The Capture of Wewak Remembered 75 Years On

TOMORROW, 15 May 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of operations at Wewak, the scene of the final Australian campaign on mainland New Guinea during the Second World War.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said that in October 1944, Australian soldiers took over from United States troops stationed at Aitape, a small town 150 kilometres west of Wewak.

“Australian soldiers were tasked with mounting an offensive to cut off the Japanese in the area from resupply points along the coast and force them inland where, without supplies and reinforcements, they would be weakened as a military force,” Mr Chester said.

“The Australians first went east along the coast to the south of the Torrecilli mountain range and by late March 1945, had advanced to Dagua within 40 kilometres of Wewak which saw some of the heaviest fighting of the campaign.

“The campaign came to a head when the Australians launched an amphibious assault, combined with an infantry advance along the coast from the west, capturing Wewak Point on 10 May 1945 and by 15 May 1945 Wewak and the surrounding coastal area was in Australian hands.”

The capture of Wewak was the culmination of seven months of hard work, fought over difficult jungle terrain. It forced the Japanese to withdraw inland and break-up into smaller groups, though with some 35,000 soldiers still present, fighting continued until the war ended in August.  

“Over the course of the campaign to capture Wewak, 440 Australian service personnel died, while another 1100 were wounded. Some 9000 Japanese troops lost their lives,” Mr Chester said.

“On this anniversary, we remember those who fought in the Battle of Wewak 75 years ago and I encourage all Australians to pause and reflect on their service and sacrifice.”

This year on 15 August we will mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific, the day remembered for the end of the Second World War. We will remember the some 39,000 service men and women who died fighting to protect Australia and its allies and the almost one million Australians who served in this conflict which spanned more than half a decade.

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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. Considered a “mopping up” operation by the Australians, and although ultimately successful for them with the Japanese forces cleared from the coastal areas and driven inland, amidst difficult jungle conditions, casualties from combat and disease were high. 

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