4° 12' 0S Long 152° 10' 60E Rabaul means 'mangrove' in Tolia language. The town was built on reclaimed mangrove swamp land at the edge of Simpson Harbor.
The town was established by the German empire in the early 1900s as the capital of their colony Deutsch Neu Guinea. At the start of WWI, Allied forces, primarily Australian occupied the area on September 11, 1914 by assaulted the German Radio station at Bitapaka. After the war, the League of Nations mandated it to the Australians until attacked by the Japanese. Heavily damaged by a volcanic eruption of 1937 when volcanoes Vulcan and Tavurvur exploded.
On January 4, 1942 Japanese
flying boats first bombed Rabaul. On January 20, 1942 a Japanese carrier force under the command of Admiral Nagumo including Akagi, Kaga, Shokaku and Zuikaku attacked Rabaul. On January 22, 1942 carrier planes returned, but found no targets and preformed aerobatics prior to the Japanese invasion
force arrival via St. Georges Channel.
After midnight of January 23, 1942
the 144th Infantry Regiment 'South Seas Detachment' landed at Raluana Point and west of Kokopo. At Kerawun and north of Vulcan. At Malaguna, west of Praed Point and Nordup. Only the outnumbered Australian Army 2/22nd Battalion and New Guinea Volunteer Rifles opposed. By morning, the Japanese had occupied Rabaul.
into a massive base and Army and Navy Headquarters
in the South Pacific. The Navy controlled the eastern half of the town, with their HQ at the New Guinea Club building. The 8th Army HQ at four corners intersection. At the war's peak,
97,000 Japanese troops were stationed in the vicinity,
in addition to Allied POW's, slave laborers and even reportedly 3,000 'comfort woman' (prostitutes) including
from Korean and Japan.
Airfields & Seaplane Bases
There were six airfields used by the Japanese, and several seaplane anchorages in Simpson Harbor. Reportedly, 367 anti-aircraft weapons
(192 Army, 175 Navy) were emplaced around Rabaul by late 1942. The harbors were defended by an estimated 43 coastal guns and 20 searchlights according to US Strategic Bombing Survey in 1943. The Rabaul area was the most heavily defended target in the South-West Pacific area.
Bypassed by the Allies, it
remained in Japanese hands for the duration of the war and was subject
to almost daily air raids, left to "wither
on a vine" until the Japanese surrender. Americans dropped
20,000 tons of bombs on the town and vicinity. Conditions for the
Japanese deteriorated once it was cut off from supply. They were
forced to commandeer food from the natives and to fend for themselves by large scale gardening.
Allied missions against Rabaul (Town)
January 4, 1942 - 1945
At the end of
the war, it took two years to transfer Japanese POWs back to
Japan, and an Allied court and gallows dealt with war
criminals. Some served prison sentences of hard labor in the area until the early 1950s.
a volcanic eruption in 1994 that covered most of the town in ash,
has grown around the new airport, across the harbor at Kokopo and
slowly life & commerce along the harbor and town returns to
Rabaul's harbor, the focal point of the Japanese Naval base.
Many ships were sunk here during the war, including warships and merchant.
Many wrecks remain to this day.
New Guinea Club
Built prior to the war. Occupied by the Japanese navy until late 1943, when the HQ was relocated to underground tunnels to the north. After the war, the club was rebuilt, and again after the 1994 volcano eruption. Today contains a displays of wartime relics and history related to Rabaul.
Anti-Aircraft & Search
Light Bunker (aka "Yamamoto Bunker")
Japanese Bunker in town near New Guinea Club. Also
know locally as 'The Admiral's Bunker' or 'Yamamoto Bunker', where it is claimed Admiral Yamamoto spent his
last night before being shot down over Bougainville. This is highly unlikely.
Four Corners (Four Ways)
Four way intersection at the western edge of Rabaul town. Japanese 8th Army HQ was based at this location.
