Wewak A number of islands off the coast near Wewak were occupied by the Japanese. Some sheltered heavy artillery, including a battery of naval guns on Kairiru Island. These were sited within range of the mainland and it was important that as many as possible should be silenced before the main advance on the fortress of Wewak was undertaken. Royal Australian Navy sloops, corvettes and motor launches, in conjunction with the RAAF, were used to neutralise these guns. At a later date I55-mm. "Long Toms" were brought up on the mainland and they added their heavy fire. An effort had been made earlier to estimate the strength of the Japanese on Muschu Island, and a small party of special troops was landed by night. Unfortunately, they were intercepted and forced to fight it out. They were unable to get back to their boats and all but one were captured or killed. The survivor brought back information of considerable value. The area near Wewak has a number of important topographical features. The coastline is irregular, with capes jutting out from the shoreline, and the Japanese had prepared extensive defensive positions on these headlands. Bunkers had been constructed and the natural caves reinforced to provide strong fire positions. Artillery had been brought up and sited to cover the limited approaches. Large quantities of stores were being poured into the supply dumps at But and Karawop, and a large assortment of supporting arms was brought forward, including tanks, flame-throwers and heavy artillery. The 16th Brigade still provided the forward troops, but the 19th was moving up to take over the offensive in the Hawain River area for the final advance into Wewak itself. The 2/6th Commando Regiment had been brought up from Aitape and was training around But for an amphibious attack on Dove Bay, to the east of Wewak. On 27 April the infantry crossed the Hawain River, where the 2/4th Battalion passed through the bridgehead which the 2/2nd Battalion had established. This brought them within twelve miles of Wewak in an advance supported by Matilda tanks. Around Maprik the 17th Brigade battalions were driving the Japanese to the east and south. Reliable native information indicated that the main body of the 4Ist Division was concentrating in the villages to the east. The advance on Wewak began on the 3 May. By 1 pm the troops had moved from the Hawain River to Cape Pus and captured it with little opposition. About a mile farther on the first real contact was made. The Japanese fled. On 4 May Cape Wom fell. In the advance from Cape Pus to Cape Wom about a hundred graves had been found, and also the bodies of fifty recently killed Japanese : evidence of the accuracy of Australian artillery, bombing and naval fire. The advance of the coastal force had reached the Minga Creek crossing by the 8 May. The bridge had been destroyed and was under fire from Japanese guns on Wewak Point. There was also considerable small-arms fire. Despite this the sappers carried on with the job of erecting a temporary bridge to enable the tanks to get through. A patrol of the 2/4th Battalion moved out on the night of the 8th/g May to reconnoitre approaches to Wewak Point. The patrol report stated that the only possible line of approach was up a sand spit twenty yards wide, bordered on one side by sea and on the other by an impassable swamp. This spit was under direct fire from a 20-mm. gun sited on the side of Wewak Point. If the attack was to be carried out with few casualties it was imperative that this position should be captured as soon as possible after the lifting of the preliminary barrage. On the night of 9/10 May bridging of the creek was completed and the tanks moved into position. The attack on Wewak Point was timed for first light, but heavy rain and bad light put the start time back to 6.10 am. Under a barrage by tanks and artillery the infantry moved up, crossed the narrow spit and over-ran the 20-mm. gun before it had time to open fire. By 7 am the first objective had been gained and rapid exploitation quickly secured a strong platoon position at the south-eastern base of the headland. The Japanese were well dug in and was resisting strongly. But the infantry, supported by tanks and flame-throwers, wiped out the pockets. Snipers were very active. Positions which could not be reached from the land were dealt with by the naval force. In some cases the cliff-face was collapsed on the defenders, sealing them in the vaults they themselves had constructed. By nightfall the greater part of the headland had been seized. The attack was renewed at first light on 11 May, and by noon the headland had been cleared. Of the Japanese garrison which had been defending this stronghold only three escaped. Resistance had been fierce and fanatical. The men of the 2/4th Battalion who had carried out the final assault were justly proud when they hoisted the Union Jack on a shell-scarred observation tower over-looking what had once been a strong Japanese base. After the fall of Wewak and its airstrip infantry patrols pushed forward as far as Wirui Creek. From here an attack was to be launched on the second strongpost, Wirui Mission, from which the Japanese had been shelling Australian troops during the advance on Wewak Point and the capture of the airstrip. The 2/4th Battalion attacked towards Wirui Mission on 15 May. When the attack was held up Private Edward Kenna took the initiative and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. The citation for his award states: