General Edmund F. Herring (1893-1982) was an Australian general who had command of all front line American and Australian troops on New Guinea during the successful Allied offensive in Papua in the last quarter of 1942.
In 1941-42 Herring was the commander of the Australian 6th Division. He was then promoted to become General Officer Commanding, Northern Territory Forces, facing the rapidly advancing Japanese. Herring’s next move was to New Guinea. The Japanese had landed on the north coast of Papua on 21-22 July, and begun and advance across the Kokoda Trail that by mid September saw them within thirty miles of the crucial Allied base at Port Moresby, on the southern coast of New Guinea. Since 18 August 1942 the troops on New Guinea had been under the command of General Sydney Rowell, but General MacArthur, the overall Allied commander-in-chief in the South West Pacific Area, was not happy with the situation on New Guinea. General Blamey, the commander of the Australian army, was sent to Port Moresby to discuss the situation.
On 23 September General Blamey arrived at Port Moresby, and after a blazing row with Rowell took personal command of New Guinea Force. General Rowell was removed from command, and General Herring was appointed as the commander of Advance New Guinea Force. This gave him overall command of all Australian and American troops involved in the counterattack along the Kokoda Trail, and then in the battles to clear the Japanese out of Buna, Gona and Sanananda.
Herring took over at the perfect moment. The Japanese had already begun to pull men back across the Owen Stanley Mountains, and when the Australian attack began on 26 September it made much quicker progress than had been expected. This slowed down in October, when the Japanese made a stand on the far side of the mountains, but on 2 November the Australians liberated Kokoda.
During this period General MacArthur had been planning for the assault on Buna, Gona and Sanananda. The command structure for these assaults was perhaps rather over-generous. MacArthur himself moved to Port Moresby, where he joined General Blamey. Herring had command of the forces at the front, with a series of Australian and American generals commanding the individual battles. Herring’s biggest achievement was to maintain civil relations with both the American and Australian commanders, especially after the early assaults on the Japanese beachhead became bogged down.
Eventually all three Japanese beachheads fell – Gona on 9 December, Buna on 2 January 1943 and Sanananda on 22 January. After the fall of Buna both MacArthur and Blamey returned to Australia, and so on 13 January Herring moved back to Port Moresby, as the new command of New Guinea Force, while the American General Eichelberger, who had commanded the attack on Buna, replaced him as command of Advance New Guinea Force.
Herring remained commander of New Guinea Force until 20 August 1943, when Blamey returned to the front. Herring then moved on to command the 1st Australian Corps, and led that unit in the fighting at Lea and in the Markham Valley, and in the mopping up operations in New Guinea. In March 1944 Herring was replaced by General Leslie Morshead, ending his combat career.