Shaggy Ridge. 19-31 January 1944
||After sixty-five days, the Japanese had been
thoroughly defeated in the Finschafen area and what was left of
their forces retreated northward.
While the 9th Division was
pursuing the Japanese along the coast, the 7th Division was, on
the other side of the Finisterre Range, preparing for an assault
on Shaggy Ridge which would open the way to the sea and join up
with the coastal drive at Bogadjim.
Rising sharply against the
skyline, Shaggy Ridge was a knife-edged mountain range
broken by three conical outcrops.
Of these, the most
important tactically was known as The Pimple and it was a
rocky pinnacle sprouting perpendicularly from the main
Strong posts and foxholes made
it a formidable fortress within which two other conical outcrops,
a few hundred yards away, became known as Intermediate Snipers'
Pimple and Green Snipers' Pimple.
On the morning of 27 December 1943 before the infantry attack, about
3500 25 pounder shells were fired at Shaggy Ridge. A squadron of
Australian Boomerangs and American manned Kittyhawks bombed and strafed
every Japanese strong post. Men of the 2/16th Battalion (21st Brigade)
began the ascent and crawled over loose shale along a track so narrow that
it afforded barely enough room for two men to move abreast. The Japanese
was fought hand to hand and from dug-out to dugout. The Australian attack
was halted near the summit of The Pimple where a strong Japanese pillbox
barred their approach. The next day the pillbox was blasted by high
explosives supplied by the engineers and by the morning of 28 December the
Japanese had been thrust from The Pimple but still held the northern half
of Shaggy Ridge. In early January 1944, the 15th and 18th Brigades
relieved the 21st and 25th Brigades. Following air and artillery support
the 18th Brigade attacked on the morning of 20 January. The 2/12th
Battalion moved up the steep ridge to assault Prothero I and, after
close-range grenade duels, the 2/9th Battalion captured Green Snipers'
Pimple. Fighting continued all night on the thickly wooded slopes and
several counter-attacks failed to budge the 2/9th Battalion. The Japanese
made a desperate attempt to escape from Shaggy Ridge but the escape bid
failed in face of the steady fire of the dug-in Australians.
The capture of Shaggy Ridge completely eliminated Japanese domination
of the Ramu Valley. The link up of Australian troops with American troops
at Saidor on 10 February 1944 marked the end of the five month Huon
Peninsula campaign. With the Huon Peninsula firmly in Australian hands the
Americans began to assume an increasing role in the fighting in New
Guinea. The 7th and 9th Divisions were withdrawn to Australia where after a
well deserved rest they began preparations for the final campaigns in
- Read the whole story in the
book "On Shaggy Ridge" by Phillip Bradley.
"The Australian 7th Division in the Ramu Valley from
Kaiapit to the Finisterres"
Oxford University Press
on Shaggy Ridge
|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
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
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
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
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.
Captain Robert (Shaggy Bob) Clampett
Captain Robert (Shaggy Bob), born 1920, served in the Middle East,
Australia and New Guinea with the 2/27th Battalion in the period
December 1940 to December 1945.
wrote extensively to his family every two weeks or so. In these letters
he apparently details many daily military and training routines,
recreations and sports, the weather and the changes it dictated to their
lives, the importance he attached to receiving mail from his family and
friends, his personal finances, information on others in his battalion
and other soldiers known to his family. He appears to be especially
aware of the role of the censor and sensitivities of his family
receiving details of his activities.
commanding officer of `A' Company, 2/27th Battalion, Captain Clampett
played a leading role in the defence of Shaggy Ridge (so named because
of Clampett's nickname) in the Ramu Valley campaign in October 1943.