Milne Bay
Location of Milne Bay
LocationMilne Bay Province
Coordinates10°22′00″S 150°30′00″E / 10.3666667°S 150.5°E / -10.3666667; 150.5
Ocean/sea sourcesSolomon Sea
Basin countriesPapua New Guinea
Max. length35 km (22 mi)
Max. width15 km (9.3 mi)
Surface area202.7 square miles (525 km2)

Milne Bay is a large bay in Milne Bay Province, south-eastern Papua New Guinea. More than 35 kilometres (22 miles) long and over 15 kilometres (9 miles) wide, Milne Bay is a sheltered deep-water harbor accessible via Ward Hunt Strait. It is surrounded by the heavily wooded Stirling Range to the north and south, and on the northern shore, a narrow coastal strip, soggy with sago and mangrove swamps.[1] The bay is named after Sir Alexander Milne.



Australian troops at Milne Bay, 1 October 1942

During World War II, the area was the site of the Battle of Milne Bay in 1942 and by late 1943 it became the major support base for the New Guinea campaign through the development of Finschhafen as an advanced base after that area was secured in the Huon Peninsula campaign. By January 1944 about 140 vessels were in harbor due to congestion at the facilities. Congestion was relieved by opening of a port at Finschhafen and extensive improvements at Milne Bay.[5] Malaria was a major problem in New Guinea and Milne Bay was particularly hard hit with incidents of the disease hitting at a rate of 4,000 cases per 1,000 troops per year and estimated 12,000 man-days a month lost time.[6]

Hazardous Flying Terrain

PNG in general and Milne Bay in particular, even today, can present real challenges to pilots[7] whenever the low, dense cloud formations roll in from over the Owen Stanley Range of Mountains (and then across the Stirling Range, which flanks Milne Bay at the E/SE tail-end of PNG) .[8]

There were three planes known to be ditched off Basilisk Island (at the mouth of Milne Bay) in 1943, a P-38H Lightning, a P-38F Lightning, and a B-24D Liberator "The Leila Belle" (MIA).[9] If the weather began to "close in" - as it can do very quickly in the Milne Bay area, especially in the afternoon - WWII pilots could find themselves experiencing very poor visibility and therefore having progressively limited choices as to how to get back to base.[10] This was all the more so because of the absence of radar and because their air strip was nestled at the foot of a 'cradle' of cloud covered mountains, with those same mountains rising up fairly steeply from near to the water's edge, well down along the perimeters of the bay. Getting into difficulties during combat and/or with mechanical problems including low fuel, even without bad weather, often meant that the steep and rugged terrain greatly restricted the pilots' options in terms of making successful emergency landings - often forcing them to ditch in the water.[11]

These issues also affected smaller, more manoeuvrable single engine aircraft. Due to these flying conditions at and around Milne Bay (including Goodenough Island)[12] a certain combination of bad weather and the sheer height of the mountains so close to the water could easily mean experiencing very poor visibility in very hazardous terrain, such that there were therefore also a considerable number of single seat/ single engine Allied fighter aircraft forced to ditch in the water. This was very much the case throughout both 1942 and 1943[13] in the general vicinity of that cluster of islands - including Basilisk, Sideia, and Populai Islands - which are all easily within visibility range from each other, at the relevant vantage points, and are located immediately off the tip of the southern arm of Milne Bay.

On one occasion during the Battle of Milne Bay bad weather & low fuel had prevented a 75 Squadron P-40 Kittyhawk pilot, Flying Officer Alan Whetters,[14][15] from sighting the enemy late in the day on 28 August 1942. It also meant that his attempt to return to base was thwarted. As he approached the N.W. corner of Sideia island, he spotted a jetty barely visible just before complete darkness had set in. He decided to ditch the aircraft over a reef and beside the jetty, to then seek help. The pilot was rescued by locals in a dinghy, who delivered him to a local Catholic Mission.

The experience of another RAAF 75 Squadron P-40 Kittyhawk pilot (Norman Houghton) was not dissimilar - despite somewhat better weather - and it was recorded in the official report of the incident[16] he made to squadron authorities, upon his return to his base at Gurney Strip at the western end of the bay, which is now Gurney Airport serving Alotua and the Milne Bay Province. His P-40 Kittyhawk, A29-77, was written off after ditching in the water (also over a reef) between Sideia Island and Populai Island which are both in the Gotai ward of Milne Bay Province, and adjacent to Basilisk Island.[17] This was on the occasion of the biggest air raid so far on their airfield complex, and on the associated Allied shipping anchored in this very large natural harbour, surrounded on three sides by mountains.[18]