Tunnel Hill (Tunnel Hill Road)
Germans created 'Ratavul Tunnel' or 'Ratavul Pass Road' to connect Rabaul to Talili Bay, cutting through the ridge line. After an earthquake, the tunnel collapsed and was expanded into a road cut but was still known as 'Tunnel Hill'. During the war, the Japanese built tunnels into the sides of the road, including several 6th Kempei Tai (Military Police) tunnels for Allied POWs. Many were executed
on March 3/4, 1944, the "Tunnel Hill Massacre".
Observatory Ridge (Volcanology
Ridge with spectacular views of Rabaul and Simpson Harbor. Also known as "Observatory Hill" or "Volcano Observatory'". Prior to the war, a volcano observatory was established on the ridge. Prewar, the Australian Army established an anti-aircraft position at the observatory. The Japanese also used it for anti-aircraft guns and tunneled the road to it with tunnels.
The War Memorial is overlooking the harbor a few km out of town on Namanula
Hill Road is the memorial, the main Japanese memorial in the Pacific.
Excellent views. Nearby is a huge kapok tree.
Eastern portion of Rabaul town. Japanese "comfort woman" (prostitutes) were housed here during in the earlier stages of the war.
Kempei Tai POW Compound
Located in Rabaul on the corner of Casurine Street and Konbue Street. Prewar, this building was a prewar Taylor shop. Converted into a prison run by the Kempei-Tai, this location was used to hold Allied prisoners until the town was heavily bombed during early 1944, and remaining prisoners were moved to Tunnel Hill.
Jose Holguin recalls:
"The building housing the prisoners and the officers and men of the, military police headquarter were a series of converted, two story warehouse that before the war had been part of a Chinese tailor shop and clothing store. The officers, interpreters and warrant officers lived on the second floor, the prisoners were confined in six cells located on the lower floor of the northernmost building. The guards had their quarters in the southernmost building."
As the war turned against the Japanese, and Rabaul area was subjected to daily bombing raids, many tunnels were dug into the pumice ridges for hospitals, guns, bunkers, gun emplacements, barracks and HQ. During the early months of 1944, Japanese dug (with labor force) a tunnel complexes that by November reached 70km for the Navy and 80km for the Army. By the end of the war, it was estimated these lengths doubled. Another estimate places Gazelle
Peninsula tunnels at 500km in collective length.
Iwao Matsuda's HQ included a four post bed, luxury bath, personal
room, air raid shelter, cans of coca-cola, Philippine beer and expensive
imported food. Meanwhile, his troops were sick, starving and dying. Post war, Japanese POW labor was used to empty out most known tunnels, especially to collect and dispose of munitions. Occasionally, a tunnel is discovered or a landslide reveals others and untouched caches of arms or equipment are found.
Installed in February or March 1943, this Radar set had a range of 150km working in tandem with sets on New Ireland and Bougainville.
Located to the north of Rabaul town in tunnels the Japanese installed Fuso electric generators that remained in use postwar until at least 1952, run by Ernie Smith.
Post war, a wooden gallows and steps were built by the the main water tank at the Malaguna Vocational
Center. On August 7, 1947 at 8:00am, Japanese war criminals were hang including Lieutenant General Masao Babaon convicted for his role with the Sandakan Death March. Until the late 1960s, the frame of the gallows remained standing.
Brian Bennett recalls:
Croydon had been the Australian Provost Marshall in Rabaul post
war and had a lot to do with Japanese POW who were held in Rabaul until
about 1947. He saw a lot of the war criminals strung up. The steps
for the gallows were by the main water tank at the Malaguna Vocational
center for many years. Harry had a yard in Rabaul for ages that still
had all sorts of interesting stuff in it. In Rabaul area it was Harry
Croydon, Arthur Viggers, Arthur Brown, Pat Roberts, Jack Chipper."
Located to south of Rabaul along Karavia Bay. After the 1994 eruption, Kokopo became the business center.
Located to the west of Rabaul, bordering
Kula and including Watom Island. Linked to Rabaul by Tunnel Hill Road.
Volcano to the east of Lakunai Airfield. Major eruptions occurred in 1937 (destroyed Rabaul), 1941-1943 and 1994 (destroyed Rabaul).
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
May 5, 2013