10 January 1943

The calm before the storm at Sanananda as the Allies prepare for a major assault to finally capture the position, the last serious Japanese stronghold in Papua.

The Australian 18th Brigade, under Brigadier George Wootten and reinforced with 1000 fresh troops from Australia, will attack from both flanks, while a US regiment will attack from the west.

Sporadic skirmishing continues during the preparations and four Diggers die on the day.

9 January 1943

US commander at Sanananda, General Eichelberger is ropeable at MacArthur’s claim of victory at Sananada. He knows the final battle for Sanananda, the last major assault in the Papuan campaign, is days away. More importantly, he knows that many more fine soldiers – Australian, American, Papuan and Japanese – are still to sacrifice their lives or their health.

Eichelberger would later describe the battles as the bitterest kind of “siege warfare”, which had to be fought until there was not one Japanese soldier “capable of lifting a rifle.”

8 January 1943

General Douglas MacArthur leaves Moresby for Brisbane, saying his work is done, even though the final assault on Sanananda has not yet begun.

His order for the day issues US Distinguished Service Crosses to a range of commanders, including Blamey, Eichelberger, Eather and Wootten.

He also issued a communiqué claiming “the complete annihilation of the Japanese Papuan Army.”

7 January 1943

Last day for rice rations for Japanese defenders at Sanananda. Even sick and wounded are left in the front line as they prepare for the final showdown. The swamps surrounding their jungle fortress are despoiled by the rotting bodies of their dead.

With morale collapsing, officers resort to summary execution for deserters. Nevertheless, a growing number of lower ranks are taking to the jungle and surrendering to Allied troops.

6 January 1943

At Sanananda, the Japanese rice supplies are almost gone. From tomorrow, the defenders will lose even their meagre 60 grams a day. Morale is at al all-time low and friction increases between the lower ranks and their officers as many soldiers believe their officers have secret supplies.

In his diary Private Wada Kiyoshi writes: “All officers … eat relatively well. The majority are starving. The higher officers are not starving. This is indeed a deplorable state of affairs for the Imperial Army.”

5 January 1943

Diggers and Americans continue their gradual build up at Sanananda, moving from Buna to continue their assaults on the Japanese positions.

The Japanese are slowly fading as their rations are reduced from 300 grams of rice per man per day to just 30 to 60 grams a day this last week. They have survived by eating fish, shellfish, coconuts and, until it ran out, horsemeat.

Over recent weeks, as these alternatives also disappear, they are reduced to eating plant roots, bark and the flesh of their dead comrades or enemy. They nickname it ‘white pork’.

4 January 1943

It is the beginning of the end for the Japanese South Seas Force in the Kokoda Campaign. Gona and Buna are now in Allied hands and the remaining Japanese are fighting for their lives in and around Sanananda village between the two.

The Allies have pushed the Japanese along the Sanananda Track, killing around 1600 enemy as they cramp them into a small perimeter around the village.

The attackers are faced with appalling conditions, fighting through pestilential swamps often submerged in the persistent torrential rain and filled with the rotting and flyblown bodies of the enemy dead. Many of the starving Japanese defenders resort to eating their dead.

3 January 1943

With the Japanese positions at Buna captured, the Allies turn their attention to the enemy stronghold at Sanananda, further north along the coast.

Originally, around 6000 Japanese troops defended Sanananda. They included many sick and wounded. They set up an intricate, interwoven defensive position on the only dry ground in the area, forcing the Allies to attack them from the surrounding swamps.

The Allies badly underestimate the number of enemy and after early setbacks, adopt an holding pattern while they await reinforcements from the troops attacking Buna and Gona.

2 January 1943

Buna falls as the final Japanese resistance is crushed and the position overrun, by the Americans from the west and the Australians from the east.

During the final hours of the fighting, the Japanese try to reinforce the Buna position by bringing a battalion by barge from Sanananda to the north. But seeing the position has already fallen, they withdraw.

Both sides suffer heavy losses at Buna but, for the Japanese, the result is disastrous. About 2700 Japanese troops with 11 pieces of artillery had held the position. Perhaps 400 of them escape to Sanananda. The rest perish at Buna.

The Allies had 2870 casualties, of whom 913 were Australian. Many more struck down by illness and tropical diseases.

1 January 1943

Zero hour for the attack by the Australian 2/12th Battalion on the Japanese stronghold at Giropa Plantation at Buna is set for 8am.

Six tanks from 2/6th Armoured Regiment rolled forward right on time, closely supported by the Diggers.

 They were immediately hit by a barrage of fire from snipers in trees and automatic weapons from deeply embedded pillboxes. Eleven members of the 2/12th were killed in the assault.