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Pabu Hill Ends

26 NOV 1943: World War II and today sees the end of fighting at Pabu Hill, New Guinea. The 2/43rd Battalion repulses strong Japanese attacks on Pabu Hill.

The 2/43rd Battalion held Pabu, one of the outlying features near Sattelberg, against strong Japanese attacks. There is a battle honour awarded for participation in the defensive engagement between 19 November 1943-26 November 1943 on Pabu Hill and North Hill, north of Scarlet Beach, Huon Peninsula.

Shortly after the Australians had landed at Scarlet Beach in late September, they began to patrol the area north of there towards Bonga and Gusika. Several key tracks and junctions were located by troops from the 2/43rd Infantry Battalion, who named them “Imperial”, “Oriental”, “Norfolk” and “Exchange”, after Adelaide pubs.

Through the use of aerial reconnaissance evidence was found that the Japanese were using these tracks to traverse the area and to move supplies west towards Sattelberg.

Observation posts were established and it became apparent to the Australians that one hill in particular, a feature later dubbed “Pabu” by the Australians after one of their native scouts, was the key terrain in the area.

Part of an area that later became known as “Horace the Horse” to the Australians due to its shape as viewed from the air, it was within artillery range of the Australian forward positions at North Hill and as such could be occupied and held by a small party who could then disrupt the Japanese supply line.

In October, the Japanese had launched a counter-attack in the region and as the Australians had been forced back, they were forced to abandon Pabu.

The October counter-attack was turned back. The commander of the Japanese XVIII Army, Lieutenant General Hatazō Adachi, visited Katagiri’s command post, and ordered a renewal of the attack, which Katagiri scheduled for 23 November.

Meanwhile, the Australians sought to regain the initiative. Wootten decided to establish a position in depth behind the Japanese forward line, and subsequently further efforts were made to establish a force at Pabu in front of the Australian forward line at North Hill.

Three companies from the 2/32nd Infantry Battalion under Major Bill Mollard, were sent to occupy it in mid-November, and after striking north of the Song River from North Hill, with the help of native scouts, they moved between the Japanese positions as “Exchange” and “Pino Hill”.

Following a heavy bombardment from the field guns of the 2/12th Field Regiment firing from Heldsbach Plantation, they captured the position.

Over the next few days, the Australians established themselves, and began patrolling operations. After bringing up mortars and Vickers medium machine guns, they began to attack the Japanese resupply parties moving through the area, inflicting heavy casualties.

As a result of the occupation of Pabu, and the general movement of Australian forces towards Wareo–Bonga, the Japanese infantry were threatened with being trapped. In response, the Japanese commander, Katagiri, diverted some of the effort away from the recapture of Finschhafen, and resolved to recapture the North Hill–Pabu area.

A strong force of Japanese subsequently advanced south along the coastal track from Bonga, attempting to retake North Hill and the ground north of the Song River.

Commencing on 22 November, the Japanese made heavy assaults around North Hill, on positions which were defended by Australians from the 2/43rd Infantry Battalion and the 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion.

The 2/32nd, with two companies isolated to the north around Pabu, was also in the thick of the fighting, and over the space of 10 days it was subjected to repeated attacks. Despite being short of food and receiving repeated mortar fire, the 2/32nd held its ground with the assistance of strong artillery support, and in doing so inflicted heavy casualties upon the Japanese.

Later at least 195 bodies were found around the 2/32nd’s position; their own losses amounted to 25 killed and 51 wounded.

The Japanese commanding general, Hatazo Adachi, later pinpointed the Australian capture of Pabu Hill as one of the main reasons for the defeat of his force during the Huon Peninsula campaign. Photo; Silhouetted against the evening sky, men of B Coy, 2/23rd Battalion near Wareo move up the line. More;

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