In 1942, the island of New Guinea served as a hinge between the Allies to the south in Australia and the Japanese Imperial Army to the north in the Philippines. For the Allies, holding Australia and regaining the Philippines required battling Japanese forces for control of New Guinea.
The campaign lasted virtually the entire Pacific War, with the initial fighting in 1942 setting the tone for what would follow.
New Guinea was then largely unmapped and unsettled, a rugged and inhospitable land of mountain jungles and fetid swamps. There were few roads or air strips, so the only way to traverse the forbidding terrain was on foot through thickets of vegetation. Disease thrived there, and troops on both sides suffered immensely from Malaria, Dengue Fever, filiariasis, yaws, and Scrub Typhus.
The main American force on New Guinea in 1942 was the 32nd Infantry “Red Arrow” Division. Its task was to drive enemy forces back over the Owen Stanley Mountains away from Port Moresby toward Buna Beach on the northern side of the island.
Americans called the terrain “Ghost Mountain” due to the shimmering phosphorescence of the heavily vegetated slopes at night. The men of the 32nd were largely Wisconsin and Michigan Guardsmen with no preparation, training, or equipment for their grueling mission.
The soldiers succumbed to malnutrition and disease far more than they did to enemy fire. Forty-two days after the beginning of their 130 miles across the mountains, the 32nd Division had suffered more than 10,000 casualties, 80% from tropical diseases.
The fighting continued at Buna, where the surviving elements of the division joined with Australians in attacking the retreating Japanese. The battle was only won in early 1943. The rest of the island would see fighting through the first half of 1945.
Joining VBC Greatest Generation Live are the leading experts on the 32nd Division and the Battle of New Guinea. Historian James Campbell, author of The Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea–The Forgotten War of the South Pacific, has not only mastered the archival sources on the New Guinea Campaign but has also trekked across the battleground himself, gaining a first-hand view of the rough terrain and forbidding environment. In addition to James, we’ll be joined by Chris Kolakowski, Director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and the museum’s Education Specialist Erik Wright. Finally, our own resident teenage expert, Henry Schoepke, will be on hand to discuss the role of the 32nd Infantry Division in winning the fight for New Guinea. Sponsored by D&D Auto Salvage and Tobacco Free Adagio Health. Simulcast to Facebook and YouTube.