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Australian Army Campaign on New Britain
via Australian Army Campaigns in New Guinea

By July 1944 parties of Allied Intelligence Bureau, using natives, had cleared the Japanese from the north coast to Ulamona and from the south coast to the western shores of Wide Bay.

During the first week of the New Year 1945 the Australians' first offensive operation instruction was issued. Up to that period Australian forces had been limited to patrols and, because of numerical inferiority, had instructions to avoid heavy clashes. The new instruction allowed for concentration of the 14th/32nd Battalion and a troop of artillery at Sampun in the Wide Bay area, and for patrols to contact the Japanese. Onthe north coast the 36th Battalion was to move to Nantambu, with orders to contact the Japanese by patrolling.

By the end of January 1945 movement of the whole of the Fifth Division to New Britain was practically complete. The 6th Brigade was at Cutarp, the 13th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier E G H McKenzie) was settled in at Jacquinot, and advanced elements of 4th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier CR V Edgar) had arrived from Australia after a spell following its part in the 1944 New Guinea campaigns.

The Australians pushed forward on both sides of the island. The 14th/32nd Battalion had moved from Sampun to Kiep, and the 19th Battalion was preparing to leave Cutarp to take over the small base which had been established at Sampun. Patrols from the 14th/32nd reached Ip River on Wide Bay and on the north coast a company of the 36th Battalion went on from Nantambu to Baia on the shores of Open Bay.

Northern Coast
The first notable clash occurred on 3 February when a platoon from "D" Company of the 1st New Guinea Infantry Battalion was moving along the north coast towards Mavelo plantation, about a mile south of Watu Point, was attacked by 200 to 300 Japanese troops. They came in behind a screen of rebel natives, yelling and shouting in an attempt to demoralise the natives of the New Guinea Infantry Battalion platoon. But their noise had no effect. The platoon killed twenty of the Japanese before it withdrew without a casualty.

On 9 February a platoon from "C" Company of the 36th Battalion and a platoon from "D" Company of the 1st New Guinea Infantry Battalion were attacked by about eighty Japanese. The ensuing battle lasted for half an hour until the Australians withdrew to avoid being encircled.

On the north coast Australian troops were exploring and patrolling the hundreds of tracks which branched and disappeared in all directions from the mainpaths.

On the 17 February, "B" Company of the 1st New Guinea Infantry Battalion, moving along one of these tracks, clashed with an Japanese party sixty strong. A running fight developed; two NGIB soldiers were lost but the battalion accounted for twenty-five Japanese.

"A" Company of the 36th Battalion had moved forward to the Sai River on the east side of Open Bay and on 18 February repulsed threeattacks by a strong Japanese party. The rest of the battalion group hadmoved up from Baia and was concentrating at Watu Point.The stiffening Japanese resistance gave an indication of the determination to defend the narrow neck between Open and Wide Bays toprevent penetration into Gazelle Peninsula.

On the north coast the lull was broken early on the morning of the 8 March, when a party of seventy Japanese attacked a platoon of "C" Company of the 36th Battalion on Mavelo River. The attack was repulsed and the Japanese dug in fifty yards outside the Australian perimeter. Shortly after 7 am they attacked again, supported by a 70mm gun.

When they withdrew they left fifteen dead behid. The 36th had been at Open Bay for eight and a half months.

On the Open Bay side of the island the 1st New Guinea Infantry Battalion patrolled forward to the north-east side of Cooper's Clearing. The relief of 36th Battalion from Open Bay, which had been going on since 10 May, was completed on the 6 June after the 37th/52nd Battalion had marched across Gazelle Peninsula. During June, operations on the north coast operations were at a stand still due to rains.

Southern Coast
In view of the comparatively low strength of Australian forces in the area, it became necessary to define the limit to which the advance would proceed. In the Wide Bay area this was fixed as the mouth of Bulus River. It involved first the seizure of Japanese positions in the Waitavalo-Tol plantation area.

On the morning of 15 February RAAF Beauforts, led in by a Boomerang, bombed and strafed Japanese positions on the north edge of Kalai plantation. They attacked for half an hour and, as they pulled out and headed home across the bay, Australian artillery opened up for the first time in the campaign. The 2/14th Field Regiment pumped a thousand rounds into the plantation and, when the 14th/32nd Battalion moved into occupy, the Japanese had withdrawn.

From Kalai the battalion moved on and consolidated positions around Kamandram, a peace-time trading station with a fairly good anchorage. They stayed there only two days and then moved inland along the Japanese tracks.

On 18 February the 14th/32nd Battalion, which had been forward battalion since the landing in November, was relieved by the 19th Battalion. On the same day 6th Brigade headquarters were set up in Kamandram.

On 5 March, the Australians attacked the Waitavalo defences. The Japanese positions were on a long low narrow mountain ridge running as a natural fortress wall around the area. At 9 am "A" Company of the 19th Battalion made two attempts to cross the Henry Reid River near the mouth, but sustained fire drove them back. Moving up river about 300 yards, the crossing was made unopposed. The company then moved downstream in an attempt to outflank the Japanese, but they had withdrawn. In the afternoon the Japanese began to use heavy mortars to effect. The Australians, who had discarded entrenching tools to lighten their loads for the attack, had to dig fox-holes with their hands and bayonets. There was a lull during the night.

