During 1942, the Japanese established major bases on the north coast of New Guinea, in the large town of Lae, and in Salamaua, a small administrative town and port, 35 kilometres (22 mi) to the south. Salamaua was a staging post for attacks on Port Moresby, such as the Kokoda Track campaign. When the attacks failed, the Japanese turned the port into a major supply base.
Logistical limitations meant that the Salamaua-Lae area could garrison only 10,000 Japanese personnel: 2,500 seamen and 7,500 soldiers. The defences were centred on the Okabe Detachment, a brigade-sized force from the 51st Division under Maj. Gen. Toru Okabe.
In January 1943, the Okabe Detachment was defeated in an attack on the Australian base of Wau, about 40 kilometres (25 mi) away. Allied commanders turned their attention to Salamaua, which could be attacked by troops flown into Wau. This also diverted attention from Lae, which was a major objective of Operation Cartwheel, the Allied grand strategy for the South Pacific. It was decided that the Japanese would be pursued towards Salamaua by the Australian 3rd Division, which had been formed at Wau, under the command of Maj. Gen. Stanley Savige.
Read more about this topic: Salamaua–Lae Campaign
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