- Battle of Buna-Gona
Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Buna-Gona
partof=the Pacific Theater of
World War II
caption=An Australian soldier, Private George "Dick" Whittington, is aided by
Papuanorderly Raphael Oimbari, near Buna on December 25, 1942. Whittington died in February 1943 from the effects of bush typhus. (Picture by George Silk)
November 16, 1942– January 22, 1943
Empire of Japan
flagicon|Australia George Vasey
Edwin F. Harding
Robert L. Eichelberger
from December 2:
strength2=6,500+ (peak strength,
1,200 injured [Deaths include 1,300 Australian and 1,000 U.S. A significant number of Allied troops also contracted tropical diseases]
1,200 injured (evacuated),
The Battle of Buna–Gona was a battle in the
New Guinea campaign, a major part of the Pacific campaign of World War II. On November 16, 1942, Australian and United Statesforces began to attack the main Japanese beachheads in New Guinea, at Buna, Sanananda and Gona. By January 22, 1943, after prolonged heavy fighting in trying conditions, the Allied forces had overcome the defenders.
Allied intelligence in the lead-up to the battle was deficient in two key areas. While it was estimated that there were no more than 1,500–2,000 Japanese troops at the beachheads, the Allies actually faced more than 6,000 soldiers from the
Imperial Japanese Army(IJA) and marines from the Special Naval Landing Forces(SNLF). The Allies also believed that widespread swampland would render the construction of strongpoints impossible. But the Japanese were able to build fortified positions above ground and to conceal them with felled trees and tall tropical grass, making them virtually invisible to attackers. These could generate devastating interlocking fields of fire, supported by many snipers hidden in tall trees. The Allies initially lacked tanks, artillery, and air support, and Japanese positions had to be taken one by one, using grenades and small arms.
Tropical diseases, especially
malaria, dengue feverand bush typhus (known to the Japanese as "tsutsugamushi"), caused far more casualties to the combatants than the effects of battle.
Forces, supply lines and materiel
The Japanese defences were concentrated in three strongholds. One was at Gona, under Major
Tsume Yamamoto; another was around Sanananda, under Colonel Yosuke Yokoyama(who was in overall command of IJA forces in the Buna-Gona area), and the third and largest Japanaese stronghold was in the Buna area, under SNLF Captain Yoshitatsu Yasuda. Although these positions were separate, communications between them and Japanese supply lines were initially strong. The Japanese were initially able to maintain supply and to evacuate wounded personnel by sea, and submarines maintained contact with the beachheads until January.
The Japanese garrison was a mix of army and naval forces. It initially numbered about 5,500 Imperial Japanese Army combat personnel: the remnants of the 144th Infantry Regiment, the 15th Independent Engineer Regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the 41st Infantry Regiment, a divisional cavalry detachment, and the 47th Field Anti-Aircraft Battalion. A few field artillery batteries were guarding the beachheads proper. In addition to these army units, there were about 500 marines from the 5th Yokosuka and 5th Sasebo
Special Naval Landing Forces.
The Allies' major bases, at
Port Moresbyand Milne Bay, were distant, the Owen Stanley Ranges were impassable to motor vehicles, and the Bismarck Seato the north of New Guinea was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Navyand air forces. The attacking troops depended on airdrops by the Liberator cargo planes of the U.S. Fifth Air Forceand makeshift transport units assembled by the Royal Australian Air Force(RAAF), as well as coastal shipping, which was vulnerable to air attack. However, USAAF and RAAF ground attack and bomber aircraft, typified by the A-20 Havoc/Boston, represented a significant and ever-increasing advantage for the Allies.
The U.S. 32nd Infantry Division, an inexperienced National Guard formation, commanded by Major General
Edwin F. Hardinglaunched the initial attack on Buna. The Australian 7th Division(minus one brigade) under Major General George Vasey, and the U.S. 126th InfantryRegiment (detached from the 32nd Division) was to attack Gona. The Gona push was reinforced by the remnants of Maroubra Force, in the shape of the battered 30th Brigade, a Militia unit which included the "ragged bloody heroes" of the Kokoda Track, the 39th (Militia) Battalion. The Australian 16th Brigade, detached from the 6th Division, would push towards Sanananda.
Fighting was bitter from the outset: 7th Division took 204 casualties in the first three days of its thrust. The 32nd Division lost 392 personnel within two weeks.
