Gona was the site of a Church of England mission which served
nearby villages on the north coast of Papua. On 21 July 1942,
Japanese ships anchored offshore and began landing troops
and supplies east of the mission. This was the beginning of
their plan to take Port Moresby with a two pronged attack,
by advancing on land from the north coast of Papua and by
landing from the sea in the Milne Bay area. These advance
troops were to go to Kokoda and reconnoitre the route for
the larger force to follow.
This force, from the South Seas Detachment, consisted of
some 2,000 soldiers with 1,200 natives from Rabaul. By the
afternoon of 23 July, the troops, using well-marked tracks,
were approaching Wairopi, some 50 kilometres inland. After
brushing aside a company of the 39th Battalion, the enemy
advanced on and took Kokoda, sending back a favourable report.
Following this, the 7,000 to 8,000 main body of the Japanese
Detachment landed at Gona and their advance towards Port Moresby
which was finally halted at Ioribaiwa. The Japanese then withdrew
north to the beachheads from where they had come.
Under Japanese fortification specialists, Gona's defences
were constructed of coconut palm logs with good overhead cover
and then cleverly camouflaged. Fields of fire were cut and,
apart from the protection of swamps around the landward side,
the kunai grass had been cut to the ground to force attackers
to advance without cover. The consummate skill of the defence
plan was reflected in the layout of mutually supporting strong
posts and communication trenches which enabled the defenders
to confuse attackers by quickly changing the points of origin
of fire. The Japanese defenders were highly indoctrinated
with the code of Bushido and their leaders had impressed upon
them that surrender would bring shame upon them, their families
and their Emperor.
The 25th Brigade led by Brigadier Eather and including the
3rd Militia Battalion, depleted and tired, reached Gona on
19 November with "Chaforce", which had been placed under its
command at Wairopi. The Brigade, led first by the 2/33rd Battalion,
launched several attacks, some were supported by air attacks
and artillery, but the Brigade suffered heavy losses and by
26 November were restricted to patrol activity.
On 28 November, the 21st Brigade under Brigadier Dougherty
began to arrive and was joined by the 39th Battalion which
had been partly reinforced after its gallant fighting withdrawal
across the Owen Stanley Ranges.
On 29 November, the 21st Brigade attacked Gona strongly
from the east and gained control of the landing beach. The
21st and 25th Brigades contained Gona until 4 December when
the 25th Brigade was withdrawn and flown back to Moresby.
In a series of attacks, bunker by bunker, the four battalions
annihilated the enemy.The final composite attack by the 2/16th
and 2/27th Battalions led by Major Sublet and the 39th Battalion
under Lieutenant Colonel Honner gave rise to the famous signal
by Honner, "Gona's gone".
By this time significant Japanese forces, which landed at
night at the Mambare River, were between Gona and the Amboga
River. Lieutenant Haddy's Chaforce had harassed them inflicting
casualties. Lieutenant Haddy, ever leading from the front,
remained to the last and was killed. On 7 December, a 2/14th
Battalion patrol was joined by the remainder of the Battalion
and took over responsibility for the area west of Gona to
the Amboga River. This force was joined by the 39th Battalion
on 10 December and the Japanese were finally eliminated on
18 December when 170 were buried at Haddy's village.
The victory at Gona cost the Japanese defenders over 800
dead; however, the Australian cost was excessively high. Total
Australian casualties numbered 893, with the 21st Brigade
and 39th Battalion suffering the heaviest losses.
Mopping up in the Gona area was done by the 36th Battalion
in the West and by the 55/53rd Battalion in the East, which
also dealt with stragglers escaping from Gona and Sanananda.
Badly hit by mortar shrapnel in the head, thigh
and arm, this digger has rough field dressings applied
by his mates.
Papua, Gona. An Australian officer receives treatment.
He crawled in after 8 days of lying wounded only feet
from Japanese forces. (AWM 013813)
With wounds dressed by Australians, dejected Japanese
sit on bags of rice, waiting to be escorted to dressing