Milne Bay

Milne Bay is a large bay in Milne Bay Province, south-eastern Papua New Guinea. More than 35 kilometres (22 miles) long and over 15 kilometres (9 miles) wide, Milne Bay is a sheltered deep-water harbor accessible via Ward Hunt Strait. It is surrounded by the heavily wooded Stirling Range to the north and south, and on the northern shore, a narrow coastal strip, soggy with sago and mangrove swamps.[1] The bay is named after Sir Alexander Milne.

Milne Bay
Location of Milne Bay
LocationMilne Bay Province
Coordinates10°22′00″S 150°30′00″E / 10.3666667°S 150.5°E
Ocean/sea sourcesSolomon Sea
Basin countriesPapua New Guinea
Max. length35 km (22 mi)
Max. width15 km (9.3 mi)
Surface area202.7 square miles (525 km2)



Australian troops at Milne Bay
Australian troops at Milne Bay, 1 October 1942

During World War II, the area was the site of the Battle of Milne Bay in 1942 and by late 1943 it became the major support base for the New Guinea campaign through the development of Finschhafen as an advanced base after that area was secured in the Huon Peninsula campaign. By January 1944 about 140 vessels were in harbor due to congestion at the facilities. Congestion was relieved by opening of a port at Finschhafen and extensive improvements at Milne Bay.[5] Malaria was a major problem in New Guinea and Milne Bay was particularly hard hit with incidents of the disease hitting at a rate of 4,000 cases per 1,000 troops per year and estimated 12,000 man-days a month lost time.[6]

Hazardous Flying Terrain

PNG in general and Milne Bay in particular, even today, can present real challenges to pilots[7] whenever the low, dense cloud formations roll in from over the Owen Stanley Range of Mountains (and then across the Stirling Range, which flanks Milne Bay at the E/SE tail-end of PNG) .[8]

There were three planes known to be ditched off Basilisk Island (at the mouth of Milne Bay) in 1943, a P-38H Lightning, a P-38F Lightning, and a B-24D Liberator "The Leila Belle" (MIA).[9] If the weather began to "close in" - as it can do very quickly in the Milne Bay area, especially in the afternoon - WWII pilots could find themselves experiencing very poor visibility and therefore having progressively limited choices as to how to get back to base.[10] This was all the more so because of the absence of radar and because their air strip was nestled at the foot of a 'cradle' of cloud covered mountains, with those same mountains rising up fairly steeply from near to the water's edge, well down along the perimeters of the bay. Getting into difficulties during combat and/or with mechanical problems including low fuel, even without bad weather, often meant that the steep and rugged terrain greatly restricted the pilots' options in terms of making successful emergency landings - often forcing them to ditch in the water.[11]

These issues also affected smaller, more manoeuvrable single engine aircraft. Due to these flying conditions at and around Milne Bay (including Goodenough Island)[12] a certain combination of bad weather and the sheer height of the mountains so close to the water could easily mean experiencing very poor visibility in very hazardous terrain, such that there were therefore also a considerable number of single seat/ single engine Allied fighter aircraft forced to ditch in the water. This was very much the case throughout both 1942 and 1943[13] in the general vicinity of that cluster of islands - including Basilisk, Sideia, and Populai Islands - which are all easily within visibility range from each other, at the relevant vantage points, and are located immediately off the tip of the southern arm of Milne Bay.

On one occasion during the Battle of Milne Bay bad weather & low fuel had prevented a 75 Squadron P-40 Kittyhawk pilot, Flying Officer Alan Whetters,[14][15] from sighting the enemy late in the day on 28 August 1942. It also meant that his attempt to return to base was thwarted. As he approached the N.W. corner of Sideia island, he spotted a jetty barely visible just before complete darkness had set in. He decided to ditch the aircraft over a reef and beside the jetty, to then seek help. The pilot was rescued by locals in a dinghy, who delivered him to a local Catholic Mission.