"At about 1250 hours on 14 April 1943 a flight of 5 aircraft in which my position was no.3, was flying EAST at about 25,000 feet towards Samarai. I observed a close formation of enemy bombers (approximately 30) at one o'clock on the same level and at a fair distance. Its escort consisted of two elements, one of seven fighters above and behind bombers, the other seven - eight fighters about two miles NORTH of the bombers, and 2000 feet above them. The formation of fighters appeared to be: 'loose line astern'. I followed Flt/Lt Dick Holt's section in, on a beam attack on the bombers and noticed enemy fighters above bombers coming down. I attempted to turn to the attack but made the turn too tight at 150 miles per hour. The aircraft flicked and spun inadvertently and recovery was made by cutting the throttle; the aircraft then spun normally and I recovered in a dive at over 400 miles per hour. As the motor was throwing oil and flame and would not run properly, I force-landed on a reef on the S.E. point of Sideia Island near the village of Gotai."

Pilot Officer Houghton was uninjured[19] and was picked up by locals in a dinghy about 150 metres from shore. He was then taken by Lakatoi and then on foot to Kana-Kopa where he was picked up by Air-sea Rescue launch. He returned to his unit late in the day on April 15, 1943.

21st Century

The HMPNGS Seeadler sank a poacher in 2016.

The HMPNGS Seeadler fired upon a Vietnamese fishing vessel on December 23, 2016.[20] Her captain died, and the poacher sank.

See also



  1. ^ James, Karl. "General Clowes of Milne Bay". Retrieved 4 September 2012.
  2. ^ Royal Geographical Society. Supplementary Papers. 1886. p 270
  3. ^ Hilder, Brett (1980). The voyage of Torres : the discovery of the southern coastline of New Guinea and Torres Strait by Captain Luis Baéz de Torres in 1606. Hong Kong: University of Queensland Press.
  4. ^ Hydrographic Map of Papua or New Guinea Sheet 7, Southeast coast, Orangerie Bay to Bramble Haven, 1852-1888
  5. ^ Leighton, Coakley & 1955-68, pp. 450—451, v.2.
  6. ^ Condon-Rall 1998, p. 137.
  7. ^ Smartraveller, Papua New Guinea, Australian Govt. Travel Advice on PNG, see 'Summary' Point 11,
  8. ^ Winged Ghosts, (documentary about salvaging WWII aircraft in PNG & esp. from Milne Bay) - Beyond Productions, 1992
  9. ^ Basilisk Island Pacific Wrecks
  10. ^ Song of the Beauforts (RAAF Air Power Development Centre/ Office of Air Force History, 2004, ISBN 978-1-920-80024-6) by Colin M King, Pp.69 & 70
  11. ^ Song of the Beauforts (RAAF Air Power Development Centre/ Office of Air Force History, 2004, ISBN 978-1-920-80024-6) by Colin M King, P.49
  12. ^ Australian War Memorial (Transcript of) Interview with Arthur Tucker (1989), Kittyhawk Pilot in the critical battles of Moresby and Milne Bay 1942, Part 6: at running time 19.00 min. Retrieved 5/5/2019,
  13. ^ Greg McGregor Recalls Struggle that Helped Turn a War, The Herald Sun (online), 6 September 2017, 2nd page of article. Retrieved 12/10/2018,
  14. ^ The Decisive Factor: 75 & 76 Squadrons RAAF - Port Moresby and Milne Bay 1942, (Banner Books 1991) by David Wilson, P.141
  15. ^ Alan Whetters' Ditching of A29 110, Pacific Wrecks,
  16. ^ Confirmatory Memorandum/ Pilot's Report, No. 000010, National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28/11/2018
  17. ^ (Norman Houghton's) Ditching of A29 77, Pacific Wrecks, 6th para.,
  18. ^ Seek and Strike: 75 Squadron RAAF, 1942-2002 (Banner Books 2002) by David Wilson, P.92
  19. ^ Norman Houghton's Ditching of A29 77, ADF Serials (listing half way down page)
  20. ^ Clifford Faiparik (2017-01-04). "Ship skipper dies in clash". The National. Retrieved 2018-07-10. The captain of a Vietnamese fishing vessel was allegedly killed and a crew member sustained injuries after PNG Defence Force patrol boat fired at the vessel for illegally harvesting beche de mers (sea cucumbers) in Milne Bay waters, police say.


  • Condon-Rall, Mary Ellen; Cowdrey, Albert E. (1998). The Technical Services—The Medical Department: Medical Service In The War Against Japan. United States Army In World War II. Washington, DC: Center Of Military History, United States Army. LCCN 97022644.
  • Leighton, Richard M; Coakley, Robert W (1999). The War Department — Global Logistics And Strategy 1943–1945. United States Army In World War II. 2. Washington, DC: Center Of Military History, United States Army. LCCN 55060001.