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Australia's War 1939 - 1945
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Vickers machine gun crew 57/60 Battalion, Henry Hanke, 1944.
[Painting, oil on canvas, 40.6 x 45.7 cm AWM ART22277]
Sergeant Tom 'Diver' Derrick, 2/48th Battalion, hoists the Australian flag at Sattelberg, 3 December 1943.
[AWM 016246]
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Fall of Sattelberg
[AWM F01878]
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2/4th Field Bakery
[AWM F07068]
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Messenger dogs
[AWM F07065]

'Rats in New Guinea'
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The Huon Peninsula on the north coast of New Guinea.
[DVA]

Following the capture of Lae by the 7th and 9th Australian Divisions in early September 1943, the 7th Division was ordered into the mountains to pursue Japanese forces across the Finisterre Range. The 9th Division was ordered to take the Huon Peninsula: its objectives included Japanese strongpoints at Finschhafen and Sattelberg.

This was to be the 9th Division's first full campaign in New Guinea. Lauded as 'The Rats of Tobruk' for the division's exploits there in 1941, the 9th Division had stayed in the Middle East when other troops returned to Australia in 1942, and had fought in the First and Second Battles of El Alamein between June and November 1942.

The 9th Division had returned home in early 1943 to a heroes' welcomes. Under the command of their newly appointed divisional commander, Major-General George Wootten, the men started their jungle warfare training for the campaigns that lay ahead. Wootten, who had recently commanded the 18th Infantry Brigade at Milne Bay, Buna and Sanananda in Papua in 1942, had been a Rat of Tobruk, when the 18th Brigade served alongside the three brigades of the 9th Division during the siege.

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'Diver' Derrick's Victoria Cross and other service medals are held in the Australian War Memorial Collection, Canberra.
[DVA]

The campaign began with the militia 22nd Infantry Battalion, which set out along the coast from Lae, on foot, towards Finschhafen. The men had to cross many rivers, moving cautiously, in case of ambush. Papuan troops acted as guides, and helped track down Japanese troops who had escaped from Lae, although most of the garrison had escaped into the mountains.

The main landing by the 9th Division was made at Scarlet Beach, a few kilometres north of Finschhafen, on 22 September 1943. The 20th Brigade stormed ashore, from American landing craft and started their advance. (The landing craft had fortuitously missed the allocated landing beach and so avoided heavy Australian losses from Japanese coastal defences placed at the original landing spot.) Unlike in the earlier campaigns when many Japanese had fought to the death, refusing to retreat, the Japanese now ordered withdrawals, preserving men for future battles.

As most of the 20th Brigade advanced on Finschhafen, which was captured after 11 days, with some hard fighting, other troops started advancing inland. They were ordered to take the imposing Sattelberg Mountain, which was the dominant feature in this area, and therefore needed to be captured. More troops of the 9th Division had arrived on 10-11 October to take over this advance, but at about the same time the Japanese 20th Division launched a counter-attack. The Australians faced hard fighting around Sattelberg and Jivevenang, while back on the coast a small landing by Japanese troops was defeated by Australian and American base troops. It was almost the end of November before the Australians were able to capture Sattelberg with, famously, a last dashing charge by Sergeant Tom 'Diver' Derrick, 2/48th Battalion, who took the actual mountaintop single-handedly, an action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

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On 27 November 1943 Australian troops moved in behind Matilda tanks for a dawn attack on the Japanese-held village of Sattelberg. A wounded soldier is carried back to a dressing station on the shoulders of a soldier while others of the group stand around.
[AWM 016212]

The 9th Division advanced on, with the 24th and 26th Brigades, joined by the militia 4th Brigade, securing the Wareo and Gusika areas, encountering stiff opposition. By mid-December 1943, the remnants of the Japanese 20th Division were retreating up the coast to Sio, pursued by the Australians. The Japanese had to leave behind many sick and wounded, some of whom managed to fight on, and slow the Australian advance.

On 15 January 1944, the 9th Division captured Sio. It marked the end of this first jungle campaign for the Rats of Tobruk. The division had lost more than 1000 men killed, and was exhausted.

The advance beyond Sio was taken over by the 8th Infantry Brigade, another militia formation, which pursued the retreating Japanese to Madang. The Australians entered Madang on 24 April 1944, unopposed, after the enemy had continued retreating.

 

 

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
Sergeant Tom 'Diver' Derrick, 2/48th Battalion, hoists the Australian flag at Sattelberg, 3 December 1943.
[AWM 016246]
Vickers machine gun crew 57/60 Battalion, Henry Hanke, 1944.
[Painting, oil on canvas, 40.6 x 45.7 cm AWM ART22277]

The work depicts a Vickers heavy machine gun crew of the 57/60th Australian Infantry Battalion in their jungle position at Madang, New Guinea, June 1944.

The three figures are Ken Connor behind the gun; Phil Saunders this side of the gun; Harold White far side of the gun. Harold White relates: "We had pursued the Japanese from the Shaggy Ridge area down to Bogadgin and went on to capture them in Madang. We entered Madang on 25 April 1944. We were in Madang resting when Henry Hanke painted this work. This is one of three paintings that he did of the 57/60 Battalion".