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New Guinea - Training Place for Alamo Scouts and Rangers

Map of New Guinea - Training Place for Alamo Scouts and Rangers Famous Historical Events Social Studies World War II Geography

This map image depicts the location of New Guinea, where Alamo Scouts and 6th Batallion Rangers trained for important missions (like the Cabantuan raid).

At the beginning of the war in the Pacific, New Guinea was a danger spot for the Allies.  We learn more from The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume IV - The Pacific:

...Having seized airfields on New Britain, the Japanese had placed themselves within easy bombing distance of the scattered Australian outposts on New Guinea; Lae and Salamaua, both located on the Huon Gulf, had experienced air raids as early as mid-January, raids which were followed by enemy seizure of the two outposts on 8 March.

The thin Australian garrisons could offer only light opposition to the assaults against Lae and Salamaua or against Finschhafen, which fell on 10 March.3 And so by May 1942 Japanese troops and planes stood only 170 air miles from Port Moresby, the most important outpost remaining to the Allies on New Guinea.

In the early summer of 1942, Port Moresby was the focal point of Allied effort to stem the progress of Japan's conquering forces. Lying on a narrow coastal plain outside the neighboring jungle, protected from most seaward approaches by dangerous coral reefs, and possessing the only harbor in eastern New Guinea large enough to shelter a fleet, it was of vital importance both in the defense of Australia and as a point of departure for an Allied offensive.

Already it had become an outpost of flourishing activity and the target of frequent air raids by the enemy, who struck regularly at the port's satellite airstrips - some of them new fields under construction, some old ones now undergoing improvement by hard pressed engineers.

Leading back into the jungle and the Owen Stanley Mountains, which dominate the topography of Papua, were several tracks. The most important of these was that winding up through mountain forest to The Gap, a pass cutting across the Owen Stanleys at elevations varying from 5,000 to 8,000 feet and emerging at the native villages of Isurava and Deniki, just short of Kokoda.

At Kokoda an Australian government station 1,200 feet above sea level marked the halfway point between Port Moresby and Buna, on the northern coast of the Papuan Peninsula. To Buna from Kokoda the track carried for a relatively easy sixty-three miles over undulating country.

The area lying between Buna presented most formidable barriers to military operations. Slashed with rivers and creeks which drain the upper regions and lead down to the swampy lowlands of the coast, the surface of this primitive land was further tortured by a mass of lush and often impenetrable vegetation.

There were no railroads nor were there any motor roads linking the principal villages and administrative centers; inland after a storm the narrow native tracks became little better than muddy ruts through the forest.

Papua thus was a land peculiarly dependent upon seaborne and airborne transport. Kokoda and Buna, like Lae, Salamaua, and Wau to the north, possessed all-weather strips.

Port Moresby had been the goal of the enemy in an attempted amphibious invasion early in May but that effort ended in failure in the Battle of the Coral Sea. There is some evidence to indicate that the Japanese Navy made further plans to take Moresby, even going so far as to establish the Eighth Fleet for the operation, but the designated forces were destined to be expended in the Solomons and not in a second amphibious attempt against Port Moresby.

Meanwhile, the Japanese army had drawn its own plans for the capture of the port on the south coast of Papua; it would land at Buna on the north coast, then cross the high Owen Stanley range to take Port Moresby from the rear.

If this was a formidable undertaking the Japanese army did not so regard it, for it labored under the impression that neither the U.S. nor Australian army forces possessed the stamina to offer any serious obstruction, and Imperial army commanders were filled with confidence that the crossing could be made without difficulty.  (The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume IV - The Pacific:  Guadalcanal to Saipan, August 1942 to July 1944, edited by W.E. Craven & J.L. Cate, pages 5-7.)

To end Japanese domination of an island so close to Australia, the Allies began training two groups of elite troops called Alamo Scouts and 6th Batallion Rangers.  The Alamo Scouts Training Center (ASTC) was set up on Fergusson Island, off the coast of New Guinea. 

The men who trained there eventually became part of the Cabanatuan rescue team.

Click on the image for a better view.


Media Credits

Image from The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume IV - The Pacific:  Guadalcanal to Saipan, August 1942 to July 1944, edited by W.E. Craven & J.L. Cate, at page 5.

Image online, courtesy iBiblio website (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

PD

 

 

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