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Do you know any private details of Shane?
---------- Forwarded message ----------
I am writing to you with deep sadness reading your newsletter from November 2005 where Lieutenant Colonel Nan Bahr spoke of the passing of Shane Slipais.
I am almost certain that this man was my teacher at Seton College in the mid 80's. He was a life mentor, hugely important to my development as a person.
I was fortunate enough to track him down in Melbourne in 2004 and thank him for the positive influence he had in my life but am quite distressed tonight to see this notice in your old newsletters.
I need to be sure I have the right person. Is there anyone there who can identify him for me as I just need to know. I believe he had two children and his wife's name was Cheri. In 2004 he was still living in Melbourne (near the Werribee poo farms - his words not mine). He was indeed a larikin. If your Shane was my Shane then someone there will know.
Thank you so much for your assistance.
From:- Paul Carr
To:- Peter Morton
Subject:- Re Shane Slipais
From:- David Freeman
To:- Peter Morton
Subject:- QUR DINNER 21 MAY 11 [SEC=UNCLASSIFIED]
Dear Peter, I rarely have luck with interstate postings and overseas deployments. This sat 21 May I will be in Philippines teaching Philippines Army for two weeks. Pass on my apologises to PMC and CO. Is it still Tim O'Brien?.
Military Law Centre
Randwick Barracks NSW 2031
From:- Helen Fuller
To:- Peter Morton
Subject:-The Green Thing
THE 7TH BRIGADE AT MILNE BAY 1942
A lecture delivered by Professor J.C. Mahoney, October 1992 (at the Royal United Service Institute, Victoria Barracks, Brisbane)1
Transcribed by Neil. Heather 2 from a videotape recording
After Dunkirk a great deal of Australian military equipment was sent to make good some of the deficiencies in the United Kingdom and the Northern Command (Australia) held only enough rifles to train one battalion at a time.
When the Japanese came into the war a reorganisation unlinked the 9th/49th Battalions. The 49th (the Stanley Regiment) was brought up to strength and sent to New Guinea under command of Lt Col OA Kessels who had been commander of 9th /49th and it served there for as long a period as any other Australian infantry battalion. The 26th (the Logan and Albert Regiment) was unlinked from the 15th and referred to North Queensland to be joined there by the 31st, the Kennedy Regiment, and the 51st, the Far North Queensland Regiment, to form the new 29th Brigade. The 15th, the Oxley Regiment and the 47th, the Wide Bay Regiment, joined the 42nd (the Capricornia Regiment) in the 11th Brigade.
Seven Brigade then, in its training camp at Chermside in Brisbane consisted of the 9th (the Moreton Regiment), 25th (the Darling Downs Regiment) and the 61st (the Queensland Cameron Highlanders: Brisbane) Battalions under the command of Brigadier John Craven, who had been commissioned from the ranks in the 15th Battalion in France during the first World War. He took over the command from Brigadier John Hill.
Gradually, equipment was made good. The Bren gun replaced the Lewis gun. We sent away our horses and our limbered GS wagons and began to have motor transport. But there were very few standard military vehicles available and 7 Brigade B echelon park on 9th March was a very motley collection of civilian vehicles of various types and strengths bearing trade names but also bearing unit and brigade markings.
25th Battalion and Queensland University
Regiment, 7th Infantry Brigade, CMF,1950 –
At that time the Bruce Highway north from Brisbane carried a series of white posts on the side of the road which indicated to drivers of 7th Brigade the correct distances for 40 vehicles to the mile and 30 miles in the hour, skills which would have little application at Milne Bay.
Training proceeded with the defence of Brisbane in mind. The Brigade was ordered to produce plans for the close defence of Brisbane. These were effected and the Brigade group started to exercise according to those plans. The 2/14th light horse (Queensland Mounted Infantry) was our cavalry and we had parts of the 5th and 11th Field Regiments (Royal Australian Artillery) 7 Company Field Engineers (RAEME), 11 Field Ambulance, and supporting arms and services.
The Brigade marched to Caboolture using South Pine, North Pine and Caboolture Rivers to learn the lessons of approach march, river crossings, night attacks, defence and withdrawal, then it marched across Brisbane to Beenleigh exercising on the Logan and Albert Rivers. Training had now reached a point where we were full scale brigade group exercising with supporting arms and services.
Brigadier Craven handed over command to a highly distinguished and decorated soldier of the First World War, Brigadier Francis North, and the Brigade moved to the North Coast with headquarters at North Arm and detachments disposed around Nambour.