The experience of another RAAF 75 Squadron P-40 Kittyhawk pilot (Norman Houghton) was not dissimilar - despite somewhat better weather - and it was recorded in the official report of the incident[16] he made to squadron authorities, upon his return to his base at Gurney Strip at the western end of the bay, which is now Gurney Airport serving Alotua and the Milne Bay Province. His P-40 Kittyhawk, A29-77, was written off after ditching in the water (also over a reef) between Sideia Island and Populai Island which are both in the Gotai ward of Milne Bay Province, and adjacent to Basilisk Island.[17] This was on the occasion of the biggest air raid so far on their airfield complex, and on the associated Allied shipping anchored in this very large natural harbour, surrounded on three sides by mountains.[18]

"At about 1250 hours on 14 April 1943 a flight of 5 aircraft in which my position was no.3, was flying EAST at about 25,000 feet towards Samarai. I observed a close formation of enemy bombers (approximately 30) at one o'clock on the same level and at a fair distance. Its escort consisted of two elements, one of seven fighters above and behind bombers, the other seven - eight fighters about two miles NORTH of the bombers, and 2000 feet above them. The formation of fighters appeared to be: 'loose line astern'. I followed Flt/Lt Dick Holt's section in, on a beam attack on the bombers and noticed enemy fighters above bombers coming down. I attempted to turn to the attack but made the turn too tight at 150 miles per hour. The aircraft flicked and spun inadvertently and recovery was made by cutting the throttle; the aircraft then spun normally and I recovered in a dive at over 400 miles per hour. As the motor was throwing oil and flame and would not run properly, I force-landed on a reef on the S.E. point of Sideia Island near the village of Gotai."

Pilot Officer Houghton was uninjured[19] and was picked up by locals in a dinghy about 150 metres from shore. He was then taken by Lakatoi and then on foot to Kana-Kopa where he was picked up by Air-sea Rescue launch. He returned to his unit late in the day on April 15, 1943.

21st Century

HMPNGS Seedler
The HMPNGS Seeadler sank a poacher in 2016.

The HMPNGS Seeadler fired upon a Vietnamese fishing vessel on December 23, 2016.[20] Her captain died, and the poacher sank.

See also


Milne Bay NASA

Milne Bay seen from space.


Milne Bay from Alotau.

Treehouse at Milne Bay - Papua New Guinea - 1884-1885

Treehouse, in 1884-1885


  1. ^ James, Karl. "General Clowes of Milne Bay". Retrieved 4 September 2012.
  2. ^ Royal Geographical Society. Supplementary Papers. 1886. p 270
  3. ^ Hilder, Brett (1980). The voyage of Torres : the discovery of the southern coastline of New Guinea and Torres Strait by Captain Luis Baéz de Torres in 1606. Hong Kong: University of Queensland Press.
  4. ^ Hydrographic Map of Papua or New Guinea Sheet 7, Southeast coast, Orangerie Bay to Bramble Haven, 1852-1888
  5. ^ Leighton, Coakley & 1955-68, pp. 450—451, v.2.
  6. ^ Condon-Rall 1998, p. 137.
  7. ^ Smartraveller, Papua New Guinea, Australian Govt. Travel Advice on PNG, see 'Summary' Point 11,
  8. ^ Winged Ghosts, (documentary about salvaging WWII aircraft in PNG & esp. from Milne Bay) - Beyond Productions, 1992
  9. ^ Basilisk Island Pacific Wrecks
  10. ^ Song of the Beauforts (RAAF Air Power Development Centre/ Office of Air Force History, 2004, ISBN 978-1-920-80024-6) by Colin M King, Pp.69 & 70
  11. ^ Song of the Beauforts (RAAF Air Power Development Centre/ Office of Air Force History, 2004, ISBN 978-1-920-80024-6) by Colin M King, P.49
  12. ^ Australian War Memorial (Transcript of) Interview with Arthur Tucker (1989), Kittyhawk Pilot in the critical battles of Moresby and Milne Bay 1942, Part 6: at running time 19.00 min. Retrieved 5/5/2019,
  13. ^ Greg McGregor Recalls Struggle that Helped Turn a War, The Herald Sun (online), 6 September 2017, 2nd page of article. Retrieved 12/10/2018,
  14. ^ The Decisive Factor: 75 & 76 Squadrons RAAF - Port Moresby and Milne Bay 1942, (Banner Books 1991) by David Wilson, P.141
  15. ^ Alan Whetters' Ditching of A29 110, Pacific Wrecks,
  16. ^ Confirmatory Memorandum/ Pilot's Report, No. 000010, National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28/11/2018
  17. ^ (Norman Houghton's) Ditching of A29 77, Pacific Wrecks, 6th para.,
  18. ^ Seek and Strike: 75 Squadron RAAF, 1942-2002 (Banner Books 2002) by David Wilson, P.92
  19. ^ Norman Houghton's Ditching of A29 77, ADF Serials (listing half way down page)
  20. ^ Clifford Faiparik (2017-01-04). "Ship skipper dies in clash". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-10. The captain of a Vietnamese fishing vessel was allegedly killed and a crew member sustained injuries after PNG Defence Force patrol boat fired at the vessel for illegally harvesting beche de mers (sea cucumbers) in Milne Bay waters, police say.


