Green Shadows Revisited

20 Jul 2014 12:00 AMGreen Shadows Revisited

Last week nine Papuans from Central and Oro Provinces visited the war graves of a number of Papuans at Bomana Cemetery. They paid their respects to these great men. They had just walked and assisted along the Kokoda Track in honor of the fallen Papuans with our accomplished trek leader, Owen Turner

Last week nine Papuans from Central and Oro Provinces visited the war graves of a number of Papuans at Bomana Cemetery. They paid their respects to these great men. Bomana is a place of remembrance for the sacrifices made including the men of the Papuan Infantry. They are heros of the Papuan Infantry Battalion who bravery fought for the freedoms of all PNG people and paid the ultimate price in doing so. These nine men had just walked and assisted along the Kokoda Track in honor of the fallen Papuans with Owen Turner and the trekking company Our Spirit.

Over 70 years ago, soldiers of the allied forces fought a war for freedom in the jungles of Papua and New Guinea. They could not successfully win the battle without the support of the locals who were recruited to carry food and ammunition to the front line, then wounded men out of the Kokoda track and became known as Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. A magnificent and fitting title that conjures up a different picture to the role of the PNG local soldiers.

There was another group of even less well known Papuans that played a significant part in the defence of Papua New Guinea throughout the war in the Pacific. They were part of a small force called the Papuan Infantry Battalion (the P.I.B.).  These were formed in a general call to arms in June 1940 after the threat of the Japanese Imperial Forces became apparent. They consisted of Papuan soldiers with commanders from the 49th Australian militia Battalion who trained them initially to be soldiers and in the use of weapons. They were later perfected their military skills and were referred to as the “Green Shadows”.

Joe Nobea from the Goldie River area said "these soldiers along with the Fuzzy Wuzzies are also Kokoda legends".

3850 PNG soldiers served during the Pacific war in the ten regiments formed over this time. They came from Papua – the Fly River area, the Purari, Lakekamu, Moresby, Buna, Samarai, Tufi, Goodenough Island, Northern Papuan Districts; and the New Guinea area of Lae, Morobe, Salamaua, Huon, Sepik, Madang and Islands of Manus, New Britain, New Ireland and Bouganville.

The story of the important role played by the Papua and New Guinea soldiers in nearly every theatre of war in Papua, New Guinea, Bouganville, and New Britain Islands deserves more recognition. “The accomplishments of this Papuan defence force came to the fore in the first attack by the Japanese in Northern Papua” Owen said.

On the 11 March 1942, Papuan soldiers from the P.I.B. fired the first angry shots in the Japanese advance into Papua. A reconnaissance sea plane landed just off the beach at Buna and the Japanese pilot was fired at before it took off.

Then in early June 1942, a group of 320 bare footed soldiers were sent from Port Moresby to the coastal hills of Awala in northern Papua with the purpose of watching for and patrolling the coastal area against Japanese sea landings from Morobe to Tufi. The PIB were excellent bushman and knew the country and the local Orokavian people well. This  aided the Australian soldiers who initially had limited understanding of the people and the country.

On 21 July 1942, the Japanese landed at Gona in northern Papua. On 23 July at 500pm the PIB encountered the Japanese at Soputa Hill near Awala. Japanese forward scouts on bicycles were shot at. The PIB were overwhelmed by the numbers of the initial 1500 strong landing force who were pushing to take control of the Kokoda airfield 70 kilometres inland. They were the first elements of Lieutenant General Horii’s South Sea Force of 13000 men. This was part of a wider plan to capture Port Moresby via the Kokoda track over the Owen Stanley Ranges.

This brave action by the Papuan soldiers was the first time that a foreign invader had been fought against on Papuan soil. Not by the Australians but by local Papuan countryman.

The courage of the Papuan soldier soon came to the fore with the likes of Sergeant Katue (one of the first recruits of the P.I.B.) who risked his life on several occasions going behind enemy lines to gain important information on Japanese numbers and their location. Information vital for his P.I.B. brothers in arms to form worthy defensive positions. Katue was later awarded the Military Medal for his courage – the first Papuan to be awarded such a medal for his bravery….and not the last. Lance Corporal Sanopa also showed his bravery when he assisted the remnants of B Company and the PIB who had been badly mauled by the Japanese at Oivi Ridge a few days later escape to Deniki along the Kokoda track. The Japanese forces greatly outnumbered the Papuan and Australian forces in the defense of Kokoda forcing them to withdraw.

The P.I.B.’s bush skills and ability to blend into the jungle were later used as part of an early warning system along the Kokoda track with the arrival of Australian troop reinforcements.  The Japanese reached Ioribaiwa Ridge after which they were pushed back to the north coast. Kokoda was retaken on the 3 November 1942 and then the Japanese dug in at Gona and Buna until the 22nd January 1943. The Japanese forces supply lines were broken with the Allied control of the surrounding area. They then withdrew up the coast to the Salamaua/ Lae area. They moved by whatever means including walking, barges and submarines at night to conceal their movements and hiding during the day light.

Here the P.I.B. came into their own and had developed their skills into a guerrilla unit that was revered by the Japanese. They were renowned for their stealth in the jungle so much so they we called the “green shadows” by the Japanese. Papuan soldiers played an important role in this area with many acts of courage and bravery in defense of their homeland.

Sergeant John Ehava from the Mouiavi Village was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) when his patrol were attacked by an enemy party crossing the Kumusi River in February 1943. Another enemy party of 50 approached from a different direction and Ehava detached himself from the patrol and at great personal risk armed with a bren gun repulsed the attack personally killing 30 of the enemy. His outstanding courage and leadership inspired all around him.

Corporal Gabriel Ehava Karava was another who was awarded the Military Medal in February 1943 for his brave actions on the Opi River

The few Japanese soldiers interrogated during the war said that they were warned against armed Papuans and respected them for their ability to fade into and then appear from the jungle as if they were shadows. Other documents recovered refer to the green shadow soldiers as a ‘savage unit’ which were compliments indeed from the Japanese.

928 Papuan and New Guinean’s lost their lives while serving in the Pacific Island Regiments including the Papuan Infantry Battalion. One (1) Distinguished Service Order, three (3) were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) the second highest medal for bravery. Twelve (12) were awarded the Military Medal (MM) , two (2) George Cross’s  and 24 Loyal Service Medals for courage, leadership and bravery in the defence of their lands.

Rommi Awaki from Kokoda said “we are honoured to visit these men who died for the Papuan New Guinean freedoms and opportunities we have today”.

Owen Turner


Further reading /reference: GM Byrnes Green Shadows - a war history of  the Papuan Infantry battalion