Fall of Rabaul: 23rd January 1942
The term "Fall of Rabaul" is used here symbolically.
In January 1942, Rabaul was still, in spirit, capital of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, although the Administration had recently split geographically. When Rabaul fell, the Administrator flew from Lae to Australia, and the Australian Administration of the Territory effectively collapsed.
"Fall of Rabaul" in this context therefore covers the townships of Kavieng, New Ireland; Kieta, Bougainville; Lae, mainland New Guinea; and all the scattered settlements and outposts of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. As the most important town and strategic port, Rabaul and its environs also contained the bulk of the European (civilian and military) population.
Two WW1 veterans, and friends of many years, met for the last time on Namanula Hill the afternoon before the Japanese invaded Rabaul, capital of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, January 1942.
R.L. (Nobby) Clark, M.L.C., Chief Civil Warden, hoping to protect civilians left behind, formally surrendered them to the Japanese. The manner of his death remains a mystery. Stan McCosker escaped to Australia. Despite his and others’ efforts, many facts regarding the Fall of Rabaul are still unknown to most Australians.
I’ll stand and guard Australia’s soul,
You, Mac get away.
We’re surrounded by stupidity,
Australians should be told.
Years of work destroyed.
Our plans for Rabaul
Killed now by a few
Men who have no vision.
The army’s gone, the airforce too
Much of Administration.
Mac, you must leave,
Record all this confusion.
I’ll stand and guard our nation
In the dreadful hour before me,
Some one must face these Japanese
With pride and dignity.
Go, Mac, get away,
Remember what you see
Word this into the future,
Keep faith in Memory.
Were two men with one will,
For country and kin,
On Namanula Hill.
See World War I, Veterans for photo of Robert Leeuwin Clark in 1916
Published in WITCH DOCTOR, Anne McCosker, 2003
A detailed account of the Fall of Rabaul and the build up to it can be found in
MASKED EDEN chapters 9, 10 and associated notes.
"G.S.O.1(I) Albert Hotel,
Base Headquarters, Brisbane.QLD.
Northern Command. 6th Febry., 1942.
The undersigned, who served with the A.I.F. during the last war, desire to offer for your information , comments regarding the military and civil administration of Rabaul (N.G.) before and during the air raids and evacuation up to 22nd. Jany.1942.
Shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Returned Soldiers League, of which two of us were Executive Members, offered the services of our 143 members to the Civil Administration to act in any capacity for the protection of the Territory or in the preservation of law and order.
This offer was curtly declined.
At the same time the League Committee was conducting a campaign to have all enemy aliens interned but the assistance so offered to the Administration was not well received, as it appeared to consider that the League was encroaching upon its preserves.
Eventually, after having submitted lengthy details of the known history of these aliens and their subversive activities, the League had the satisfaction of knowing that all German Nationals, excepting a large number of Missionaries, had been interned.
The campaign was continued against the half-caste German -Kanaka but without any result and we greatly regret to have to inform you that in our considered opinion, about 15 to 20 of these Axis sympathisers are now with the Japanese Forces, acting as guides and interpreters.
A little over a year ago the Returned Soldiers' League offered to undertake A.R.P. work in Rabaul and in the absence of permission, or otherwise, of the civil Authorities, organised within restricted limits a useful body. The Chief Warden was Hon. R.L. Clark, M.L.C. who was also the New Guinea State President of the League as well as being a member of the Rabaul Sub-Branch Committee.
No assistance of any kind could be obtained from the Administration, nor was it possible to gain any knowledge of policy in the event of enemy action, despite the continued efforts of Mr. Clark, who in his own time, drew plans of the Refugee Gully and the tracks leading thereto. A.R.P. Wardens were given posts in the town to ensure that the roads were left clear for Military traffic and their duties were also to insist upon civilians taking cover in slit trenches which, by the way, were regarded in Rabaul as the safest means of protection against the 'Daisy Cutter' type of bomb used. Warning sirens were in use at the Power House, W.R.Carpenter's Workshop. Public Works department and Military Camp but in actual practice the number of sirens proved a curse rather that a blessing.
Information of an impeding raid was usually available 20 to 30 minutes beforehand and Navy 'I' passed the word on to Army, Civil Police and, only after continued representations, to the Chief Warden.
Army would give the 'Alert' immediately, then telephone the Power House, but towards the end, the Chief Warden had already warned the Power House. The Civil Police would detail a Native Police Boy to proceed to Carpenters Workshop, a distance of at least 250 yards, and would also send another Police Boy to the Public Works Dept. a distance of about 75 yards.
