Battles of Buna - Gona - Sananada

Discussion in 'War Against Japan' started by Blackblue, Nov 28, 2005.

  1. Blackblue

    Blackblue Senior Member

    Buna was a small village on the north coast of Papua and the administrative headquarters of the district. There were several coconut plantations but much of the area was cut by small creeks and interspersed with fetid swamps and jungle. After the Japanese landed on 21 and 22 July the area became a major supply base supporting their advance over the Kokoda Track for an overland attack on Port Moresby. Buna was to be the scene of grim fighting involving Australians from 18 December 1942 until 2 January 1943.

    As at Gona and Sanananda the Japanese had established a series of strongly constructed and fortified bunkers during October - November, 1942. These were well camouflaged and sited to provide mutual fire support. The positions defended the new and old airstrips and westwards right back to Buna village.

    The initial attack began on 19 November by two battalions of the 32nd U.S Division under command of General Harding and supported by 2 guns each of the 2/1st and 2/5th Australian Field Regiments. Despite sustaining heavy casualties, the US troops, known as Warren Force, made little progress. The 2/6th Australian Independent Company reported to the 1/128 US Battalion on 21 November in a supporting role and patrolled vigorously, finally being withdrawn from action on 11 December. Their casualties totalled at least 20 killed and 13 wounded.The American casualties for the period numbered almost 500. On 1 December General Eichelberger replaced General Harding. In early December Battalions of the 126th and 127th US Regiments were added to the troops of the 32nd Division already in action and gradually the Americans began to have success in which the Australian artillery played an important role. Air support was provided by numbers 4 and 30 Squadrons RAAF, by means of a radio hook up between ground forces, planes overhead and RAAF Headquarters at Popondetta.

    To reinforce the Americans, the Australian 18th Brigade, under Brigadier George Wootten was brought forward from the general area of Milne Bay in early December. Warren Force was then brought under Wootten's command. Wootten's main support troops were 8 tanks from the 2/6th Australian Armoured Regiment and 25 pounder artillery from the 2/1st and 2/5th Field Regiments plus some engineers and the 2/5th Field Ambulance.

    On 14 December the western American column known as Urbana Force entered Buna village after its Japanese defenders were ferried away at night. Two days later Wootten launched the first phase of a thrust from the east, aimed at capturing the area between two airfields dubbed "New Strip and "Old Strip" and the sea.

    On 18 December the 2/9th Battalion attacked at 7 am following an artillery barrage and immediately struck heavy opposition at New Strip, where it lost 11 officers and 160 men. Australians gained their first objective next day and continued to advance. Six days later this phase of the operation came to an end.

    The next phase, which began on 24 December, was carried forward by the 2/10th Battalion supported by the only four tanks which were still operational. A battalion of the 126 US Regiment, moving on its left flank also provided support. The advance began well but faltered under heavy fire which quickly accounted for all four tanks, however, 700 metres were finally gained. This was due in no small way to Private Timothy Hughes, an Aboriginal soldier of 2/10th Battalion, who silenced some key Japanese defence posts with grenades and tommy gun. For this action he was awarded a Military Medal.

    On 25 December a 25 pounder from the 2/5th Field Regiment, known as "Carson's Gun", was sited between the airstrips and west of the bridge over Simemi Creek, and created havoc in Japanese defensive posts. A former Japanese observation post in a 25 metre high banyan tree was established by Captain Tom Handran-Smith of 2/5th Field Regiment. Among those who manned this observation post was Major (later Sir) William Hall, the battery commander. An attempt to resume the advance on 29 December also foundered.

    On 1 January 1943 - after the arrival of a fresh battalion, the 2/12th, from Goodenough Island and six more tanks another effort was made. This attack swept through the open plantation, dealing with one Japanese bunker after another, and by 2 January had reached Giropa Point. In their short action the 2/12th lost 12 officers and 179 men. This completed the capture of the Buna area in conjunction with a fresh attack by Urbana Force which captured the old government station.

    The bloody operation had cost the Allies 2,870 battle casualties - 913 of whom were among Australian units. The 18 Brigade suffered 863 casualties including 306 killed. A minimum of 1,390 Japanese were killed - this number being counted bodies and exclusive of those killed or buried alive in destroyed structures. 900 of the enemy dead were in the sector under command of Brigadier Wootten. No more than 50 prisoners were taken which was stark testimony to the savagery of the fighting and the determination of the Japanese defenders to accept death rather than surrender.
  2. Reverend Bob

    Reverend Bob Senior Member

    Interesting Blackblue,

    My Dad was at Buna with the 32nd, right up until Buna Beach was secured.

  3. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor

    Interesting post Blackblue.
  4. spidge


    Fierce fighting would be an understatement.
  5. Blackblue

    Blackblue Senior Member

    And I will be there on Anzac Day 06.
  6. spidge


    (Blackblue @ Nov 30 2005, 11:59 AM) [post=42281]And I will be there on Anzac Day 06.

