Battle of Milne Bay
|Conflict||Second World War, 1939-1945|
|Date from||25 August 1942|
|Date to||7 September 1942|
Offering a sheltered harbour, Milne Bay, on the south-eastern tip of Papua was selected for development as an Allied base - the key component of which was three airstrips - in 1942. These facilities also made it a key stepping stone for the Japanese in their drive towards Port Moresby and late on the night of 25 August 1942 a force of 2,000 marines were landed to capture them. From the beginning, the Japanese were at a disadvantage. The marines were landed 11 kilometres east of their intended landing area, and their intelligence had significantly underestimated the Allied garrison. Whereas the Japanese believed there no more than a few hundred troops defending the airstrip, there were actually almost 9,000 Allied troops including two Australian infantry brigades - the 7th and the 18th. The Allies had the additional advantage of having air support close at hand because the 75 and 76 Squadrons from the RAAF, both equipped with P-40 fighter bombers, were also based at Milne Bay. Initially, however, the Japanese met with their accustomed success. Supported by two light tanks, they advanced steadily westward. The 61st Battalion was first into action and slowed the Japanese, although unable to hold them back. The 2/10th Battalion was moved up on the night of 27 August, but faulty dispositions and other command failings, meant it was brushed aside by a renewed Japanese thrust, and disintegrated in a confused withdrawal. Reaching the edge of the eastern most airstrip on 28 August the intensity of Japanese operations fell away as they made preparations for their attack, which included landing 800 reinforcements. In the early hours of 31 August they charged the defences manned by the 25th and 61st Australian Battalions and the United States 43rd Engineer Regiment and 709th Anti Aircraft Battery. The Japanese suffered greviously, largely due to machine gun and artillery fire, and withdrew by dawn. Throughout their operations the Japanese were constantly harassed during daylight hours by the P-40s.