This lack of co-ordination resulted in warning and 'all clear' signals being given independently and the civil population were often in doubt when 'Alert' or the 'all clear' had sounded but as the Chief Warden gave his two deputies early advice, the A.R.P. Wardens stationed in the congested localities and whose telephones were kept alive were able to inform the public of the true position.
On a number of occasions, in the early part of the 'Blitz' warnings were sounded in the Camp, with the result that civilian Chinese and Natives in that vicinity went to ground whilst the majority of the population carried on their usual occupations without any knowledge of danger. None of the sirens could be heard at any great distance and it was only because of the early warnings given civilians were able to take shelter in time. Of course, another factor which had a bearing on the safety of civilians was the fact that the enemy did not drop bombs on the Town -all targets having been of military importance.
Although the Adminstration had not assisted in organising A.R.P. , the Chief Warden was informed that it was his responsibility to dispose of the dead despite the fact that the administration had plenty of officers available who were neither members of the N.G.V. Rifles or the A.R.P. Organization.
The Chief Warden offered to organise a fire-fighting squad and a Demolition squad if the Administration would provide tools, sand and dynamite but the offer was declined as the Civil Police were detailed for these duties."
"For some days prior to 20 January, Burns Philp & Co had been removing goods from their main bulk stores and the wharf to various residences in Rabaul and hiding quantities of petrol and foodstuffs in the Kokopo area. Both B.P. & Co. and Carpenters' Stores at Kokopo were well stocked.
It is with considerable diffidence that the following paragraphs are submitted,………… we record our comments upon what we consider the causes underlying the events of the 22nd January, 1942.
The army, as far as we could see, had not organised any plan of defence at the obvious landing, Blanche Bay, in the event of the Battery being destroyed, although some barbed wire entanglements had been erected and machine gun, anti-tank gun and mortar positions had been defined. Shortly after Praed Point had been dive-bombed, the Forces, including the N.G.V.R. were withdrawn from Lakunai Aerodrome and Praed Point to beyond the Town. A number of strong posts and dugouts had been constructed in the town to be used in street fighting but none of these were manned. The only armed force that was seen was on the North Coast where there were a few strong posts but it must be pointed out that about three weeks before the North West Season had commenced and up to the 22nd. Jan. a strong wind had been blowing and the surf that was running would have made an enemy landing extremely difficult.
From general observation we can say that there was a lack of discipline in the A.I.F., and Absence without Leave and Drunkenness was not unusual. Whilst, generally, the majority of the Forces behaved well, those who caused trouble were seldom punished to such an extent as to deter further breaches of Military discipline.
Another factor was the over supply of intoxicating liquor to the troops. At one stage Australian beer was being sold in unlimited quantities at the Canteen for 1/-per bottle, - elsewhere in Rabaul, 2/- was charged - and it was only when supplies ran short that a rationing scheme was introduced. Leave had been granted to 25% of the Force each night until 2359 hours, although the Hotels closed at 2300 hours. The President of the Returned Soldiers' League J.H. Edwards, M.C. D.C.M. made representations to Colonel Scanlon to have hours of leave curtained having in mind not only the health and morale of the troops but the risk of some unpleasant occurrences in the town after the hotels closed. The representations were not favourably received but from the time that Japan entered the war leave was restricted to 2100 hours. A smaller number of men each night were granted this concession and beer from the Canteen was rationed to one bottle per man."
[FROM THIS POINT, THE REPORT DESCRIBES THE SITUATION IN RABAUL ON THURSDAY 22ND JANUARY]
"It is worthy of note at this stage to record that the Civil Police were evacuated to Kokopo before 0600 hours on the 22nd Jan and when the Supt. Was asked whose duty it was to prevent looting, he replied there was little danger of this happening and in any case the Wardens could deal with any disturbance. All this despite the fact that the A.R.P. Organisation was functioning without any legal power or authority.
We had been informed that demolition squad s had been detailed to destroy booty likely to be useful to the enemy but from our observation when coming through to Town at approximately 1620 hours the only signs of destruction was the A.S.C. store in Malaguna Camp, which was burning.
