Walking in the footsteps of history

A contingent of junior officers and non-commissioned officers have discovered the World War 2 battlefields of Papua New Guinea provide fertile ground for learning.

CAPTIONCommander 1st (Australian) Division Major General Scott Winter with participants of Exercise Beach Heads 23 at one of the significant World War 2 sites in Papua New Guinea. Story and photos by Major Mark Vele. 

During Exercise Beach Heads 23, a contingent from the Headquarters 1st (Australian) Division and Forces Command participated in a battlefield study tour to PNG.

The activity included a tactical exercise without troops series at the site of World War 2 battles at Gona-Buna-Sanananda in Oro Province.

The exercise delivered professional learning through shared military history with PNG, developed individual professional mastery in the profession of arms and exposed individuals to the South-West Pacific region.

Captain Jarrod Keay, from the 7th Combat Service Support Battalion, said the exercise offered personnel a unique perspective of what officers and soldiers experienced during the war.

“Exercise Beach Heads provided us with an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the struggles of planning during World War 2, the key ones being a distinct lack of actionable intelligence and extreme time pressures,” Captain Keay said.

“This was incredibly eye-opening for many of us on the exercise and it was difficult to comprehend the tough decisions many commanders had to make during this war, though it definitely cemented the courage and tenacity of the Australian soldier during this time.”

The activity gave participants an appreciation of the conditions in which soldiers fought, the enormous constraints commanders faced in the planning and execution of tasks, and the significant loss of life suffered by the Australian, US and Japanese forces over the campaign.

The trip also included locals welcoming back the Commander of Headquarters 1st (Australian) Division, Major General Scott Winter, who planted a tree with community members to commemorate his visit in 2022 when he became the first General to walk the battlefields in over 80 years.

Commander 3rd Brigade Brigadier David McCammon attended the activity while visiting soldiers from his brigade on exercise in the country.

The contingent enjoyed many other community engagements during the trip, enhancing  participants’ understanding of PNG culture and people.

Exercise Beach Heads highlighted the significance of the battles at Gona, Buna and Sanananda in the allied forces’ defence of the territory of Papua and New Guinea during World War 2, and the enduring partnership between our two countries, as part of the wider Pacific family.

CAPTION: Commander 1st (Australian) Division Major General Scott Winter with participants of Exercise Beach Heads 23 at one of the significant World War 2 sites in Papua New Guinea.





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2 thoughts on “Walking in the footsteps of history

  • 05/11/2023 at 11:17 am

    The soldiers are standing on one (1) of 3 M3 Stuart tanks from the 2/6 Armored Regiment used to attack the Japanese Sanananda Track junction defense’s on the 12 January 1943, all 3 were destroyed. This is M3 Stuart Tank hull number 2565 and now located at Buna. It was more overgrown when I was there in March 2023 as I was the first one to visit since the lockdowns

  • 04/11/2023 at 9:55 pm

    As a daughter of a WW2 soldier (my dad) he served all over PNG and did 6 trips of Kokoda Trail.
    It was hell, particularly for boys up top with no rations, ammo, wrong clothes for conditions and dysentery etc.
    I strongly believe that all Austrslian Soldiers should make it compulsory for them to hike these trails and to feel a little of what it was like. I also believe that Anzac Cove should also be added. It will then install what it truly means to be a soldier and an Australian.
    Good luck and thankyou for doing what you are doing.
    Sometimes I feel the modern intake of Aussie soldier doesn’t have the same fibre or mental makeup, maturity and show of common sense and grit that my dad and his mates had in WW2 and Korea.
    I think if we addressed this issue their would be less suicides.


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