Buna, Sanananda and Gona
We commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the Kokoda Campaign in 2017. While we value its significance, there was very little focus on the battles of Buna, Sanananda and Gona. Many Allied soldiers fought there in a bloodbath against stubborn Japanese defenders from November 1942 – January 1943, and Australia casualties totalled over 3000 troops at the end of all the fighting.
Visiting the beachheads
You may plan to visit Buna, Sanananda and Gona one day to see where the battles were fought or to trace the path of a loved one. And we’ll get you to see all three locations unless you have a reason to tour one area. You’ll get to the beachheads in a 4WD or by banana boat from Gona or Oro Bay. We cannot access all the villages by vehicle because the roads have deteriorated over the years and are almost impassable. Some sections are waterlogged and churned into a morass that can go up to waist height from constant use by vehicles. When you get there, you’ll be accommodated in a beautiful village guesthouse.
First Japanese landings
The Japanese first landed at Gona on 21st July 1942. Terrified locals witnessed the arrival of great transports escorted by warships. Thousands of troops disembarked with their equipment and began advancing inland. Three Anglican Church missionaries at Gona namely Reverend James Benson, nurse May Hayman and teacher Mavis Parkinson fled to safety. They met up with soldiers of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) and a downed American pilot but the group was later captured and killed by the invaders. The Reverend was said to have been found alive three years later. He kept a secret diary which tells of their ordeal at the hands of the Japanese. After Gona is the village of Sanananda.
The lovely Sanananda locals will welcome you when you arrive in their village. You’ll be taken on a guided tour of the Battle of Sanananda. The locals will also tell you about their oral history which says a lot about how they were affected by the fighting. Even though it’s not mandatory, everyone’s obliged to give the local historians tips to pay our gratitude and as a sign of good gesture.
The villagers faced many hardships during the war. Most fled to the hinterland and along the coast to get away from all the fighting. Furthermore, they had to live off the land because there was hardly enough food and water to survive. Allied troops later rescued and re-settled some of them back in their villages when fighting ceased.
You’ll also visit village war museums at Sanananda which contain a wide array of Australian, American, and Japanese war relics and artefacts. The local curators charge a small fee between K10.00 – K20.00 per person for the upkeep of the museum.
Beachheads and battle sites
After Sanananda is the village of Buna. You’ll appreciate why the Japanese chose the coastline as an ideal beachhead in WW2 as you travel down the coast from Sanananda. It provided a natural harbour with pockets of deep-water entrances and interior channels. This allowed for ships to move in, move out and anchor easily. Its 25-km stretch from Gona to Buna meant a large area for the uninterrupted landing of troops and manoeuvre space for projected operations ashore.
The Buna villagers will welcome you into their village like those in neighbouring Sanananda. Their village is situated literally on the battle site. It’s a vast battle site and stretches as far as Giropa Point and Cape Endaiadere to the south-east.
The Battle of Buna was one part of the Allied attacks on the Japanese-held beachheads. You’ll hear anecdotes and stories of personal bravery like that of Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel Raphael Oembari helping along PTE George “Dick” Whittington of the 2/10th Battalion. You’ll cross paths with war relics that litter the area during the tour, and see an American and Australian war monument which has the names of the units that fought at Buna.
A special place in Australian military history
The battles of Buna, Sanananda and Gona holds a very special place in Australian military history. The Allies were victorious against the Japanese but not without experiencing their share of tactical challenges and tragedies. We encourage you to tour the area because you’ll be amazed at how big the battle sites are, the locals are lovely, and it’s doing your bit in remembering and honouring those who fought there.