In the South West Pacific at Wewak on 15 May 1945 during the attack near the Wirui Mission features, Private Kenna's Company had the task of capturing certain enemy positions. The only position from which observation for supporting fire could be obtained was continuously swept .by enemy heavy machine-gun fire and it was not possible to bring Artillery or Mortars into action. Private Kenna's platoon was ordered forward to deal with the enemy machine-gun post, so that the Company operation could proceed. His section moved as close as possible to the bunker in order to harass any enemy seen, so that the remainder of the platoon could attack from the flank. When the attacking sections came into view of the enemy they were immediately engaged at very close range by heavy automatic fire from a position not previously disclosed. Casualties were suffered and the attackers could not move further forward. Private Kenna endeavoured to put his Bren gun into a position where he could engage the bunker, but was unable to do so because of the nature of the ground. On his own initiative and without orders Private Kenna stood up in full view of the enemy less than 50 yards away and engaged the bunker, firing his Bren gun from the hip. The enemy machine-gun immediately returned Private Kenna's fire and with such accuracy that bullets actually passed between his arms and his body. Undeterred, he remained completely exposed and continued to fire at the enemy until his magazine was exhausted. Still making a target of himself, Private Kenna discarded his Bren gun and called for a rifle. Despite the intense machine-gun fire, he seized the rifle and, with amazing coolness killed the gunner with his first round. A second automatic opened fire on Private Kenna from a different position and another of the enemy immediately tried to move into position behind the first machine-gun, but Private Kenna remained standing and killed him with his next round. The result of Kenna's magnificent bravery in the face of concentrated fire, was that the bunker was captured without further loss. The company attack proceeded to a successful conclusion, many enemy being killed and numerous automatic weapons captured. There is no doubt that the success of the company attack would have been seriously endangered and many casualties sustained, but for Private Kenna's magnificent courage and complete disregard for his own safety. His action was an outstanding example of the highest degree of bravery. (London Gazette 6 September 1945) On 11 May, at the same time as the battle for Wewak Point was in progress, "Farida Force", comprising commandos, artillery, medium machine guns and mortars, made a seaborne landing in Dove Bay, some miles to the east of Wewak, with the intention of seizing the coast road, thereby cutting one of the possible lines of withdrawal of the Japanese from the Wewak area. The landing was supported by units of the Royal Australian Navy including HMAS Hobart, Warramunga, Arunta, Swan, and Colac; five motor launches and HMS Newfoundland from the Royal Navy; Beaufort air support was provided. Heavy bombers and strafing planes from Combat Replacement Training Centre at Nadzab had also been an important factor in the preliminary bombardment. H-hour was fixed at 8.30 am on the 11 May. Before the first wave went ashore the shoreline was heavily bombarded, and during the actual operation the small craft closed in to the shore subjecting the Japanese defences to a hail of fire. The first wave grounded on time, a bridgehead was rapidly seized and the second and third waves set off for the shore. Patrols immediately pushed out from the beachhead and cut the road. Simultaneously another patrol pushing west along the coast encountered a force of about fifty Japanese in the vicinity of Forok Point. With supporting fire from the Navy, the Australians attacked and drove the Japanese from the position. On 14 May, Farida Force, moving west along the coast to link up with the 19th Brigade, captured Mandi village and patrolled as far as the Forok village. The advance continued in the direction of the Brandi River, where the link-up was to take place. Before the attack on Wewak Point a force was sent inland to cut the main road from Wewak to Sauri--another line of withdrawal. The units which carried out this task were the 2/11th Battalion and the 2/7th Commando Squadron. This force had been successful in cutting Big Road one mile north-east of the Sauri villages, which were strongly defended. The troops which had advanced down the coast from Wewak Point moved into position to attack the Japanese in Wirui Mission on 13 May, and next day a successful attack was launched on Mission Hill, which commanded the whole of the Wewak plantation, the airstrip and the ground to the foot of Wewak Point. Resistance here was also particularly stubborn, but fortunately the ground permitted the use of tanks. When the summit of Mission Hill was captured, it was found that the Japanese were even more strongly dug in on a spur running north-west on the main feature, and it was not until the Is May that the whole area was reported clear. The Japanese garrison was annihilated. Australian casualties were light. Forces moving east between Wirui and Sauri encountered stubborn resistance on a feature known as 710. After a heavy artillery barrage an attack was launched. The Japanese repulsed it, but was unable to cope with another later in the day. He counter-attacked fiercely but unsuccessfully. Kreer was