AITAPE LANDING
{No. 62 RAAF WORKS WING LANDING AITAPE}
                                                   {AWAYS FIRST}
At 1600 hours on the 17 April 1944 the Aitape southern bomber strip was captured, and No. 62 Airfield construction Wing Commenced Work.

The Works Wing was reinforced on the 23rd April with the arrival of No. 5 Mobile Works Squadron, under the command of Flt/Lt. D.G.J. Edwards, No. 6 Mobile Works Squadron, commanded by D.G. Farren and detachments of No. 4 Works Maintenance unit and No. 10 Works Supply Unit, who brought with them additional stores and engineering equipment. These units began work immediately on landing.

At 0800 hours on the 24th April 1944, the Northern (fighter) strip was declared serviceable-41 hours after work had commenced on it. At 0945 hours two American Lightnings were the first aircraft to land on Tadji, one of them being flown by General Wurtsmith Commanding General of the 5th Fighter Group.

Three Douglass aircraft landed at 1200 hours and at 1500 hours the R.A.A.F. courier Beaufort arrived, being the first R.A.A.F. aircraft to land at Tadji. Later in the day the Kittyhawks of No. 78 Squadron were flown in.
From Wings Magazine May 23rd 1944

With the American invasion force, which took Aitape last month, was the RAAF. A Mobile Works Unit took in 1,000 tons of equipment, including bulldozers and tractors. Looking after its own de¬fence it had Tadji airstrip open for Allied aircraft in 42 hours. W/C W. A. C. Dale, RAAF, was Task Force Engineer of the entire invasion force.
With the works unit went a complete 80-patient RAAF hospital. Coming ashore in three trucks it brought refrigerators, sterilizing plant, X-ray equip¬ment and kitchen. S/L Dobell-Brown commanded the hospital. These RAAF units operated under the general command of A/C F. R. W. Scherger.
RAAF MOBILE WORKS SQUADRONS AITAPE EXTRACT “ALWAYS FIRST” by David Wilson

On 7th March 1944 General MacArthur issued instructions for landings to be made at Hollandia and Aitape to exploit the Allied successes in the Admiralty Islands and the growing weakness of the enemy in western New Guinea. The bold projection of force to Hollandia, 805 kilometres to the west of Lae was known as Operation `Reckless'. US Navy aircraft carrier support was required to cover the initial landing, but such support would be available for a limited time. Therefore it was imperative that a simultaneous landing be affected at Aitape 185 kilometres east of Hollandia. Engineer intelligence observed that the Japanese had commenced the construction of three airstrips near Aitape during December 1943. The capture, development and exploitation of these facilities would enable Allied forces to prevent by passed Japanese units in the Wewak   Hansa Bay   Madang area from moving north to attack Allied forces and shipping at Hollandia. The importance of the airfields is exemplified by the fact that the engineer units accounted for over 5,000 (some 40 per cent) of task force numbers.

Wing Commander Dale was advised verbally of his appointment as Persecution Task Force Engineer on 3rd April 1944 and commenced planning at the Task Force Headquarters at Finschhafen. A detachment of 13 Survey and Design Unit under Flight Lieutenant A.J. Fowler, using aerial photographs and other intelligence information planned the airfields, camp sites, lines of communication and attendant aerodrome services. For the operation Dale had a combat battalion (plus one company), one shore battalion, one boat and shore regiment and three airborne aviation battalions of the US Army, and the RAAF works wing consisting of three mobile works squadrons, a survey and design unit, one works maintenance unit and a supply unit under his contro1. In preparation for the landing 6MWS and 7MWS commenced loading LSTs at Lae on 8th and 6th April 1944 respectively. The latter participated in a practice landing at Lae on 10th April. The trial was successful with the exception that a proposed bivouac area was untenable due to swampy ground. As the force withdrew, tragedy struck. Leading Aircraftmen Armstrong, Roberts, and Dumschat of 7MWS were killed on 11th April when an elevator used to lift light vehicles to the upper deck from the well deck on LST 122 malfunctioned and they were crushed; four others were injured.

