Rabaul Memorial, Bita Paka
Operations in New Britain and New Ireland
The Rabaul Memorial
List of Regiments and Corps

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Rabaul Memorial
Introduction | Alphabetical | Units | Dates | Images

The Government of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea have agreed to the erection of this memorial within the Rabaul (Bita Paka) War Cemetery, the site whereof is reserved solely for use by the commission as a Commonwealth war cemetery.

Operations in New Britain and New Ireland

Rabaul, on the island of New Britain, which is part of the Australian Mandated Territory of New Guinea, is the principal port of the Territory and occupied an important strategical position as a potential naval base, both from the Australian and Japanese viewpoints. As such its development with American assistance was decided upon by the Australian Government towards the end of 1941, but war broke out before the decision could be implemented except by the establishment of a small garrison there.

In January 1942, the second month of the Japanese offensive against British, American and Dutch possessions in the Far East, the Japanese plans provided that the forces on their eastern flank should advance southward to the line Balikpapan-Kendari-Ambon-Rabaul.

The Rabaul garrison included the 2/22nd Australian Battalion, about 80 men of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, and other detachments. No. 24 Squadron R.A.A.F., with four Hudson bombers and eight Wirraways (normally used only as trainers), was also based on the airfields round Rabaul.

Japanese aircraft in relatively small numbers bombed the Rabaul airfields at intervals from January 4th onwards, and on the 20th a force of about 120 Japanese aircraft attacked, destroyed or damaged all but one of the eight Wirraways which went up against them, and bombed and machine-gunned the harbour and the airfields. Next day, on orders from Australia, the three surviving aircraft were flown out to the mainland of New Guinea. On the 22nd Japanese aircraft put the two coastal guns out of action and detonated a bomb dump, causing so violent an explosion that it broke the valves in all wireless sets in the area.

Soon after midnight on the 22nd/23rd January, Japanese forces landed on the shores of Blanche Bay, and in a few hours forced the forward companies back on to the main force in the Vunakanau area. By the afternoon the defending force was in danger of being completely overwhelmed, and some companies were ordered to withdraw westward to Keravat and some south towards the Warangoi River, all moving in small groups. Some of the parties that withdrew through Keravat and travelled along the north coast and some of those that reached the south coast escaped by sea to the New Guinea mainland. Others died on the journey, and others surrendered. About 150 of those who surrendered were massacred by the Japanese on February 4th at Tol and Waitavolo plantations on the south coast of the Gazelle Peninsula.

The air campaign against Rabaul was commenced almost as soon as the Japanese established themselves there in 1942, but the numbers of American and Australian aircraft available for the task did not reach decisive proportions until the second half of 1943, by which time the Papuan and Huon Gulf campaigns had enabled the Allies to construct a chain of airfields on the northern coast of Papua and on Goodenough and Kiriwina Islands in the Solomon Sea. In the meantime the Japanese had developed Rabaul into a first-class air, army and naval base from which their campaigns in New Guinea and the Solomons were directed. By March 1943 some 250 aircraft were based on Rabaul airfields, and in October the total was approximately 200. At this time a full-scale attack was carried out by the Americans and Australians from New Guinea, continuing into November, when American carrier aircraft also participated. In December daylight attacks were made by American and New Zealand air forces operating from the Solomons, thus releasing the American air force in New Guinea for tasks elsewhere. However, Australian bombers from New Guinea kept up night attacks until January 1944. In February the Japanese withdrew all servicable aircraft to Truk to meet American attacks in the central Pacific.

On December 15th, 1943, after Australian troops had recaptured the Huon Peninsula to the west on the mainland of New Guinea, an American force landed about Arawe, and on December 26th another American force landed at Cape Gloucester. By the middle of March 1944 these forces had secured areas in western New Britain. Small parties of Australians had been operating in several parts of New Britain from 1942, organising patrols of armed natives, harassing the Japanese and obtaining information. By July 1944 these parties had caused the Japanese to withdraw their outposts far to the eastward.

In October 1944 the First Australian Army assumed control of all operations in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, including those on New Britain, and in October and November the 5th Australian Division relieved the 40th U.S. Division on that island. It was decided immediately to advance and establish bases toward the eastern end of the island and eventually to drive the enemy's outpost back within the Gazelle Peninsula.

