Wewak Campaign: History in Focus

Wewak Campaign History in Focus cover
Series: History in Focus
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Wewak is a town located on the upper north coast of New Guinea and was the site of a large Japanese airbase which was subjected to repeated bombing by Allied forces.

In April 1944, the Australian capture of Madang to the east and the American capture of Aitape to the west, left Wewak isolated. In late November 1944, responsibility for the Aitape sector was transferred to the Australian 6th Division and an advance was commenced eastward down the coast toward Wewak. A second advance was directed toward the airstrip at Maprik in the highlands south of the Japanese positions. Maprik was secured by late April and operations against Wewak commenced in earnest.

Enemy strength in the Wewak area was estimated at between 500–1000 troops concentrated in the town and caves that were situated on a small peninsula and at Wirui Mission to the south. The Australians had significant materiel advantage with air, naval, artillery and armour support.

Australian patrols clashed with the enemy on the night of the 7/8 May west of the main Japanese positions. On 9 May the Australians advanced east along the coast road which was flanked by the ocean to the north and swamps to the south. Early next morning, 10 May, the Australians pushed on to the peninsula and secured the town and Wewak Point. The Japanese ensconced themselves in caves connected by tunnels along the 30-metre high escarpments of Wewak Point and flamethrowers were used to destroy bunkers. Engineers blew up the entrances of the caves in which the Japanese hid.

An amphibious landing was made at Dove Bay to the east on 11 May and mopping up operations in the Wewak area continued for several weeks. Though the Wewak campaign has been regarded by some as unnecessary, given Japan’s hopeless strategic position late in the war, it was a successful one.

A member of the 2/8th Battalion uses a flame-thrower against Japanese forces at Wewak Point on 10 May 1945. AWM 091749

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