The turquoise waters of Papua New Guinea couldn’t have masked the grim reality that awaited the green American soldiers crammed into landing crafts on November 16th, 1942.

The Battle of Buna-Gona was a major joint operation in the Pacific Theater of World War II. While American forces played a significant role, it wasn’t solely their offensive. They fought alongside their Australian allies against a tenacious Japanese defense.

Underestimating the Green Monster

The planning phase for Buna-Gona was a baptism by fire for the inexperienced American command led by General Robert Eichelberger.

Relying heavily on Australian intelligence, they significantly underestimated the Japanese strength. They envisioned a lightly defended outpost, unaware of the fanatical tenacity the Imperial Army under Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake would display.

American training, geared towards European warfare, didn’t prepare them for the suffocating jungle.

The dense canopy blocked air support, making artillery and close air support nearly useless.

The spongy earth swallowed trenches whole, turning defensive positions into muddy deathtraps.

Battle of Buna: Plan of Attack, November 16th, 1942. (Image source: US Army WWII)

D-Day in the Jungle

The initial landings on both Buna and Gona beaches were met with surprisingly light resistance, fueling a dangerous sense of optimism.