captured on the 16 May, but casualties were suffered when an electrically controlled minefield of aerial bombs was exploded by the Japanese. A further attack on the Sauri villages was made with the support of flame-throwers, and the Japanese were driven from the area. On the 17 May, the 2/8th Battalion, which had taken over the coastal strip from the 2/4th, moved in with the support of tanks and artillery and captured Cape Boram. The Boram 'drome and mission were captured by the 20 May, after meeting strong opposition from the high ground south of the 'drome. The area in and around Wewak now came to life. Engineers toiled at bridges and pushed roads through the tangled undergrowth. Bulldozers scraped great loads of coral for road surfacing into lines of waiting trucks, camp sites were surveyed and buildings begun. The hard beach back to Cape Wom became a busy highway. On Boram strip the Japanese soon began harassing tactics from nearby bunker positions on high ground to the south and it was not until a heavy mortar and artillery concentration had been loosed on the position that an attack could be made. This was successful. On 22 May patrols from the main force and Farida Force linked up at the mouth of the Brandi River. The Australians now concentrated on Koigin and, although reports indicated that the village was strongly held, it was captured on the 2s May by the 2/4th Battalion. The Japanese left behind another radio station and much signal equipment. More shells fell among Australian troops near Wewak strip; later in the day the Japanese shelled the strip itself and Brandi plantation. Barges unloading at the newly established Wewak beachhead also came under fire. In clashes on the 710 feature a force of seventy Japanese withstood assaults, but a final attack resulted in twenty being killed and the capture of more machine guns. In the Mandi area a patrol was ambushed, but a later Japanese attack was repulsed with losses. The Japanese were extremely aggressive. Back in the Koigin area further Japanese positions were attacked and cleared after Australian guns had blasted them. At Mandi, however two heavy assaults were needed to clear another strong point, thirty-two Japanese were left dead. The summit of a feature known to the Japanese as South-west Mountain was the next position to be captured. In this phase of operations--covering two weeks--the Japanese consistently harassed Australian positions by small raiding parties and patrols. The Japanese gave no thought to surrendering, although a few sick and wounded stragglers wandered into Australian positions. An important event in the inland war was the building of Hayfield airstrip. This had long been one of the main objects of Australian operations because Douglas transports could then land supplies and fly out in less than an hour the sick and wounded across the mountains to 2/11th General Hospital at Aitape. The march out took about nine days. The strip was built with picks, shovels and entrenching tools. Some improvised rollers were put into service, dragged by manpower. Australian troops and native men and women toiled on day after sweltering day. The first plane landed on the almost completed strip early on the morning of 7 June. Meanwhile the Australian advance continued eastward across the back-breaking razor-backs of the Torricelli mountains to within l000 yards of the important Yamil group of villages. The war here was another battle of the ridges; each ridge formed a natural defensive position for the Japanese. Australian troops had to fight for every inch of ground. As each position became untenable the Japanese withdrew to the next spur, where he took up similar positions. The drive on the Yamil-Ulupu area was also strongly opposed by the Japanese. It was necessary to drive them from numerous well prepared and well-sited positions and the advance was slowed down. 2/7th Battalion, relieved by 2/5th Battalion towards the end of May, advanced eastwards from Maprik towards Yamil and Ulupu, while 2/6th moved on Yamil from the north. Dogged fighting continued. The most important objective was the Yamil group of villages with its potential landing ground. On 20 May after continual harassing by patrols, the Australians attacked Jamei 2 and gained a footing on the ridge. However, the defending Japanese pinned them down and it was not until five days later that intensive patrolling to the flanks and rear of the position made possible another attack which resulted in the capture of the cliff-top and enabled the troops to exploit north-east along the ridge to within l000 yards of Jamei 1. Mendamen and the Kalabo group were cleared in quick succession, but further advances were resisted by the Japanese holding positions to the north-east. Troops of 2/1st Tank Attack Regiment, acting as infantry, attacked sixty Japanese in the Mirau area on 24 May. They met with determined resistance, but thirty-two Japanese were killed by the gunners and the position occupied. North of Kalabo a large village was cleared, followed by the remainder of this group. Patrols probing towards Yamil reported that every line of advance was guarded. On 31 May some high ground overlooking Yamil was, however, occupied without opposition, although the Japanese made two attacks on discovering the Australian move. On 4 June the main track to Yamil was cut. Infantry of 17th Brigade, advancing from the north-west and south-west, closed in on Yamil 1. Early in the morning of the 9 June "A" Company of 2/6th Battalion, less