Shaggy Ridge

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Apr 11, 2005
South East Queensland
Here's a good outline to those unfamiliar with this campaign fought over some brutal terrain..

Shaggy Ridge is a six and a half kilometre long razor-backed ridge that is the highest feature in the Finisterre Mountains in north-eastern New Guinea. The ridge rises between the valleys of the Mene and Faria Rivers and ends at Kankiryo Saddle - a bridge of land separating the Faria Vallyey from the Mindjim River Valley. In 1943 Shaggy Ridge was the site of main Japanese defensive position blocking access from the Ramu Valley to the track and road network that joined it with the north coast. Operations by the 7th Australian Division in September and October 1943 and caused the Japanese the withdraw from the Ramu Valley and the lower features of the Finsterres and consolidate their defences around Shaggy Ridge. The ridge was named after Captain Robert "Shaggy Bob" Clampett of the 2/27th Battalion whose company was the first to reconnoitre its approaches.

Initially, orders from II Australian Corps for 7th Division to limit its operations to a scale that could be maintained by the limited supplies available prevented action being taken to capture Shaggy Ridge, but by late December sufficient supplies were available to conduct a limited operation to secure a foothold on the southern end of the ridge around a knoll called the Pimple. B Company of the 2/16th Battalion attacked just after 9am, following an intensive aerial and artillery bombardment of the Japanese positions. Clambering up the precipitous slopes, still supported by artillery fire, the Australians quickly captured the Pimple and pushed on for another 100 metres to capture the next knoll along the ridge. B Company was subsequently relieved by D Company, which renewed the attack the next day and captured the next two knolls along the ridge, the last being named McCaughey's Knoll after the commander of the leading platoon. The Japanese counter-attacked that afternoon but were beaten off and thereafter were content to shell the Australian's newly won position with a mountain gun.

The next major assault along Shaggy Ridge - codenamed Operation Cutthroat - would be launched by the 18th Brigade with the aim of capturing the entire feature, including Kankiryo Saddle. The plan involved the brigade's three battalions converging on the saddle from three different directions. The 2/12th would advance from Canning's Saddle, east of Shaggy Ridge, and attack Kankiryo Saddle via two well-defended knolls on the northern end of Shaggy Ridge known as Prothero 1 and 2; the 2/9th would attack northwards along Shaggy Ridge itself; and the 2/10th would advance along Faria Ridge, which lay to the east of ShaggyRidge and joined it at Kankiryo Saddle. All three battalions would be supported by artillery and Allied aircraft.

The 2/10th and 2/12th Battalions commenced their approach marches on 19 January; the 2/12th in particular had a great deal of precipitous country to traverse and was not scheduled to attack for another two days. On the 20th the 2/10th attacked Japanese positions on Cam's Saddle in order to fight their way onto Faria Ridge but were held up by stubbourn Japanese resistance. The operation began in earnest the next morning with the 2/12th clambering up the steep slopes below Prothero 1 and A Company of the 2/9th doing the same on the eastern side of Green Snipe's Pimple, the highest point on both McCaughey's Knoll and Shaggy Ridge. The unexpected direction of these attacks, up slopes the Japanese obviously regarded as almost impassable, allowed the Australians to quickly establish a foothold on both features and they were secured by the end of the day. Their new occupants, however, had to withstand several counter-attacks and persistent and accurate artillery bombardment. The 2/10th's own artillery support had helped it to force its way onto Faria Ridge earlier in the day and by nightfall it had advanced to within a kilometre and a half of Kankiryo Saddle. 22 January resulted in another day of hard fighting. The 2/12th Battalion pushed south along Shaggy Ridge to capture Prothero 2 while the 2/9th pushed north to take the rest of MacCaughey's Knoll. As the two battalions readied themselves to meet the inevitable nightime counter-attacks, less than a kilometre separated them. Next morning patrols encountered little opposition and by midday the 2/12th and 2/9th had linked up; all of Shaggy Ridge was in Australian hands. The 2/10th had attacked both north and south along Faria Ridge on 22 January and continued to do so on the 23rd. In the north it was held by another strong Japanese position that was not occupied until late on the afternoon of 24 January.

By this time, the remaining Japanese stronghold in the area was atop a knoll north east of Kankiryo Saddle known as Crater Hill. It was the former Japanese Regimental Headquarters and the defences were well-site and constructed. It was decided that rather than attack this position the 18th Brigade would contain it with patrols and then pound it with bombs and artillery to inflict sufficient casualties that a final assault could be conducted at minimal cost. This siege lasted until 1 February when a company from each opf the 2/9th and 2/10th Battalions advanced up Crater Hill to find it devastated and unoccupied.

