THE Japanese occupied the Admiralty Islands in April 1942. The small AIF garrison under the command of Lieutenant Palmer had taken the advice of the local kiap, DH Vertigan, and hidden a small schooner in a creek on the south side of Manus Island in case of this eventuality.
When the coast watcher on one of the Ninigo Islands to the west alerted them to the approaching Japanese Palmer’s men set booby traps at the likely landing places and burnt all the houses and destroyed anything else of use to the Japanese.
As the Japanese landed, the men escaped south and boarded their schooner. As darkness fell they set sail for Bogadjim, south of Madang. From there they walked to Bena Bena, near Goroka, and were flown to Port Moresby.
On 29 February 1944, JK McCarthy and his Papua New Guinean scouts led the Americans ashore in Hyane Harbour on Los Negros to take the airfield at Momote. Local legend still has it that McCarthy the kiap saved Manus Island.
The Japanese put up a stiff resistance and hundreds of Americans were killed. It took six weeks to wrinkle out all the pockets of Japanese who were determined to fight to the end. Many thousands died and few survived as prisoners.
The area around Hyane Harbour and Momote, where the fiercest fighting took place, is now quiet and serene. The only signs of the fighting are the rusting remains of landing craft and downed aeroplanes littering the shoreline. Today they are the homes of reef fish.
It is hard to believe that nearly one million American troops were once stationed there getting ready for the advance on the Philippines. All the airfields, except Momote, are now overgrown and the miles of coronus roads that made up the main camp have largely disappeared into the jungle.
Apart from the rusting hulks along the harbour shore the only other reminder of the war are two memorials hidden in the trees north of Momote Airport.
The American memorial (above) is the biggest. The local villagers keep the jungle at bay but the old concrete structure is cracked and in poor repair. The brass plaque is long gone; stolen by metal collectors and probably melted down.
The lettering made up on the arms of the memorial with 50 calibre shells are mostly still there but some of the larger anti-aircraft shells on the corners have been chipped out of the concrete and stolen. It is a sad sight. The ghosts of those dead American soldiers must be grieving.
The Japanese memorial (left) is directly opposite on the other side of the narrow neck of land, less than a hundred metres away and at the end of a muddy track. The memorial was erected in 1955 and marks the spot where the bodies of Japanese dead were retrieved for repatriation back to Japan.
The memorial is in better condition than the American one. The local villagers also keep the area around it cleared. The memorial stone is still intact and the dedication, in English and Japanese, is quite readable.
Quite a few Australians were also killed there during 1944, including members of the RAAF. Twelve local people died in the pre-invasion bombing. There are no memorials to the Australians or the villagers. The people on Manus say that there is now only one old man left who remembers the war years.