The third works unit was 5MWS, which, after rest and re equipping, joined the task force after travelling from Melbourne on the David F. Barry to Lae, arriving on 1st April 1944. An advance party of 41 had departed from Melbourne on 15th February and arrived at Townsville on the 23rd. On 1st March two Dakota aircraft landed at Port Moresby. The third, for an unexplained reason, had to turn back and the passengers were not reunited with the main advance party until 4th March. In the meantime, the first aircraft had proceeded to Saidor, where the men remained as guests of the 808th Engineer Aviation Battalion until they rejoined the main body at Lae on 1st April. From 5th April, the complete unit undertook intensive infantry training before commencing to load two LSTs on the 17th. On the following day the two vessels sailed to Finschhafen, where 100 members of 80 Squadron were embarked to participate in the assault on Aitape. The Persecution Task Force departed from Finschhafen on 18 April. Next day the convoy was joined by the Hollandia assault convoy, an impressive sight   `destroyers dashing about ... battleships, cruisers and aircraft carriers, plus many ... LSTs and troop ships' moving in concert until 1800 hours on the 21st, when the Aitape force left the main convoy for its approach to its target.

It was pitch dark as the convoy made its approach to the beachhead. As dawn broke, the palm trees were an idyllic picture against the backdrop of the Torricelli Ranges, five to twelve miles inland. Along the beachfront the invaders could see the Japanese cooking fires. It was a tranquil tropical scene soon to be turned to bedlam. Alan Robson recalls that he `couldn't imagine that [the naval bombardment and the air strikes] could [create] that much noise. It was deafening ... you could see the coconut trees being flattened ... The fighters came in and strafed ... you could see the tracer bullets ... and then the big bombers came over and you could see the bombs dropping'. The 163rd Regimental Combat Team landed at the village of Lemieng at 0645, killing several Japanese soldiers and taking 50 Javanese labourers prisoner. The fourth wave included Wing Commander Dale, Squadron Leader Jamieson and 18 members of 13 Survey and Design Unit who landed at 7am to undertake a reconnaissance of the area. In all 50 RAAF Work’s personnel landed. The troops had landed at the village of Wapil, about three quarters of a mile from the planned site of Koroko, causing minor confusion. RAAF equipment had to be parked on the beach until the opportunity offered to move it to Koroko and unloading was hampered by heavy rain. It was not until midday that the northern airstrip was captured and the surveyors could peg out the runway so that the construction of the fighter strip could commence.

The intelligence report that the airfield had been paved with coral was erroneous. It was found to be roughly graded natural surface strip, overgrown with kunai grass and too short for operations. Even though the infantry were still patrolling the area, 7 Mobile Works Squadron commenced work on extending the airfield. Although the southern airstrip was captured late in the afternoon of the landing, survey work did not commence until the morning of the 23rd. Like the northern strip, it was a natural surface with grass cover and pitted with bomb craters.

5MWS landed at Aitape on 23 April to face the realities of the invasion, as Lindsay Hodges recorded in his diary:

... there were ships and hundreds of barges everywhere. We eventually landed and the sight, which met our eyes, was beyond description, desolation, and dead everywhere, floating in the water, lying on the beach. Horrible sight ... nearby was a Jap hospital, between 20 and 30 dead, some had been dead a few days and just left where they died. The others of course were shot up properly, dead lying everywhere. The smell is horrific

This unit joined 7MWS personnel who had, despite the possibility of Japanese attack, worked under floodlight. The airstrip was declared serviceable on the 24th and two Lightning fighters landed at 9.45am.

Due to the urgent requirement to have fighter aircraft flying operationally from the airfield insufficient attention had been paid to the drainage of the fighter strip. Heavy overnight rain rendered the strip unserviceable on 25 April. To overcome this problem the engineers worked overnight to commence the laying of steel mat along the whole 1,189-metre strip. The fighter strip was completed on 15th May, 15 days before the bomber strip was declared useable. In addition, the engineers were responsible for building a 105-metre long box girder bridge over the Raihu River and the development of port and road facilities. The overall standard of the workmanship was high. During May 1963 John Lessels and Peter Ashley visited Tadji whilst undertaking a reconnaissance to recommend a site for a second major airfield in Papua New Guinea. After 20 years:

The pavements were made of thick and compacted coral, with a surface of pierced steel planking ... Through the planking was growing a thick mat of grass, which created a surface in effect of reinforced grass. The strength of the pavement and the length of the runways were such that they would sustain usage by most aircraft, no matter how high the weight, and tyre pressure. The ride ability would leave, however, something to be desired

Japanese troops were within 14 kilometres of the airfield, and there was always the possibility of enemy infiltration through the Allied defence lines. Although no casualties could be attributed to enemy action, there were incidents, which kept the men on the alert. Lindsay Hodges wrote in his diary on 25th April 1944 that `a machine gun had opened up on a Yankee camp behind us, bullets flying right through our camp. A Jap had crept into a fox hole where they had installed a machine gun ... he shot one yank.' Japanese aerial resistance was negligible. On the same night a Liberty ship was hit by a low flying enemy bomber but this was the only damage inflicted.

