ON 25 AUGUST 1942, the Japanese first attacked the Allied forces in Milne Bay.
In preparation for the anticipated attack from an advancing Japanese army, the Allies set up infrastructure in and around Alotau, including airstrips, roads and slipways. Relics of these now litter the coastline, jungles and waters of the bay of which Alotau is part.
In my time at Alotau, I travelled to a village called Ladava, 40 minutes drive west of the town. When I arrived, students from the local Catholic Mission primary school were emerging from their classrooms for lunch break.
I looked towards the sea and noticed beach, sea and sky were eerily gloomy and dark. It was as if the low hanging rain clouds had conspired with the beach and the sea to hide something from me. Even the coastline on the other side of the bay was almost totally hidden.
But this did not dampen my enthusiasm to see what I’d come for. I’d heard about it and had decided to take this trip to see it for myself.
A few minutes walk from the school to a point on the shore, the shrubs, soil and sea reveal a secret - a slipway; constructed by the Americans. This abandoned facility, now at the mercy of harassing waves and tree roots, is about 80 metres long.
What fascinated me about this wreck is that the locals believe former US President John F Kennedy’s torpedo boat made its last stop here for servicing and refuelling before journeying on to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
Alotau was a major naval base during the war so it is quite possible the boat might have made a stopover.
The slipway wreck is the object of affection for a crocodile, which comes ashore frequently to hunt for nearby dogs. According to local belief, the crocodile is the spirit of a witch looking for her prized kill.
This slipway is part of the infrastructure that played an important role in the Battle of Milne Bay, where for the first time Allied troops defeated Japanese land forces, resulting in a withdrawal and complete abandonment of their strategic objective.
This defeat prompted Field Marshal Sir William Slim, British Commander in Burma to encourage and motivate his troops with: “If the Australians have done it, so can we.”
Many other fascinating and forgotten relics on the periphery of Alotau still remain hidden. Time will reveal these treasures.
Alotau could easily become a PNG tourist hub with its attractive landscape and people, its real assurance of peace and tranquility, and the fact it served as a strategic allied base that was used to defeat the advancing Japanese land forces.
Tourists, who plan to travel to Alotau in the near future, should consider visiting Ladava village before travelling to other exotic islands like the Trobriands.