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Thursday, 11 September 2008
The Battle of Bitapaka, New Guinea, 11 September 1914, Mackenzie Account
Topic: BatzNG - Bitapaka

The Battle of Bitapaka

New Guinea, 11 September 1914

Mackenzie Account


Map detailing the area of conflict.


Mackenzie, S.S., Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 Volume X – The Australians at Rabaul. The Capture and Administration of the German Possessions in the Southern Pacific, Chapter V The Seizure Of New Britain:

Through the soft tropical night the Sydney and the destroyers raced between the high land-masses of New Britain and New Ireland, and about half-past 3 in the morning of September 11th made the long point of Cape Gazelle. Ahead rose the dark cone of the Mother Mountain, and to starboard loomed the Duke of York Islands cradled on the sea, with the New Ireland mountains showing faintly above them against the sky. The destroyers ran in and reconnoitred Simpson Harbour and Matupi Harbour. Both lay empty of ships. The Sydney then circled the Duke of York Islands, and the Parramatta went on to Cape Tawui and examined Talili Bay. But the sea showed bare in the quickening dawn. Towards 6 o'clock the Australia, the Encounter, and the Berrima rounded Cape Gazelle and steamed past Herbertshöhe as far as Karavia Bay: here the flagship's picket-boats were ordered out to sweep for mines, while the Australia herself went seaward again and lay off the entrance. The Parramatta examined the long pier at Rabaul, reporting it clear, with no trace of mines.

The Sydney took up a station in the roadstead of Herbertshöhe, and there twenty-five of the naval troops whom she had embarked at Port Moresby from the Berrima were landed under the command of Sub-Lieutenant Webber? She also sent ashore a party of her own men under Lieutenant-Commander Finlayson,' who carried with him a letter in the following terms from the Admiral to the German Governor :-
H .M.A.S. Australia,

At Simpsonshafen, New Britain.

11th September, 1914.
Your Excellency,

I have the honour to inform you that I have arrived at Simpsonshafen with the intention of occupying Herbertshöhe, Rabaul, and the Island of New Britain.

I will point out to Your Excellency that the force at my command is so large as to render useless any opposition on your part, and such resistance can only result in unnecessary bloodshed.

With regard to this, I hereby inform Your Excellency that I shall consider further communications by you with your Naval Forces, by means of your wireless telegraphy, as an hostile act. Such communications must cease immediately.

I therefore desire that the town of Rabaul and the Dependencies under your control should be surrendered to me forthwith.

An answer should be delivered to the bearer without delay.

If you do not intend to offer resistance, you should so inform me, and give me assurance with regard to any submarine mines that may have been laid in the harbours. Your Excellency will also be good enough to state when you will interview me or my representative with the object of transferring control.

It is desirable in the interests of yourself and of the inhabitants that this should be arranged as soon as possible.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your Excellency’s obedient servant, GEORGE E. PATEY

Rear-Admiral Commanding H.M. Australian Fleet.

The Acting Governor was not at Herbertshöhe. and this letter was given to a German civilian who undertook to have it delivered.

In accordance with the German plans, no opposition was offered at Herbertshöhe; prior to the landing of the Australians, the German force under Lieutenant Mayer had with- drawn to Takubar, and at half-past 7 that morning the colours flying from the District Officer’s flagstaff were hauled down, and the Union Jack hoisted.

The information in Admiral Patey’s possession with regard to the wireless position was that there were probably two stations-one in course of erection four miles directly inland from Herbertshöhe, on a good road along which heavy motor- tracks could be seen; the

other straight inland from Kabakaul, from which point also a road ran through a plantation to the station.

Webber’s party therefore advanced from Herbertshöhe along the Toma road, in the direction in which they supposed the wireless station lay. The party under Finlayson remained in occupation of Herbertshöhe, guarding stores which had been landed from the Sydney.

