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Papua New Guinea

Australian achievements in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War were critical to victory in the Pacific War against the Japanese. These successes, and also the inevitable human price, the lives of more than 8,000 Australians, are commemorated by official memorials across the country.

The following twelve memorials are described on this page:

For an historical perspective of the memorials listed, refer to the Papua New Guinea Campaigns 1942-1945

Memorials

AIF Memorial, Lae

The AIF Memorial, Lae is situated at the entrance to the Lae War Cemetery. The memorial contains the battle exploit plaques commemorating battles in the Salamaua, Nadzab and Lae areas.

From June to August 1943 American and Australian forces engaged the Japanese at Salamaua, to the south of Lae. In a co-ordinated offensive, Allied forces landed at Nadzab and fought their way down the Markham Valley. Lae was captured on 16 September 1943, two weeks later Finschaffen was also occupied. The Japanese began a fighting retreat westward and by 15 December 1943 Japanese forces had ceded command of the Huon Peninsula to the Allies.

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Coastwatchers' Memorial, Madang

This memorial is a working lighthouse and is maintained by local authorities. The Coastwatching Organisation, created and administered by the Royal Australian Navy, operated in the islands north and north-east of Australia from the earliest days of the war in the Pacific in the Second World War. Civilians and military personnel, who continued their work in enemy held territory throughout the war, staffed this organisation at extreme risk to themselves and those native people who assisted them.

Coastwatchers made the first sighting of Japanese forces by identifying large flying boats off Madang in December 1941.

Isurava Memorial

The Isurava Memorial was constructed in 2002 in remembrance of all those Australians and Papua New Guineans who fought and those who died on the Kokoda Track in 1942.

Isurava was the site of some of the most intense fighting in the Kokoda Track campaign. The memorial is immediately adjacent to the site where Private Bruce Kingsbury performed an act of valour for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross - the first VC awarded in PNG.

The memorial features four Australian black granite pillars that are each inscribed with a single word - 'courage', 'endurance', 'mateship', and 'sacrifice' representing the values and qualities of those Australian soldiers who fought along the Kokoda Track.

Ten information panels (including two in the Tok Pisin language) have been installed in the interpretative area of the memorial.

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Kokoda Memorial

The name 'Kokoda' conjures up many images because it shares the name of the narrow, jungle-enclosed pathway across the Owen Stanley Range over the roof of Papua New Guinea. The village of Kokoda contains a number of memorial cairns, as well as a museum featuring information panels. The museum commemorates the sacrifices of Australian troops and the PNG people who assisted them during the Kokoda Campaign of 1942. Kokoda was taken by the Japanese on 29 July 1942, and was eventually retaken by Australian forces on 2 November 1942.

Milne Bay Memorial

The Battle of Milne Bay in August-September 1942 was the first significant defeat of the Japanese forces on land during the Second World War. Corporal John French of the 2/9th Battalion was posthumously awarded the VC for his actions at Milne Bay.

Fierce fighting took place during the Second World War in the vicinity of the memorial site as the Japanese forces advanced through the area towards the airfields before their eventual defeat and withdrawal. The Milne Bay Memorial features an imposing three metre high granite column. The centrepiece is inscribed with the three service crests, and the words:

'In remembrance of those Australians, Papua New Guineans, and their Allies who fought and those who died in the Battle of Milne Bay 1942.'

The memorial site also features an interpretative area, with eight information panels, located close to the waterfront.

Turnbull Field Memorial

The Turnbull Field Memorial, in the vicinity of the former airstrip known as No 3 Strip, marks the place where the Japanese advance towards the airfields was ultimately halted. The area was named after Squadron Leader Peter Turnbull, Commanding Officer of the RAAF 76 Squadron who was killed in action in the Battle of Milne Bay.

Popondetta Memorial

The memorial at Popondetta commemorates the service and sacrifice by Australians, Papua New Guineans and their Allies in the Battle for Buna, Gona and Sanananda in 1942-43. The upgrade of the Popondetta Memorial, completed in October 2002, involved a significant refurbishment of the existing memorial and the construction of a new pavilion at the entrance to the park.

The original structure built in 1962 featured seven battle notices, which were relocated to the site from Buna, Buna Old Strip, Cape Endaiadere, Giropa Point, Gona, Sanananda Point and Wye Point so that they could be preserved at a central place of commemoration. A pavilion now stands at the park entrance which houses information panels with details of the Battle for Buna, Gona and Sanananda.

Rabaul 1942-45 Memorial

The Rabaul 1942-45 Memorial on the foreshore of Simpson Harbour honours all those who lost their lives in the air, on land and at sea in the Defence of New Britain and in the course of the Japanese occupation during 1942-45.

The memorial also features a cairn in remembrance of the Montevideo Maru, an unmarked Japanese ship which sailed from Rabaul in June 1942 carrying 845 Allied Prisoners of War and 208 civilian internees who had been captured by Japanese forces on New Britain and New Ireland during the Second World War. The ship was torpedoed off the Philippines on 1 July 1942 and sank with the loss of all lives.

Due to the memorials being buried by the 1994 volcanic eruptions they were relocated to a raised platform in 2002.

Sogeri Memorial

Sogeri Memorial was designed and built in 1943 by the 7th Australian Infantry Brigade in conjunction with the 2nd Australian Watercraft Workshop. It stands at the road junction where the Kokoda Track to McDonald's and Ower's Corners intersects the Sogeri Road.

In July 1967, the 25th anniversary of 'Kokoda', members of the 25th Australian Infantry Brigade Association provided a fence to enclose the memorial. In November 1990 an additional plaque was fixed to the memorial in recognition of the support given by the local community, the Ianari clan of Sogeri.  

