Facing a Japanese night attack on New Guinea

Papuan natives, known affectionately to the Australians as 'Fuzzy-Wuzzy angels', carry supplies during the fighting near Wau in New Guinea. The Australian forces owed much to native carriers who kept the forward troops supplied and helped to evacuate the wounded.

Papuan natives, known affectionately to the Australians as ‘Fuzzy-Wuzzy angels’, carry supplies during the fighting near Wau in New Guinea. The Australian forces owed much to native carriers who kept the forward troops supplied and helped to evacuate the wounded.

The Campaign in New Guinea, December 1942 - 1943: Australian troops move up along the north coast of New Guinea toward Sanananda.

The Campaign in New Guinea, December 1942 – 1943: Australian troops move up along the north coast of New Guinea toward Sanananda.

Far off in the steaming jungles of Papua New Guinea the tide was also turning in the Allies favour. From the middle of the year Australian and American forces had moved over onto the offensive to push the Japanese off the island.

Here, as everywhere, the Japanese resisted bitterly, despite the seeming futility of their actions. Their invasion of New Guinea had been in preparation for an invasion of Australia itself – that was now a hopeless proposition. Yet still they clung on to the inhospitable jungle and fought back when they could.

Brian Gomme was with an artillery battery, battering Japanese positions in the distance. Sometime in August 1943, they received an unexpected counterattack:

Owing to the report of the Jap patrol being in the area, grenades were issued and everyone was on the alert.

Around midnight one of the picquets thought he saw someone just out in front of him, he could see what he thought could be a face beneath a tin hat but, after watching for some time and noticing no movement, thought he was letting his imagination run riot. However, when he handed over to his relief he told him what he saw. The relief watched the object for some time and decided it was a stump and did not mention it when he handed over to the next man.

In the meantime, on another post another picquet thought he saw a face but once again thought it to be imagination and that he was seeing things. To convince himself that nothing was there he looked away for a moment. When he looked back the ‘apparition’ was gone, so he forgot about it.

Just before the moon went down Lt. Gamble woke up and noticed how still the night was. The usual noise of the jungle insects had ceased and all he could hear was the occasional crack of a twig. It was on that evidence and his own misgivings that he went round quietly to each man and woke him. But for this act it is hard to say what would have happened for, before he had woken the last man, the Japs attacked.

The order ‘Hoi toi’ was heard – apparently being the order to attack, and immediately pandemonium broke out. The Japs opened up with machine guns and at the same time conducted a five pronged attack on the position.

The whole time the attack was in progress the Japs were screaming and yelling either as a means of keeping contact or for the purpose of creating panic amongst the attacked. They succeeded in driving a wedge between the command post personnel and the gunners, cutting the defenders into two parties. Incidentally, the main attack came from the swamp which was supposed to be impenetrable. I have few details of the actual fighting.

Dick Payten had just got out of bed and was standing at the end of the tent with his Owen gun ready but not cocked. He heard a voice say: ‘Come on out, Aussie’. The darkness was so intense that it was impossible to see but he cocked his gun and fired a burst at the voice. His kill was a Jap Lieutenant and apparently his first. He was wearing a sword which will be a fine souvenir.

The Australian designed Owen Machine Gun Carbine of which 45,000 were made.

The Australian designed and built Owen Machine Carbine, or sub machine gun, of which 45,000 were made.

During the skirmish some of the command post personnel led by the officer in charge of the infantry platoon decided to endeavour to rejoin the gun personnel. However, the Japs had a machine gun trained between the two parties and managed to kill Lt. Grove and Gnrs Johnson and George, also wounding one or two others.

At the same time Jack Parker, who was wounded in the leg early in the piece by a bullet before he had time to get out of bed, and Lt. Bryant, were in the command post unarmed when three or four Japs came in. Jack was still in bed and Bryant hid in a corner while the Japs rummaged around looking for documents. They knocked all the command post equipment about, knocking the wireless set to the ground but not damaging it.

The two in the cormnand post have only the darkness to thank for their escape. There were, no doubt, many other incidents of which I have heard nothing but I haven’t asked questions of those present.

See Brian Gomme: A Gunners Eye View, A wartime diary of active service in New Guinea, 1997

The Campaign in New Guinea, December 1942 - 1943: An artillery observer (US) prepares to be hoisted to the top of a tree in a special chair to observe a bombardment of Japanese positions.

The Campaign in New Guinea, December 1942 – 1943: An artillery observer (US) prepares to be hoisted to the top of a tree in a special chair to observe a bombardment of Japanese positions.

Australian Forces In New Guinea, 1943: General Sir Thomas Blamey, commander of the Australian Imperial Forces in the Second World War (left) with US General Eichelberger in New Guinea.

Australian Forces In New Guinea, 1943: General Sir Thomas Blamey, commander of the Australian Imperial Forces in the Second World War (left) with US General Eichelberger in New Guinea.

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