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Before the Second World War Milne Bay was a serene place inhabited by local people, a few missionaries, and government patrol officers. The war years rapidly transformed the area with construction by the allies along the north-west shore line.

After the war the provisional capital on Samari Island was rebuilt. During the 1950's its geographic isolation became increasingly apparent, and the Australian Government decided to return to Milne Bay, purchasing the Cameron Plateau above Sanderson Bay in 1961. In following years government offices were relocated to the plateau, on the site of the war-time American hospital.

In 1967 the town was named "Alotau" meaning "peaceful bay" in local Suau dialect. by 1975 when Papua New Guinea gained independence Alotau was well established as the provincial capital.

The people of Milne Bay look forward to a bright future but will always remember the events of 1942 that helped shape the area. The allied victory at Milne Bay was the first Japanese land defeat of the Second World War.

Milne Bay was developed as an allied strategic base as Japanese South West pacific headquarters were at Rabaul, only 700km to the North. Commencing 22 July, 1942, American engineers and Australian support infantry constructed airstrips, roads and wharves. Royal Australian Air Force (R.A.A.F.) fighter planes were operational by 25 July.

340km west of Milne Bay the Japanese were on the Kokoda trail, moving steadily south towards Port Moresby. To secure their flank the Japanese invaded Milne Bay on 25 August, 1942 with a seaborne force of 1200 Marines.

The Japanese advanced slowly, despite tank support, reaching airstrip 3 by 28 august, and with their position deteriorating. Inaccurate intelligence left them heavily outnumbered. They met increasing resistance from the defending Australians. By day R.A.A.F. fighters and American bombers destroyed Japanese ground supplies and restricted ground and sea movement.

On 31 August Australian reinforcements counterattacked and the Japanese, having neither military nor material reserves, retreated. By 7 September the Japanese navy had evacuated the last of its exhausted marines.

This allied victory boosted morale and marked the end of Japanese dominance in the pacific.

Air Force
Japanese Marines
(no accurate records)
Approximate Strength 7459 664 1365 2043 +/-
Killed 156
Buried Bomana
Port Moresby
Buried Bomana
Buried U.S.A.
311 +
Unknown Graves
Wounded 203 2 5 535 +
Missing 2 3   301
(Presumed Killed)
(9 Prisoners of War)
Evacuated       1318 +
Including 311 wounded

Gurney Airfield no. 1

This was the only airfield at Milne Bay used during the battle by R.A.A.F. fighter planes. These planes plus U.S. & R.A.A.F. bombers from Port Moresby & Australia forced the Japanese navy out of Milne Bay during daylight.

These airforces also aided the destruction of enemy land forces. After the battle both airforces used no. 1 & no. 3 airstrips until 1945. Post war no.3 was abandoned whilst no. 1 became Milne Bays civilian airport.

At night, with no threat from allied aircraft, the Japanese navy controlled Milne Bay and landed supplies or men and shelled allied positions. They also bravely evacuated their marines at the end thus avoiding complete defeat by the Australians.

This was the first time in the pacific war of 1941 to 1945 that

1. The Japanese army was defeated on land.
2. The Australian army and airforce fought side by side.
3. The troops of the United States of America fought in Papua or New Guinea.


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