two platoons, moved in suddenly and occupied a position on a spur which commanded Yamil 1. Next day, after an attack by Beauforts, the assault began. Australian troops attacked with heavy mortar and Vickers gun support, eventually capturing the village and ground overlooking Yamil 2 and other Japanese -held areas in the vicinity. Yamil 3 was the objective on the l2 June when troops of 2/5th Battalion closed in. By nightfall the operation had been successful and a patrol operating to the north reported that the northern end of the emergency landing ground was clear. This strip was important. Its capture meant a sorely needed air link with Hayfield. Main drives in the coastal sector were in the first few days of June directed towards the Japanese principal positions patrolling on Mount Tazaki and Mount Shiburangu. Aggressive patrolling resulted in the capture of an extensive position l000 yards south-west of Koigin by troops of 2/4th Battalion, which on 6 June stormed and captured another elaborately constructed strong point. Patrols kept up pressure on the Japanese on the rugged slopes of Tazaki and Shiburangu, and with air strikes and accurate bombardment destroyed many isolated strong points. On 14 June 2/4th Battalion attacked and occupied a strongly held position; Hill 2, an important feature l000 yards north of Shiburangu, was attacked by a company of 2/8th Battalion. Heavy fighting continued during the morning, but the position was finally taken. Five days later 2/4th Battalion captured another Japanese hill position 1200 yards south-east of Koigin. At Yamil the Hayfield airstrip link with Aitape had enabled artillery to be brought in by plane. The Japanese first felt its presence when his positions around Yamil 2 and 4 were shelled. On 15 June the 2/5th Battalion attacked Yamil 2. The defenders resisted stubbornly but finally withdrew to new positions on high ground south of the village, from which they were driven. Village after village fell in the path of the Australian advance; bitter patrol clashes took place over a wide area. The way was now open for the assault on Mount Tazaki and Mount Shiburangu and the attack was opened in the early hours of 22 June by two companies of 2/4th Battalion. The Japanese offered fierce and determined resistance as the Australians advanced after the bombardment by artillery and RAAF Beauforts. The first objective, a crest 300 yards north-west of the main feature, was taken by "B" Company. From this point the Japanese were engaged to screen a flanking movement by "D" Company which developed into the final phase of the attack. After some hours of close fighting the Japanese were driven from the position. Tazaki was completely in Australian hands at 6 pm. The 2/8th Battalion then began preparing to move against Shiburangu, the highest feature in the Prince Alexander Ranges south of Wewak. It not only commanded the whole area but included strong positions west of Big Road, thus depriving the Australians of the use of the road to any extent farther south than Wirui Mission. Shiburangu was the key position for the Australian drive inland to link up with the inland force. On 19 June Middle Knoll, south-east of Sauri, was captured and patrolling towards the main feature became aggressive. In the Yamil area Australian operations continued with the capture of Yamil 4. The emergency landing ground was also completed and light aircraft began using the strip. On the morning of 26 June thirty-six Beauforts attacked Mount Shiburangu. At 7.30 am next morning the Beauforts again roared in, but this time when the bombing had finished the Japanese received no respite. Artillery at Wewak opened fire, and in thirty minutes more than 5000 shells from forty-eight guns screamed into the positions. Then "C" Company of 2/8th Battalion moved to the foot of the feature. The first opposition was encountered shortly after the climb began, when heavy fire from bunker positions atop the mountain pinned down the whole company. To counter this a platoon was ordered to work around to the right flank, climb the cliff-face and storm the position. As the platoon set off heavy fire was directed at the Japanese from the temporary company position. while simultaneously "C" Company of 2/2nd Battalion made a diversionary move south along Big Road. The men of the platoon climbed 700 yards in a circling movement up the tangled mountainside-a grade of about one in three. Without losing a man they reached the top and bore down on the surprised Japanese with machine guns and grenades. This was the signal for a general advance by the remainder of "C" Company. By 12.30 pm the top of the feature was finally occupied. The remaining Japanese hurriedly withdrew to another lower hill feature which was named The Blot. From the top of Shiburangu it was possible to see as far north as Aitape and southwards to the Sepik River-a distance of about 200 miles. The inland force was reinforced at this stage by 2nd New Guinea Infantry Battalion, a native unit led by Australian officers and NCOs. On 2 July Kunvingi Mission, twelve miles south of Maprik, was attacked and occupied by these troops. The battle in the coastal sector continued. The 2/8th Battalion paused for the night on The Blot before pushing on down Big Road. On the morning of 15 July they left The Blot, crossed Big Road and by nightfall were atop a new height dubbed Snow Knoll. In the Maprik area 2/5th and 2/6th Battalions, supported by Beauforts, were converging on the Ilipem