TITLE: Milne bay 1942 – The story of ‘Milne Force’
AUTHOR: Clive Baker & Greg Knight - 495 pages, published 1991.
OVERVIEW: This is the story of the Japanese first land based defeat, at the hands of Australian troops supported by American engineers. During the initial stages of the Japanese advance through the pacific allied strategic planners decided that the relatively deep water in Milne Bay made it a strategic point worth holding.
In May 1942 it was decided to set up a base area at the end of Milne Bay. Airfields and a wharf were quickly constructed. A lot of work was carried out to ensure that Japanese didn’t notice the build up, and it worked. There were no bombing raids until early August, by which time a considerable amount of troops and aircraft were based at Milne Bay.
During the build up phase Milne Bay was referred to as ‘Fall River’ in all official communications, to keep secret the location. On the ground, passwords were chosen that started with L. The thought being that the Japanese were unable to properly pronounce any word starting with L. Radio silence was also maintained during the build up.
The conditions around the base area were extremely difficult. Constant rain on newly built roads made them almost unusable. The airfields and some of the roads were covered with steel matting. However this made landing very dangerous as the steel matting become very slippery after rain, and sank into the mud, after very heavy rain.
By the time that the Japanese landed, late at night on the 25th of August, there were approximately 9500 troops stationed in the area. This figure consisted of 7500 Australian Army personnel, 1300 American engineers and artillery and about 700 Royal Australian Air Force personnel.
The Japanese initially landed about 1200 marines of the Special Naval Landing Force, from Rabul. The landings took place approximately 3-4 miles along the bay, from the allied base. A further 800 reinforcements were landed during the following week. About 350 Japanese troops were sent from Buna, but were marooned on Goodenough Island after their landing craft were destroyed by allied aircraft.
The Japanese managed to land two Type 95 light tanks before most of the landing craft in Milne Bay were destroyed by air attacks. With the help of the tanks the Japanese were able to move swiftly along the cost.
Initially the Australian troops were sent forward with out anti-tank rifles, in order to allow for quicker movement. Also the Sticky Bomb anti-tank weapons that they were issued proved ineffective.
Over the next few days the Japanese pushed the Australian soldiers back along the coast towards their base, losing more men then reinforcements could replace.
On the 31st August the Australians launch attacks upon the weakened Japanese forces. It takes about 5 days for the Japanese troops to be pushed back to their landing place, and wiped out.
In the end the allies lost 181 killed, 210 wounded and 5 missing. The actual number of Japanese causalities was never known, but official reports believe about 700 Japanese died during the attack.
MOST MEMORABLE QUOTE: “The two Kittyhawk squadrons had expended 200,000 rounds of 50 cal ammunition during their 220 sorties, and in doing wore out 300 gun barrels. Wear and tear was much higher than normal, due to the mud and grit thrown up during landing and take-off. In some cases the barrel caliber grew from 12.7mm to 15.2mm.”
In another section the book mentions that the ground crew saved worn barrels for ground strafing, and new barrels for air to air combat, where accuracy was more important.
MOST INTERESTING FACT NOT KNOWN BEFORE: That the battle lasted for about 12 days. I had always thought that this was a major land battle, which went for months. But given the little amount of troops that the Japanese could spare for this action, it is hardly surprising.
RATING: 8.5 out of 10. I liked this book. It has lots of quotes from Australian, American and Japanese participants. It also has little information boxes giving the reader more details about a particular solider or piece of equipment. It also had lots of maps, which I like. Very detailed and well written.
that's all for now
Book Review - Milne bay 1942
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