On this day in 1943, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s 503rd Parachute Regiment land and occupy Nazdab, just east of Lae, a port city in northeastern Papua New Guinea, situating them perfectly for future operations on the islands.
New Guinea had been occupied by the Japanese since March 1942. Raids by Allied forces early on were met with tremendous ferocity, and they were often beaten back by the Japanese occupiers. Much of the Allied response was led by forces from Australia, as they were most threatened by the presence of the Japanese in that sphere.
The tide began to turn in December 1942, as the Australians recaptured Buna—but despite numerical superiority, the Japanese continued to hang on, fighting to keep every square mile they had captured. Many Japanese committed suicide, swimming out to sea, rather than be taken prisoner. In January 1943, the Americans joined the Aussies in assaults on Sanananda, which resulted in huge losses for the Japanese—7,000 killed—and the first land defeat of the war. As Japanese reinforcements raced for the next Allied targets, Lae and Salamauam, in March, 137 American bombers destroyed the Japanese transport vessels, drowning 3,500 Japanese, as well as their much-needed fuel and spare parts.
On September 8, almost 2,000 American and Australian Airborne Division parachutists landed and seized Nazdab, which held a valuable airfield. The Allies quickly established a functioning airstrip and prepared to take the port city of Lae, one more step in MacArthur’s strategy to recapture New Guinea and the Solomons—and eventually go back for the Philippines.