Before this the Sydney had distributed between the Warrego and Yarra the remaining twenty-five naval reservists from the Berrima, and just after dawn these were landed by the destroyers at Kabakaul as an advance party under Lieutenant Bowen. His instructions were to push on rapidly and locate and seize the wireless station supposed to lie inland from Kahakaul. With Bowen was Midshipman Buller; and Captain Brian Pockley: of the Army Medical Corps, volunteered to accompany this party, to which were added a medical orderly and a wireless telegraphy rating. Immediately after landing, Bowen's party was reinforced by Gunner Yeo and ten men, sent ashore from the Warrego and Yarra by Commander Cumberlegell to maintain communi- cation between the landing party and the beach. Bowen was therefore able to use these as connecting files without depleting his own small party.

From the rubble breakwater, where the party landed, a track, fringed with bush and coconut palms and scored with wheel-marks in the thick dust, led away from the sea. Passing a planter's homestead, it met the main road running towards Cape Gazelle from Herbertshöhe at a point where a well- defined but narrow road led off at right angles towards the interior. At the cross-roads was a small trading-store, and here a Chinese pointed out the narrow road as the one leading to the wireless station. He was taken along with the party as a guide.

Bowen now pushed forward through the dense jungle which flanked the Bitapaka road on both sides. Avoiding the road itself, which lay like a clear white gap cut through dense forest and was therefore obviously a most dangerous line of approach, his men forced their way through the closely-matted undergrowth from which rose tall forest trees. Always difficult to penetrate, the bush in places became impassable, and the scouts, working in advance, were compelled now and then to venture on to the road and seek another opening into the cover of the scrub. The main body of Bowen’s troops had for the most part to keep to the fringe of the road, as it was impossible to maintain any formation in the tangle of tropical vegetation. Proceeding in this manner, by g o’clock the party had reached a point about half-a-mile past the cross- roads. Petty Officer PalmerI2 was in charge of a section scouting ahead on the right or north side of the road, and at this spot his men were held up by a patch of scrub denser than any they had yet encountered. In working round this patch his section got away from the road, and some of his men, losing touch, turned back to pick up the direction of the main line of advance. It thus happened that Palmer and Able Seaman Eastman; who were in front, were isolated in the scrub when they saw, thirty or forty yards ahead of them, about twenty natives belonging to the hostile force, and a white man who appeared to be holding them together. Farther away, crouching in cover of the bush that fringed the road, were two more Germans and a native, who were watching the advance of Bowen’s party. Palmer fired at the first German, and the natives, scattering for shelter, returned the fire. The white man, deserted by his troops, dropped his rifle and was about to draw his revolver when Palmer covered him again. He then offered to surrender, and called out in English that he was wounded and in need of assistance. At the same time he ordered the native troops to cease fire. He gave his name as Sergeant-Major Mauderer. Palmer’s shot had fractured his right hand. The wound was bound up and he was taken to Bowen.

Bowen realised that he was in an ambush. Accordingly, seizing the opportunity, he ordered Mauderer, under a threat hat otherwise he would be shot, to walk up the middle of the road and, standing alone there, to call out to his comrades that they might as well surrender, inasmuch as 800 Australians were following close behind him. Hearing a voice speaking loudly in their own language, the two other Germans, followed by a native soldier, broke from the bush and ran out upon the road. On recognising the trap into which they had fallen they turned to escape, but, finding themselves covered by the rifles of Bowen’s leading files, immediately surrendered. At this stage Pockley drew Bowen’s attention to the fact that Mauderer, who had been used as a decoy, was losing much blood and would soon die if not attended to. Accordingly in a sheltered spot Pockley at once amputated the German’s hand. Mauderer, who underwent this operation with great courage, showing no sign of pain, was then sent to the rear in charge of some seamen.

