Australia would have been a great prize for the Japanese if they had managed to defeat the brave defenders of important posts, such as Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. At the time of the start of the Second World War the population of Australia was around 7 million and most men of fighting age were deployed overseas. They were called upon by Britain and huge numbers of them were sacrificed at places like Gallipoli and North Africa.
Papua New Guinea, which is situated just a few miles from Cape York, was a stepping stone to the continent if the Japs had made headway into it. A huge attempt was made, with the help of the USA, to stop that from happening.
Winning the Battle of the Coral Sea was one of the turning points to stopping them and that of Milne Bay, along with the Kokoda Track, were the others. By the time this episode arose there were only untrained men to send to these battle-fields to stop an invasion from taking place.
Australia’s naval vessels were also deployed to the conflict with Europe so these new recruits were sent away on rusty old boats with limited equipment. They were to be trained in Port Moresby before being sent into the fight. This was what the Japanese wanted. They envisaged taking Port Moresby from the east but they underestimated the size of the job.
Forewarned by intelligence the Australians had reinforced the garrison. The Japanese landed with only one battalion and they aimed to take the airfields. Their small invasion force was initially attacked as they landed which was a huge blow. Undeterred they pushed inland towards the airfield and met heavy fighting as the defenders inflicted heavy casualties.
From their landing date of August 25th the invaders were heavily outnumbered and withdrew from the area on September 7th. This was the first time the Japs were defeated on land and the exuberant victors went on to build Milne Bay into a major strategic allied base. It saw many subsequent operations in the region.
Celebrating the 75th anniversary of this little known battle most Australians are becoming aware of just how well our diggers fought to preserve the country from enemy forces. We owe them much and history holds them dear. Along with those who drove the Japanese off the Kokada Track they did with a few what great armies have not done with many. We are so proud of them.