The time had come to join the rest of the 5th Division in North Queensland. This involved an interesting logistical exercise in the loading of 27 troop trains which were loaded at Roma St railway yards close by (to the lecture venue) and at the mobilisation sidings at Gaythorne and at the RAAF siding at Victoria Park close by the Exhibition Ground. The drivers travelled in the cabs of their vehicles. Tracked vehicles also were on flat cars and open sided wagons. The dismounted troops travelled in a variety of suburban and long distance coaches.
The trains were despatched at intervals of 2¼ hours, 11 trains a day and the troops were fed throughout the journey at various points by women’s voluntary organisations. I feel that as those long troop trains moved north they brought an amount of comfort to citizens of coastal towns of the east. By the time the 27th train had been assembled, rolling stock was becoming short in the South Queensland Division of Queensland Railways and the staff captain of 7th Brigade arrived in North Queensland in great state in the last coach of the last train in the Governor of Queensland’s private coach. Troops detrained at Stuart Junction south of Townsville bivouacked briefly on Antill Plains and then moved to Rollingstone north of Townsville where the Brigade dug and wired a defensive position astride the road and railway along Rollingstone Creek.
The troops had been fitted now with what was considered tropical gear: khaki shirts, shorts and long woollen socks. This proved a uniform both unsuitable and uncomfortable in the spear grass country of North Queensland. Seventh Brigade was hurriedly outfitted with the discarded brown (leather) cavalry leggings of the disbanded Light Horse Regiments. That is why in some of those unusual photographs you see in Milne Bay with infantrymen of the 61st Battalion and others slogging through the mud in shorts boots and cavalry leggings.
At Rollingstone one morning a new commander arrived for the Brigade. He was John Field 43 years of age, newly promoted to Brigadier, in civilian life a mechanical engineer, lecturer at the University of Tasmania, a long serving Militia officer and keen student of the military art. He had been awarded the prize for the best analysis of the defence problems of Australia. In the AIF he had raised and trained the 2/12th Battalion from Queensland and Tasmania, commanded that unit in the United Kingdom and led it in the Middle East. When he, with his driver/batman, arrived at 7th Brigade headquarters early one morning at Rollingstone they carried with them their steel helmets still camouflaged for desert sands of Tobruk.
John Field had not long to take the Brigade in hand because earlier still on another morning early in July a liaison officer came from 5th Division Headquarters without any previous warning order to order 7th Brigade to embark for Fall River in south-east New Guinea. No maps accompanied that order. No military maps of New Guinea were available at that time. We got hold of a school atlas, found the map of New Guinea and looked for Fall River fruitlessly which was not surprising as after all Fall River is the name of a town in Massachusetts USA and was General Macarthur’s code word for Milne Bay.
Let me say just a word at this point on the selection of 7th Brigade for this independent thrust. I think that too much has been said and written about the quality – often described as inferior quality – of the Militia troops who were sent in the early days to Papua New Guinea. They are often described as 18 to 18½ years of age, poorly trained and partly equipped. I maintain that that description would not have fitted 7th Brigade in July 1942. The units of the Brigade had been together in training for a long time. They had been strongly exercised, they were well equipped at the level of the time, the men were keen and well disciplined and morale in the Brigade was high. There was a general feeling that if Australia was to be defended it was far better to do it in Papua New Guinea than along the Australian coastline.
The Brigade had other advantages. It had infantry battalions which in 1942 remained on the Australian war establishment and the Australian war equipment table whereas the AIF battalions in the Middle East had adopted the British war establishment and war equipment table. The main difference between the two was that 7th Brigade infantry battalion establishment still maintained its full Machine Gun company of 12 Vickers (medium machine guns) whereas the AIF battalions had only two of these guns in their Headquarters Company. The Headquarters Company of 7th Brigade battalions had 6 platoons – Signals, Transport, Carriers, Mortars, Anti-aircraft and Pioneers. The Brigade machine gun officer,
Major Ralph Weppner of the 25th Battalion had under his general co-ordination something like 69 Vickers medium machine guns whereas there would have been 12 in an AIF Brigade which would have normally relied on specialty machine gun battalions for machine gun support.
