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    Alexishafen Catholic Mission Madang Province Papua New Guinea

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AWM c1915

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38th BG c1943

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USAAF Dec 28, 1943

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Justin Taylan 2000

Location
Located on a peninsula at Alexishafen on a peninsula with Sek Harbor to the north and Megas Island to the east. Today, known as St. Fidelis College (Saint Fidelis).

Prewar
Prewar German Catholic Mission headquarters established at this location known as the "Catholic Mission of the Holy Ghost". The mission area was developed to include a large Catholic cathedral, quarters for the priests and nuns, boat shed and cemetery among other facilities. Nearby an airfield was developed at Danip Airfield to provide air service.

During 1942, the mission was led by Bishop Wolfe with seventy missionaries including sisters who chose not to evacuate when the threat of Japanese invasion loomed.

Japanese Occupation
During the night of December 18, 1942. the Japanese Army occupied Madang. During the night of December 23, 1942, the Japanese Army troops landed by barges and occupied Alexishafen Catholic Mission and Alexishafen

Initially, the Japanese Army officer based in the area assured the Catholic missionaries were unharmed and allowed to go about their business but were guarded. Only one missionary, Father Joseph Kotrba was executed by the Japanese.

During their occupation, the cathedral was used to store munitions, possibly to protect them from Allied bombing, assuming the church building would be avoided as targets.

Due to Allied bombing and strafing, the mission and cathedral was destroyed and by the retreating Japanese. Also, the metal roofing was removed, either to use it for other purposes or camouflage the buildings. On September 1, 1943 the Catholic Cathedral at Alexishafen was destroyed by an American bombing raid.

They had stripped the mission building and destroyed many of the religious relics. On April 26, 1944 when the Australian Army liberated the area, all that remained was the mission's foundation and its cross.

American missions against Alexishafen
December 18, 1942 - April 15, 1944

75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Battery
The Japanese Army emplaced an anti-aircraft gun battery at this location with at least five 75mm Anti-Aircraft Type 88 guns. Most were built into revetments constructed from coral rubble. Many bomb craters pot mark the area. Some of the guns are missing, or barrels have fallen off in the years since the war while others are still in excellent condition.

75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Type 88 (No. 1)
Emplaced as part of an anti-aircraft gun battery

75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Type 88 (No. 2)
Emplaced as part of an anti-aircraft gun battery

75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Type 88 (No. 3)
Emplaced as part of an anti-aircraft gun battery

75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Type 88 (No. 4)
Emplaced as part of an anti-aircraft gun battery

75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Type 88 (No. 5)
Emplaced as part of an anti-aircraft gun battery

Australian Occupation
During the Japanese occupation, the statue of "The Sacred Heart of Jesus" was hidden by natives and returned to the mission after the Australian Army liberated Alexishafen.

By July 1944, the priest residence was repaired and used as by the 11th Casualty Clearing Station, including a surgery ward. By July 17, a new hospital ward for the 2/15th Field Hospital was built on the mission grounds.

US Navy Base at Alexishafen
On April 27, 1944 a US Navy destroyer entered the harbor.

After the Allied occupation of the area, the US Navy's 7th Amphibious Force was requested in May 1944 to provide logistical support for operations in the area. Beginning on June 13, 1944 a group of 200 men of the USN 91st Battalion arrived to begin construction with materials from Finschafen and Milne Bay to establish the base on Bostrem Bay on a peninsula off Alexishafen with additional facilities on Megas Island and Ulimal Island.

A camp was established for 400 men of command services were assigned to the base. A freshwater supply system for ships, capable of providing a half million gallons per day of untreated water was built. Boat repair facilities were built on floating dry docks. The completed base was commissioned on August 17, 1944.

On August 31, 1944 American singer and entertainer Frances Langford visited Alexishafen in conjunction with Bob Hope's USO tour.

By early November, the base was far behind the front lines and plans for disassembly went into effect by the end of December. The water supply was turned over to the Royal Australian Navy.  Officially decommissioned as a US Naval base on January 28, 1945.

Today
Known as St. Fidelis College (Saint Fidelis). Many relics remain on the mission properly undisturbed. Unlike other relics that have since been scrapped or removed, the mission land is protected and is why they are left intact. The mission's sign is made from a large Japanese propeller, probably from a bomber from Alexishafen. Also, the stations of the cross are painted onto large ship screws, probably from wrecks or abandoned equipment in the harbor area.

Alexishafen Mission Cemetery
Graveyard includes graves of missionaries who died during the war.

Ship Propellers
The stations of the cross are painted on large ship propellers, presumably from war debris located near the mission and collected after the war.

References
Pacific Islands Year Book 1942 page 271
Madang page 147

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Last Updated
May 3, 2016

 

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