Dowsett’s War, Part 5 – New Guinea

“Festering swamp and sodden jungle, snakes, crocodiles, myriads of scorpions,
centipedes, ants, leeches, typhus bearing mites, malaria;
this stone age land of tropical diseases and appalling climate was
the setting for a campaign that would cost the Japanese 100,000 lives.
And it was the Japanese who chose to campaign there.”

From New Guinea – The Tide is Stemmed by John Vader.

AWM 014001

1943-01-02. Papua, Giropa Point. Australian manned M3 General Stuart tanks attacking Japanese pillboxes in the final assault on Buna. Men of D Company, 2/12th Battalion, fire on 25 Japanese defenders (not seen), using Bren Mk 1 machine guns and SMLE No. 1 Mk 3 rifles, who are fleeing from a wrecked pillbox 150 metres away. The pillbox was destroyed by the General Stuart tank also seen here. In the foreground in the heat of battle are Private J. Searle and Corporal G. G. Fletcher. This photograph was taken by noted war photographer George Silk during the actual fighting.

For the other chapters of Dowsetts War, click here.

The New Guinea campaign of World War 2 was a series of engagements fought between the Japanese Army and the Pacific Allied forces consisting primarily of divisions of the AIF. It began after Japan invaded the Australian-controlled territories of New Guinea and Papua and also conquered western New Guinea, administered by the Netherlands and part of the long history of the Dutch colonial East Indies. It lasted from January 1942 until the end of the war in August 1945.

New Guinea was of strategic importance to Australia at the time, as it represented the last major landmass in the South Pacific region before the Australian mainland that had not yet been invaded and controlled by the Japanese. At this point in 1942, the Allies had the majority of their fighting resources committed to the numerous front throughout Europe and northern Africa, and with the recent attack on Pearl Harbor the United States 3rd fleet (later becoming the 5th) was busy defending their own bases in the Pacific.

This situation meant that in late 1941 and early 1942 the available resources for defending Allied interests in South East Asia and the South Pacific were relatively threadbare. That fact coupled with the slowing progress of the German war machine in Europe – Japan’s ally – meant that the time was right for rapid Japanese expansion through their region. One by one they had fallen to Japan – Manchuria, Burma, Thailand, Malaya, the Philippines, and Singapore. The sights were then set for New Guinea and strategic base of Port Moresby.

AWM 095167

Kiarivu, New Guinea, 8th November 1945 – a 75mm howitzer M1A1 field gun manned by a battery of the 2/1st in position on the emergency landing ground. They are supporting the 2/7 Infantry Battalion troops during their attack against Kiarivu Village.

The 2/1st Anti Tank Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery first fought in New Guinea with the 7th Division in both infantry and artillery roles, during the Battle of Buna–Gona in 1942-43.  This battle was part of the New Guinea campaign fought by the Allies against the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.  It followed the conclusion of the Kokoda Track campaign and lasted from 16 November 1942 until 22 January 1943.

My grandfather, NX93909 Royston Percival Dowsett was field battery gunner with the 2/1st Anti Tank Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery. I believe the Australian War Memorial photograph 095167 shown left features him standing centre of shot. This photograph was taken at Kiarivu, New Guinea, on the 8th of November 1945. It shows a 75mm howitzer M1A1 field gun manned by a battery of the 2/1st in position on the emergency landing ground. They are supporting the 2/7 Infantry Battalion troops during their attack against Japanese positions at Kiarivu Village. The gun is being cleaned with a pull through after firing.

The 2/1st returned to New Guinea as part of the 6th Division in late 1944 for the Aitape – Wewak Campaign and subsequent ‘mopping up’ operations, fighting in Maprik, Tazaki and Shiburangu until late 1945.  The Aitape–Wewak campaign was one of the final campaigns of the Pacific Theatre of World War II. Between November 1944 and the end of the war in August 1945, the Australian 6th Division, with air and naval support, fought the Imperial Japanese 18th Army in northern New Guinea.

Roy Dowsett was hospitalised once with dengue and twice with malaria during his time in the fighting in New Guinea, and like many gunners suffered from tinnitus after the war. I have fragmentary memories of a tall, quietly loving gentleman who cared very much for his grandson after losing his beloved wife to cancer the same month I was born. He has been described as reserved but troubled by his experiences in the jungle campaigns of New Guinea which he never spoke of save briefly to his son-in-law, my father, not long before Roy died. He passed away in 1981 in the house he shared with my family and I.

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13 comments

  1. Sadly not enough of them did talk about their experiences. But then, who would (or could) believe them?

    It’s often put down to ‘modesty’, or to the horrors of it — but to communicate you need a common ground, a common language. Unless you’ve actually had the experience, it just can’t be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Roy was a notoriously quiet man, and I’m told that he was given to breaking down and crying periodically, for no apparent reason. I think that the unfathomable personal suffering of so many veterans did and still does go on long after the guns are silent.

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      1. I totally agree. I had two uncles who served in WWII and they shook almost all the time and never wanted to go in crowds or anyplace where there was loud noise. The effects of war stayed with them and many others, I am sure, throughout their lives.

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      2. Possibly the worst wounds are the ones that don’t show; certainly unrecognised:

        “Had a leg blown off? Here’s a nice shiny medal to make up for it. We’ll bring you out and dust you off on Veteran’s Day.”

        “Seen reality, have you? Gone a bit batty, have you? Oh dear … stop making a fuss, dammit—go hide somewhere.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent piece of history, having been in Papua New Guinea’s highlands in 69, I can attest to the formidable terrain and conditions, those men would have fought under, albeit my time did not entail the horrendous conditions those men were under.
    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, it was the Australian Divisions supported by US and allied air power that halted the advance of the Japanese land army in New Guinea. While they had no plans for an invasion of the Australian mainland, allied interests in the region would have been severely compromised and the outcomes of the Pacific War very different if the strategic base of Port Moresby had fallen to the Japanese.
      Thanks for the link, a brilliant article detailing the brave efforts of the 5th Air Force in the battle for New Guinea and. Australia.

      Liked by 2 people

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