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Australia's War 1939 - 1945
title

Buna, Papua, 25 December 1942. Private George ‘Dick’ Whittington, 2/10th Battalion, being led through the kunai grass to the field hospital at Dobodura by Raphael Oimbari.
[AWM 014028]
Army signal advising
shooting down of Zero
[AWM EXDOC 139]
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Pilot Officer John Archer and
Sergeant James Coulston.
[AWM 014032]

Beachhead Battles (Papua 1942-1943)
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An Australian soldier with an Owen gun
during the fighting at Sanananda
[AWM 014185]

The last battle of 1942 involving Australians was for the Japanese beachheads at Buna, Gona and Sanananda in northern Papua. The Allies expected the battle would be easily won but underestimated Japanese strength and resolve and grossly overestimated Allied capabilities. The battle opened on 19-20 November with attacks against Buna by the Americans, against Gona by the Australians, and against Sanananda by Australians and Americans. Tropical diseases, rain, mud and supply difficulties impaired both sides and the battle dragged on. By the time the last Japanese positions fell on 22 January 1943, about 1300 Australians and 1000 Americans lay dead, with thousands more evacuated wounded or sick. More than 6000 Japanese had fought to the death. It was the single most costly battle for Australians in 'the islands'.

 

 

painting
Extraordinary incident,
Roy Hodgkinson 1943
[Gouache, 47.3x39.6cm.
AWM ART22743]
'An Extraordinary Incident'

The Wirraway, an Aboriginal word meaning 'challenge', was a trainer design but classed as a 'general purpose' aircraft and equipped with machine-guns and bomb racks. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation's plant at Fisherman's Bend in Victoria produced 755 Wirraways. They were most successful as army cooperation aircraft during the campaign in Papua New Guinea. On 26 December 1942, Pilot Officer John Archer, 4 Squadron RAAF, shot down a Japanese fighter, believed at the time to be a Mitsubishi 'Zero', from his Wirraway. Archer's Wirraway is now in the Bradbury Aircraft Hall at the Australian War Memorial.

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Pilot Officer John Archer receives the United States Silver Star from Brigadier General Ennis C Whitehead in 1943.
[AWM OG0002]

As soon as he had landed at Popondetta airstrip in Papua on 12 December 1942, Pilot Officer J S Archer leapt from his Wirraway aircraft, A20-103, to tell the Control Officer that he had shot down a Japanese 'Zero'. Despite the Control Officer's disbelief, Archer described the incident and soon phone calls from observers all around the Gona area confirmed his story. He and his observer, Sergeant J F Coulston, had been flying a tactical reconnaissance mission over a Japanese ship which had been wrecked in the sea off Gona. When they sighted the 'Zero' 1000 feet below, Archer dived on the Japanese aircraft and fired a long burst from the Wirraway's two Vickers .303 machine-guns. The 'Zero' crashed into the sea.

For his actions, Pilot Officer John Archer received the United States Silver Star from Brigadier General Ennis C Whitehead, the Commanding General of Allied Air Forces in New Guinea in a ceremony at Buna in 1943.

 

 

Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Buna, Papua, 25 December 1942. Private George 'Dick' Whittington, 2/10th Battalion, being led through the kunai grass to the field hospital at Dobodura by Raphael Oimbari. Private Whittington was wounded the day before during the battle for Buna airstrip. Although he recovered from his wounds, he died of scrub typhus at Port Moresby just two months after this photo was taken.
[AWM 014028]
This is the army signal advising that the Wirraway flown by Pilot Officer John Archer had shot down a Japanese ‘Zero’ in the vicinity of Gona on 26 December 1942. When Japan entered World War II, the Japanese ‘Zero’ was recognised as the best naval fighter aircraft in the world at that time. Conversely, the Wirraway was usually used only for training and reconnaissance.
[AWM EXDOC 139]