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Australia's War 1939 - 1945
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Hoisting out W9 from A deck, Frank Norton.
[Pen and blue ink with wash and brown wash, AWM ART24197]
Captain Emile Dechaineux stands on the bridge of HMAS Australia which supported several landings in Dutch New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies.
[AWM 017623]
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Invasion of Hollandia
[AWM F01731]

'island hopping'
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Map of New Guinea and surrounding islands.
[DVA]

After his Allied forces had pushed the Japanese back in New Guinea, General Douglas MacArthur, Allied supreme commander in the South-West Pacific Area, was determined to continue the advance towards the Philippines.

This campaign has not always been recognised as one of significance to Australia since MacArthur chose to limit Australian involvement by excluding the Australian Army from his 'island hopping' operations. However, both the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force took part in the advance across Dutch New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies.

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American troops going ashore in the
Wakde Island landings, May 1944.
[AWM 017159]

While the Australians had been engaged in the Markham-Ramu Valleys and the Huon Peninsula campaigns in late 1943, American forces had conducted another series of landings on eastern New Britain and Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea. MacArthur planned further landings on islands in Dutch New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia). In what became known as 'island hopping', landings were made on well located but less heavily defended islands. This tactic of isolating and blockading rather than attacking, reduced Allied casualties.

The first landing in Dutch New Guinea was at Hollandia in April 1944. Australian warships were part of the Allied fleet that bombarded the landing area, and Australian LSIs (Landing Ships, Infantry) played their part by sending in landing craft carrying troops, tanks and equipment. Meanwhile, airmen flew top cover or landed to establish air-ground communications and to make captured airfields operational as quickly as possible. The Americans made good use of the Australian airfield construction squadrons.

The major American operations that followed were at Wakde-Sarmi and Biak Islands (May 1944) in Dutch New Guinea, then Noemfoor and Sansapor Islands in the Netherlands East Indies (July 1944), and finally Morotai and the Palau Islands also in the East Indies (September 1944). Although the more heavily defended islands were bypassed in this campaign, it was still costly. Almost 4000 Americans died during the capture of these islands and nearly 17,000 were wounded. A number of Australian airmen were also killed in these operations.

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Sergeant LL Whittington (left) and Leading Aircraftman AG Ashenden, 14 Airfield Construction Squadron RAAF, bulldozing jungle for an airstrip at Morotai, September 1944.
[AWM OG1666]

Australian warships and landing ships gained considerable experience in these amphibious operations. The success of subsequent Australian landings in Borneo in 1945 owed a great deal to the practical experience gained in Dutch New Guinea, the Netherlands East Indies and later the Philippines.

Airfield construction squadrons of the RAAF were some of the most experienced units in amphibious operations. At several locations, including Hollandia and Morotai, Australians were responsible for repairing captured airfields and building new ones. They landed shortly after the first waves of American troops, bringing ashore heavy equipment including bulldozers and graders to clear jungle and develop airfields. Australians also were responsible for bomb disposals and other support roles.

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Corporal Rowland Nicholas (left) and Leading Aircraftsman Charles Reid, 87 Squadron RAAF, dry film taken from the cameras of a Mosquito photo-reconnaissance aircraft based at Coomalie Creek in the Northern Territory and flying long-range missions over the Netherlands East Indies, 21 March 1945.
[AWM NWA0819]

In the air, the RAAF contributed squadrons of Kittyhawk fighters, Beaufighter strike-fighters and Boston bombers which operated from some of the newly captured islands. One of the largest air bases was at Noemfoor Island, Dutch New Guinea from which the Australians flew many escort and ground attack missions sustaining mounting losses.

To the south, Australians based in the Northern Territory also supported the advance across the Netherlands East Indies. Long-range reconnaissance, bombing and strafing sorties were flown from bases around Darwin and to the south, such as Coomalie Creek. Catalina flying boats conducted minelaying sorties over a wide area against enemy shipping lanes and harbours. Most of the Australian squadrons based in the Northern Territory would later be deployed to the Netherlands East Indies to support operations against Borneo and also the Philippines.

This relatively little known 'island hopping' campaign across Dutch New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies was one of the most successful of the Pacific war and made it possible for General MacArthur to honour his famous pledge to the Philippines: 'I shall return'.

 

 

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
Captain Emile Dechaineux stands on the bridge of HMAS Australia which supported several landings in Dutch New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies. Dechaineux was later killed on 21 October 1944, when a Japanese 'kamikaze' (suicide) aircraft hit Australia in the Philippines.
[AWM 017623]
Hoisting out W9 from A deck, Frank Norton, showing the hoisting of a landing craft from HMAS Westralia during a rehearsal for an island invasion.
[Pen and blue ink with wash and brown wash, AWM ART24197]