Thursday, April 23, 2009

Port Moresby’s fascinating WW11 history

Long before the arrival of the white man, the Motuan people of the area now known as Port Moresby, traded their pots for sago, other food and canoe logs, with their partners from the Gulf of Papua.
They sailed from Hanuabada and other villages, built on silts above the waters of the bay.
They also intermarried with the Gulf people and created strong family and trade links.
The Hiri expeditions were large-scale.
As many as 20 multi-hulled canoes or lakatoi, crewed by some 600 men, carried about 20,000 clay pots on each journey.
To the Motuans, the Hiri was not only an economic enterprise but they also confirmed their identity as a tribe because of the long and dangerous voyages.
These voyages are commemorated in modern times by the annual Hiri Moale Festival held at Ela Beach in September.
The area was already an important trade centre by the time Captain John Moresby, of HMS Basilisk, first identified the area of the site later to become known as Port Moresby.
The Englishman had just ventured through the Coral Sea at the eastern end of New Guinea and upon encountering three previously unknown islands landed there.
At 10 o’clock in the morning of the 20th February, 1873, he claimed the land for Britain and named it after his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby.
He called the inner reach "Fairfax Harbour" and the other “Port Moresby”.
Actual European settlement of the site did not occur until a decade later when the south-eastern part of New Guinea island was annexed to British Empire.
British New Guinea was passed to the newly established Commonwealth of Australia in 1906, and became known as Papua. From then until 1941 Port Moresby grew slowly.
The main growth was on the peninsula, where port facilities and other services were gradually improved.
Electricity was introduced in 1925 and piped water supply was provided in 1941.
Japan had been on the roll since the early 1930s with the rise of Japanese Imperialism.
Japanese troops invaded Manchuria in 1933, China in 1934, and then came into the South Pacific by attacking Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941.
The ambitious Japanese wanted a stranglehold of the South Pacific, including Australia.
The former Australian territory of Papua, which comprises the south-eastern portion of the island of New Guinea and some groups of small islands, is separated from the Australian mainland only by the 145 kilometre-wide Torres Straits.
Port Moresby, the most important centre, has a good harbour on the Gulf of Papua and its situation so close to the Australian mainland makes it eminently suitable as a naval and military base for operations in the south-west Pacific.
It became a vital point to hold when the Japanese invaded New Guinea.
On January 23, 1942, the Japanese landed at Kavieng on New Ireland and at Rabaul on New Britain where they quickly overcame the Australian defenders, with the ultimate objective of taking Port Moresby.
Before WWII, Port Moresby was a small administrative center for the Australian territories of Papua and New Guinea.
During the war it was the strategic objective of the Japanese during the Battle of Coral Sea and the overland during the Kokoda Trail campaign.
Japanese invasion attempts were unsuccessful, but the area was subjected to many air attacks.
Japanese air raids against Port Moresby started on February 2, 1942, and continued until April 12, 1943 (plus later nighttime harassment raids).
The area became a major American and Australian staging area and airfield complex in support of the Allied push to the north of New Guinea, including Kokoda and Buna/Gona.
The Battle of the Coral Sea from May 5 to 8 averted a Japanese sea borne invasion of Port Moresby and the American success at the Battle of Midway in June not only destroyed Japan's capacity for undertaking long range offensives but also provided the Americans with the opportunity to move from the defensive to the offensive.
The Japanese, who were regularly bombing Port Moresby with 20 to 30 bombers with fighter escort, decided on the overland attack across the Owen Stanley Range.
It was on July 21, 1942, that Japanese troops landed on the northern coast of then New Guinea and unexpectedly began to march over the Owen Stanley Ranges with the intent of capturing Port Moresby.
It was out of here that the Australian 7th Division resisted the Japanese General Horii's overland attempt to capture Port Moresby, and the advance was halted within 30 miles of the city.
Had the Japanese succeeded, the mainland of Australia would have come under dire threat.
Nearly the entire city has some connections with World War II
These include Port Moresby (Town) Prewar town and wharf area; Konedobu Northern area of the town; Kaevaga North of Konedobu ; Waigani former 5-Mile Wards Drome and the PNG goverment headquarters; Gordons South-east of Waigani PNG Modern History Museum; Boroko Located to the east of town ; Gerehu Area to the north of the present day University of PNG; Kila Kila East of Port Moresby town, former 3-Mile Drome; Mount Lawes Peak behind Port Moresby; Fairfax Harbor Port Moresby's Harbor; Bootless Bay Inlet to the east of Port Moresby; Idlers Bay Inlet to the west of Port Moresby, Roku village; Joyce Bay Bay to the east of Port Moresby, Local Island
By 1944, Port Moresby had six airfields. Jackson was the largest, and was named after Australian ace pilot John Jackson, leader of RAAF Squadron 75, who was killed in a dogfight against Japanese planes over Port Moresby on April 28, 1942.
Wartime airfields in the area included the following:Kila Drome (3 Mile) Airfield for fighters and bombers; Ward Drome (5 Mile) Airfield for heavy bombers and transport planes; Jackson Airport (7 Mile) Main airfield still in use today by Air Niugini; Berry Drome (12 Mile) Fighter and medium bomber base near Bomana; Schwimmer (14 Mile) Fighter and medium bomber base; Durand Airstrip (17 Mile) Fighter and medium bomber base; Rogers (Rarona, 30 Mile) Fighter and medium bomber base; Fisherman's (Daugo) Emergency landing strip on off shore island
There are a number of abandoned gun emplacements, bunkers and fortifications. These were constructed by Australian Engineers in 1944, but never used, then abandoned after the war.
Basalisk Battery Largest, three gun battery to the west of Moresby ; Paga Hill Battery Gun battery and radar set location hill outside Moresby ; Gemo Island Battery Gun position on offshore island, overlooking the east ; Bootless Bay Battery Gun position at Bootless Bay; Boera Battery Gun position west of Port Moresby

Below is a timeline of major events in the Japanese bid to take Port Moresby

03/02/1942 Japanese air raids begin on Port Moresby.

10/03/1942 Japanese aircraft attack Port Moresby.

23/03/1942 Port Moresby is again attacked by Japanese aircraft.

04/05/1942 The Japanese Port Moresby invasion force leaves Rabaul, in New Britain.

19/07/1942 Japanese invasion fleet leaves Rabaul for Buna, New Guinea.

21/07/1942 Japanese land at Buna.

26/08/1942 Two thousand Japanese land at Milne Bay, South East of Port Moresby and advance up Kokoda Trail.

06/09/1942 Australians force total Japanese evacuation of Milne Bay, with just 1,000 troops surviving to be evacuated.

08/09/1942 Japanese advance from Kokoda to the Owen Stanley Mountain Range in an overland drive for Port Moresby, New Guinea.

11/09/1942 Japanese drive halted by Australians at loribaiwa, just 32 miles from Port Moresby.

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