Saidor About the time the 7th Division was driving the Japanese from the Shaggy Ridge area, the 5th Division, was taking over from 9th Division at Sio the pursuit of the enemy along the coast. The experienced leader of the Fifth was Major General A H Ramsay, who had commanded the artillery of the 9th Division in the Middle East. Up to this time the formation had not operated as a complete division. Elements of the division had gained battle experience in New Guinea in the action at Milne Bay in August 1942. In those early days the 7th Brigade, led by Brigadier J Field under command of the Eleventh Australian Division, played its part in the rout of the Japanese forces in that area. For the most part the men were raw troops, though their officers included several with experience in the Middle East. They acquitted themselves well. Other units of the division were blooded exactly one year later when the 29th Brigade participated in the Australian American action which drove the Japanese from Salamaua. On 20 January 1944, 5th Division with the 8th Brigade leading, began its advance up the coast from Sio on the heels the disorganised enemy believed to be making for the safety of his main base at Wewak. This difficult journey through rugged barely penetrable country called for the maximum of endurance, stamina and determination on the part of every officer and soldier of the division. Once more the wild and inhospitable terrain of New Guinea, now commonplace with the veteran soldier campaigning on the island, was to prove the major obstacle to the drive westward of Australian force. From Sio to Saidor, where on the 2 January 1944, American forces had established a perimeter defence, the country consisted of a narrow coastal belt extending inland no more than a mile in its widest part, and intersected with numerous rivers and swamps. A natural obstacle to heavily equipped Australian troops, the treacherous lip of land disappeared beneath the feet of rugged unmapped mountains, rearing up to heights of between 4000 and 6000 feet. When the division began its move, the "north-west" season had just begun. Aerial reconnaissance disclosed that all the rivers: swollen by torrential downpours, were in full flood. Tracks, the very few of them, were impassable to any form of wheeled traffic. The vital task of pushing forward the formation's supplies confronted the divisional commander. So it was decided to place under command for the purpose of the advance a company of American barges. This decision brought new problems in its train. Pilots of reconnaissance aircraft flying over the area reported that sheltered beach heads for barge landings along the proposed route were not plentiful. It was agreed finally that the advance should be made in a series of bounds--each designed to carry troops forward to secure beachheads. In this way a constant flow of supplies would be provided. That this plan did not always work was due to the vagaries of weather now notorious for unpredictability rather than to any breakdown in organisation. Major resistance from the Japanese was not expected. The primary object of the task set the 5th Division was to endeavour to maintain contact with the enemy, harrying and accelerating his retreat and allowing him no time to halt and consolidate defensive positions. Australian troops could look with confidence to full support from the air. The aggressive policy of smashing Japanese bases and airfields which formed so important a part of the general co ordinated plan of attack was bringing rich rewards as Australian forces pushed onward. Concentrated bombing had deprived the enemy of airstrips at Nadzab and Lae, and his army air arm was a pale shadow of a once powerful weapon. On 21 January 1944, the 4th Battalion relieved the 2/17th Battalion. Three days later, supported by a troop of the 2/14th Field Regiment, and engineers of the 8th Field Company, the battalion and its attached troops began its long march. The men of the 4th Battalion were inexperienced in battle. This inexperience combined with the sheer difficulty of natural obstacles caused an initial delay of three days when they reached the Kwama River, which, swollen to almost double its width and crocodile-infested, had, somehow, to be crossed. Valuable time was lost in probing channels which might lead across the barrier. Finally, strong swimmers, dragging a tow-wire with them, battled their way to the far side, and hauled in their wire to which a rope had been attached. The rope was secured to trees on either side of the rapid Kwama, and so the remainder of the force crossed, clinging tenaciously to the slender thread which alone prevented their being swept away by the rushing waters. The battalion was quick to learn by this experience, and from this point on it maintained a rate of progress so rapid that the supply column found difficulty in keeping up with the forward troops. It was a miserable journey. Incessant rain pelted through the vegetation creating a morass underfoot. Some times, when they halted for the night, the men would find themselves literally floating out of their blankets. Heavy seas too were pounding the coastline and the supply barges, struggling to maintain supplies for the advancing land columns, were frequently unable to breast the beaches to land their precious supplies. Reserve stores had to be used, and, at one period, when supplies could not get through, the men were on reduced rations. This imposed added strain on troops who were at times struggling through mud that was waist-high. During the move the unit signals performed yeoman service, maintaining contact with the rear at all times. They were the means of relieving