At first light on 6 March the Australian gunners opened up again and the infantry followed for the attack proper. "A" Company of the 19th Battalion passed through "C" Company and, meeting only slight opposition, advanced towards the first objective, a feature known as Cake Hill. At 11 am the company met its first serious opposition. From positions on a companion feature in the south known as Lone Tree Hill the Japanese pinned the company down with machine-gun and rifle fire. The advance was halted for an hour there; then the troops began moving forward again. The Japanese had evidently fallen back to further prepared defences and "A" Company occupied Cake Hill. "C" Company of the 19th then came up and consolidated the area while "A" Company moved into a less exposed position. Throughout the day the Japanese had concentrated on battalion headquarters with mortars, and Australian guns were still trying to silence them. During the next three days the Australians continued to attack but they met only slight opposition. They were, however, suffering casualties from Japanese mortars and their artillery was constantly engaged in harassing tasks.

Moving on from Lone Tree Hill Australian troops occupied a higher feature above the Waitavalo ridge known as Moose Hill. There they came under harassing fire from Japanese mortars, and suffered casualties. Rain now set in. In the Wide Bay area there was a lull while the troops were regrouped and supply lines were organised. This was no easy task. Heavy rain had made the steep tracks to the tops of ridges as treacherous as ice, and the tracks themselves were subject to mortar fire. On the flat jeep tracks were mud streams, and the bridge over the Mavelo River had been washed away. During this period the 19th Battalionwas relieved by the 14th/32nd Battalion.

On the morning of the 16 March the Australians attacked again. RAAF Beauforts went in on low-level bombing runs and as they drew out, artillery began shelling the Japanese positions. As the artillery closed down "B" Company of the 14th/32nd Battalion, which had relieved aforward company of the 19th Battalion, advanced northwards to the highground of Bacon's Hill. Two platoons were held up by machine-gun and mortar fire, so a third platoon moved around the left flank and took upa position only fifty yards from the Japanese perimeter. The Japanesewere well dug in, and his cross-fire was well planned.

On 17 March, the attack was renewed. During the night, however, the Japanese had moved out, though his mortars still plugged away, this time from new positions. It was during this attack only that the enemy made use of planes against Australian ground troops. Two came in over the bridge crossing the Walnut River, dropped two heavy bombs and a number of anti-personnel bombs. They caused a few casualties. From then on the Japanese began to withdraw and Waitavalo was occupied without further opposition. The first task had been completed. The Australians were firmly planted on each side of the island, straddling the completed neck of the peninsula, and patrols were going inland from both coasts trying to find a potential track across the neck.

On the 4 April, Major-General H C H Robertson took over command of the Fifth Division from Major-General Ramsay who transferred to the Eleventh Division. The situation was generally quiet throughout June. The Battalions established their perimeters at Wide and Open Bays, and engineers widened and surfaced the roads around Tol and Waitavalo. On 5 June, the 2/2nd Commando Squadron arrived at Wide Bay and established headquarters at Lamarien near Henry Reid River. This squadron had previously fought in Timor and the Ramu Valley.

Rainy Season
By June, a section of the RNZAF was established at Jacquinot Bay Airfield. It consisted of two squadrons of Corsairs and one of Ventures. The RNZAF was most active. On every fine day the New Zealanders bombedand strafed Japanese positions on each coast.

The main advance party of headquarters of the Eleventh Division, which was to relieve the Fifth of command in New Britain, arrived by flying boat from Cairns on the 23 June. The following day the plane returned to Australia with the advance party of the Fifth, which was to establish a camp on the Atherton Tableland.

In the last week of June, the monsoon rains began. During the last two days of the month about twenty inches of rainfell. The sea was too rough for barge traffic and planes could not find their way in or out of the bay. Despite the weather, forward battalions continued patrolling, although most of their work was reconnaissance.

Towards the end of the month land patrols became more active, but there was still no attempt to contact the Japanese in strength. Australian forces were pinning the Japanese down and that was the task which they had been allotted. Refugee natives, coming in from the top of the island, moved into Wide Bay and Open Bay where they were recruited into ANGAU camps for work. On the 10 July the Japanese made a half-hearted harassing attack for the first time in the month. They were forced to withdraw when Australian artillery pin-pointed them on the Moondei River.

Back at Jacquinot Bay Major-General K. W. Eather, promoted from the command of 2sth Brigade, 7th Division) had arrived to take over the division from Major-General H. C. H. Robertson who had been given command of the 6th Division on the New Guinea mainland. Another important administrative change was also inprogress--the change-over of the headquarters staff from Fifth Division to Eleventh Division. The greater part of the Eleventh's staff had arrived from Australia on the 11 August, a few days before the Japanese surrendered.

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