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Operation Postern

The Battle to Recapture Lae from the Japanese, 1943

Authors: Ian Howie-Willis
Military History, Pacific War
153mm x 234mm


Japanese troops seized and brutally occupied New Guinea’s capital, Lae, for 18 months – until 16 September 1943. That day Australian soldiers retook the town against fierce resistance. Defeated, and after suffering huge losses, 8000 Japanese soldiers fled across the formidable 4000-metre mountains behind the town ; 2000 died on the nightmare trek.

In a groundbreaking publication, independent professional historian Dr. Ian Howie-Willis unveils the untold story of Operation Postern and its significant impact on the Pacific War. His latest book sheds light on the recapture of Lae, the capital of New Guinea, from Japanese forces on 16 September 1943. Through meticulous research, Dr. Howie-Willis brings to life the heroic efforts of Australian soldiers, the harrowing experiences of the Japanese retreat, and the often-overlooked plight of the Papua New Guinean village communities caught in the crossfire.

Japanese troops had seized and ruthlessly occupied Lae for 18 months until the fateful day of the Australian soldiers’ counteroffensive. Despite fierce resistance, the town was retaken, forcing the Japanese to retreat across treacherous 4000-meter mountains behind the area. Tragically, 2000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives during this nightmarish trek.

Referred to as a turning point in the Pacific War, Operation Postern shattered the Japanese belief that they could maintain control over the New Guinea mainland. Their continual retreat paved the way for subsequent successful Allied campaigns in the South-West Pacific theatre. However, victory came at a high cost, with over 2000 casualties within a fortnight for the Allies, while Japanese losses exceeded that number nearly fourfold. The exact toll on the Papua New Guinean village people remains unknown but undoubtedly significant.

Dr. Howie-Willis challenges previous military histories that have marginalized the Papua New Guineans, highlighting their essential role as the “third party” to the conflict. By focusing on the village communities, he illuminates the horrific impact of the war on their lands and lives, offering a comprehensive and inclusive narrative.

Operation Postern provides readers with an opportunity to revisit and reinterpret this crucial battle that shaped the course of history. Dr. Howie-Willis’ extensive knowledge and meticulous attention to detail make this book a valuable contribution to the understanding of the Pacific War.

Ian Howie-Willis

Ian Howie-Willis

Dr Ian Howie-Willis is an independent professional historian. The author of 20 books, he is the Historical Adviser to St John Ambulance Australia. His previous book was An Unending War: The Australian Army’s struggle against malaria, 1885–2015 (Big Sky Publishing, Sydney, 2016). He grew up in Melbourne and lived for ten years in Papua New […]

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