This Week In History | Week 35By The Cove August 24, 2020
Week 35 | 24 - 30 August
25 August 1942 | Battle of Milne Bay begins
On 25 June 1942, an Allied task force, escorted by Royal Australian Navy corvettes Warrego and Ballarat, landed American engineers and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel at Milne Bay, at the extreme southeast tip of the territory of Papua.
The site had been selected for an Allied air base and three airstrips and a wireless and radar station were quickly established. By late July 1942, four RAAF squadrons were established there – Nos. 75 and 76, which were equipped with Curtiss Kittyhawk fighters, and Nos. 6 and 32, operating Lockheed Hudson bombers.
The airfields and sheltered harbour of Milne Bay were eagerly sought by the Japanese and the Allies knew an attack was imminent. Two Australian Infantry Brigades were sent to protect the vital new asset: the 7th Brigade, an untried Militia formation comprising the 9th, 25th and 61st Battalions, and the veteran 18th Brigade, containing the 2/9th, 2/10th and 2/12th Battalions, Australian Imperial Force (AIF). By mid-August, 7,459 Australians and 1,365 Americans were based at Milne Bay.
On the night of 25/26 August 1942, 2,000 Japanese marines were landed on the northern side of the bay. These landings were seriously hampered by RAAF aircraft which had attacked the invasion fleet in transit and continued to strafe and bomb the Japanese once they were ashore.
The Allied airfields lay 11 kilometres from the Japanese beachhead and the Japanese, believing them to be lightly defended, advanced towards them in spite of their heavy losses. The Japanese overwhelmed the first Australian units they encountered, being the 61st, 25th and 2/10th Battalions and forced them back. The Japanese reached the edge of No. 3 Airstrip on 27 August 1942. Here they halted, awaiting reinforcements.
The Japanese charged the Airfield’s defences at dawn on 31 August 1942 but the Australian lines, manned by the 61st and 25th Battalions held. The Japanese suffered 300 men killed and withdrew the next morning.
The Australians now set off in pursuit of the enemy, pushing them towards their beachhead. Bitter fighting followed and losses among the outnumbered Japanese mounted. On 4 September 1942, Corporal John French performed a feat of valour at Goroni that saw him awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. The Japanese evacuated their survivors on the night of 6 - 7 September 1942.
The fighting at Milne Bay cost Australia 377 battle casualties, including 172 dead or missing. Although relatively minor in scale, Milne Bay was a significant morale boost for Australia. Milne Bay cost the Japanese 600 of their best troops and proved for the first time that they could be decisively beaten on land. With victory at Milne Bay and later Kokoda, Port Moresby was safe.
Field Marshal Slim, commander of the 14th Army in Burma and future Governor-General of Australia, summed up the significance of the battle, stating, "Australian troops had, at Milne Bay, inflicted on the Japanese their first undoubted defeat on land. Some of us may forget that, of all the allies, it was the Australians who first broke the invincibility of the Japanese army."
26 August 1916 | 6th Australian Brigade attacks Mouquet Farm on the Somme
Mouquet Farm, near Pozières, was the focus of nine separate attacks by Australian troops between 8 August and 3 September 1916. Some 11,000 Australians were killed or wounded in the fighting around Mouquet Farm.
30 August 1968 | Death of C.E.W. Bean
Charles Bean did more than any other individual to establish the Australian War Memorial. Australia's official war correspondent during the First World War, Bean wrote six volumes of the Official History of Australia in the war of 1914–1918 and edited the remaining volumes.
An concise history of Charles Bean can be found on the Australian War Memorial Website.
Alternatively if you prefer an audio recount of Charles W Bean, this Big Ideas podcast with Paul Barclay gives a thorough account of the life and work of Australia's first official war correspondent.