    Still envious Tim, stop rubbing it in!
  7. spidge


    Quite a good cross reference look at these very vicious battles in New Guinea by Australian and American forces. Plenty of links and well explained.


    A total of 3,000 Australians from the 18th Australian Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Wootten, and a squadron of the 2/6th Australian Armoured Regiment equipped with M3 Stuart tanks from Milne Bay were brought forward to Buna along with US Army reinforcements of 9,000 troops from the 32nd Infantry Division. Together, they succeeded in breaking through the defenses on January 1, 1943, and by January 3rd the fighting had ended. The ferocious fighting saw only six Japanese prisoners captured and the garrison annihilated.....
  8. Paul Reed

    Paul Reed Ubique

    Some really nice and interesting material on there - and well presented. Thanks for flagging that up!
  9. A Potts

    A Potts Member


    As you seem to be a great wealth of knowledge on the Second World War, I will ask the following (I hope you do not mind):

    My grandfather was Sargeant {sic} James Buchan QX 51414.

    He officially served in signals in the 2/1 Infantry in New Guinea.

    What really annoys me is that his service in the 49th Battalion in New Guinea, is not officially recogonised (from 1940 until 1943). Is it policy that Malitia {sic} solidiers are not condsidered 'actual army'? (Indeed his uncle and my great uncle died in the Battle of the Messines fighting for the 49th Battalion in WW1 - his body never found).

    He spent more time in New Guinea that almost any other soldier. I know he fought in the Kokoda Track/Trail (in the 49th AMF), as he told me the horrific causalties his unit took.

    He was transfered to an AIF unit in 1943 to make up for their losses; in the 2/1 Infantry Battalion. He went to training in North Queensland and the Australian War Memorial has photos of him there. However, his service record only starts from this date.

    I still have his dogtags and they are caked in blood, all these years later.

    I would appreciate any answer,

    Why is his earlier service not officially recognised?

    Kind Regards,
    Aaron Potts"

    In response to my earlier post under 'Spidge need help' in the 'General Forum', I have taken seriously to the task of tracking the unit history in which my grandfather served (the 49th CMF).

    I am now almost certain the when he briefly mentioned the 'horrific casualties his unit took', he was referring to the Battle of the Sananada Track.

    The Courier Mail up here in Brisbane have created a web site for Queensland Veterans of WW2; and I managed luckily to stumble across it while researching the 49th.

    Incredibly, one is from the 49th - Pte Charlie Kong. They have a short article and an audio recording of his experiences.

    I had no idea how bad it really was.

    Simply amazing and really moving to know that my grandfather was there as well. Here it is: (Note Charlie has a strong accent, so it may be hard for non-australians to understand, also it is extremely graphic - be warned).

    The Peace Generation

    Charlie states that out of the original 1200 men who started in the 49th, only 68 survived the war (my grandfather included). How could I verify this?

    According to the official history the 49th suffered 60% casualties in 5 hrs and within 2 hours every officer was either dead or wounded.

    Official Histories

    Kind Regards,
    Aaron Potts
  10. Kiwiwriter

    Kiwiwriter Very Senior Member

    "Bloody Buna," by Lida Mayo, will help.

    Also "The Ragged Bloody Heroes," and "Touched With Fire."
  11. Blackblue

    Blackblue Senior Member

    Hi Aaron,
    The 49th is actually my known as the 25th/49th Battalion. Why do you say his service was not officially recognised? If you are referring to the WW2 Nominal Roll it only lists the last unit served with. If you obtain his service papers I am sure they will list his movements with the 49th Battalion. He would have been referring to Sanananda...the onlymajor action the 49th participated in. Members of the 49th Battalion still come to the unit on Anzac Day...and attend for a commemoration of Sanananda each year. I actually visited Sanananda last year. If you want to know more let me know.


  12. A Potts

    A Potts Member


    Really great of you to reply. I believe that the 49th was mainly a Brisbane Unit. I as his grandson still live in Brisbane (Coorparoo).

    My mother died recently and I have inherited a photo album of him in Port Moresby (all about 1941). I hope it may be of some significance to the unit. I would be glad to pass it on.

    I have many photos.

    My email is

    I would love to meet anyone from his unit in the war. My grandad's name was Jim Buchan. He served in the HQ Battalion.

    Aaron Potts
  13. SouthWestPacificVet

    SouthWestPacificVet Confirmed Liar

    Interesting, I was in Buna with the 32nd Dec. of '42, the Aussies did a hell of job there with what they had to fight with.

  14. syscom_3

    syscom_3 Member

    Its unfortunate for the US and Aussie veterans to have fought in NG in 1942, to have their exploits overshadowed by the marines on Guadalcanal.

    The fighting in NG was far more vicious.
  15. A Potts

    A Potts Member

    Its unfortunate for the US and Aussie veterans to have fought in NG in 1942, to have their exploits overshadowed by the marines on Guadalcanal.

    The fighting in NG was far more vicious.

    I want the US efforts to be remembered at Guadalcanal and so they should be and in many ways are (not enough in my opinion).