Of the two captured Germans one gave his name as Captain Wuchert, the officer commanding the Bitapaka section of the German forces. It appears from the official German report that Wuchert, although he had sent out a patrol from the wireless station along the road at 6 o’clock that morning, had received no information, either from the German post near the cross-roads at Kabakaul or from this patrol. Being at half-past 7 o’clock still without knowledge of what was happening, he decided to occupy the more advanced of two positions that had been prepared for the defence of the wireless station, at each of which a trench had been constructed across the full width of the road, with a get-away leading into the dense scrub on either flank. One trench was about two miles from Bitapaka and the other about two miles farther on. Lieutenant Kempf was accordingly despatched with five whites and about twenty natives to occupy the forward trench, and not long afterwards another patrol was sent towards the coast under Sergeant Schipmann. Then Wuchert-who had had tidings of the appearance of British warships in the bay, but could get no further news from any of his detached forces-determined to see things for himself, and set out along the Kabakaul road.“ A few hundred metres in front of Kempf’s position-to follow for the present the German account-“he found himself surrounded by enemy riflemen, and the only course left to him was surrender.

The second officer turned out to be Lieutenant Mayer, the commandant of the Herbertshöhe force, who had withdrawn his troops in the early morning, before Webber and Finlayson landed from the Sydney. According to the German account, Mayer, after marching his company to a selected position at Takubar, between Herbertshöhe and Kabakaul, tad gone to the Roman Catholic mission at Vunapope on the coast to observe what preparations had been made for landing forces from the ships. Receiving information that a small party had landed at Kabakaul and was marching on Bitapaka, and not being aware of any landing as yet at Herbertshöhe, he left the bulk of his company at Takubar to await further instructions and to oppose any advance towards Herbertshöhe from Kabakaul. With a platoon he went on across country from Takubar to the Kabakaul-Bitapaka road, his intention being to take up a position under cover between the Australian troops and the sea, and then to attack them in the rear. When he reached the road, the absence of tracks assured him that the Australians had not yet passed : he therefore left Mauderer at the selected position with the platoon, and himself went forward along the roadside to reconnoitre. Soon he saw enemy troops advancing, but when he turned to rejoin his own men rifle-fire broke out in their direction, and they evacuated the position hurriedly. Mayer, when he again reached it, found only Mauderer sitting under a tree nursing a wounded hand (this, it must be remembered, is his own version of the affair as given to von Klewitz), and after conversation with him, attempted to break through to Kempf, but heard Wuchert's voice from the road and joined him there under the impression that he was talking to Kempf.

The capture of these three men had far-reaching consequences. It deprived the German forces of two senior officers: more important still, detailed maps of the road were found on the prisoners. To Bowen, who was working from a map which gave only a vague outline of the terrain east of Herbertshöhe, the additional information thus gained was invaluable. Furthermore the false report, given by Mauderer under coercion, that 800 men were advancing along the Bitapaka road, reached von Klewitz at Toma during the after- noon. Messages conveying the true strength of the landing parties failed to get through, a scared planter having cut the telephone lines from Kabakaul. Mauderer's statement was accepted as correct, and communicated to Haber-with the result that all attempts to maintain the defence of the coastal belt were abandoned, and Haber was confirmed in his intention of moving the seat of administration from Toma farther inland.

The immediate situation which faced Bowen, however, was that his advance was to be contested; and the road, cleft through the dense forest, was all in favour of the defenders. He therefore ordered Midshipman Buller with a small guard to take the prisoners back to Kabakaul and send a message to the Warrego for reinforcements. This request was, of course, signalled on to the flagship, but without waiting for orders Commander Cumberlege immediately landed fifty-nine men from the two destroyers under Lieutenant Hill of the Yarra. This party-hastily gathered, in every sort of dress and undress, and some of the men armed only with Webley pistols - advanced promptly, leaving connecting links along the road. Meanwhile Admiral Patey sent the Berrillra, which was under way in Karavia Bay, to Kabakaul to land reinforcements. No. 3 Company of the Naval Reserve under Lieutenant Gillam was first landed, and with it went Lieutenant-Commander Elwell, who was really the leader of the other half of the battalion, but had pleaded hard for permission to go with the first company. Shortly afterwards No. 6 Company under Lieutenant Bond, the machine-gun section under Captain Harcus, and a detachment of the Army Medical Corps were sent ashore under the battalion commander, Beresford, who took with him Captain Travers, the intelligence officer.