So at short notice and without any previous notice, 7th Brigade began to embark for Fall River which we now knew to be Milne Bay in south-east (Papua) New Guinea. At first light we left Townsville in the Dutch ship Tasman. A vessel of 4500 tons (5172 tonnes gross, KPM Line) and we zig-zagged across the Coral Sea behind the sloop HMAS Warrego with one Catalina flying boat circling overhead. It was not thought prudent, apparently, to risk more than one ship at a time. This ship carried most of the headquarters of 7th Brigade Group and advance parties of all of the other units of 7th Brigade troops. We did not have with us the 7 Field Company (RAEME), or the 7th Field Ambulance or any of the 5th or 11th Field Regiments with whom we had been training.
We had, instead, detachments of the 24th Field Company Engineers (RAEM Field Engineers Northern Command), the 11th Field Ambulance, 4 Battery of 101 Tank Attack Regiment and a precious resource, a complete AIF regiment of Field Artillery, the 2/3rd. Unfortunately early in our time at Milne Bay in an inspection of the area a highly placed Australian officer decided that there were no suitable tasks for field artillery at Milne Bay and the advance party of the 2/3rd Field Regiment was returned to Australia and that Regiment did not join the Brigade. Fortunately, later, when the 18th Brigade came to Milne Bay it brought with it the 9th battery of the 2/5th Field Regiment, It was in this battery that Sir Roden Cutler VC had served in the Middle East.
The charts of the Milne Bay area were quite inadequate. Indeed at that time of course too the Pacific Island Pilot, the bible of navigation of that area had very little to say about Milne Bay except that the coast line might some four sea miles away from where it was shown on the charts. We had, however, an extraordinary document, a sun print (photocopy) of a sketch of the headwaters of Milne Bay made by a fighter pilot of the (aircraft carrier) USS Lexington who had been aloft when this ship went down in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Having no deck to land on, he splashed down in Milne Bay and while waiting there for a fortnight to be rescued had spent his time profitably in a native canoe sounding the area at Gily Gily at the head of Milne Bay. Captain Illabel(?) of the Tasman was able to navigate his 4500 ton ship right up to the head of Milne Bay, lay her alongside the landing in 30 feet of water and tie up to palm trees. He broke out a bottle of schnapps and said to us “Here’s to success against the Japs”.
Seven Brigade had arrived first time in Milne Bay on 11th July 1942. We could see as we tied up there at Gily Gily the air raid warning system as it existed at Milne Bay: a soldier with a rifle at the end of a little small ships jetty at Gily Gily who would fire three shots if a Japanese plane appeared. Seven Brigade orders were to proceed with unloading irrespective of air raid warnings.
The ship had taken 72 hours to load in Townsville with civilian labour using cranes and other equipment on the wharf. The embarked troops unloaded the ship by hand over the side with ship’s gear in 16 hours. The handover then took place between the commander of the advance party, Major Margetts of the (US) 2/3rd Light Anti-aircraft (Regiment). He was there with a small detachment of the (Australian) 55th Battalion and Company E of the 46th US Engineers. They had been there since 25th June and they had begun to construct an airstrip on 28th June.
John Field set up his headquarters at a house there, the plantation owner’s or manager’s house in the Gily Gily plantation, a large wooden high set white painted structure on a small hill rising above the palms. For obvious reasons on the first maps of Milne Bay this was designated “Target House” and Field’s first decision in Milne Bay was to order construction of a more carefully camouflaged headquarters. A set of native palm tree huts was built by native labour under ANGAU supervision, the Australia New Guinea Administration Unit .
We has a number of visitors. General Vasey came on two occasions from General Blamey’s Headquarters and General Morris, the Commander in New Guinea. General Cannon(?) came and we had a visit also from US General Casey, General Macarthur’s chief engineer who said not one but three airstrips were to be constructed: “We think he is coming down with something big and we want to be able to get on top of him”. So a site was surveyed to the west of No 1 strip for No 2 and No 3 strip was surveyed on the north shore. I shall have more to say about No 3 strip later.
From the outset (Brigadier) Field had insisted on the necessity for secrecy and security. All contacts with the mainland were strictly controlled. Concealment and camouflage were insisted upon. Wireless silence was observed. All signals in and out of Milne Bay were passed through the Coastwatcher’s net which was already in operation and the powerful RAAF station in open country. These precautions were well justified when a little later we were able to read the Japanese operation order for their landing at Milne Bay. The information paragraph read: “At RAT”, which was their codeword for Milne Bay, “40 fighter planes” (which was the total of 75 and 76 Squadrons at that time) “some light and heavy anti-aircraft and machine guns and garrison - strength unknown”.
