Contents - Hirohito's War
22 The Huon Peninsula: Operation CARTWHEEL Completed
[September 1943–April 1944]
[Maps: 22.1, 22.2, 22.3, 23.4]
The Huon Peninsula Campaign (p 628) The Battle of Shaggy Ridge (p 632) Recognition for Australian Forces in New Guinea (p 634) The Battles of Arawe and Cape Gloucester (p 636) The Admiralty Islands Campaign (p 638) MacArthur’s South Pacific Turf War (p 641) The Occupation of Emirau (p 644)
The Huon Peninsula Campaign: [Map: 22.1] Within a week of the occupation of Lae on 16 September 1943, MacArthur and Halsey set about the next stages of Operation CAR TWHEE L’s envelopment of Rabaul. MacArthur ordered a rapid deployment to take the minor port of Finschhafen at the tip of the Huon Peninsula. It was a split advance. While the Australian 9th Division took the coastal route to Finschhafen, the Australian 7th Division would cut through the center of the Huon Peninsula to New Guinea’s northern coast with a view to cutting off Adachi’s coastal retreat toward Madang. While MacArthur was making his northern thrusts in New Guinea on Rabaul’s western flank, Halsey, after his occupation of New Georgia was preparing to make his northwesterly thrust from Rabaul’s eastern flank by a landing at Empress Augusta Bay on the east coast of Bougainville Island. The twin-pronged advances aimed to bring Rabaul and its eventual isolation closer.
Situated on the eastern tip of the Huon Peninsula, Finschhafen was strategically placed adjacent to the Straits of Vitiaz which separated it from the island of New Britain on whose eastern tip was situated Rabaul. Finschhafen’s main use was as a center for barge traffic, which brought supplies to Japanese troops on New Guinea from Rabaul. While units of the 9th Division were to make an amphibious landing north of Finschhafen, at the same time another of its battalions would advance up the southern coast of the Huon Peninsula toward Finschhafen from the west.
On 22 September 1943, Australian 9th Division veterans of action at the Battle of Tobruk in North Africa landed on the beaches north of the Japanese garrison at Finschhafen. In a typically confused amphibious landing the four assault companies missed Scarlett Beach and washed up on an adjacent headland next to Siki Cove. An Australian soldier recalled,
Ahead and above us, on top of a headland about 100 feet away, a Japanese machine-gun opened fire with tracers. Its first burst went high into the air, the second into the water beside the boat. The third burst crashed over my head and hit two men behind me; I heard them cry out as I jumped on to the coral and splashed through a pool or two to the beach.1