The Kokoda Track | Australians in World War II | The Pacific War

Exploring the site of the battle fought by Australians in World War II

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The Japanese Besieged - the Battle of the Beachheads: Buna, Gona, Sanananda

The Battle of the Beachheads: November 1942

Anxious to seize the Japanese base in the Gona-Buna area before the arrival of Japanese reinforcements the Allies attempted a coup de main - a sudden bold attack - that would have succeeded if they were facing, as they believed, a few hundred sick and starved Japanese. In fact Japanese reinforcements had already arrived by sea and the Allied offensive in November was a dismal failure...

Still image of Gona-Buna Battle Map

[Note: Flash Player is required to view the animated version of this battle map].

The Australian front in November

Video Still of Gona

Gona - the northernmost of the three Japanese entrenched positions.

The 900 Japanese at Gona, mainly service personnel without much infantry training, were entrenched in a compact box 300 metres square. Their backs were to the sea, their right rested on Gona Creek and bunkers faced out on the other two sides. Eather's 25th Brigade, with about the same numbers as the defenders but with some artillery and air support, attacked for a week from 19 November but made no progress and lost heavily. The 21st Brigade then attacked successfully around the Australian right to cut Gona off from the other Japanese positions. In the last few days of November the way was clear for the Australians to attack Gona from two sides.

Side Trip: ‘Medics Attacked’

Grave of a Native Boy

On 27 November, several Japanese Zero fighters appeared over the battle area and came in from different directions to attack the Main Dressing Station (MDS) at Soputa, the nearby divisional headquarters and the post kitchen. Five of the seven cooks in the kitchen were killed. In the main hospital area, about 30 men, including two of the medical officers, were killed and another 50 or so were wounded. Many of the men killed had been lying on stretchers awaiting aerial evacuation...

Find out more about the Japanese air attack on the MDS on the Australia's War 1939-1945 website...

Meanwhile Brigadier Lloyd's 16th Brigade advanced down the Sanananda track which had been improved to a motor road by Japanese engineers. Here the causeway was unusually wide and Cullen's 2/1st Battalion was able to work around the Japanese flanks without entering the swamp. The Japanese, 1100 men of 144 and 41 Regiments who had survived the mountain campaign, retired that night into their main position on a narrower stretch of the causeway. There they defied all Allied attacks for two months.

Unable to overcome the Japanese frontally, elements of the American 126th Regiment worked their way through the swamp and blocked the Sanananda road behind the Japanese at what became known as Huggins roadblock.

The American front in November

The American front was divided into two by swamp. Warren Force, with the Australian 2/6th Independent Company, advanced along the coast on the Cape Endiadere track and the Simemi track with 3900 men and Urbana Force, 2700 men, took an inland route through Dobodura and Ango. Reinforced by barge at night the Japanese Buna defences eventually held 2700 men, half of them recently arrived troops. From 16 November to the end of the month repeated attacks were made. The Americans lost 492 battle casualties but nowhere breached the Japanese defences.