11 SEP 1914: World War I and the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force lands at Rabaul, New Guinea. The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landed at Rabaul and went into action at Bita Paka. This was the only major New Guinea action of the First World War. Bita Paka was a small radio station established shortly after the start of the war in the Kaiserwilhelmsland portion of German New Guinea.
The German South Seas Wireless Company originally planned to construct a high-powered radio station at the site, but this changed with the onset of war and instead only a low-powered station was erected.
The radio station became increasingly important to Admiral Spee and his fleet as they fled across the Pacific looking for coal which became increasingly scarce as the war progressed.
The force protecting Bita Paka was also responsible for the protection of the nearby capital of Rabaul.
Rabaul was well stocked with the coal that was desperately needed by Germany’s ships fleeing the Pacific. German New Guinea was different from her counterpart colonies in Africa in that it had no Schutztruppe (colonial defence force), but a Polizeitruppe used for putting down rebellions and intervening in tribal wars.
The Polizeitruppe had proven effective during the 1910 Sokehs rebellion, and learnt well from their earlier weakness in communication.
The German defence at Bita Paka comprised approximately 240 native police soldiers and 50 German officers.
The Australians were far better off. The AN&MEF (Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force) was better prepared than their Polizeitruppe counterparts. At the end of their recruitment phase the necessary 3,000 volunteers were obtained, although only a landing party from that force took part at Bita Paka.
The AN&MEF was also supported by artillery from the ships of the Royal Australian Navy, including the HMAS Sydney which would later sink the famous SMS Emden, and two reconnaissance planes, but they proved worthless with the German positions covered by thick jungle, and were returned to Sydney.
The Australians landed at Palm Island before moving into hostile territory, and trained for a week.
The training made their supremacy over the Germans, half of whose natives were untrained, and many of their white soldiers only partly trained reservists, undeniable.
Following vital training, a small force of the AN&MEF landed at Herberthohe, six miles from the Bita Paka radio station, on 11 September 1914.
The Australians advanced towards the station, but ran into a German sniper shortly after embarking. The German was hiding in a tree and looking down the sight of his Mauser when he was spotted without noticing. One of the Australians took a shot and wounded the sniper in the hand, thus rendering it impossible for him to fire his weapon.
After being captured, and directly under the aim of the enemy’s guns, the German ventured into the open and convinced a band of his comrades to surrender by shouting out lies about the number of Australian soldiers.
It was later discovered that he held a wired switch which led to a mine that he was instructed to blow when the 12 pounder Australian gun passed by.
About five miles from the radio station the force encountered a well guarded line of German trenches.
Under heavy fire the Australians took cover and waited for reinforcements. When the reinforcements arrived the Australians opened up with the 12 pounder gun and the native soldiers scattered with fear. The remaining Germans could not hold the line alone and regrouped with the frightened natives and another force of Polizeitruppe in a second line of entrenchments.
Once again, the Australians opened up with their artillery piece, and after a fierce fight captured the trench works and 40 native soldiers, although their new prisoners escaped that night under the cover of darkness.
The Australian force then approached a third line of trenches directly in front of the Bita Paka radio station, but the men stopped in order to rest. However the Germans themselves counter-attacked while most of the Australians were sleeping, and a bloody and inconclusive two hour fire fight ensued.
The Germans, realising that they were hopelessly outnumbered and had no realistic chance of gaining fresh supplies, put up white flags.
The Australians, fearing a trap, evaded action. In consequence, when a raiding party finally entered the German trenches the opposing forces had disappeared.
The Australians moved on to the radio station but were disappointed to find the Germans had felled the tower and destroyed much of its equipment.
Considering the Australians had anticipated capturing it for operational use, this proved a major upset, and the station wasn’t able to restart transmission on behalf of the allies until 1916.
Meanwhile the rumour among local civilians held that the Germans had retreated some 19 miles away to Toma. From Bita Paka the Allied force was carried back to Herbertshohe by the Sydney for re-supply, particularly water, which had run out some hours earlier.
The Germans, believing it impossible for white men to march from Herbertshohe to Tomo in a day, relaxed the pace of their retreat by consuming much of their remaining alcohol ration.
Contrary to common belief, an Australian force of 200, including many veterans from the landing party at Bita Paka, made the march through the thick jungle in a single afternoon with their 12 pounder gun.
Upon reaching Tomo the Australians found the Germans and their native allies well dug in. Despite the best efforts of the 12 pounder, the Germans remained comfortably ensconced in their bunkers.
Even though the Germans held a superior force they knew that Australian reinforcements would not be long in arriving, and further understood that they could themselves expect no reinforcements; they therefore surrendered.
After what became known as the battle of Bita Paka, the German resistance in New Guinea surrendered, except for Hauptman Herman Detzner and his men who held out until after the Armistice.
The German Pacific fleet was then forced to steam towards Chile owing to both the lack of protection afforded by the radio station at Bita Paka and the absence of coal that would otherwise have come from Rabaul.
The fall of German New Guinea signified the end of large-scale resistance from the Central Powers in Asia and the Far East. Photo: A period photograph taken by Australian forces in 1914 showing some of the New Guinea Polizeitruppe they had captured at Bita Paka. More; http://ow.ly/S1NGz