Operation Providence, July 1942

Operation Providence was an Allied plan to land troops at Buna, on the northern coast of Papua, in order to allow for the construction of an airfield that could be used against the Japanese positions at Lae and Salamaua.

On 10-11 July 1942 a small part of American and Australian officers visited Buna in a Catalina flying boat. They decided that the area around Dobodura, fifteen miles south of Buna, was the best site for a large airfield, and recommended the construction of a 7,000 feet long landing field.

The plan to occupy Buna was developed on 13-15 July, and was named Operation Providence. The operation was to be carried out by Buna Force, under the command of Brigadier General Robert H. Van Volkenburgh. His job would be to get the troops to Buna, where he would be replaced by an Australian brigadier. Their task would be to build an airfield capable of supporting two fighter squadrons, which would later be expanded to take a third fighter squadron and two heavy bomber squadrons.

Map showing Kokoda Trail, Papua
Map showing
Kokoda Trail, Papua

Buna Force was to move in four echelons or serials. The first, containing four companies of Australian infantry and the first American engineers, would leave Port Moresby eleven days before the landings were due, and reach Buna over the Kokoda Trail.

The second echelon would arrive at Buna by sea on D-Day, and would include more engineers, anti-aircraft troops and specialists. Serial three would arrive on the next day, and would contain an Australian infantry battalion, radar equipment and part of the ground elements of the two fighter squadrons. Finally, on D-Day plus 14 the last serial would arrive, bringing more engineers and the remaining ground element from the fighter squadrons.

D Day was set for the period of 10-12 August, and the first echelon was to leave Port Moresby on 31 July 1942. This lack of urgency would coast the Allies dear. The Japanese also Buna, in their case to use as a base for an attack across the Kokoda Trail towards Port Moresby, and on the night of 21-22 July 1,800 Japanese soldiers, supported by 100 naval labourers and 1,200 natives of Rabaul, landed close to Buna. Operation Providence had to be abandoned, and instead the Allies were forced to fight a defensive battle along the Kokoda Trail

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 November 2008), Operation Providence, July 1942 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/operation_providence.html

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