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.