23 December 1942

Australians continue to mop up the eastern half of the Japanese defences at Buna as the cornered defenders fight to the last. Japanese officers make futile suicidal sword charges and snipers in treetops shoot until they are killed. General Ned Herring orders: “Stop any more Xmas hampers till we have cleared the position.”

 The Americans make little headway at great cost on the western side.

22 December 1942

The Americans advance on Buna from the west as the Diggers continue their successes against the eastern half of the Japanese defences.

Pte Uchiyama Seiichi: “No thoughts of returning home alive. Want to die like a soldier and go to Yasukuni Shrine … Writing in this diary word-by-word, not knowing when a shell may strike and I will be killed.”

21 December 1942

As the Allied troops push on relentlessly against the Japanese at Buna, the surviving defenders begin to despair of the promised reinforcements, as Pte Uchiyama Seiichi writes:

“Oh! Are you going to let us die like rats in a hole? Sgt Ogawa reported that reinforcements are coming … one cannot accept such reports except as a temporary relief to one’s feelings, or as yet another false rumour. Enemy bombing fiercely and our end is coming nearer and nearer.”

20 December 1942

Led by the energetic Diggers of the 18th Brigade, the Allies push the grim Japanese defenders westward toward their entrenched positions at Giropa Plantation.

Gen Eichelberger describes the Australian attack as a “spectacular and dramatic assault, and a brave one”.

Jap Private Uchiyama Seeichi writes in his diary at Buna: “At dawn, enemy bombed the hell out of us. Observe only the sky with bitter regrettable tears rolling down … Filled my stomach with dried bread and waited for my end to come. Oh! Remaining comrades, I shall depend on you for my revenge.”

19 December 1942

Allied Commander in Chief, Gen Douglas MacArthur issues a communiqué claiming a great Allied victory at Buna, ignoring the fact that only Australian troops had taken part.

The Australian 18th Brigade, victor at Milne Bay, has achieved in days what the Americans have failed to do in six weeks. They have broken into the tight Japanese positions on the eastern side of Buna and forced the enemy to retreat westward to the Buna Government station.

The vaunted Japanese Army’s aura of invincibility is again shattered.

18 December 1942

The Battle for Buna explodes as Australian tanks roll towards the Duropa Plantation area followed by Diggers crouching in the shadows. 

The Japanese defenders respond with withering machine-gun fire. The tanks roll to the edge of the Jap bunkers and pour cannon fire into them one by one, followed by Diggers with grenades.

Pockets of Jap defenders fight back fiercely and the Australians suffer heavy casualties as they push forward through the constant fire, many killed by suicidal Japanese snipers.

By late afternoon the position is taken but at a devastating cost: 61 Diggers die on the day and another 120 badly wounded. Virtually the entire Japanese force of around 1000 is wiped out. Few escape and no prisoners are taken.

17 December 1942

Australian tanks finally arrive at Buna as High Command turns to the Australian 18th Brigade, which had inflicted the first-ever defeat of the Japanese on land at Milne Bay in August and early September.

For weeks the Americans have been unable to make any significant headway against the stubborn Japanese defenders. Eventually General Blamey persuades MacArthur to hand responsibility for the defeat of Buna to the Diggers.

16 December 1942

For all his raging at the lack of progress at Buna, the Allied Commander in Chief, General Douglas  MacArthur never sets foot there.

His biographer William Manchester, later writes: The great hero went home without seeing Buna, before during or after the great fight while permitting press articles from his GHQ to say he was leading his troops in battle. MacArthur … just stayed over at Moresby 40 minutes away and walked the floor. I know this to be a fact.”

15 December 1942

The Americans push forward with more frontal attacks at Buna at great cost and to very little effect, just as they have done for the preceding month.

Little do they know how the Japanese defenders are thinking. One of them, Private Uchiyama Seiichi, will later leave a diary and he wrote on this day: “Enemy plan is to annihilate us before reinforcements come … we are now completely enveloped. Bombed by enemy planes at dawn, continuously all day. We now only wait for the final moments to come.”

14 December 1942

Australian and American commanders at Buna protest at the futile and costly frontal attacks but their High Commands press constantly for immediate action.

General Thomas Blamey tells his troops that tanks are on their way to help them but they must continue to attack until they arrive. The overriding dictum was MacArthur’s order to Blamey: “… all columns will be driven through to objectives regardless of losses.