The capture of Shaggy Ridge cost the 18th Brigade 46 killed and 147 wounded and inflicted over 500 casualties on the Japanese, including 244 confirmed deaths. It cleared the way for an advance across the Finsterres to the northern New Guinea coast to link up with the Australian forces advancing from the east and thus complete the capture of the Huon Peninsula.
Shaggy Ridge Operations: Australian War Memorial
And some pictures with hopefully highlight the difficult terrain these blokes had to fight over. Each and every one a hero in my books...

all photos credited to The Australian War Memorial Australian War Memorial


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That ridge must've been hell. Perfectly designed for the defense, I can't even begin to imagine what it took to take that position! :salute:
Thank guys. Here an excellent first hand account of the battle from an Aussie digger.
Assault on Shaggy Ridge – 1944 by QX6905

You wind up the tracks leading above the Faria River. The twenty-fives are pounding, and high in the air there's the stutter of strafing planes. Up and up towards the clouds you trudge until you come to the foot of Shaggy Ridge. Below, the Ramu Valley is spread like a terrain study in a divisional battle-room; above are the saw-toothed peaks on which the artillery and planes are registering.

You crawl along zig-zag paths cut into the sides of incredible mountains. You break into the eternally weeping jungle where lichen and moss hang from the trees like a woman's hair. You climb and climb and . . . till, suddenly, you are at the top and ahead is the jagged finger of The Pimple stabbing the sky.

This is the field of battle. Forward of you is the Command Post and beyond that only No Man's Land.

For days on end men have lain in shallow dugouts listening to, but not seeing bombs dropping 200 yards ahead. Occasional mortar-shells have come their way, and at night shells crashing from a Japanese mountain-gun. On 27th December 1943 another infantry company had taken the lip of Shaggy Ridge and The Pimple. Now the battalion of Oueenslanders has come in and the day of the advance to Kankiryo Saddle is almost here.

You settle in with your company on the razorback leading to the two forward pimples. The ridge falls away in sheer declivities and the top is, in places, no more than a few inches wide. The forward platoon holds a sand-bagged sniper's post and beyond that the Japs hold Intermediate Pimple and Green Sniper Pimple. There is no way of advance along the top. Men can move only in single file where the path is so narrow. You must lie under the drizzling sky and the thin whine of shells, cursing the enemy and finding bitter joy in the dull detonations you can hear.

And then – the morning of 21st January 1944. The time of waiting has been so long . . . yet in retrospect you can see that the days have flown. Tonight – tonight some of us will be dead; some will be carried down on stretchers by natives who call them "two big pella poles two lik lik"; some will be . . . missing, they call it. It's an evil word. You hadn't thought that before, but you see it now.

Yesterday the move along the right flank had begun. You'd heard the firing thousands of feet below you, and wondered how that battalion was going. Today it's your turn; tomorrow the last battalion of the brigade climbs the mountain from the left flank to join you where you'll have won through to Prothero.

Now you've had your conference and instructions. You're crouched near the white target which marks the area to be bombed. You've clambered along the side of the ridge and high above you are the heights to be scaled – and the Japs.

Ten o'clock . . . there's a whine in the sky and the dive bombers, right on time, appear above the river. A Boomerang peels off, and, as though drawn on a string, makes for Green Sniper Pimple, leading the Kittyhawks in. They follow . . . and the ridge rings with the crash of bombs. Gouts of flame and rising smoke mark the fall: distantly you hear a scream as a Jap gets his.

The last bomber comes over and you watch it. He's making straight for you . . . you go flat . . . and detachedly you think, "This is going to be fun." The black cylinder drops, drops . . . you bury your head and there's a blast of concussion and sound that fills the world right behind you. That was close – you're glad there are no more bombs to be dropped.

And then you advance. You wouldn't expect the Nips to have much fight in them after the pounding they've just received. But they've got it all right. Guns break into red laughter and slugs churn around you. You've got to climb; climb where there are no holds and the slopes fall down like a leaning wall. You're flat – you're upright – you're slipping. Your chest burns with the pain of effort and you fight for gulps of air. The climbing is worse than the firing. You don't care about the bullets much. You only want to reach the peak where you can lie and rest. . . .

