November 1943 (4)

Matilda tank enroute to Sattelberg

Matilda tank enroute to Sattelberg

 

The battle of Sattelberg (17-25 November 1943) saw Australian troops capture a strongly defended Japanese position in the hills to the north-west of Finschhafen, and helped secure their position on the eastern tip of the Huon Peninsula, New Guinea.

The Australian 9th Division landed north of Finschhafin on 22 September 1943, at Scarlet Beach.  The Japanese retreated to Sattelberg.

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After the failure of the Japanese counterattack the Australians were able to go back onto the offensive. They still held a fairly narrow coastal strip, running north from Finschhafen past Scarlet Beach and up to Bonga. They also had an isolated outpost at Jivevaneng, on the road west from the coast to Sattelberg.

The Japanese held the high ground around Sattelberg, the area north from Sattelberg to Wareo, and a ridge that ran east from Wareo to Gusika, on the coast just to the north of Bonga. They also still had a roadblock east of Jivevaneng, manned by a company from the 80th Regiment.

The Australian attack involved three brigades now in the Finschhafen area. The 24th Brigade was posted to the north, with the task of cutting the Japanese track between Wareo and Guisika. The 20th Brigade was to clear the Japanese roadblock. The 26th had the task of clearing the heights of Sattelberg. The 4th Brigade was also moved to the area to reinforce the 9th Division.

sattank

On D-Day itself the attack was supported by the Matilda tanks, and by a barrage of American rockets. The attack with a howitzer armed tank in the lead, followed by a gun tank and the infantry. The tanks were to take on the heavily fortified Japanese bunkers, while the infantry protected them against close in attackers.  About noon the lead tank was immobilized after it ran over an unexploded Australian 25pdr shell. The tank was stuck just around a corner, so the other tanks couldn’t pass it or tow it away. The infantry continued to advance without the tanks and made some progress before running into strong a Japanese position that held them up.

On 18 November the Japanese pulled out of Coconut Grove, the 2/23rd’s target. On the road the 2/48th, again supported by tanks, attacked, and this time they reached Coconut Grove where they ended the day. On 19 November the tanks ran into an anti-tank ditch which held them up for some time. After this barrier was overcome the advance resumed until the terrain finally defeated the tanks. The day ended with a successful infantry assault up a steep hill covered by the first use of a fougasse (a 5 gallon drum filled with flammable oils) on New Guinea. On 20 November the advance west along the road continued, and on 21 November the Australians broke through the Japanese lines at Steeple Tree Hill. There was then no opposition until the advancing troops reached the first hairpin bend on the road. By the end of the day the Australians were ready to attack the Sattelberg ridge itself.

Australian troops start their dawn attack on Sattelberg.

Australian troops start their dawn attack on Sattelberg.

On 23 November scouts discovered a way across the valley to the right of the road, allowing them to conduct a surprise attack up the south-eastern corner of the ridge. On 24 November the Australians finally managed to get onto the summit after a day of very confused combat.

This finally convinced the Japanese to retreat north towards Wareo, their last major inland position. On the morning of 25 November the Australians made an unopposed entry into Sattelberg, while the deadlock was also broken around Position 2200.

In the north the 24th Brigade captured Pabu, blocking the Gusika-Wareo track, on 19 November. This was the main Japanese supply route, and they responded with a week of counterattacks. They also carried out a major attack towards the coast between Scarlet Beach and Bonga. The attack began on 22 November, but made no real progress. A few days later reinforcements reached the isolated Australian troops at Pabu. This secondary assault greatly helped the attack on Sattelberg by disrupted a planned Japanese counterattack.

Sgt. Tom Derrick raises the flag over the Sattelberg mission

Sgt. Tom Derrick raises the flag over the Sattelberg mission

The capture of Sattelberg helped secure the beachhead at Finschhafen. It also caused a great deal of damage to Japanese morale on New Guinea, and saw the failure of the last major large-scale counterattacks on the Huon Peninsula.

Information derived from Lancers.org; History of War.com; Australian War Museum; Wikipedia.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

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funnier_side_of_army_life_38

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Farewell Salutes – 

Albert Agnello – Rochester, NY; US Army, WWII

Frederick Bicknell – W.AUS; Royal Engineers, WWII, ETO, 8th Army

Louis Cardin – Temecula, CA; USMC, Iraq, SSgt., 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, KIA

Clifford Cooney – W.AUS; Royal Air Force # 1750576us_and_australia_crossed_flags_sticker-r1405ba5224f9416183d3c5e1cb2c18ad_v9waf_8byvr_324

Jean Foust – Delphos, OH; US Navy WAVE, WWII, nurse

Buck Haines – Luka, MS; US Air Force, Cuban Missile Crisis

Gilbert Lesko – Port Orangem, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 188th/11th Airborne

Matthew Locke – AUS; Australian Special Air Service Reg., Afghanistan, KIA

Andrew Russell – AUS; Australian Special Air Service Reg., Afghanistan, KIA

Elizabeth Strohfus – Faribault, MN; US Army Air Corps WASP, WWII, pilot

Joshua Wheeler – Roland, OK; US Army, Iraq, Delta Force, MSgt., KIA

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 21, 2016, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 73 Comments.

  1. Sgt Tom Derrick DCM whom you pictured was awarded The Victoria Cross for his actions at Sattelberg. He was an extraordinary man and an exceptional soldier. He was given a commission and shared a tent with Sgt Reg Saunders during officer training. Reg Saunders MBE was the first Aboriginal to be an officer in the Australian Army. Lt Tom Derrick VC, DCM was killed at Tarakan in May 1945. He was 31 years old.