On 20th June 1944 6MWS handed its serviceable equipment to 5MWS and 7MWS and was directed to assemble personnel at Goodenough Island and Milne Bay for transport south. The Oumibah departed from Lae on 6th July with 32 members of the unit aboard bound for Goodenough Island. A week later 437 officers and men embarked on the Reinjust at Aitape for Milne Bay.
EXTRACT FROM VERN STONE DIARY 5MWS

The 17th April saw us embarking on to LST barges, great beaching craft of about 6000 tons and carrying tremendous loads of trucks, tractors, plant etc. Four of us were detailed to stand by as duty officers in case machinery broke down on the way to the ship. For 36 hours we stopped they’re without relief and having to direct heavy equipment into place. We could hardly keep our eyes open at the end of that time.
About 7 o'clock that evening we pulled off the beach at Lae and dropped anchor in the harbour to wait for dawn on the following morning. At five we left in a convoy of four barges with a destroyer and a corvette for escort. Six hours later we pulled once more into Finchaven to join a great convoy of ships waiting for the final command to start this big action. Light Cruisers, Destroyers, Sub chasers, LST barges, transports, and just about every type of ship were to accompany us. It looked like a big battle looming.

We stayed the night of the 18th, beached on the coral shores of Langmak Bay, Finchaven, waiting for the following day to form up in convoy positions. On the 19th some of the cruisers had left us but we formed up in order of convoy and showed quite a covering of square miles of sea. The following is the order in which the ships ran: -
5 - 6000 ton LST barges on the left flank,
5 - Troop transports, about 10,000 tons in the centre line,
1 - 6000 ton LST barge following transports,
12 - 6000 ton LST barges on the right flank,
11 - Escort vessels consisted of Destroyers, both heavy and light and a corvette making continual circles around the whole convoy of troop ships.
We had an air cover too and each ship was heavily armed against raiders. Our destination lies far up into Japanese territory evidently by the Japanese held bases of Wewak and Madang and the drive is aimed at forcing the yellow Devils out of New Guinea for once and always.
Thursday evening at dusk we sighted the Admiralty Islands. Strange us being in this part of the Pacific if we are going to northern New Guinea unless we came this way to throw the Japs off the scent. But another day or so should be about zero hour and then we'll know where we are really headed for. The Admiralties are still occupied by Japs in places but it looked peaceful enough from the water.

The golden sea in the sunset was studded with small groups of islands and our dusky convoy drifting through a gap between two larger islands made a picture any artist would want to paint. From this group of islands we changed position in the convoy and the course altered to a direction a bit north of west. All that evening, and the following day we held to that course and the conjectures of our final destination were many.
Friday evening and the ship started a gentle rolling the first sea movement since we came aboard to any great extent. Early on Saturday morning we changed our course to the south-west and in the evening half our convoy went west again, evidently heading for Hollandia. We held to our course, about 25 ships in all. We prepared for disembarking in the morning and our packs were put together with just the bare necessities and most of us retired early, as zero hour was at 7-00am and all the checked. Breakfast was scheduled for 4-00am.

The Sabbath dawned slowly and quietly. In single file the L.S.T.’s and Troopers moved in to the shore of Aitape while destroyers, cruisers and torpedo boats stood off two small islands about a mile of the main shoreline. As the sun gradually lit the sea the land became clearer. There was a slow rumble and a flash, which indicated the start of a bombardment. From that moment all hell let loose from the warships.

Four-inch guns from the destroyers and eight inch from the Cruisers poured steel and shrapnel into the two islands. Slowly our ships went through the barrage. Two explosions landed too close for comfort at the rear of our ship. The noise was terrific. The air was filled with the tang of cordite and everywhere was smoke and flame licking out from land and sea alike.

A low hum gradually grew into the roar of planes. Seemingly out of nowhere Hellcat dive-bombers appeared. I counted sixty of them then lost count. Down they came in a long dive and - whoosh!! Went the bombs. God, it was terrific. The very sea shook. For an hour it continued and not one plane was lost.

Suddenly there was a lull, noticed more because of the indescribable din that had been going on. Then I notice a long string of barges leaving the side of a ship loaded with troops. They sped to the beach of the island and our cheers were loud on their behalf. God bless the infantry.
It came to our turn to beach and we stood by to see the doors open and our first vehicle went down the ramp to land at Aitape The landing became very hard with several machines breaking down at the crucial moment and a couple of us were flat out repairing them. At 7-30am, Sunday morning, the doors of the barges opened and at 12-noon it was strenuous and tiring work but we snatched a few moments in the surf and then wandered off on to the only road that the Japs had in the place. No sooner had we left the beach than a vile stench came to our nostrils. Shacks made of cane and bamboo were littered with dead; been there for two days and very much in a state of decomposition. They were horribly cut about, half naked and it was a tragic and ghastly sight. I walked into the bush and everywhere there were traces of Japanese in foxholes, under bracken, down wells; it was putrid.