Below you a man is killed. His hat leaps into the air, he drops his rifle and rolls over and over, down and down towards the river until he comes to rest on a thin track barely visible. A stretcher-bearer clambers down to him, hatless, too, in the excitement of the assault. There is no aid for the sprawling man.

Ahead you see another man fall, clutching a shattered arm. You shut your mind tight against these sights. You daren't think in battle.

Up, up, hand over hand. The crest is immediately above you now, and to your right and your left you can see the holes from which comes the Japanese cross-fire. There is a small cliff, also on the right, which will give you some protection. You scurry to it and huddle for a minute. A grenade rolls toward you. . . . You cower away from it and the burst, quaintly, seems as loud as the bomb which landed near you before.

You start to scrabble up the cliff. You reach the top . . . and, as you tense yourself for the levering over the rim, a burst of fire chews the earth within inches of your hands. Panic-stricken, you drop. And the crash as you hit the base knocks the wind from you. You've dropped at least 20 feet . . . and you lie while your body is a welter of pain.

You haven't seen a Jap yet, and you haven't fired a shot. There is only the momentary expectation of another grenade or another burst stitching you into oblivion. Beside you a cicada sings in the kunai and above you the firing continues.

You have a clear view of Intermediate Pimple from where you lie. The head of an Australian appears above it . . . the man throws a grenade . . . and a foxhole explodes in a blur of smoke. He appears again . . . another grenade is thrown . . . Brens chatter . . . and within a moment our guns are holding the position. You feel like cheering. Only Eric and his grenades have made the summit possible.

With the covering fire from those Brens you commence to climb again. Others are doing the same beside you, and you are able to inch your way up the side of Green Sniper Pimple. There is no firing from the Japs as you advance, but you are wary just the same. You've seen them play this trick before.

You reach the crest and dig in, not showing your head over the top. You hold one side of the Pimple and the Japs the other. Behind you from Intermediate Pimple you are receiving protection from an enemy charge. They do charge once without success. . . .

Thirty feet from the top you lie, and the grenades commence to rain as the Japs, from the shelter of the lip of the hill, hurl them at you. The mountain guns open a barrage against which the Brens can do nothing. This is hell. . . . Shrapnel is whining around you and there is nowhere you can go for cover. Go over the ridge and you're a sitting shot for snipers in the trees. You must lie . . . and lie . . . and wait . . . and wait. Wait for the caress of agony from flying steel. One by one men are being wounded around you. Those who can, walk back through the barrage; others, too badly wounded to move, must remain. You watch stretcher-bearers hauling wounded up the cliffs in strait-jackets along the terrain you have passed. There never was country such as this.

Back on Intermediate Pimple the company-commander is killed. A field-telephone line has been laid and while he is talking to an officer at the rear a shell bursts on the tree beside him. He, too, rolls away down the side of the mountain.

And so, until the sun clambers from the heights of the sky, the battle continues. In late afternoon the barrage lifts and you can raise your head. You can think sanely and draw back to you the coherence of thought.

There are some things you don't forget on days like this. Such things as Aubrey struggling forward to the advanced sections from the cookhouse at the rear with a four-gallon dixie of hot black tea in each hand; the portable radio and the song of Vera Lynn before you went into action; the long second of waiting for the grenade to burst beside you.

You know, too, on a day like this, when the mind has a moment of clear perception, the enduring nobility of man. The bitterness of pride in battle and manhood. Death seems so near; yet you realize how hard a man is to kill. You've seen your cobbers take bad wounds with a wry grin. And over yonder you've heard Japs squeal when they were hit like pigs in the slaughtering pen. Japs always squeal like animals when they're hit. . . .

Shaggy Ridge is almost won and ahead lies Kankiryo Saddle and the enemy's last stand on Crater Hill. You don't know these are coming. This is today and you know only what the battle for Shaggy Ridge has been. . . .

That night you sleep where the Japs have slept, and the hours of dark are quiet. In the morning the hill is clear . . . the enemy has left the scene in panic. The day is bright and, although you can hear the sound of another battalion assaulting Prothero, there are only occasional snipers to bother you. A Bren tries to figure out where one is strapped in a tree . . . and couple of men are shot as they evacuate the dead up steps cut in the side of the mountain by the pioneer platoon. But it is a reasonably quiet day. . . .

Only – there are men lying dead on the slopes who have made possible the quietness of this day. They were your mates; men who had lived and laughed by you; and men who had died by you. You'll remember them; you'll remember everything that happened this day. . . .

You'll never forget Shaggy Ridge.
Shaggy Ridge; a famous fight, high in the mountains

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