Milne Bay Airfield

Milne Bay is on the eastern tail of New Guinea...

In 1942 aircraft based there could project air power towards a number of vital strategic locations: Port Moresby, Sanananda, Lae, far north Queensland and across the Coral Sea to the Solomon Islands.

Both sides were well aware of the advantages conferred by controlling Milne Bay. The Allies made the first move. They began construction of an air base at the western end of the bay in June 1942. The Japanese intended to build an airfield at nearby Samarai Island but when they discovered the Allied airfield at Milne Bay they decided to attack and take that instead. The moment seemed auspicious as it could be timed to coincide with the Japanese attack on Isurava. More importantly, two weeks earlier the Imperial Japanese Navy sank an Allied cruiser group, including the HMAS Canberra, near Guadalcanal. Admiral Mikawa deduced, correctly, that the American carriers would be unlikely to intervene in a Japanese naval operation to take Milne Bay, now that the carrier's cruiser escort had been sunk.

The Japanese landed on the beaches of Milne Bay on 26 August 1942 to seize the Allied airfield. They were comprehensively defeated by the Australians who thus became the first to obtain a victory over the Japanese since the Pacific war began.

September 1942-Milne Bay-Painting-William Dargie

William Dargie, RAAF Kittyhawk Squadron at Milne Bay, August–September 1942. (1969, oil on canvas, 154 x 275.3 cm). AWM ART27628

Teaching and learning activities for the classroom

Empathy exercises/class talk

Imagine that you are a veteran of the Battle of Milne Bay. You are now 90 years old. You have been asked to come to the class to tell them of your experiences. You decide to bring some of your mementos of the battle. You will show them to the students and tell them something about each one.

Use your imagination. Think about what things an old soldier would keep in his box of souvenirs from the war. Which ones would he think the students would be interested in? He might bring his medals, the diary he kept in 1942, an old photograph of his best mate, a mud stained map, a letter from his mother, a bullet, or a button from his uniform.

You can make the mementos, at least five of them, with cardboard, paper, coloured pencils, glue and whatever else you can think of.

You should talk to the class for three to five minutes. Think about how a 90 year old veteran might talk. Start by telling the students who you are and where you come from, and what is your strongest memory of the battle of Milne Bay. Then show the class your mementos one at a time. Make up a very short story about each one. After you have finished ask if the students have any questions and try to answer them as a veteran might.

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Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Milne Bay Airfield, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 8 December 2023,
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