The Battle of the Beachheads: November 1942

Anxious to seize the Japanese base in the Gona-Buna area before the arrival of Japanese reinforcements the Allies attempted a coup de main - a sudden bold attack - that would have succeeded if they were facing, as they believed, a few hundred sick and starved Japanese. In fact Japanese reinforcements had already arrived by sea and the Allied offensive in November was a dismal failure...

The Australian front in November

The 900 Japanese at Gona, mainly service personnel without much infantry training, were entrenched in a compact box 300 metres square. Their backs were to the sea, their right rested on Gona Creek and bunkers faced out on the other two sides. Eather's 25th Brigade, with about the same numbers as the defenders but with some artillery and air support, attacked for a week from 19 November but made no progress and lost heavily. The 21st Brigade then attacked successfully around the Australian right to cut Gona off from the other Japanese positions. In the last few days of November the way was clear for the Australians to attack Gona from two sides.

Meanwhile Brigadier Lloyd's 16th Brigade advanced down the Sanananda track which had been improved to a motor road by Japanese engineers. Here the causeway was unusually wide and Cullen's 2/1st Battalion was able to work around the Japanese flanks without entering the swamp. The Japanese, 1100 men of 144 and 41 Regiments who had survived the mountain campaign, retired that night into their main position on a narrower stretch of the causeway. There they defied all Allied attacks for two months.

Unable to overcome the Japanese frontally, elements of the American 126th Regiment worked their way through the swamp and blocked the Sanananda road behind the Japanese at what became known as Huggins roadblock.

The American front in November

The American front was divided into two by swamp. Warren Force, with the Australian 2/6th Independent Company, advanced along the coast on the Cape Endiadere track and the Simemi track with 3900 men and Urbana Force, 2700 men, took an inland route through Dobodura and Ango. Reinforced by barge at night the Japanese Buna defences eventually held 2700 men, half of them recently arrived troops. From 16 November to the end of the month repeated attacks were made. The Americans lost 492 battle casualties but nowhere breached the Japanese defences.

Animated map of the Battle of Buna-Gona

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Last updated: 29 April 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), The Battle of the Beachheads: November 1942, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 25 September 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/kokoda-track-1942-1943/events/japanese-besieged-battle-beachheads-buna-gona-sanananda/battle-beachheads-november-1942
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