the difficult supply position when they transmitted a request for the dropping of airborne supplies. The efficiency of air transport of army supplies was amply demonstrated here. There was an immediate response to an appeal for supplies from the air, and eighty-two per cent of all supplies dropped were recovered. Giant air transports dropped food, tobacco and copies of Guinea Gold. If anything, this little newspaper was more eagerly sought than rations. To troops practically marooned in the thick of the jungle swamps this link with news of the outside world came almost as tidings from another planet. So far slight contact only, mainly with stragglers, had been made with the enemy, but Japanese dead were numerous--all of them striking evidence of malnutrition and sickness. On 3 February the battalion was relieved at Malasanga by the 30th Battalion, also facing its first campaign. The 30th Battalion experienced the same conditions as its predecessor. It too was forced by bitter, heart-breaking circumstances to learn that only in the jungle can the soldier learn the real difficulties of jungle fighting. For the next stage of the advance, planning was similar, and called for a series of daily bounds designed to permit relief of the 30th Battalion by the 35th Battalion at the Yupna River. This was designed to provide all battalions with experience in actual operations. But a number of factors, not the least of which was the continued heavy weather, made it impracticable to carry out the relief and the 30th Battalion was ordered to continue the advance. For ten days the battalion ploughed through mud, rain, and thick undergrowth, the troops hacking their way through in a rapid advance. In their ninety-mile trek the advancing Australians crossed no fewer than sixty flooded streams. One, the Urawa River, was more than a hundred yards wide, and several men were swept nearly a mile downstream before they managed to struggle to the opposite bank. Sickness now began to take toll of the battalion's strength, and three men were lost from cerebral malaria. Others were suffering from dengue and all were weak with fatigue. Continuing its fast advance the battalion pushed on, and on 10 February made contact with American forces at the Yaut River. Despite its three days' delay at the Kwama River the brigade had arrived at the rendezvous on the appointed day. No pitched battle was fought, but the total enemy losses during the advance from the 24 January to the 3 February were 1291, of whom 300 were killed in running fights and the remainder found dead along the track. Many of the Japanese had been dead for some time. After contact had been made with the American forces at the Yaut River the 8th Brigade paused to rest the men. Then the 35th Battalion, relieving the 30th Battalion, continued patrolling the country inland from Weber Point. Japanese were known to have escaped into the hills, having bypassed the Americans at Saidor, and the 35th Battalion split into companies, and, assisted by a company of the Papuan Infantry Battalion, deployed into the mountains to comb out these stragglers. "A" Company of the 35th Battalion moved round in the direction of Gabutamon while "D" Company was assigned the task of completing the pincers through Ruange and Tapen. Members of the PIB. were attached to each company and their bush craft and native instinct proved invaluable; on several occasions Australian troops were saved from ambush by their uncanny knack of sensing the whereabouts of the Japanese. Inland from Weber Point the country is as rugged and precipitous as anywhere in New Guinea. But unlike most mountainous country the ranges are a poor watershed. This caused hardship for Australian patrols. There were no streams in the vicinity and once they were forced to boil muddy water from bomb craters to quench their thirst. Finally it was found necessary to supply the patrols with water transported from the coast--a journey of seven hours up and along a mountain footpad. At this time it was impossible to find enough native labourers to do the work, the natives having "gone bush" with the advent of the Japanese. So members of "C" Company became carriers and carried the water to their mates in the hills. Each man's pack was emptied to carry a two-gallon can. Each morning they began the long climb up from the river. Fortunately it was possible, some days later, to recruit sufficient natives for the job, but mean while the troops of "C" Company performed a back-breaking task. It was on these patrols that the only "pitched" battle was fought with the enemy. At Tapen, in a fifty-minute engagement, Australians wiped out 103 Japanese. One member of "D" Company, creased by a bullet from an enemy sniper, killing fourteen Japanese with his Bren. Tapen is 4500 feet above sea-level and the troops who had jettisoned weight, including their blankets, when the climb began, found the cold so intense that they were using mosquito-nets as covers for such extra warmth as they would give. During this time "A" Company, patrolling in the Gabutamon area had accounted for seventy Japanese, and when the patrols finally returned to their base camp on the coast, they had killed 467 of the enemy. Another 795 Japanese were found dead, and twenty-our prisoners of war were taken. The area had been cleared of the enemy. The arrival of the Fifth at Saidor marked the end of the first phase of its pursuit of the Japanese, an operation successfully carried out to schedule. But it was not without cost. Within a fort night of the completion of the operation more than thirty per cent of the troops were evacuated to hospital suffering mainly from malaria, dengue, and skin complaints.