  • Condon-Rall, Mary Ellen; Cowdrey, Albert E. (1998). The Technical Services—The Medical Department: Medical Service In The War Against Japan. United States Army In World War II. Washington, DC: Center Of Military History, United States Army. LCCN 97022644.
  • Leighton, Richard M; Coakley, Robert W (1999). The War Department — Global Logistics And Strategy 1943–1945. United States Army In World War II. 2. Washington, DC: Center Of Military History, United States Army. LCCN 55060001.
Battle of Milne Bay

The Battle of Milne Bay (25 August – 7 September 1942), also known as Operation RE or the Battle of Rabi (ラビの戦い) by the Japanese, was a battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II. Japanese naval infantry troops, known as Kaigun Tokubetsu Rikusentai (Special Naval Landing Forces), with two small tanks attacked the Allied airfields at Milne Bay that had been established on the eastern tip of New Guinea. Due to poor intelligence work, the Japanese miscalculated the size of the predominantly Australian garrison and, believing that the airfields were only defended by two or three companies, initially landed a force roughly equivalent in size to one battalion on 25 August 1942. The Allies, forewarned by intelligence from Ultra, had heavily reinforced the garrison.

Despite suffering a significant setback at the outset, when part of their small invasion force had its landing craft destroyed by Allied aircraft as they attempted to land on the coast behind the Australian defenders, the Japanese quickly pushed inland and began their advance towards the airfields. Heavy fighting followed as they encountered the Australian Militia troops that formed the first line of defence. These troops were steadily pushed back, but the Australians brought forward veteran Second Australian Imperial Force units that the Japanese had not expected. Allied air superiority helped tip the balance, providing close support to troops in combat and targeting Japanese logistics. Finding themselves heavily outnumbered, lacking supplies and suffering heavy casualties, the Japanese withdrew their forces, with fighting coming to an end on 7 September 1942.

The battle is often described as the first major battle of the war in the Pacific in which Allied troops decisively defeated Japanese land forces. Although Japanese land forces had experienced local setbacks elsewhere in the Pacific earlier in the war, unlike at Milne Bay, these earlier actions had not forced them to withdraw completely and abandon their strategic objective. Nor did they have such a profound impact upon the thoughts and perceptions of the Allies towards the Japanese, and their prospects for victory. Milne Bay showed the limits of Japanese capability to expand using relatively small forces in the face of increasingly larger Allied troop concentrations and command of the air. As a result of the battle, Allied morale was boosted and Milne Bay was developed into a major Allied base, which was used to mount subsequent operations in the region.

Boagis Island

Boagis Island is an island in Papua New Guinea located in Milne Bay. It is situated 4 km (2 miles) north of Nusam island.

Calvados Chain

The Calvados Chain are a group of islands in the Solomon Sea, belonging to Papua New Guinea within the Louisiade Archipelago.

