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Battle of Buna-Gona
The Battle of Buna-Gona was a battle in the Pacific campaign of World War II. On November 16, 1942, Australian and United States forces began to attack the main Japanese beachheads in New Guinea, at Buna, Sanananda and Gona. By January 22, 1943, the Allied forces had achieved their objective of isolating Japanese forces in eastern New Guinea and cutting off their main line of supply.
Although Allied field commanders had been told by their intelligence services to expect no more than 1,500 to 2,000 Japanese defenders at the beachheads, they faced more than 6,500 troops from Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces and the Imperial Japanese Army, in well-planned positions. The Allies believed that widespread swamps would make it impossible for the Japanese to construct bunkers below ground. But the Japanese were able to build strongpoints above ground and conceal them with felled trees and tall tropical grass, creating interlocking fields of fire almost invisible to the attacking troops until they came under fire. Initially lacking tanks, artillery, and air support, the bunkers had to be taken one by one, using grenades and small arms.
Tropical diseases, especially bush typhus (known to the Japanese as tsutsugamushi) caused far more casualties to the combatants than the effects of battle.
Long supply lines were also a major problem for both sides. The Allies' major bases, at Port Moresby and Milne Bay , were distant, the Owen Stanley Ranges were impassable to motor vehicles, and the Bismarck Sea to the north of New Guinea was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Navy and air force. The attacking troops depended on airdrops by the Liberator cargo planes of the US Fifth Air Force and makeshift transport units assembled by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), as well as coastal shipping, which was vulnerable to air attack. The Japanese were initially able to maintain supply and to evacuate wounded personnel by sea, and submarines maintained contact with the beachheads until January. 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 Australian 7th Division under Major General George Vasey , took 204 casualties in the first three days of its thrust towards Gona, and the US 32nd Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Edwin F. Harding , lost 392 personnel within two weeks, attacking Buna.
In the thrust towards Gona, the 7th Division, which was missing a brigade deployed at Milne Bay, was augmented by the US 126th Infantry Regiment (which had been detached from the 32nd Division). They were also reinforced by the remnants of Maroubra Force, in the shape of the battered 30th Brigade, an 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, was pushing towards Sanananda.
By November 29, the Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur, had become frustrated at what he saw as an unreasonable lack of progress. He replaced Harding with the US I Corps commander, Major General Robert L. Eichelberger. MacArthur allegedly told Eichelberger to: "take Buna, or don't come back alive." In spite of reports of poor performance and morale among the 32nd Division, two of its members — 1st Sgt Elmer J. Burr and Sgt Kenneth E. Gruennert — were later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, after giving their lives in actions near Buna.
On 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 18 the Allies were reinforced by the 7th Division's 18th Brigade, as well as the 2/6th Armoured Battalion — the first tanks available to the Allied forces. In spite of this boost, the Australians suffered some of their worst losses of the whole 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 (see map, above) to Buna Mission, taking the remaining Japanese positions by December 28. The US 163rd Regiment Infantry — from the US 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 cannibalism in captured Japanese positions.
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