Contents - Hirohito's War
18 Battles of Buna-Gona-Sanananda: MacArthur’s Lies and Neglect
[November 1942–February 1943]
[Maps: 18.1, 18.2]
MacArthur’s Failures of Strategy, Planning and Supply (p 520) Japan’s Bunker Defenses and Problems of Supply (p 521) The Battles of Buna- Gona-Sanananda (p 524) Arrival of General Eichelberger and a Change in Fortunes (p 529) MacArthur’s Victory Propaganda (p 535) Victory at Sanananda (p 536) Misinformation About the Cost of the New Guinea Campaign (p 539) ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ Angels: The Role of Papuan Natives (p 541) US Forces’ Baptism of Fire and the Failure of MacArthur as Commander (p 542) Allied Troops Win ‘Superman’ Status (p 545)
MacArthur’s Failures of Strategy, Planning and Supply: [Map: 18.1] By November 1942, having battled Japanese forces back across the Owen Stanley Range, Australian troops now came up against their strongholds, at Buna, Gona and Sanananda. It was from here that Major-General Horii had launched his campaign to wrest control of Port Moresby and eastern New Guinea. [See Chapter 14: Battles of the Kokoda Trail: Aussies Triumphant] The crushing defeat inflicted on Japan by Australian troops on the Kokoda Trail must have boosted Allied hopes of an easy victory against a demoralised enemy. MacArthur’s chief of intelligence Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Willoughby predicted that Buna, Gona and Sanananda were lightly defended with fewer than 1,500 soldiers; in fact there were 6,500 Japanese defenders under the command of Horii’s replacement, Major-General Oda. They had every intention of fighting for and holding their heavily fortified garrisons, which were regarded as essential assets in denying the Allies airfields that could threaten Rabaul. For the first time in the New Guinea Campaign, US troops would join the Australians who had fought their way over the Owen Stanley Mountains. The Americans were in for a shock that would force them to re-evaluate the fighting quality of their antipodean allies’ troops, whom they had hitherto treated with barbed criticism if not derision.
The three semi-independent strongholds were able to remain connected by the work of the Japanese troops who manned barges and motorized landing craft that shifted troops, supplies and munitions between the garrisons, as they were needed. Complacency due to poor intelligence was not MacArthur’s team’s only mistake. A further intelligence mistake was the failure of Willoughby to supply available photographs of the area to the local commanders. Eichelberger, who was appointed as MacArthur’s corps commander during the battle, was appalled to discover that not even his Corps HQ had been provided with photographs.
The area surrounding the three coastal strongholds was swampland full of shoulder-high jungle scrub and intersected by numerous creeks. On drier parts stood tall six-foot high razor-sharp kunai grass. In some areas there were overgrown coconut plantations. In these varied terrains the digging of foxholes served to protect the troops but little more. Not only did they immediately fill with water but they provided no outlook above the surrounding dense vegetation. George Johnson described a foot soldier’s life at Buna- Gona thus: “They live almost perpetually in a dripping green twilight, hiding by day