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Rod Beecham

Japanese troops landed and occupied Lae and Salamaua in north-eastern Papua on 8 March 1942. In an elaborate operation scheduled for early May, the Japanese planned a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby to safeguard their positions in New Guinea and in the Rabaul area, to provide a base that would bring northern Australia within range of their warships and bombers, and to secure the flank of their projected advance towards New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa.

Countermoves by the US Navy defeated this attempt. Therefore, in June 1942, Lieutenant-General Harukichi Hyakutake’s XVII Army was ordered to gather its divisions from Davao in the Philippines, from Java and from Rabaul, and to prepare for a revised attack on Port Moresby. In a two-pronged approach, one Japanese group would take Milne Bay (south-eastern Papua) by an assault from the sea and advance on Port Moresby along the coast; the other would attack overland from Buna and Gona (northern Papua) along the Kokoda Trail.

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