employed there in the war. 

Source, The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles, Chris Coulthard- Clark

Last updated
4 December 2016