On the 19th (July) the strip was approaching its completion. It had relied upon work by American Engineers but a lot too by the infantrymen of 7th Brigade as they arrived. The infantry not only unloaded the ships as they arrived but in some cases had had to act as stokers on the journey north which meant that there were always requests from the skippers of ships to keep those soldiers on board to do the stoking on the way back. A succession of ships came: the Tasman, the Both, the Maetsuycker, the Karsik, the Cremer, the Bonticoe, mainly Dutch ships (KPM Line) under Australian escort.
(Brigadier) Field had the bedding in of 10,000 men and also reconnaissance and patrols. The early maps were made by compass traverse and pacing by the Intelligence Sections of 7 Brigade and each Battalion. On 19th July as the strip was nearing completion we received a signal from Port Moresby: ”Expect Group Captain in Tiger Moth”. We watched the sky hopefully for a few hours and when no Tiger Moth appeared we were about to send a signal back “Group Captain not arrived send another” when the Tiger Moth arrived and out got the celebrated Bill or “Bull” Garing who was to command the RAAF units at Milne Bay. Another Air Force visitor who we always appreciated seeing was one who will be known to many of you, Wing Commander, later Group Captain, (Alan) Gordon Grant who used to fly from Townsville in an Avro Anson.
On 21st July, No1 strip was finished and received planes, which as I have said had involved a lot of work by 7th Brigade. Matting (perforated metal) to be laid on Milne Bay airstrips had arrived in parcels weighing half a ton. It had to be slung out of the ships, transported to the site, broken up and laid under the supervision of American Engineers. By the 21st July the strip was ready to receive planes and between 21st and the end of the month the two squadrons 75 and 76 with P40 Kittyhawk fighters arrived and installed themselves. There were also some planes of 6 Squadron Hudson bombers and later some Beaufighters and Beauforts.
What were the Japanese doing at this time? On 21st July a large Japanese convoy was first observed sailing from Rabaul in the direction of South East New Guinea. That was just 10 days after the landing of the first troops of 7th Brigade and our infantry strength on the ground was very light. We watched the air reports of the approach of this large Japanese convoy. Fortunately for the Milne Bay garrison it turned to the south west. It was the expeditionary force for the Buna- Gona- Kokoda approach to Port Moresby. The Japanese landing had been deferred to the next stage. Seven Brigade was finally assembled at Milne Bay on 12th August. From 7th July to 12th August ships had been arriving one by one or two’s at three day intervals.
On 12th August 18th Brigade (AIF) of 2/9th, 2/10th and 2/12th (Battalions) began to arrive and completed its assembly at Milne Bay on 21st August bringing with it fortunately 9 Battery of 2/5th Field Regiment of eight 25 pdr guns. General Clowes and his senior staff o80cers flew in on 13th August and the remainder of Headquarters Milne Force on 21st August. On 22nd August General Clowes took command of Milne Force at Milne Bay.
Field had had orders which required him to cooperate with allied forces and our navy and air force. They would not come under his command until attack was imminent, There had been some Japanese interest in Milne Bay by air reconnaissance. Five of us one morning just after the Staff Captains had arrived were sitting on the balcony of the house having tea when a plane flew just above the palm trees almost at eye height. A staff captain, John Somerville, made the remark: “What a beautiful banked turn”, then as the plane banked a little more and exposed the underside of his wing and we were able to see the red ball of the Japanese Air Force, he said: “It’s a Zero!”. Firing did open from Milne Bay and the plane was shot down. It was not a Zero but a 2-seater reconnaissance plane and 7th Brigade received the message pad of the observer which showed a good sketch of the head of the Bay with the position of No1 strip and the compass bearing of its long axis.
When Clowes then took command on 22nd August the Japanese landing force was 72 hours away. I have spoken of the preparations of the Brigade and operations and let us now turn to the sequence of events.
On the 24th August Coastwatchers reported a force of seven Daihatsu landing craft sailing close inshore eastward from the Buna-Gona area. On the afternoon of the 24th it was not possible for our fighters to attack them because they were engaged with a Japanese raid with seven Zeroes on Milne Bay itself. That evening the barges beached on Goodenough Island for the troops to disembark to stage there overnight, At 1040hrs the next morning our planes destroyed all of those barges on the beach at Goodenough Island leaving 300 men of the Sasebo No 5 Special Naval Landing Force marooned on Goodenough Island. They had been intended for Taupota. If you look at the Japanese map later you will see the track 24 miles long, supposed to be a horse track, which the Japanese had intended to take to approach Milne Bay from the north coast.