The heavy guns could still be heard about a mile into the jungle forcing the fleeing enemy across the airstrip. We moved up towards the strip camping on the side of a track on that night. Anywhere we could get shelter we put up a net and fell asleep only to be woken by the whir of bullets from Jap snipers. We had our own Vickers and .5s and they rattled off shots into the dark eerie jungle. For two nights we kept it up the second night they’re being a light counter attack from the yellow devils, but it was completely repulsed and with a sigh of relief and weariness I lay back to sleep.
During our souvenir hunting we came across several signs of Japanese women. In one case there was a very pointed sign in the form of a body of one who was obviously sleeping with a Jap soldier. There was sake everywhere so it looked as though the entire Japanese personage had been engaged in a bout of feasting drinking and other vices.

We were camped by the roadside for a few days waiting for our final campsite to be prepared. We worked all hours of the day and night shifting heavy plant and digging out bogged trucks. The roads were terrible, just tracks slashed through the jungle. Sometimes a truck will sink down to the cabin in brown murky mud and it takes everything on wheels to shift and recover it.

Our Engineering Officer is a chap who was at Goodenough Island with us and is quite a sport. He hops in with the boys lending a hand with the tough jobs. It gives the boys a bit of heart. But he has his peculiar ways like most Air Force Officers.
A few days after landing we moved out to our permanent campsite about two miles further on up the road. It is right on the beach, which stretches for a few miles up to the village of Aitape proper, which are situated on a jutting, point covered in coconut palms. We have been working like slaves settling in here, but have just about got things in running order.
After things had settled down a bit it became my particular job to be general roustabout in the office Checking jobs and keeping tabs on all equipment was no mean task believe me. Several times there were some very pointed arguments. My chief growl was when getting out in the O/C's jeep or utility he'd grab me for a different job and I'd miss out on a drive. Several visits to the airstrip were very interesting. The planes were landing on it only 48 hours after we landed but it is the roughest strip I've seen. There were and still are many crashes. It is built in the middle of swampy land with bottomless mud everywhere. Several tractors have disappeared from sight in mud and had to be dismantled to get them out.

Bomb craters are everywhere some up to 70 feet across and 30 feet deep. Japanese kites lay everywhere, Perspex, and aluminium could be had for the taking in the early stages. All night and day the artillery can be heard mopping up the 3000 odd Japs that are coming up from Wewak. Many have given themselves up but there is stiff resistance in other places.

One night a lone Jap bomber came over and hit a liberty ship causing a bit of damage but the next day another ship towed it back to Lae. The shipping that comes into this harbour is astounding. I've counted as many as 30 ships in some periods including a great white hospital ship on two occasions.

Into June and on the 6th came the great news of Europe's invasion. The most gigantic undertaking ever known and our prayers were for the boys on the other side taking part in a full on war. We think it is tough here but God only knows what it is like over there. As the days go by we hear more news on the progress in Europe. It cheers us considerably that the thing we have waited so long for is finally happening. Also Japan being bombed by the great new bombers is an occasion of good news.

Speaking of news we are told that early in July we are to take part in another landing in a section of the Schouten. Group and so once again 5MWS is packing up. The usual hard work follows with little rest until everything is mobilized waiting for the L.S.T. to pick us up once again. A rest of several days gives us time to swim, sleep, and spine-bash.

Saturday, 2nd of July, two L.S.T landing barges beached at the same spot where we landed at first and at about 12 o'clock we started loading again. All Saturday, Saturday night and Sunday we worked snatching about 3 hours sleep early Sunday morning in the front of a truck. The hours passed by until at 6 O'clock on Sunday 3rd July we floated off the beach to anchor in deep water at dusk. The contrast of the place from when we arrived could clearly be noticed sitting out in the water. The flash of heavy guns shattered the darkness of the morning when we sailed in but leaving Aitape it is cheered and brightened by electric lights stretching for miles along the beach. A peaceful sight far different from the fiery reception it first was.
On the Monday we lifted anchor at 12-30pm and with escort of one destroyer set of with our sister ship evidently to Hollandia into another country, the property of Queen Wilhelmina.
5ACS HOME PAGE
AITAPE  PAGE 2