Dart Reefs

The Dart Reefs is a group of reefs in the central area of the Ward Hunt Strait in Milne Bay Province of southeastern Papua New Guinea.The reefs are ribbon-like structured patch reefs.

They are located approximately 15 km from New Guinea island, and the same distance from Goodenough Island of the D'Entrecasteaux Islands archipelago.

Dobu language

Dobu or Dobuan is an Austronesian language spoken in Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. It is a lingua franca for 100,000 people in D'Entrecasteaux Islands.

East Island, Papua New Guinea

East Island is an island in Milne Bay Province of southeastern Papua New Guinea.

It is in the Bonvouloir Islands archipelago group of the Louisiade Archipelago.

Hastings Island (Papua New Guinea)

Hastings Island is an island of the Louisiade Archipelago, in Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea.


Kiriwina is the largest of the Trobriand Islands, with an area of 290.5 km². It is part of the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. Most of the 12,000 people who live in the Trobriands live on Kiriwina. The Kilivila language, also known as Kiriwina, is spoken on the island. The main town is Losuia.

Kui Island

Mekinley Island (also known as Kui Island) is an island north of Sariba Island, and on the eastern side of China Strait, in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea.

Milne Bay Province

Milne Bay is a province of Papua New Guinea. Its capital is Alotau. The province covers 14,345 km² of land and 252,990 km² of sea, within the province there are more than 600 islands, about 160 of which are inhabited. The province has about 276,000 inhabitants, speaking about 48 languages, most of which belong to the Eastern Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Economically the province is dependent upon tourism, oil palm, and gold mining on Misima Island; in addition to these larger industries there are many small-scale village projects in cocoa and copra cultivation. The World War II Battle of Milne Bay took place in the province.

Culturally the Milne Bay region is sometimes referred to as "the Massim," a term originating from the name of Misima Island. Massim societies are usually characterized by matrilineal descent, elaborate mortuary sequences and complex systems of ritual exchange including the Kula ring. From Island group to Island group and even between close lying islands, the local culture changes remarkably. What is socially acceptable on one island may not be so on another.


Nusam Island is an island in Papua New Guinea located in Milne Bay. It is situated 4 km (2 miles) south of Boagis and 6 km (4 miles) north of Nanon Islands.

8 km (5 miles) north-east is Kudul Point.

Pana Tinani

Pana Tinani is an island in the Louisiade Archipelago in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea.

Panaeati Island

Panaeati Island is an island of Papua New Guinea. It is in the Deboyne Islands atoll in the Louisiade Archipelago.

Panapompom Islands

Panapompom Island is an island of Papua New Guinea. It is in the Deboyne Islands atoll of the Louisiade Archipelago.

Renard Islands

The Renard Islands are an archipelago in the Solomon Sea . Politically they belong to Milne Bay Province in the southeastern region of Papua New Guinea.

Rossel Island

Rossel Island (named after de Rossel, a senior officer on the French expedition of d'Entrecasteaux, 1791-1793; also known as Yela) is the easternmost island of the Louisiade Archipelago, which itself is part of the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. Tree Islet is situated 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the north-west, while Wule Island is situated 1.5 miles (2.4 km) westward.


Samarai is an island and former administrative capital in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea.

The island is historically significant as the site of a trading port and stop-over between Australia and East Asia. Samarai town was established on the island and at its height was the second largest after Port Moresby in the Territory of Papua.The town of Samarai was ordered to be destroyed by the British during World War II, fearing Japanese occupation. Although rebuilt after the war, and functioning as provincial headquarters until 1968, economic changes meant that Samarai did not fully regain its regional status and it has since largely fallen into disrepair. The island was declared a National Historical Heritage Island by the government of Papua New Guinea in 2006.

Solomon Sea

The Solomon Sea is a sea located within the Pacific Ocean. It lies between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Many major battles were fought there during World War II.

Suau language

Suau, also known as Iou, is an Oceanic language spoken in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. It is spoken by 6,800 people and a further 14,000 as a lingua franca.


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.