The Japanese built extensive fortifications in the Buna area including coconut log bunkers, trenches and sniper positions. Roughly 9,000 Japanese defended the area spanning from Buna to Gona. Buna was defended by approximately 2,000 troops including fresh reinforcements from the 144th Infantry Regiment and the 229th Infantry, 3rd Battalion under the command of Col. Hiroshi Yamamoto.
After advancing towards the coast, Australian Army and U.S. Army forces attacked Buna village on November 16, 1942, but little gains were made. More reinforcements were sent forward and but only small gains were made. By December 14, 1942 the Japanese abandoned Buna village and were occupying positions to the east at Jiropa.
Meanwhile, a total of 3,000 Australian Army troops from the 18th Australian Brigade, under the command of Brigadier Wootten, plus a squadron of the 2/6th Australian Armoured Regiment equipped with M3 Stuart tanks were brought forward to Buna along with 9,000 soldiers from the U. S. Army 32nd Infantry Division.
On December 18, 1942 at Cape Endaiadere at 7am, the Australians 2/9th Battalion, supported by seven tanks attacked towards Cape Endaiadere with the Americans on their left in support advanced north through the Americans, on a front of about 600 yards and with the sea on their right. However, the left company, attacking without tanks lost more than half its eighty-seven men in an advance of only about 100 yards and was pinned down. The attack did not resume until after the arrival of three tanks in the afternoon. The battalion lost 171 officers and men, about half the strength of the attacking companies. Two tanks were disabled on the battlefield.
On December 20, 1942 at 7am, the 2/9th Battalion reinforced by a company of the 2/10th Battalion on the right with an American battalion on the left continued the advance towards the coconut plantation. With air support and four M3 Stuart tanks spaced among the Australian infantry they moved through the coconut plantation without great opposition and by 10:00 am were advancing into the bush and kunai grass clothing the marshy country beyond the plantation. The tanks bogged down and were only able to travel along the beach. The attackers came under heavy mortar and machine-gun fire. The advance ended on the general line along the Simemi Creek.
On December 24, 1942 1st Sgt Elmer J. Burr, U.S. Army, 32nd Infantry Division, 127th Infantry Regiment, Company I deliberately threw himself atop an enemy grenade that landed near his company commander, smothering the blast which killed him but saved others. Later, he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. That same day, a platoon from Company L attempted to reach the beach to split the enemy's defensive positions in two. After neutralizing a pillbox single handedly and leading the assault on a second pillbox, Sgt Kenneth E. Gruennert was shot by a sniper and later earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On January 1, 1943 the Allies succeeded in breaking through the defenses and captured Buna two days later. During the ferocious fighting, only six Japanese were taken prisoners, the rest were killed or died.
In total, 1,400 Japanese were buried at Buna, The fighting on the beachheads cost 1,500 Australians, 670 Americans and an estimated 4,000 Japanese dead. The US 32nd Division sustained 1,954 casualties; 466 killed and 1508 wounded. In sixteen days the 18th Brigade suffered casualties of 55 officers and 808 men, including 22 officers and 284 others killed.
DB-7B Mark IIIA "Retribution" Serial