On that day (24th August) a very large Japanese convoy of cruisers (Light Cruisers Tenryu and Tatsuta) destroyers ( Urakazi , Tanikaze and Hamakaze) and transports, oilers and other ships was perceived leaving Rabaul and heading towards south east New Guinea. At 1500hrs in the afternoon it was 10 miles south of Normanby Island. The Japanese always seemed to have extremely good weather forecasting or a lot of good luck because over and over again when their ships were coming towards us they disappeared into rain squalls or under low cloud. They were attacked in the afternoon by Hudson bombers with some near misses but no direct hits. The bomber pilots reported that the decks of the transports were crowded with troops in green uniforms.
General Clowes made very little alteration to Brigadier Field’s dispositions for the defence of Milne Bay which were 9th Battalion at the head of the Bay at Gili Gili where there was some wire along the beach, machine gun posts with beach lights for illumination and 9th Battalion also astride the approaches to the south shore along the bay. The 61st was to watch the north shore of the bay and the approaches along that route which was held most likely to be the approach. The 25th Battalion was in reserve. General Clowes held the three battalions (of 18 Brigade ) in reserve for counter attack. He had ordered D Company of the 61st Battalion which was at Ahioma well along the north shore towards East Cape be brought back to the main base. It was impossible to move them by road transport and they would have to march back or be brought back by water. Seventh Brigade was unable to obtain the use of any suitable motor vessels until quite late in the evening when the (luggers) Elevala and Bronzewing would pass Ahioma and could embark some parts of the 61st ‘s D Company.
General Clowes sent the RAAF air sea rescue craft down to the mouth of Milne Bay to observe the Japanese shipping and at 0015 hrs on the 26th four Japanese ships were observed entering Milne Bay. At 0100 they began landing in a flotilla of large Daihatsu landing craft which would each hold about 50 men with another 10 on the stern. Unfortunately at that point the two unarmed little motor vessels (Elevala and Bronzewing ) crossed the path of the Japanese armed landing craft. They were forced ashore. The 61st Battalion D Company suffered 14 casualties. Some of the men were taken aboard the Japanese warship and interrogated. They refused to give any information and would not reply to the question “Where is the aerodrome?” and in the words of the Japanese report they were sent back on shore to be disposed of.
Earlier on, the advance parties of the Japanese landing force were moving westward along the coastal track. Remember, this was about 12 feet wide crossing a succession of creeks and rivers which might be fordable at low tide in dry weather, never more than about 100 yards from the beach and flanked on the right by sago swamps of thigh deep water. The forward platoon of B Company of the 61st Battalion under command of Captain, later Major, C.H. Bicks (DSO) fired on the advance party and the Japanese attacked B Company at KB Mission throughout the early morning with tanks and infantry. The commander of the leading Japanese tank at one creek crossing put his head out of the turret to direct his driver and when he was shot that tank withdrew.
At first light 76 Fighter Squadron commanded by (Squadron Leader) Peter Turnbull followed by 75 Squadron commanded by Squadron Leader Leslie Jackson attacked the Japanese at their landing point. They came back with what they saw. Most of the Japanese stores, equipment and ammunition were set on fire but best of all and this was a capital stroke, the whole of the landing barges on the beach and the gear behind them were destroyed. This deprived the Japanese of essential unloading equipment for their follow up troops and better still it prevented them from making any outflanking movement by water as they had done so successfully down the Malay Peninsula.
Later too there were attacks on B Company 61st at KB Mission early in the morning. That was their tactic all through the Milne Bay operation. They fought at night in which they were well trained. Each man had a white patch on the rear of his helmet. The NCO’s and junior officers had a white armband and senior officers had a white sash for keeping contact at night.
So, early that morning a great stroke was made by 75 and 76 Squadrons to destroy the Japanese landing flotilla. At 1630 that afternoon 61st Battalion mounted a two company attack with artillery and air support and advanced 800 yards eastward but were not able to hold the ground and withdrew to KB Mission and back on to the Gama River. At night another Japanese Force entered the Bay, shelled and landed follow up troops. The initial troops had been carried in the Nankai Maru and the Kinai Maru which were each of about 8000 tons. A reinforced Japanese landing party made a wide outflanking move and went in behind our troops on the coastal track and the 61st Battalion reinforced by C Company of the 25th Battalion stood its ground on the Gama River. The previous day they had held the Japanese advance about 500 yards east of KB Mission.