The Government Store, a large two-storied building was filled to full capacity with Rice, Tinned Meat, Sugar, Trade Tobacco, Tea and Biscuits. Burns Philp retail and bulk stores contained general merchandise, groceries, spirits, and beer. The Chemist shop of D.S. Davis, carried a full stock of drugs and toilet requisites. W. R. Carpenters' store was not largely stocked although a considerable amount of spirits, beer and other lines were in the bulk store. This firm's workshop which was well fitted out with lathes, etc., was untouched. Carpenters' Freezer containing four large rooms with engine plant complete was packed to capacity with frozen meats.
The workshop and timber yard of the Public Works Dept. was still intact.
The Rabaul Freezer, containing two rooms of meat and very well stocked and the Chinese stores had not been destroyed. The same applies to the three Hotels, where considerable stocks of food stuffs and liquor were held.
There is some doubt as to whether the generators at the Power House were destroyed but from our knowledge of the personality of the Engineer, John Barrie, and from information since received, the opinion is expressed that he carried out his duty and demolished the machinery.
Burns Philps' Garage and Service Station where there were some excellent lathes and machine tools installed was undamaged.
At TOBOI WHARF there was a large stock of rice, the property of W.R. Carpenter and about 2500 tons of Copra, the property of the Copra Control Board left for the benefit of the enemy.
Colyer Watson & Co. had a big stock of foodstuffs and copra at the Coal Wharf but the worst feature of the neglect to apply the 'scorched earth' policy was the supplies left intact at the Government Wharf. It is difficult to estimate the quantity or enumerate the articles but it is known that practically all the cargo brought by the "Halsted" excepting Bren Gun carriers and aircraft bombs was still stored in the shed.
The Officer in Command Aust, Wireless (Aust.) Rabaul was seen at Kokopo at about 2000 hours on the 22nd. Jan. when he informed us that the A.W.A. receiving and transmitting stations in Rabaul had been totally destroyed.
The European school in Rabaul, a building of considerable size was packed to the limit with foodstuffs the property of the Army.
So far as Army demolitions is concerned, it is likely that the drums containing aviation spirit, in the Gardens were cut open with axes and the spirit run off, on the night of the 21st Jan., but no explosions were heard that would lead us to believe that the ammunition dumps nearby had been exploded.
The Rastaval Pass road which had been mined was still intact when we travelled over it about 1630 hours and the road blocks had not been dropped into place. The same applies to the road near WUNAWATUNG Hotel to TULILIGAP HEIGHTS although there were considerably more road blocks constructed on this road."
Extract from REPORT 6TH February 1942. Written by A.J. Gaskin, S. McCosker, T.H. Targett.
Published in full in Masked Eden pages 202 to 207.
"Brisbane, 6th February 1942
"Without being presumptuous in any way, we offer our ideas of how information was transmitted to the enemy which made the targets so certain. [Only military targets were hit.] Some time since the arrival in Rabaul of the Forces, the Japanese ship “Caroline Maru” visited the town with a passenger list of 10 or 12 well-dressed Japanese who were permitted ashore with Field Glasses and Cameras and at least one party from the ship, including the Captain, was escorted around the town by NAGAHAMA who was some type of accredited representative. This party visited the Lakuna’Drome and were there seen to take photographs. This action was brought to the notice of army ’I’ but the informant was told that Army had no power to stop such practices.
Two ships which called at Rabaul regularly, the ‘Yuman’ and the ‘Neptuna,’ had Chinese crews who were allowed full liberty in Rabaul and had every opportunity to visit N.B.K. where the latest information regarding the composition of the Force, and the prepared positions, was available.
About early November 1941, the ‘I’ Officer attached to 2/22nd Bn. informed the Secretary of the Returned Soldiers’ League that there was a transmitting station operating somewhere between the Cemetery and the Regent Theatre and asked that the exact location be ascertained .Late that night the set was located in the premises occupied as living quarters by the staff of the N.B.K. The ‘I’ Officer was brought to town from the camp and although he could not say that a set was transmitting he did learn that these Japanese were listening in to a broadcast from Berlin in GERMAN.
Another means whereby it is suggested that information could have been sent out was by signalling at night from the Bainings Hills overlooking the North West approaches to Rabaul. The source of these signal lights was a Catholic Mission Station under the control of Father MAHERHOFER, an Austrian national. These facts were reported to Capt. J. Duncan (I) Naval Kokopo but so far as is known no action was taken."
Extract from REPORT 6th February 1942 written by A.J. Gaskin, S. McCosker, T.H. Targett.
Published in full in MASKED EDEN pages 202 to 207.