The Campaign in Papua New Guinea
Rabaul was the scene of the first fighting by Australian troops in the First World War, when they seized the German wireless station on the site of which now stands the war cemetery.
In January 1942, after three weeks of air bombardment, Rabaul was attacked by the Japanese from the sea, and overwhelming odds soon broke the defence. It is estimated that against the original garrison of 1,500 the Japanese landed 17,000 men in the immediate vicinity of Rabaul. Though forced to withdraw, the garrison left between 3,000 and 4,000 Japanese dead on the shores of the bay and the harbour. The defenders split into small groups and while some managed to escape by sea, a great number were killed or captured. Many of those captured were drowned when the ship Montevideo Maru taking them, together with some 200 civilians, to the Philippine Islands was torpedoed and sunk by an American submarine off Luzon on 1 July 1942. Nevertheless, a number of the original garrison ran the gauntlet of the Japanese patrol and reached Australian territory in small vessels overlooked when the Japanese commander sent destroyers steaming up and down the coast smashing all the boats to be found.
Small forces on New Ireland, which lies near and north-east of New Britain, had been attacked and overwhelmed on 21 January 1942. In November 1944, the 5th Australian Division landed at Jacquinot Bay and the 11th Division at Wide Bay. The two divisions cleared the north and south coasts and bottled up some 90,000 of the enemy in the Gazelle Peninsula, where they were contained until the final surrender in August 1945. Rabaul was practically destroyed by Allied bombing and was never actually re-captured from the Japanese, but fell into our hands when they surrendered.