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  2. Respect for all the soldiers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Those Tanks did a magnificent job considering the terrain they had to cover.
    I don’t think people really understand the topography of New Guinea back in those days, was virtually impenetrable, and in a lot of places today, it is still impenetrable , New Guinea highlands were a Foot Soldiers nightmare.
    Great informative post gp.

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    • I was surprised to see tanks on any of the islands when I first started the research in detail. Jungle after jungle and swamp after swamp – they were magnificent! Thanks for stressing that point, Ian.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. GP, I was impressed by a comment above by one of your readers (LordBeariOfBOw) on the many photos of Aussie troops often not seen wearing helmets in photos. It’s true. I’m always fascinated by that, myself. What a determined army they were (and are) to display an image of courage. I don’t mean to suggest a cavalier attitude, but instead, one of…whatever it takes—to get this job done.

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  5. Sehr Indersand liebe Grüße und einen schönen Tag wünsche ich dir eine Umarmung Gislinde

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Always interesting, GP. And educational. Thank you. –Curt

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  7. What get’s me is you see photo’s of Aussie Diggers in WW’s I &II and they’re never wearing their tin hats/ helmets; always the ‘Slouch hat”. Were the bullets/guns/grenades being hurled at them less deadly than the ones being used today?

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  8. Fascinating post. Interesting to see how this theatre of operation developed. It was a real struggle against a determined enemy and hostile terrain.

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    • In every Pacific story, no matter which island, it is stressed about disease, natural dangers and terrain. The bullets and bombs seem like a rarity sometimes and the Japanese turned out to be quite the formidable enemy!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Enjoyed the detail of the Aussie campaign. Thanks

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  10. Such tiny steps towards victory and so many of them. And such obscure places to die for.

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    • Each step was one closer to the ultimate goal. Who would have thought at the time that going into the Middle East and Africa would eventually save Europe? Looking back with 21st Century eyes does make it difficult.

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  11. The pictured note on the back of that helmet spoke to me…I’d be scared as well…though likely wouldn’t be screaming…much. This battle/capture sounds like it was significant indeed.

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    • I figured the fella put that note on his helmet for someone in particular, and got a kick out it. I had to give the Aussies credit, they had quite a bit of stamina for these battles!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Here i find a lot of history.Thanks.

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  13. I agree that not many people know about it, Everett! That’s why your post are so important. I have learned alot!

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  14. The Aussies were hard fighters, from the desert campaign, to jungle warfare. I am always amazed that tanks were able to be used in that sort of terrain at all, so full marks to the armoured detachments too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  15. Fascinating post GP. There is always talk about how the Japanese made such stubborn opposition, but those Australians were tough soldiers. I hadn’t realised that the Matilda was used in this theatre (I knew the Lee/Grant and Sherman’s were used in the Pacific). Thanks for another great installment.

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    • My pleasure, Rich. It was tough using tanks in the Pacific, transporting and then the type of terrain. In Europe, they were transported once and traveled country to country on their own.

      Liked by 1 person

    • If the Battle of El Alamein and of the Coral Sea are turning points of each campaign the first real victories for the allies in those theatres then I think us Australians like to think we halted the Germans for the first time at Tobruk and the Japs at Kokoda.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am not qualified to comment on Tobruk, Lloyd, but as far as the Kokoda Line goes – Aussies did it!! The US soldiers we sent had very little training, were unaccustomed to the climate, alien to the terrain and the Army itself was new to this type of jungle warfare. I believe the Australians deserve the credit.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Sorry, I made a typo there, but I was still typing. I also meant to tell you that this battle was fought on and near our land which is part of the Huon Peninsula.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hello, and thank you so much. I am very interested in this piece because it falls into a period when my maternal grandparents were in hiding (from the war). This is for my memoir. I believe my mother was just born or my late uncle, mum’s older brother and my grandparents carried the baby in a bilum while they were running. My grandma said, sometimes they stopped to feel the heart-beat because to ensure the baby was alive. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. 17-25 November 1943… You’re correct, I knew nothing of this campaign. That late in ’43; with such rugged terrain, why risk those troops and just let the Japs rot? We had established Guadalcanal, and just suffered high casualties taking Tarawa – that battle still sticks in my craw- as part of the “island hopping campaign. What threat did the Japs on New Guinea pose?

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    • I’m sure you know how close it is to Australia, it was home to major enemy bases and it was how Japan ran the resources they acquired in (what is now known as) Indonesia back to Japan. New Guinea was extremely important to the enemy’s survival in more ways than one. And I know exactly how you feel about Tarawa!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I’ve learned so much about the battle for New Guinea by reading these posts. I can’t thank you enough.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Very exciting! I spent time in the Solomon Isles, and can imagine the type of terrain they were up against. Thanks for post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate hearing the personal insight to this area. Our troops sure spent a lot of time and fighting in the Solomons!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you for your service, sir! I was there in ’92 to pray for the region. The site of the last battle is marked as holy ground. The people don’t even enter without fasting for a few days, and the presence of G-d is powerful there in worship and prayer!
        It IS a strange landscape, full of history and mystery. You are taking a swim in a river that is naturally scented by flowers, the next minute you walk through the woods and see shrapnel from a military vehicle…50 years later? That said, if you can, go there! The beauty outweighs the beast!

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  21. Thanks for this Post GP, The History of the New Guinea campaign fought by our Australian Brothers in Arms is an integral part of study of the PTO.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Such a loyal supporter of the troops. Thank you.

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  23. Thank you very much.

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