On that morning of the 27th August there was an air attack by 8 dive bombers with a number of Zero fighters. They came in very low with their undercarriages down. Indeed, some people thought that the Japanese expected to be able to land on No 1 Strip but more probably they were dive bombers with fixed undercarriages.
Japanese timings for the operation were for the initial landings to be at Rabi, that is, well towards the head of the bay, at 0130hrs on the 26th, to communicate with the crews of the tenders who were bringing in the second wave at 0130 hrs next morning and to be in possession of No 1 strip on 27th August. From the beginning their timings had gone awry. First of all they had landed some miles east of the point they had intended and then they were deprived of their landing craft.
On the 27th General Clowes placed the 2/10th Battalion of the 18th Brigade under command of Brigadier Field and the 2/10th moved through the 61st, marched to KB Mission arriving after1600 hrs in the afternoon and established a perimeter defence for the night. They had moved lightly equipped with no possibility of transport to carry their heavier weapons. They carried with them sticky bombs to attack tanks in close country. They left their Boyes anti-tank rifles with 7th Brigade Headquarters to be brought up after dark by water transport. Those guns were taken up later by Lt TJ Abenethy of the 25th Battalion, the Liaison Officer at Brigade Headquarters, knowing that he must succeed in making contact with 2/10th Battalion.
Just after 2000hrs at night the Japanese force of between 700 and 800 men with two tanks moved in to attack with a great deal of noise and shouting at the 2/10th Battalion at KB Mission. Tanks skilfully handled in collaboration with infantry and with strong headlamps moved amongst the 2/10th Battalion troops and at 0207 hrs next morning the 2/10th withdrew from KB Mission, Battalion Headquarters and two companies to the north to the wooded foothills and two companies along the coastal track. The Japanese followed up very quickly with their tanks and their infantry and over-ran the forward antitank gun of our 101 Anti Tank Regiment. The gun layer was shot in his seat on the gun. The gun carriage was bogged and could not be moved. Later the 2/10th men went forward and removed essential parts of the firing mechanism so the gun was rendered inoperable. It was later retrieved and brought back into action.
Seven Brigade troops, with the 25th Battalion having now reinforced the 61st Battalion at No 3 strip held the Japanese advance at 0400 hrs. On the 28th August the Japanese as was their custom withdrew leaving snipers in concealment.
On the 28th August the two fighter squadrons were flown back to Port Moresby. They returned within 24 hrs (with their aircraft refurbished overnight) and remained there for the rest of the action. Never could there have been closer cooperation between air and army. They were only a few hundred yards from Brigade Headquarters. A ring on the telephone had the planes overhead in very quick time and they were an indispensible and very valuable part of the combined operation.
On the 29th August the morning was quiet but in the middle of the morning a slight burst of small arms fire in the Gili Gili area was followed by a call on the Brigade Major’s telephone from a rather startled voice which said the Japs had broken through and Australian troops were falling back. The Brigade Major said “Who are you?” and he said “Rear Div”. This seemed strange because Milne Force was well to the west of Brigade Headquarters and it was unlikely that the Japanese could be breaking through anywhere near there. He was in fact a telephone sentry which Milne Force had left behind at the waterfront when they moved back to their new headquarters. So the Brigade Major rang the 7th Brigade OP in that area and said “what’s the situation?” and a man said “All quiet sir”. “What is that rifle fire?”. He said two cows strayed into a minefield and some men went forward and shot them so that they would not explode the mines. That explained the Japanese breakthrough and the withdrawal of the Australian troops.
Shortly afterwards there was an enormous explosion much closer to Brigade Headquarters. I should explain at this point that just before the Japanese landing a supply ship had come in, not tactically loaded but with supplies of ammunition in the deep holds and the upper decks of the holds crammed with canteen stores including a large supply of cartons of bottled beer. This had not been requested but some thoughtful soul on the mainland was good enough to send it forward, but to the embarrassment of Field and Clowes because these canteen supplies had to be unloaded and disposed of before the ammunition and stores could be taken out. General Clowes had ordered that they be held in the disused copra factory at Gili Gili and wired for demolition. It was a prudent thought I suppose that if things did go bad the Japanese would not be celebrating with Australian beer. Somebody, and I can be emphatic that it was not anybody in 7th Brigade who had pressed the plunger! (An Engineer Officer was reputedly responsible). Immediately, there was a call from Milne Force, Colonel Chiltern, afterwards General Sir Frederick Chiltern, of 18 Brigade asking “Mahoney, what was that explosion?”. “Sir”, I said, “Some unauthorised person has blown up the beer”. “Some men,“ said Chiltern, “are not fit to live”.
