Posted by: Gregoryno6 | August 25, 2012

25 August 1942: Milne Bay, Australia’s forgotten victory.

Seventy years ago today, Australian troops engaged the Japanese at the southeastern tip of New Guinea in what is perhaps the greatest and most significant triumph ever won by our defence forces.

Australians have rarely fought to defend their own land. Our Diggers have shed most of their blood fighting far from home. At Milne Bay it could be fairly said that we had our backs to the wall. (For those uncomfortable with the metric system, 900 km is about 550 miles.)

The Japanese were moving in to take control of the airfield. They had the numbers, and they were battle-seasoned. Against these odds, Australian soldiers and pilots successfully defended the strip. The battle lasted lasted more than a week, and by the end of it the opposing sides were fighting hand to hand.

A Bofors anti-aircraft gun at Gurney Strip, Milne Bay, in September 1942. In the background, a Kittyhawk fighter-bomber can be seen about to land.

Whether or not Tokyo intended a full-scale invasion of Australia, the importance of the win is hard to understate. It had a profound psychological effect upon the morale of all Allied troops. Sir William Slim, leader of British forces in Burma, later said:

Australian troops had, at Milne Bay in New Guinea, inflicted on the Japanese their first undoubted defeat on land. If the Australians, in conditions very like ours, had done it, so could we. Some of us may forget that of all the Allies it was the Australian soldiers who first broke the spell of the invincibility of the Japanese Army; those of us who were in Burma have cause to remember.

The anniversary seems to have largely escaped the local media, once again, but the story of Eddie Jones at least made it to the pages of the Canberra Times.

I needed to stem the flow of blood. I noticed someone moving along the bank opposite me and called for assistance. Without a word he got the bandage out and wrapped it tightly around the wound. I felt better. I thanked him. He nodded and disappeared into the jungle, still without a word. I still wonder who he was and if he survived the war.

The losses suffered by the ANZACS at Gallipoli are rightly mourned. Yet very few Australians would be aware that the same spirit of courage and determination earnt this vital triumph a generation later. In my school days Milne Bay wasn’t mentioned, even in passing, in any history textbook; not until I read Russell Braddon’s IMAGES OF AUSTRALIA did I first learn of it.

The victory at Milne Bay is one of which Australia can justly be proud, and it deserves a prominent place in our history.

(Images link back to their source sites. I especially recommend the Australia’s War page; click on those gunners.)

ADDED Monday 27/08: Thanks to everyone who’s followed the link from Tim Blair’s blog. Two extra links here, posted by Skeeter and Thumbnail, are worth a view.

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Responses

  1. Had no idea about Milne Bay. Likewise, I had never been taught the part we played in defending our country. Who knows what the outcome would have been if they were not successful in this battle. Thanks for the interesting information.

    My grandfather, Walter J. came out to Australia via the US, from Ireland just as the 1st war started. His love of his newly adopted country saw him enrol in the army. He served his entire army career at Rabaul, just across the water from Milne Bay.

    • I don’t know if this puts me in a small or large demographic, but I have no military connections whatever among my family.
      There may have been a couple of second or third cousins who fought in WW1, but that’s it.
      And yes, who knows…

      • You’ve sparked a renewed interest in my grandfather’s role played in WW1. I’ve just been on the National Archives website and requested copies of his papers. I have one set around here at home already, but there are more available. It’ll make interesting reading when it arrives in the mail.

  2. Without doubt, heroes past and present.

    • No argument here. Thanks.

  3. My father-in-law was at Milne Bay, he was an old bloke of 38. he always said that the 2 weeks of Milne Bay were “far more intense” than the 8 months of Tobruk.

    ….and our peace loving Japaneses brothers murdered every one of the 36 Australians captured, usually with a bayonet.

    The two RAAF squadrons wore the rifling out of the barrels of their P40 machine guns, and fired over 300,000 rounds.

    LEST WE FORGET

    • PS,

      I think the objective at Milne Bay was not Australia, but to mount a threat to Port Moresby in conjunction with the Kokoda advance. The Gili Gili airstrip was top of the list

      • Thanks for your comments OC. 1942 fascinates me, if that’s the word. It seems that an awful lot of ‘truths’ we took for granted came crashing down in that year. The silliest, perhaps, that Japanese couldn’t fly planes because their eyes were the wrong shape.
        Well, we learnt that lesson the hard way.

  4. Brave men and brave deeds fighting on foreign shores in the Pacific, throughout all of the New Guinea campaigne and here as we are reminded at Milne Bay are what kept the carnage and suffering at arms length from the average Australian. Understanding this and remembering the carnage and suffering of the attacks on Darwin and Broom should make we legatees of the sacrifice of our WWII worriors appreciative of what we were truly spared. Most other parts of Asia and Europe were not. This is truely the legacy of the Great Australians who fought the War in the Pacific. Thank you all for your sacrifices near and far from home. Lest we forget.


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