Originally presented by Dr Peter Londey, on Thursday 5 September 2002 beside the Roll of Honour at the Memorial, as part of the Roll of Honour Talks series.
Download the talk - 12:31 min (2.9 Mb Mp3)
By August 1942, the Japanese had been in New Guinea for five months. Their prime objective was the capture of Port Moresby, but a naval force attempting to attack Port Moresby from the sea was turned back at the Battle of the Coral Sea. With the navy thwarted by sea, the Japanese army set out to capture Port Moresby from the north, by crossing the Owen Stanley Ranges via the Kokoda Trail.
A key strategic point was now Milne Bay, a deep natural harbour at the eastern tip of the island of New Guinea. With aircraft based there, the allies would be able to make any further naval ventures in the area very dangerous for the Japanese. As an added advantage, allied aircraft would be able to attack the Japanese on the north coast without first making the climb over the Owen Stanleys.
From the Japanese point of view, it was essential to prevent the Allies from gaining such a strategically sited air base. In addition, the navy wanted to save face by making its own contribution to the capture of Port Moresby, and thought that Milne Bay would make a good jumping-off point for an attack along the south coast.
The Allies arrive
American airfield construction troops arrived at Milne Bay in June 1942, with the 55th Australian militia battalion accompanying them to provide protection from the enemy. One of the Australians' first tasks was to set out and map the area they were to defend, to supplement the naval charts which were the only maps available. Stuck in this lonely outpost, paranoia soon set in: many of the men were convinced they were being spied on by Japanese in the hills, but patrols sent out could never find any trace of them.
Milne Bay was a deep bay, running over 30 km west from the sea. Surrounded by rain-clad mountains – the area received 200 inches of rain a year – this tropical paradise did not appeal to the Australians. One wrote: