B-24 Liberator bomber raiding the Japanese airfields at Cape Gloucester, New Britain in preparation of the American invasion, Dec 1943
The Battle of Cape Gloucester was a battle in the Pacific theater of World War II, which took place between late December 1943 and April 1944, on the island of New Britain, part of the Territory of New Guinea.
The battle was a major part of Operation Cartwheel, the main Allied strategy in the South West Pacific Area and Pacific Ocean Areas during 1943-44, and it was the second World War II landing of the U.S. 1st Marine Division, after Guadalcanal.
The main objective of the American and Australian allies was the capture and expansion of the Japanese military airfield at Cape Gloucester. This was to contribute to the increased isolation and harassment of the major Japanese base at Rabaul. A secondary goal was to ensure free Allied sea passage through the straits separating New Britain from New Guinea.
Supporting operations for the landings in Cape Gloucester began on December 15, when the U.S. Army’s 112th Cavalry Regiment was landed at Arawe on the south-central coast to block the route of Japanese reinforcements and supplies from east to west.
The main operation began on December 26 with a naval barrage on the Japanese positions on Cape Gloucester by U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) warships, followed by air attacks by planes from the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). These attacks were followed by the landing of the U.S. 1st Marine Division, under the command of Major General William H. Rupertus.
The Marines were opposed by the Japanese 17th Division, commanded by Major General Iwao Matsuda, which was augmented by “Matsuda Force”—the 65th Infantry Brigade and elements of the Japanese 51st Division, the main body of which continued to resist Allied offensives on mainland New Guinea. Matsuda’s headquarters was at Kalingi, along the coastal trail northwest of Mount Talawe, within five miles (eight kilometres) of the Cape Gloucester airfield.