Surrender Memorial, Cape Wom

The Surrender Memorial is located in an area known as the Cape Wom Memorial Park. The pyramidal cairn bears a central plaque, which commemorates the surrender of the Japanese Army on 13 September 1945.

The cairn stands on the site of the surrender by Lieutenant General Hutazo Adachi, GOC, Japanese 18th Imperial Army, to Major General HCH Robertson, CBE DSO, GOC, 6th Australian Division. Other plaques in the park commemorate the acts of valour by Lieutenant Albert Chowne on 25 March 1945 and Private Edward Kenna on 15 May 1945, who were each awarded the Victoria Cross.

Wau Memorial

The Wau Memorial commemorates those Australian soldiers who fought a desperate defensive battle against a Japanese force which advanced from Salamaua in early 1943.

The Japanese, having failed to reach Port Moresby by advancing over the Owen Stanley Range, reinforced Salamaua and made a rapid march on Wau and its strategic mountain airfield. That thrust was repulsed by a force composed of Australians and New Guinea Volunteer Riflemen who drove the Japanese back towards the coast.

5th Division Memorial, Madang

This memorial, situated in Bates Memorial Park, commemorates the recapture of Madang on 24 April 1944 by the 5th Australian Division.

Papua New Guinea Campaigns 1942-1945

Japan entered the Second World War on 7 December 1941 with attacks on Pearl Harbour and the Malay Peninsula; its forces then swept southward through the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). To secure those gains, Japan had to deny to the United States and its allies the operational bases offered by New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Papua New Guinea

The Japanese occupied Rabaul (which became their most important base) on New Britain, and Lae and Salamaua on mainland New Guinea. A major Japanese force landed at Gona and Buna in July 1942 with orders to advance across the Owen Stanley Mountain Range, via the Kokoda Track, to take Port Moresby. Within a week the strategically important village and airstrip at Kokoda were in Japanese hands.

Allied Commander General Douglas MacArthur set up a defensive front which extended through Merauke, Wau and Kokoda to Milne Bay, where an airstrip was hurriedly constructed, and a squadron of RAAF Kittyhawks established. On 25 August the Japanese attacked Milne Bay, but in fierce fighting over several days, the invading force of 2,800 marines was repulsed by the Australians; it was the first defeat of the Japanese on land, and it sent a heartening signal to Allied commanders.

The Japanese advance from Kokoda penetrated as far as the Imita Ridge, within 48 km of Port Moresby, before the Allied offensive drove them back along the Kokoda Track, down their overstretched supply lines. The Australians retook Kokoda, and by the end of November the Japanese attempt to cross the Owen Stanleys had been utterly defeated. During the four months of battle, the four Australian brigades losses were 625 killed and 1,055 wounded.

American and Australian forces pursued the Japanese in the northern coastal areas until, by the end of January 1943, all enemy resistance in the Gona/ Buna had been broken.

The Japanese, having failed to reach Port Moresby by advancing over the Owen Stanley Range, reinforced Salamaua and made a rapid march on Wau and its strategic mountain airfield. That thrust was repulsed by a force composed of Australians and New Guinea Volunteer Riflemen who drove the Japanese back towards the coast.

In February 1943, the Japanese commander at Rabaul moved to reinforce Lae by sea with some 7,000 troops. However, the fleet of light transports and eight destroyers was detected and, in the ensuing Battle of the Bismarck Sea, destroyed by US and Australian air attacks.

By May 1943 the Allies' objectives were: to continue the advance westward to Madang; to seize the Markham Valley (which extends 608 km westward from Lae); and to secure the Huon Peninsula prior to a move eastward to the island of New Britain.

From June to August 1943 American and Australian forces engaged the Japanese at Salamaua, to the south of Lae. In a co-ordinated offensive, Allied forces landed at Nadzab and fought their way down the Markham Valley. Lae was captured on 16 September 1943, two weeks later Finschhafen was also occupied. The Japanese began a fighting retreat westward and by 15 December 1943 Japanese forces had ceded command of the Huon Peninsula to the Allies.

The Japanese continued to resist strongly, but were retreating. By 24 April 1944, the Allies had taken Madang and had driven the Japanese forces from the mainland of Australian New Guinea except that part west of the Sepik River.

Wewak, the last of the Japanese strongholds, was eventually captured on 11 May 1945. After the fall of Wewak, the Japanese retreated westward and by June were totally defeated.

New Britain and Bougainville

In January 1942 Rabaul, the principal port and Allied base on the island of New Britain, was captured by the Japanese, and approximately 800 Australian service personnel and many civilians became Prisoners of War. In addition, Indian and British POWs were later moved to Rabaul from Hong Kong and Singapore. By mid-1943, Rabaul had become the main Japanese base in the South Pacific - the centre from which their campaigns in New Guinea and the Solomons and surrounding waters were directed - it was therefore a prime target for attack by Allied air and naval forces.

The Allied offensive to retake New Britain began in earnest in October 1943. Night attacks by Australian bombers continued until January 1944.

By March 1944 the American and Australian forces had made large gains in western New Britain and by November of that year the Japanese were concentrated around Rabaul and the northern extremity of the island.

Meanwhile, on Bougainville, Allied forces landed on the west coast and began a sweep southward and northward. Although the Japanese forces on Bougainville were not defeated, they suffered very heavy losses and Bougainville was neutralised as a base from which to mount operations against the Allies. Similarly, the Allies were content to isolate the Japanese forces in New Britain rather than retake Rabaul by military action. At war's end, in August 1945, about 83,000 Japanese surrendered in the Rabaul area, and the island of Bougainville was occupied by Australian forces.

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