Later that day there was another interesting telephone conversation at 7 Brigade Headquarters when the Brigade Major, 18 Brigade, Chips Dennison rang to say that an attack had been planned by 18th Brigade along the Gama Road on the coastal strip but that the Brigadier would not order his 2/12th Battalion to advance beyond No 3 Strip till he had the personal assurance of Brigadier Field that the Japanese tanks had been destroyed. This may seem an unusual communication across the two Brigades but we must remember John Field was very much the junior commander who not long before had been commanding the 2/12th Battalion in the 18th Brigade commanded by Brigadier Wooten. In any case they were good comrades and good friends.
Field immediately ordered Lt Col Ted Miles of the 25th Battalion to deal with the Japanese tanks and a small party under Lt Aubrey Schindler (later MC) of the 25th went forward to discover and destroy the Japanese tanks of which there were believed to be at least two. They came upon the tanks near the Gama River, bogged one on either side of the road. One had tried to pass the other and they had both slid into a ditch, unmanned and unguarded, complete except that the injectors had been removed from the engines. Schindler’s party removed the armament of the two tanks and blew off the tracks. They had accomplished their mission.
On the 30th September at 0605 in the morning 61st Battalion sent out patrols and B Company of the 61st again drew back to KB Mission. On that night most forward troops having been withdrawn before nightfall to No 3 Strip the Japanese mounted what I believe was the strongest attack of their effort to take control of Milne Bay. Whereas three nights before at KB Mission they made a great deal of noise just before moving in to the attack on this occasion there was complete silence. They dragged up with them in their assembly (phase) a small field gun. It was the task of this gun to provide called down defensive fire and firing went on over No 3 Strip for many hours.
The Japanese made repeated attempts to cross the Strip. None of them did. Always front on, making no attempt to move to the right to try to outflank the position which they could not do by water on the left flank. The combined Mortar Platoons of the 25th and 61st Battalions coordinated by Schindler who had destroyed the tanks and fire direction by also Lt KA Acreman (MC, 101 Tank Attack Regiment) at a range of 250-300 yards with the 3-inch mortars caused great havoc amongst the massed Japanese. It was interesting later to be able to read in their report of that night’s action that they thought that the Australians must have had listening devices in the trees because whenever they moved positions to avoid the mortar fire the fire followed them to the new position. It was not a bad achievement for ” untrained and untried” troops! That, I think, was the turning point of the Milne Bay action. There was still hard fighting to be done to clear the Japanese from the north shore but they had failed in their main attempt to take control of Milne Bay.
On the 31st August the 2/12th Battalion moved through the 61st and by the afternoon had arrived at the Gama River. Behind it were placed A and C Companies of 9th Battalion of 7 Brigade and later B Company of 25th Battalion and C Company of the 61st. They met only slight resistance from snipers in the trees and from snipers lying among the Japanese dead. The Japanese never left any wounded behind and it appeared to our men early from the stray shooting after the action that they were shooting their own wounded.
On most of those nights there were Japanese ships in the Bay shelling. It was impossible for General Clowes to determine what the new ships were doing: whether they were landing more troops, if so whether on the north shore or on the south shore or whether as happened towards the end they were trying to extricate the remnants of a defeated force. The garrison had been strengthened just before the Japanese landing by American units, not only the Field Engineers of the 43rd who joined the 46th but coastal artillery with Bofors and machine guns and also the 709th Airborne Anti-aircraft Artillery. This (last) unit arrived by air and its OC reported to 7 Brigade that they brought with them no organisational equipment which meant that they had no tentage or other cover and no cooking pots. They were attached to units of 7 Brigade where they fitted in very well. Each of the 69 men carried a Thompson submachine gun personal weapon and these they were willing to share with our men. They offered to set our forces up with their .50 calibre machine guns which later proved very useful in spraying the tops of palm trees to dislodge Japanese snipers. They were asked to lend us some NCO instructors with the guns. They said that they had no instructors to train our men but they could let us have the manufacturers manuals and when we got those guns they came in wooden carrying cases and were covered with armourers grease.
But to return to the real fighting: On the night of 1st September at 1900 hrs General Clowes received an urgent priority signal from GHQ in Brisbane:
“Expect attack Japanese land forces on Milne Aerodromes from north and northwest. Take immediate stations. Macarthur”.
