The Huon Peninsula Campaign.

The Japanese thrust towards Australia had been stopped by the Australian
defence of the Kokoda Trail and the defeat of the Japanese landing at
Milne Bay. Organised Japanese resistance in Papua ceased in January 1943
and the Australian and American forces advanced towards Salamaua. In
mid-1943, General Sir Thomas Blamey's planned a major offensive in the
New Guinea area with the immediate objective of seizing the airfields in
the Lae-Markham Valley area and the overall objective of driving through
the corridor running along the north coast of the island of New Guinea.

The offensive was to be conducted by Lt-General Sir Edmund Herring's New
Guinea Force with the 7th and 9th Australian Divisions. 

The Huon Peninsula had been occupied by the Japanese for quite some time and the
Japanese were well dug in, Lae and the Markham-Ramu Valley were within
range of Japanese air bases at Boram and in the Wewak area. The allied
command did not know how many Japanese troops were in the peninsula and
the Japanese were capable of sending in reinforcements.

The mountain ranges of the Huon Peninsula rose to heights nearly twice
that of Mount Koscuisko. There were few beaches and those that did exist
were short and narrow and backed into mangroves. The mountain tops were
often covered in rain mists and the humidity was oppressive all year
round. The Huon Peninsula had a very small native population and
virtually no food resources. The Australians would fight in overbearing
continual perspiration and dampness and the extremely heavy rains
dramatically affected visibility. 

Prior to the Japanese invasion there had probably been about 30 cows, 500 goats and several hundred chickens
in the Peninsula. The insects and pests were abundant and there was
little opportunity for the troops to give too much attention to personal
hygiene. There was no shelter from the rain and the area above the tree
line was covered with moss. The foothills mostly ran down to the sea and
at times were engorged by the rain and turned into rivers flowing at
fifteen knots. Behind the coastal hills were cliffs and gorges, with
thin approaches strangled by scrub. Grass grew up to fifteen feet high
and bamboo presented its own problems. Roads did not exist but there was
a network of tracks and paths.

The 9th Division was commanded by Major-General George Wootten. It had
behind it a record of great distinction in the Middle East, culminating
in the actions at El Alamein. The Huon Peninsula would be its first
jungle campaign. The 7th Division was commanded by Major-General George
Vasey, and it had fought at Tobruk and in Syria. It was well-seasoned in
jungle warfare having fought in the Owen Stanley and Buna-Gona
campaigns. The 9th Division's plan was to capture Lae from the east
while the 7th Division was to advance from Nadzab in the Markham Valley.
After taking Lae and having acquired a main foothold, the two divisions
were to surround the Peninsula, the 7th moving down the Markham-Ramu
Valley on the west and the 9th proceeding along the Finschhafen coast
until it linked up with the Markham Valley force. Once the Huon country
was surrounded, any remaining Japanese troops could be dealt with
relatively easily. The 7th Division was to be airlifted over the Owen
Stanley's and land about 19 miles from Lae at Nadzab on the opposite
side of that town from the landing place of the 9th Division. It was to
become the first Australian division to be flown into battle.

Before the major offensive was to start, attempts were made to lull the
Japanese into believing that Salamaua was the Australian objective. In
effect, the intention was to persuade the Japanese that the Australians
were fighting the decisive battle for Huon on the Salamaua front, and to
have the Japanese denude the Lae area of its defensive strength while
Lae was attacked and captured. This was achieved by constant attacks on
Japanese outposts by troops who were operating from Wau in the Salamaua
hinterland. Their skirmishes forced the Japanese to constantly transfer
troops from Lae to Salamaua.

At 6.30 am on 4 September 1943, a short naval bombardment preceded the
landing of the 9th Division's 20th Brigade on Red and Yellow Beaches.
Both beaches were of firm black sand and about twenty yards wide. There
was no opposition on the beaches and it was not until the fifth wave was
landing that Japanese aircraft appeared. The 26th Brigade followed the
20th Brigade. The 2/17th Battalion (20th Brigade) and the 2/23rd and
2/24th Battalions (26th Brigade) commenced the advance towards Lae. The
24th Brigade disembarked at Red Beach on the night of 5 September.

On the morning of 5 September, 24 hours after the 9th Division landed on
the beaches, the largest air armada seen in the South Pacific dropped
1720 men of the US 503rd Paratroop Infantry Regiment into Nadzab. Also
dropped by parachute were 36 men of the 2/4th Australian Field Regiment
with a field guns. The 2/6th Field Company meanwhile had built a
footbridge across the Markham River and across this bridge poured the
men of the aerodrome constructive company to begin work on the Nadzab
airstrips. On 7 September, the first two brigades of the 7th Division,
over 250 aircraft loads, were flown to Nadzab with its third brigade
following a week later.

While the 9th Division moved west along the shore of Huon Gulf, the 7th
Division struck south-east along the bank of the broad Markham River.
The two divisions would converge at Lae. With the 24th Brigade carrying
out a parallel movement inland, the 9th Division crossed the Burep River
and faced the rushing waters of the Busu. Swollen by tropical downpours,
the river presented a difficult barrier. It became clear that engineers,
even under covering fire, could not build a bridge across the river
without bringing up heavy equipment. A daylight frontal assault was led
by the 2/28th Battalion, on 9 September, and after ferocious fighting,
the Australians dug in on the Japanese side of the Busu. On 11
September, the 7th Division's 25th Brigade drove 200 Japanese from their
trenches in Jensen's plantation and killed 33 of them. It was a fierce
clash at a range of 15 metres with the 2/24th Field Regiment providing
close artillery support. Having crushed many counter-attacks, the 25th
Brigade engaged the Japanese force at Heath plantation which left 312
Japanese dead.