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The Battle to Recapture Lae from the Japanese, 1943


Ian Howie-Willis

Sydney, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2023

Paperback   486 pp   RRP: $32.99


Reviewer: David Rees, February 2024


This book is one of the newer campaign history books about a major combat operation by combined Australian & American troops in the South-West Pacific area (SWPA) during WW2. It has been well researched and is a comprehensive war story which makes many references to earlier accounts and views about the campaign. Unlike those stories however, this book includes observations about the effect of the Pacific war on the indigenous New Guinea & Papuan people. It therefore provides a welcomed new dimension in the writing of war campaign histories.

The Australian author spent many years as a teacher in Papua New Guinea and took the opportunity to visit many of the areas where the Operation Poststern battles had taken place. However, the book only has four rather small-scale campaign maps to accompany the engaging text. So, perhaps some larger maps and more of them would have been of benefit.

Lae had been occupied by the Japanese since March 1942 and was seen as one of the key ports for use by the Japanese Army in pushing ahead towards the capture of the whole of Papua New Guinea.  However, the Allies had stopped the Japanese advance at Milne Bay in August 1942 and at Kokoda later in 1942. So, it was agreed by the Allied Supreme Commander in the SWPA, General Douglas MacArthur and the Commander in Chief of the Allied Land Forces in the SWPA General Sir Thomas Blamey that the next strategic step was to take the offensive and recapture Lae by September 1943. The book describes in detail some of the meticulous planning undertaken in late 1942 and 1943 to ensure that the task of recapturing Lae was a success. The plans were developed by the SWPA Allied Land Forces in conjunction with the USN, the RAAF and the USAAF 5th Air Force. The task was named Operation Poststern and the joint planning by the Allies took over ten months. The key Australian parts of the airborne & amphibious plan in summary were: -

1.To bring the Australian 9th Infantry Division troops from North Queensland to Buna and then transport them by USN Task Force 71 landing craft from Buna to two beachheads east of Lae where they would land on 4th September and then march and attack the Japanese garrison at Lea from the east.

2. To bring the retrained Australian 7th Infantry Division troops from Queensland to Port Moresby by sea and then fly them via Tsili-Tsili airfield to Nadsab airfield west of Lae on 5th September. This involved using the US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment to capture the airfield first before the Division troops were ferried in by air. The Division would then march to Lae following the Markham River and attack the Japanese garrison from the north-west.

3. To use the troops from the Australian 3rd, 5th and 11th Infantry Divisions, the Papuan Rifles Regiment, the US 41st Infantry Division plus additional units already in New Guinea to continue their attacks towards Lae from the west and south.

The plan worked well and the beach landings were unopposed on land. However, the landing craft were bombed by Japanese aircraft who got through the air cover and resulted in the loss of a few landing craft and men. On 19th September 1943, General Sir Thomas Blamey issued a special order to all his land forces stating that Operation Postern was over, and Lae had been recaptured. The battle had finally ended on 16th September 1943. The victory owed much to the valour, determination and perseverance of the Allied troops, the air forces and US Navy. One historian claimed that Operation Poststern was one of the greatest combined airborne and amphibious operation of the Pacific war. At last, Ian Howie-Willis in his book has done Operation Postern justice.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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