The Battle for Shaggy Ridge
The extraordinary story of the Australian campaign against the Japanese
in New Guinea's Finisterre mountains in 1943-44
Allen & Unwin, 2021
Paperback 328pp RRP $32.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, February 2022
Following the Allied offensive against Lae and the seizure of the airfield at Nadzab in the Markham Valley in early September 1943, the Japanese moved to reinforce their defences at Kaiapit further up the Valley. in an endeavour to cut the Japanese supply line from Madang, Major General George Vasey, Commander of Australia’s 7th Division was eager to be able to fly his troops into battle rather than move across country. The Fifth Air Force (US) wanted the strip at Kaiapit, so the 2/6 Independent Company were flown into Sangan – a short distance from the objective. With excellent aerial rand ground reconnaissance and sound planning, the Company successfully captured Kaiapit on 19/20th September before the Japanese reinforcements arrived. This operation preceded the Australian assault on the Finisterre Mountains which contained the (about to become) iconic Shaggy Ridge.
[Many of the key features were given the names of Australian soldiers who had died there. The Ridge was named after Lieutenant Bob ‘Shaggy’ Clampett who first took a component of 2/27th Battalion up onto the Ridge on 14th October 1943.]
Advancing up the Markham and Ramu Valleys, the Japanese were ambushed at Kesawai on 28th September, and an attack nearby on 4th October saw the Japanese withdraw into the foothills of the Finisterre Range. Thus began a long and extremely demanding series of skirmishes and battles:
11 Oct 2/14 Battalion (Bn) captured Pallier’s Hill
12 Oct A Japanese attack was made on John’s Knoll on Trevor’s Ridge
8 Dec Japanese attacked Isarabi
12/13 Dec After a preliminary air attack, 2/25 Bn was attacked at Kesawai
27/28 Dec 2/16 Bn attacked numerous Japanese strongpoints on Shaggy Ridge
19/25 Jan 2/2 Pioneer Bn, 2/9 Bn and 2/10 Bn mounted Operation Cutthroat along Shaggy Ridge
21 Jan 2/12 Bn captured Prothero One. Japanese attacked, then moved back. 2/9 Bn took over responsibility for Shaggy Ridge on 23 Jan
24 Jan 2/12 Bn moved off Shaggy Ridge down to Kankiryo Saddle to attack Feature 4100. The Japanese reoccupied the Feature overnight
29 Jan 2/9 Bn capture of Feature 4100 saw the Japanese withdraw down the Mindjim Valley to Madang
1 Feb 2/9 and 2/10 Bns occupied Crater Hill
24 Apr Madang fell to the Allies.
Bradley’s narrative is written as if it is the subtitles to a television documentary. His reader is ‘there’, experiencing the impossible terrain, the exhaustion of load carrying and fighting, punctuated by the continuous loss of men through death and injury. His impeccable and tireless research and interviews of combatants from both sides have produced an accurate and unbiased account of one of Australia’s most important military campaigns.
Embedded easy-to-follow battle maps add to the reader’s grasp of the manoeuvre involved by the combatants. An excellent array of historic photographs taken by official photographers, as well as more recent colour plates, convey the true nature of what confronted troops of both sides. This is a serious academic work rounded out by fourteen pages of Notes, a seven-page Bibliography and a comprehensive Index.
An excellent addition to any military history collection.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.