Military History

This Week in History | Week 6

By The Cove February 3, 2020

02 - 09 February
05 February 1943: Japanese defeated at Wau

At the beginning of the Second World War, Wau, in the Buolo Valley in New Guinea (present-day Papua New Guinea) was a small mining settlement. The Wau area was the scene of a great deal of fighting in 1942-43 because the town stood astride a route linking the Japanese bases established at Lae and Salamaua in March 1942 to the Australian base at Port Moresby. From March until August 1942, Australian guerrilla troops, code named Kanga Force, operated along the tracks between Wau and Salamaua. However, a Japanese drive to occupy Mubo (30 km from Wau as the crow flies) caused them to withdraw behind Wau and set the town alight. The Japanese had no intention at this stage of advancing beyond Mubo, which was to be fortified as a forward outpost to defend Salamaua. Guerilla operations continued around Wau and, with the Japanese inactive at Mubo, Wau was reoccupied and infrastructure restored.

In January 1943, the 17th Brigade began to arrive at Wau by air to reinforce Kanga Force and to ensure the security of the Buolo Valley as a base for future operations. At the same time, as a result of their defeat along the Kokoda Trail, the Japanese commenced operations to prevent this. Japanese movement towards Wau was first detected on 21 January and several companies of the 2/6th Battalion were deployed east of the town to block their approach. The first contact with the attacking force occurred on 28 January but, despite reinforcement, the Australians were not strong enough to impede the Japanese. That night the Japanese moved within 3 km of Wau, which was then defended by little more than two companies from the 2/5th Battalion. Over the next two days, reinforcements (consisting of the rest of the 2/5th and all of the 2/7th) were flown into Wau airfield. With the airfield under fire, the troops went straight into action upon leaving their planes. The main Japanese attack fell upon Wau before dawn on 30 January. Dogged resistance by the Australians robbed the Japanese of their momentum and the 2/7th launched a counter-attack late in the afternoon. This attack effectively marked the turning point of the battle for Wau. In ensuing days, as reinforcements continued to fly in, the Australian forces began a series of attacks to edge forward of their defensive positions at Wau. By 6 February the Japanese were retreating towards Mubo. Follow-up operations commenced immediately, but Mubo would not be back in Australian hands until July.

06 February 1941: The 6th Division enter Benghazi, Libya

Benghazi changed hands five times as fighting, first against the Italians and later the German Afrika Korps, ebbed and flowed across Libya's Mediterranean coast.

08 February 1942: Japanese assault on Fortress Singapore

Singapore was believed to be an impregnable fortress but the Japanese advance from the Malayan Peninsula proved the falsity of this belief. The Battle of Sarimbun Beach was the first stage of the Japanese assault on Singapore in February 1942.

Sarimbun Beach, located in the northwestern corner of mainland Singapore, was the area in which Japanese troops first attacked Allied forces in Singapore under the overall direction of Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita. At 8.30 pm on 8 February, Australian machine gunners opened fire on vessels carrying a first wave of 16 infantry battalions, totalling around 4,000 Japanese troops, towards Singapore Island, concentrating on the positions occupied by the 3,000-strong 22nd Brigade. While the artillery fired thousands of rounds in response to support calls, confused and desperate fighting raged throughout the evening. Eventually the increasing Japanese numbers, poor siting of defensive positions, and lack of effective communications, allowed Japanese forces to exploit gaps in the Australian lines. By midnight the two 8th Division infantry brigades, the 22nd and 27th, were separated and isolated, and the 22nd had begun withdrawing towards Tengah. 

By 1:00 am, further Japanese troops – bringing the total to 13,000 – had begun landing and as the main Australian force was pushed back towards Tengah airfield, small groups of troops that had been bypassed by the Japanese fought to rejoin their units as they had withdrawn toward Tengah airfield. Around dawn on 9 February a further 10,000 Japanese troops landed, and as it became clear that the 22nd Brigade was being overrun it was decided to form a secondary defensive line to the east of Tengah airfield and north of Jurong.




The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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