Digital relief map of Wewak area

Photograph of air raid on Wewak

U.S. Army. Via Wikipedia Commons

In 1941, Wewak (143.645E 3.573S) was a good but almost completely undeveloped harbor on the north coast of New Guinea. It was the seat of the Sepik district of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. It is located on a narrow coastal plain, with the Toricelli Mountains just inland of the coast. This plain is crossed by numerous rivers and streams prone to flash flooding. The Old German Road followed the coastline but was little more than a trail.

Japanese forces landed here on 1 January 1943 and built up a sizeable air base complex.  By March 1943, most of 41 Division had joined the garrison.

During the week of 16-23 August 1943, the American 5 Air Force pounded Wewak into uselessness after a clever deception operation drew Japanese attention away from a new fighter strip at Tsili TsiliKenney had ordered a large dummy strip constructed at Bena Bena, a few miles from Tsili Tsili, and the Japanese did not discover the deception until 14 August. By then the Americans had assembled a large fighter force at Tsili Tsili. 

On 10 August the Japanese had massed over 250 aircraft at Wewak for an air counteroffensive. These began raiding Tsili Tsili almost as soon as it was discovered. However, on 17 August, as the Japanese were preparing to launch a massive strike against the new Allied airfield, some 48 heavy bombers, 31 B-25 strafers, and 85 P-38 Lightning fighters from Tsili Tsili surprised the Japanese and destroyed 70 aircraft on the ground. A second strike the next day destroyed many more Japanese aircraft. These operations broke the back of Japanese air power in central New Guinea.

The rugged terrain made Wewak an unappealing target for direct assault, as did the large number of Japanese defenders. It was therefore bypassed by the Aitape and Hollandia landings in April 1944. The Australian 6 Division (Stevens) advanced eastwards toward Wewak in early 1945, a controversial action considering the Japanese at Wewak were isolated and struggling simply to feed themselves. Wewak itself fell on 11 May 1945, forcing the remnants of 18 Army into the trackless wastes of the New Guinea interior, where most starved.


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