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For the 72 Million

Thee New Guinea Campaign, 1942-1944

When General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia after evacuating Bataan, he was a General in search of an offensive army. The Americans did not yet have a fighting force in the Pacific, and the Australians were committed in North Africa, en route to Pacific stations, or in training or garrison in Australia. At one point in early 1942, there were four operational P-40 Warhawk fighter planes and one B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. The only combat-worthy division was Australian, and it was needed to defend Australia, not for offensive operations.

MacArthur was not going to wait for the Japanese to attack Australia. He wanted to use Port Moresby on New Guinea’s southern shore as a base of operations to move up and advance to the Philippines. His problem, besides the Japanese, would be supply. He had to prove that the New Guinea campaign would be the definitive campaign to get back to the Philippines and win the war.

While MacArthur and his staff wanted to return to Manila, not all of the Allies were so inclined. United States Navy Admiral Chester W. Nimitz favored advancing through the central Pacific, and the British and her Dominions thought Java should be the primary focus. Thus began the American inter-service rivalry between the Army and the Navy.

MacArthur, for his part, wanted to advance with American forces as soon as he could. In November 1942 he marched unprepared and undersupplied American troops on Buna. They were driven back to the beach, barely holding on to their landing zone. MacArthur’s staff sent glowing communiques claiming advance, and declared Buna secure. While the American public was happy with victory, the Australians were landed to actually take the objective. Buna was declared secure, but fighting continued. The Australian government was privately unhappy with the casualties and with the credit going to the Americans, who would not have succeeded without the Australians. Plus, the Australian public felt the primary goal should be developing a defense in case the Japanese invade Australia.

The Australians marched over the Owen Stanley mountain range to take Kokoda. MacArthur began landing forces in a series of protracted engagements that were slow progress up the back of New Guinea. While he was making progress, he wasn’t advancing according to timetable and more and more of his supplies were going to Guadalcanal, where the War Department was realizing the major fight was.

New Guinea, for the Japanese, was their Vietnam. Entire units disappeared into the jungle, never to be heard from again. The Australians on the Owen Stanleys found cannibalism among the dead and dying Japanese they encountered. Imperial Army Air Forces were suffering huge casualties.

By 1944, MacArthur was landing with little opposition in the Morotai Islands. The American industrial might was beginning to tell, and he planned to use the Morotais to jump off into the Philippines.

New Guinea was some of the most difficult terrain in the South Pacific. Its size and lack of cartography made it a difficult campaign for both sides.

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