Nobody in Milne Bay was aware that it would be possible for the Japanese to be approaching us from the north or northwest so General Clowes had to put on hold some movements he had in mind for the 18th Brigade troops and the whole of the two Brigades of the Force. For the night of the 1st/2nd September there were only minor attacks by snipers and small parties of Japanese along the main coast road on troops of 7th Brigade.
On the next day the other two companies of the 2/12th joined the forward elements of their Battalion at KB Mission and after that 2/12th had some hard fighting as it moved eastwards along the coastal strip. Each night the 7th Brigade troops who were associated with the advance of the 18th Brigade, that is to say A and C Companies of 9th Battalion B Company from 25th Battalion and C Company from 61st Battalion were repeatedly attacked by small parties of Japanese, in some cases by large parties and on the night of the 30th /31st August about 300 Japanese made repeated attacks around about Rabi from 3 different directions speaking, what was extraordinary, some very good English in an attempt to deceive the defending troops. On the night of 2nd /3rd September 2/9th Battalion of 18th Bde was moved up to KB Mission by water craft and on succeeding days with very hard fighting worked its way east clearing along the north coast as the 2/12th Battalion had been doing.
It was on 4th September in his heroic attack on three machine gun posts one after the other, single handed, that Cpl John French of 2/9th Battalion was killed in action and awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. The 2/9th continued its way along the coastal road heading to Goroni and then striking a company inland behind the Japanese, coming upon the main company defensive position defending their base at Waga Waga. By the 6th September with desperate fighting they had cleared the last of the Japanese and were able to send a company forward as far as Ahioma down towards East Cape only meeting small parties of Japanese and snipers..
All this time the platoon of 61st Battalion at Taupota on the north coast and the 25th Battalion platoon which joined them to relieve them met small parties of armed Japanese stragglers making their way back to Buna and Gona. About 40 Japanese were killed in those skirmishes and 6 Australians wounded.
Night after night the Japanese ships were in the Bay. They had complete freedom of movement at sea. Ten nights out of 14 it was impossible to determine what exactly they were doing. On 2nd September HMAS Arunta, a destroyer, came escorting the Tasman with supplies and ammunition and on the 6th September came back with the hospital ship Manunda and the MV Anshun bringing in ammunition and supplies and heavy anti-aircraft gun barrels.
Before nightfall the Arunta left the Bay. The Anshun remained at the unloading point and the Manunda was moored out in the Bay. At 2155hrs that night Japanese ships illuminated the Manunda, did not fire on her, switched their searchlights on to the Anshun and sank her where she was. She’d had no luck. She had been damaged by the Japanese in Manila Bay when they arrived there, she had escaped there from Singapore when the Japanese were approaching Singapore and she had finally been sunk at Milne Bay. She was used as a sort of temporary wharf for a long time and then two years later was refloated and as the Culcairn traded off the Queensland coast.
You will immediately appreciate the strangeness of the sort of action that Milne Bay was. Supplies and ammunition were coming in through the front line so to speak and wounded were being evacuated by hospital ship past the Japanese forces through the front line. By the 8th September the fighting was to all intents and purposes over. There were still Japanese stragglers to be rounded up.
This year the great battle of Alamein is celebrating its 50th anniversary and Australian ex-servicemen are going over there to take part. The operations at Milne Bay are by no means on the scale of the masses of armour and artillery which took part in the battle of El Alamein. But in the context of its own place and its own time the Milne Bay battle has an importance I think for us. It marked the southernmost point of the Japanese thrust down into the south-west Pacific. It was the first occasion on which the Japanese land forces had been defeated. It therefore has its own importance in the history of the war as far as Australia is concerned.
[On the night of 3rd September enemy warships evacuated the remaining invasion force leaving 750 of their dead. The Japanese had underestimated both the strength and the fighting qualities of the defenders.
“Some of us may forget that of all the Allies it was the Australian soldier who first broke the shell of invincibility of the Japanese army” (Field Marshal Sir William Slim, Defeat into Victory New English Lib. 1958)]
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Oscar Wilde 1954-1900
Back to the FloodSaturday 19 March 2011 - 1800Hrs
Anzac Day Sunday 25 April 2011 - 0615Hrs
Officers Mess Dinner Saturday 21 May 2011 - By Invitation from QUR
Friday 9 September 2011 - ( 1900Hrs for 1930Hrs)
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HISTORY OF QUR
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