Thus on the north coast one battalion pushed eastward and after some clashes with the enemy established itself in the Open Bay area early in February. On the south coast an unopposed landing was made at Jacquinot Bay in the eastern half of the island early in November, and thence the 6th Brigade, moving at first by barge and later on foot, advanced to Wide Bay and along its shore to a point east of that occupied by the battalion on the northern coast. Here in March 1945 the Japanese were driven from their forward positions. Thereafter the Australians patrolled forward into the peninsula where some 90,000 Japanese were concentrated, but did not attempt to advance with larger forces.

After the Japanese Empire surrendered in August 1945 some 83,000 Japanese troops, naval men and labourers laid down their arms in the Rabaul area.

A small naval staff, mainly concerned with the Coast Watching Service, was established throughout the Bismarck Archipelago and Solomon Islands to collect and transmit (by teleradio) reports of any Japanese ship and aircraft movements observed. When the Japanese overran Rabaul in January 1942, most members of this staff succeeded in getting away to Australia. Four failed to do so. It was partly through members of the Coast Watching Organisation that the rescue arrangements of Rabaul survivors were made and carried out.

When the Allies re-entered New Britain in late 1943, the Royal Australian Navy participated. The destroyers Arunta and Warramunga were part of the force at the pre-landing bombardment of Gasmata in November; and Australia was the flagship (with Shropshire and the two destroyers, the Landing Ship Infantry Westralia, and U.S. ships) at the landings at Arawe on December 15th, 1943. Australian ships took part in later bombardments and landings in New Britain, and, on September 6th 1945, H.M.A. Ships Vendetta, Townsville, Kiama, Dubbo and Lithgow took part in the Japanese surrender ceremonies at Rabaul.

The Rabaul Memorial

Index No. MR 29.

Rabaul, which was to become one of the major Japanese bases in the south-west Pacific area, lies on Blanche Bay inside the hook-nosed north-eastern tip of the Gazelle Peninsula on New Britain, the largest and most important island of the Bismarck Archipelago. The island was formerly a German possession. Rabaul was the scene of the first fighting by Australian troops in the 1914-1918 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. Of the latter many were murdered, and most of the remainder were drowned when the ship taking them, together with some 200 civilians, to the Philippine Islands was torpedoed and sunk. 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-north-east of New Britain, had been attacked and overwhelmed on January 21st, 1942.

It was not until November 1944 that New Britain was again the scene of fighting, when 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 the enemy in the Gazelle Peninsula. Here the Japanese were contained until the final surrender in August 1945, when the number of their troops was found to be nearly 90,000.

The Rabaul Memorial commemorates 1,225 members of the Australian Army (including personnel of the New Guinea and Papuan local forces and constabulary) and the Royal Australian Air Force who lost their lives in New Britain and New Ireland in January and February 1942, and in New Britain from November 1944 to August 1945 and who have no known grave. Men of the Royal Australian Navy who lost their lives in the south-western Pacific region and have no graves but the sea are commemorated on Plymouth Naval Memorial in England, along with many of their comrades of the Royal Navy and of other Commonwealth forces. The Rabaul Memorial stands in Rabaul (Bita Paka) War Cemetery, where rest many who fought and died with those whom it commemorates. It takes the form of an avenue of stone pylons leading from the entrance building to the Cross of Sacrifice. Bronze panels bearing the names are affixed to the faces of the pylons. A central stone lectern at the commencement of the avenue carries a bronze plate with the dedicatory inscription.

List of Regiments and Corps showing their position on the Memorial

Panel Numbers Number of Names
Papuan Services Personnel 33 1
Australian Army Canteen Service 33 3
Australian Army Dental Corps 32 4
Australian Army Medical Corps 31 16
Australian Army Ordnance Corps 32 13
Australian Army Pay Corps 32 and 33 2
Australian Army Service Corps 30 and 31 19
Australian Army Corps of Signals 10 and 11 15
Australian Infantry 11 to 30 753
Australian Intelligence Corps 30 1
Australian Light Horse 1 1
Headquarters 1 10
Royal Australian Artillery 2 to 8 234
Royal Australian Engineers 9 and 10 41
New Guinea Police Force Personnel 33 7
Royal Australian Air Force 34 to 36 104
Royal Papuan Constabulary 33 1
Total 1,225
Previous © The Rabaul Memorial 1939-1945, Memorial Register 29, London, Imperial War Graves Commission, 1959. Next