Shaggy Ridge

After sixty-five days of fighting during September and October 1943 the Japanese had been defeated in the Finschafen area and had no choice but to retreat northward. The 9th Division pursued the Japanese along the coast while the 7th Division waited on the other side of the Finisterre Range preparing to assault Shaggy Ridge thus enabling them to join up with the 9th Div at Bogadjim.

Australian troops cross the Gusap River, a fast-flowing tributary of the Ramu River, during the advance up the valleys, October 1943. Sappers of the 2/5th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers, were still completing the bridge.

The ridge was named after: SX3169 Captain Robert (Shaggy Bob) Clampett who served in the Middle East, Australia and New Guinea with the 2/27th Battalion from 1940 to 1945. As 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).

Private Keith Kilpatrick, 2/27th Battalion, sits on a stretcher at Dumpu after being wounded in the hand in defence of a feature called John's Knoll on 12 October, 1943. Fragments from the grenade that wounded him also perforated his helmet.

On the morning of 27 December 1943 before the infantry attack, about 3500 25 pounder shells were fired at Shaggy Ridge. Backed up by a squadron of Australian Boomerangs with American manned Kittyhawk, shells and bombs were launched at every Japanese strong point. B Company of the 2/16th Battalion (21st Brigade) attacked just after 9am. 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 were beaten off and thereafter were content to shell the Australian's newly won position with a mountain gun.

Australians at the Intermediate Pimple on 21 or 23 January 1944. This position was about 75 metres from the enemy, who took shots at the Australians here. The white sheets are for air identification and the ropes for evacuating wounded.

The Japanese 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.
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 Shaggy Ridge and joined it at Kankiryo Saddle. All three battalions would be supported by artillery and Allied aircraft.

Men of the 2/9th Battalion wait to move into the attack on Shaggy Ridge, 23 January 1944. (Back row, from left) Private HF Hedges, Lance Corporal RE Booth, Private William Robertson, (front row) Corporal CC Bush and Private Bert Vowles. All of these men survived the action ahead and the war.

Uniform of an Australian soldier, note the 2/16th colour patch on the slouch hat.
Kokoda Historical Collection

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 stubborn 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 nigh time 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.

Two Australian soldiers of the 2/27th Battalion stand with a Japanese soldier captured at Kumbaram on 5 October 1943. This prisoner gave valuable information concerning the Bogadjim-Ramu Valley road over which the Australians were advancing.

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 of 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.

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Australian soldiers of the 2/27th battalion at Shaggy Ridge