    I also want the Australians and US efforts in New Guinea to also be remembered (which they are not at all).

    Whether the fighting was more vicious, that is something I must leave to the ordinary infantryman.

    The fighting in New Guinea was appalling and I think as bad as it can get.
  16. syscom_3

    syscom_3 Member

    In NG, at those three locations, the Japanese were dug in and on defense, which was quite a bit of a shock to the allied troops that had to root them out.

    Guadalcanal was different where the marines were on the defensive and negated the advantages the IJA had as a light infantry force.
  17. Blackblue

    Blackblue Senior Member


    Really great of you to reply. I believe that the 49th was mainly a Brisbane Unit. I as his grandson still live in Brisbane (Coorparoo).

    My mother died recently and I have inherited a photo album of him in Port Moresby (all about 1941). I hope it may be of some significance to the unit. I would be glad to pass it on.

    I have many photos.

    My email is

    I would love to meet anyone from his unit in the war. My grandad's name was Jim Buchan. He served in the HQ Battalion.

    Aaron Potts

    Hi Aaron,
    I am sure the unit would be interested. I have not been on the Forum for some time and have recently been posted out. If you contact the unit on 07 33327782 and ask for SGT Gary Saunderson to contact you I am sure he can help.


  18. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    I finished reading, around a month ago, the volume of Aussie Oficial History covering events between Darwin and the end in Papua, and I can truly say that the fighting there was as vicious as it gets, and I´m 95% convinced that together with the campaign in Northern Burma, make up the toughest fighting in WW2 outside some of the Götterdämerung in the Eastern Front. Let´s remember that had the Nip pierced the Owen Stanley Barrier through the Kokoda Track, and outflanked it via Milne Bay, the end result would have been the fall of Moresby and the subsequent invasion of Australia.

    The NGVR and the Papuan Battalion in the first place, and the Militia units afterwards, had to stop the Nip roller outnumbered and almost without any significant hardware worth its place in a modern army arsenal, taking terrific losses but standing their ground long enough to fulfill their mission of buying time, in God forgotten places like Oivi, Gorari and Kokoda itself, and even behind the lines at Lae and Salamaua, with the likes of Kanga Force.

    Then came the veteran brigades just in from the Middle East and Ceylon, which took their turn at the Jap piecemeal, thrown into battle in a do-or-die hurry, battalion by battalion, never fighting together as cohesive units, and taking appalling casualty rates as a result, but in exchange, stopping the tide and turning it on its way back over and around the Owen Stanleys.

    Only then came Buna, Gona and Sanananda, where allied units, both Aussie and American, now with the benefit of strength, had to lay siege in unmentionable conditions and terrain to a cunning and treacherous foe, specially suited for fighting on the defensive from superbly constructed defenses, taking a great deal of casualties from all enemies, but finally expelling the yellow menace from Papua.

    Everlasting honor to the brave, proud, but at the same time humble defenders of Papua, pawns in the struggle for freedom.
  19. Herakles

    Herakles Senior Member

    The initial Australian force in New Guinea was the Militia (CMF). Technically they shouldn't have been there at all but there was no-one else. They went there hopelessly under-trained and many without rifles.

    Their performance there varied a lot - from downright incompetence to extraordinary bravery. That they were a Militia meant that official recognition was usually denied them.

    Fighting in New Guinea was certainly some of the hardest in the Pacific campaign. Undoubtedly Sanananda was a hell on earth. That the Australians never achieved the recognition they so deserved was primarily due to MacArthur whose press releases always praised American troops and ignored Australian ones.

    Which is why afterwards Australian troops were only ever used for mopping up in the region rather than being given a decent fight. This still rankles many older Australians and why the collective opinion of MacArthur is not positive.
  20. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Private Timothy Hughes MM, 8/10th Australian Infantry Battalion, AIF.

    Recommended Distinguished Conduct Medal.

    Awarded Military Medal.

    For conspicuous gallantry and bravery during Buna Aerodrome action.

    At 0700 hrs 26 Dec 42 No. 9 Platoon, A Coy. 2/10th Bn. reached its objective in the centre of Buna Strip and came under heavy enemy machine gun fire from both sides of the strip and from MG posts south and east of Dispersal Bay at 282250 (Ref map Buna locality).

    The platoon was definitely pinned down. To allow the platoon to dig in Pte Hughes volunteered to climb on top of the Dispersal Bay under concentrated fire from 3 directions. From this position he engaged two of the enemy posts with grenades.

    Pte Hughes returned for a TSMG and from his position on the Dispersal Bay gave covering fire while his Platoon moved into cover. During the period his Platoon was consolidating he made 3 seperate sorties with grenades and TSMG.

    Pte Hughes showed remarkable bravery, exceptional coolness and initiative. His total disregard for his own safety set a fine example throughout the Platoon and also throughout the Coy.

    LG 22.4.43

    Recommended for MM by Capt. R.W. Sanderson, OC 'A' Coy.

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