November 29, the Japanese were reinforced by the remaining 500 troops from the South Seas Detachment(mostly 41st Infantry Regiment; under Colonel Kiyomi Yazawa), which had led the Kokoda Track campaignand retreated to the sea at a point north of Gona. They were shuttled by boat to the Sananada stronghold.
November 29, the Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur, had become frustrated at what he saw as poor performance by the 32nd Division, especially its commissioned officers. He told the US I Corpscommander, Major General Robert L. Eichelberger:
cquote|"Bob, I'm putting you in command at Buna. Relieve Harding ... I want you to remove all officers who won't fight. Relieve
regimental and battalioncommanders; if necessary, put sergeants in charge of battalions and corporals in charge of companies ... "Bob, I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive" ... And that goes for your chief of staff, too." [cite web
title= Eichelberger at Buna: A Study in Battle Command
author= Thomas M. Huber
date= |year= |month= |format= |work=
Command and General Staff College
pages= |language= |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote=
accessdate= 2008-02-17 ]
A second phase of the battle is marked by the coincidental arrival of more senior commanders and reinforcements for both sides, on
Eichelberger immediately replaced several senior commanders within the 32nd, ordered improved food and medical supplies, and halted operations on the Buna front for two days, to allow units to reorganize.
December 2, 500 Japanese reinforcements, in the form of the inexperienced 21st Independent Mixed Brigade (based on the 170th Infantry Regiment), arrived at Gona under Maj. Gen. Kurihanao Yamagata.
December 6, following savage close-quarter fighting, the Australians captured Gona village. That same day, Eichelberger organized a new attack on Buna Village and the 32nd Division captured the position on December 14. The Japanese landed 1,300 reinforcements, but by December 18the Allies were reinforced by the 7th Division's 18th Brigade, as well as the 2/6th Armoured Regiment — the first tanks available to the Allied forces. In spite of this boost, the Australians suffered some of their worst losses of the entire battle, although they eventually broke through the Japanese defensive positions along the coast.
In ten days of fighting, the Allies advanced along the coast from Duropa plantation to Buna Mission, taking the remaining Japanese positions by
December 28. The U.S. 163rd Infantry Regiment — from the U.S. 41st Infantry Division— joined the assault on the last Japanese holdout, at Sanananda, which was taken on January 22.
The Japanese forces had been cut off from resupply during the second week of January, and their food had run out. The severity of their plight was such that Allied troops found evidence of
cannibalismin captured Japanese positions.
Two NCOs from the 32nd Division, both of them killed in action near Buna — 1st Sgt
Elmer J. Burrand Sgt Kenneth E. Gruennert— were later awarded the Medal of Honor. Staff/Sgt. Herman Bottcher, who played an instrumental role in the battle was awarded the battlefield commission of Captain and earned two Distinguished Service Cross Medals.
last = Brune
first = Peter
year = 2003
title = A Bastard of a Place: the Australians in Papua
publisher = Allen & Unwin
id = ISBN 1-74114-403-5
last = Campbell
first = James
year = 2007
title = The Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea--The Forgotten War of the South Pacific
publisher = Crown
id = ISBN 0307335968
last = Mayo
first = Lida
year = 1974
title = Bloody Buna
publisher = Doubleday and Company, Inc
location = New York
id = ISBN 0-385-06268-0
last = Rottman
first = Gordon L.
coauthors = Dr. Duncan Anderson (consultant editor)
year = 2005
title = Japanese Army in World War II: The South Pacific and New Guinea, 1942-43
publisher = Osprey
location = Oxford and New York
id = ISBN 1-84176-870-7
* [http://www.army.mil/cmh/brochures/papua/papua.htm "U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II: Papua" (official account)]
* [http://ajrp.awm.gov.au/ajrp/ajrp2.nsf/pages/NT00002DB6?openDocument "Southern Cross", a Japanese account of the New Guinea campaigns, by the Chief of Staff of the 18th Army, Lt Col Yoshiharu Kane]
* [http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/chapter.asp?volume=21 South-West Pacific Area - First Year] (Official History of Australia in the Second World War)
* [http://cgsc.leavenworth.army.mil/carl/resources/csi/battles/battles.asp#XVIII Thomas M. Huber, "Eichelberger at Buna: A Study in Battle Command"]
* [http://www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/32ww2-1.html The 32nd Red Arrow Infantry Division in World War II 32nd Division Veterans Association website]
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