villages. On the afternoon of 16 July the 2/5th Battalion moved in on Ilipem 2. At nightfall the action was still locked, the Japanese resisting stubbornly from strong defensive positions. Next morning more ground was slowly gained but the Japanese were clinging tenaciously to his positions. North-east of Ilipem the 2/6th Battalion was also meeting an Japanese determined to stand and fight. Air support was called in and Australian troops moved in to take an important knoll. Meanwhile in the coastal sector Australian troops had come to the main Japanese positions barring progress along Big Road. The 2/8th Battalion had occupied Ambrauri I and the following morning-17 July-patrols pushed a thousand yards down the road towards Ambrauri 2. At a feature known as St Patrick's they received their first setback for the last few days. The Japanese were well dug in and had the road taped with well-directed fire. The patrols withdrew. In the afternoon they again went forward but were repulsed. On the morning of 21 July artillery and mortars saturated the Japanese positions. The infantry moved through St Patrick's and pushed on for another 600 yards. Some 400 yards away across a deep ravine, perched on a razor-back ridge, was the main Ambrauri village. It was the next stop. Back inland the battle for Ilipem was still being bitterly fought, but on the morning of 18 July the village was finally cleared. Farther to the south of Ilipem, 2/5th Battalion was probing the defences of the Ulupu villages. In both sectors the Australians were encountering stiff opposition, but the Japanese determination not to give ground was proving costly. In two days' fighting, on 21 and 22 July, they lost ninety-seven killed and two prisoners, for one Australian killed and twelve wounded. On the drive in from the coastal area along Big Road, 19th Brigade handed over to the 16th and returned to the beaches for a well earned rest. The 2/2nd Battalion moved into the Ambrauri area, sending out patrols to clear the approaches. Inland 17th Brigade was still on the heels of the retreating Japanese. By the end of July the 16th were in complete control of its area, and were ready to begin the advance to meet the 17th. There had been a fortnight of fine weather during which the engineers pushed the roads into the mountains back of Wewak. A well-surfaced road stretched to the crest of the Prince Alexanders, only a few thousand yards behind the main forward troops. Three weeks before, the infantry had fought their way up steep slopes to take this crest. Now three-ton trucks drove up the same slopes to keep the infantry supplied. Beyond the roadhead, well down the southern slopes of the Prince Alexanders, 2/2nd Battalion was in fast pursuit of the Japanese. On 4 August they came up against the first organised resistance at a feature known as Rindogim, meeting fire from a heavy machine gun and mortars. The infantry spread out and, having located the machine gun, knocked it out with accurate Bren fire. The Japanese withdrew. During the night they came back in nuisance raids sneaking close to the perimeter and hurling grenades. The advance now lay parallel with the Prince Alexanders, rising steeply on the right, and headed due west to link up with 17th Brigade moving east from Maprik. 2/2nd Battalion crossed Tambafain Creek, and came under heavy fire from two positions on the eastern slopes of the Numoikum feature. On the 6 August artillery poured shells into the Numoikum group, and following the barrage "A" Company, using flame-throwers, attacked and cleared four villages. Next day the remaining two villages of the group were occupied. Farther to the east, on the front of the 8th Brigade,commanded by Brigadier M A Fergusson), covering the MandiBrandi-Mount Tazaki area, Australian troops were in-almost constant contact with small parties of the Japanese. In the Mandi sector the Japanese were still using a 105-mm gun, but their shelling was ineffective. Moving east from Maprik, 17th Brigade was making steady progress against determined opposition. 2/5th Battalion came up against strong defences on Gwenik Hill, just before the Kaboibus village group. Air support was called in and on 31 July, following a strike by thirteen Beauforts, the Battalion attacked and took the feature. From here the advance continued westward and on 2 August, after driving the Japanese from a well-sited line of up to l50 fox-holes, Australian troops captured the Kaboibus group. North of this group 2/6th Battalion was making steady progress through difficult country and against stubborn pockets of resistance. In the first week of August 2/7th Battalion moved south-east from the Ulebilum villages to Sigora. Keeping clear of Japanese occupied villages, and preceded a day's march by a company of 2nd New Guinea Infantry Battalion, which had control of the area, the force passed through Gwalip, maintaining a steady rate of progress. Boomerangs roved ahead watching for Japanese movement, giving warning by dropped messages so that it could be bypassed. The third night out heavy rains fell, and all the next day the journey was across flooded creeks. But there was no slackening in the speed, and on the 8-August-five days after leaving Ulebilum-the Battalion had reached and captured the landing strip and village at Kairivu. They were astride the Japanese main line of communication, and watching him being pushed from the east and the west. The link-up of the brigades was almost complete when the Japanese surrender talks began.