Meanwhile Bowen had pushed on, his party being fired upon at frequent intervals. His men returned the fire, but in such a country - though some of the native soldiers were at the time believed to be sniping from high trees - the German forces were almost entirely concealed, and the effect of the Australian shooting could not be seen. The fighting was becoming acute, but the enemy's fire (which seemed to come, now from the bush, now from the screened rifle-pits at the side of the road) was badly directed, and Bowen's main party, for the most part creeping low through the undergrowth, had so far escaped misfortune. But the luck did not hold. About 9.30 one of the men who had been left to advance along the road as connecting files between the main party and the beach - Able Seaman Williams - observed a number of natives in a coconut plantation beside the road. He called up the man next behind him, Stoker Kember, who, covered by Williams, went up to the natives and found that they were hoeing among the palms. Williams accordingly went on, but had not advanced far when he was fired on from the bush and fell mortally wounded, the first Australian, so far as is known, shot in the war. Kember carried him for nearly half-a-mile back along the road.

The medical officer, Pockley, had just finished amputating Mauderer’s hand when he heard that Williams had been hit. He at once set out to find him; and as native soldiers appeared at this stage to be working through the bush behind Bowen’s party, the latter detached with him as escort one of his seamen, by name Annear. Pockley found and knelt by the wounded man, who was shot through the stomach and sent him to the rear in charge of Kember and another comrade, at the same time taking off his own red-cross brassard and tying it around Kember’s hat. With his companion he then started to return along the road to the front, but they were almost immediately met by an aimed volley fired from some point on the road ahead. Pockley took shelter for a while at the roadside, and then, telling Annear to remain where he was, himself started forward again. He had gone about ten paces along the road when a second volley was fired and he fell seriously wounded. Some time afterwards he was picked up by a party with an ambulance cart and carried off to the Berrima, where both he and Williams died during the afternoon. Pockley’s action in giving up his red cross badge, and thus protecting another man’s life at the price of his own, was consonant with the best traditions of the Australian army, and afforded a noble foundation for those of the Australian Army Medical Corps in the war.

Meanwhile Buller had rejoined Bowen, and together they discussed the plan of operations in the light of information gathered from the captured maps. While they were thus engaged a German, armed with a rifle, was captured in a pit screened by the scrub. He wore the distinctive green arm- bands of the German troops, and Bowen, as before, made him march ahead and call out to his compatriots, but without success. Bowen’s scouts had already discovered Kempf’s trench, about five hundred yards from the point which the main body had reached; it crossed the road and extended for some distance into the bush on Bowen’s right front. This trench was occupied in considerable strength, and from it, from rifle-pits on either side of the road, and from the bush, Bowen’s party was being sniped. At this stage, however about 10 a.m.-the position was much improved by the arrival of Lieutenant Hill and some fifty men from the destroyers, who had pushed forward with great speed. Bowen explained the position to Hill, and it was agreed to engage the trench from the coyer of a log that lay partly across the road at a bend from which the trench could be commanded, while on either flank a force should work through the bush and enfilade the German position. Petty Officer Sandy from the Yarra with five men was ordered to work round the left of the enemy so as to harass the defence, but the main attack was directed against their right flank. The advance was resumed in this order, the German prisoner being forced to march in front. Almost at the outset, however, Bowen was shot by a sniper from the scrub. Buller rendered first aid, and carried his commanding officer, who was seriously wounded, into the shade at the side of the road. Hill took over the command and continued to attack the trench, making gradual progress. Meanwhile he sent back Buller to bring up the reinforcements expected from the Berrima; his message reached the reinforcements, about a mile back, at noon.

When Elwell commenced his advance from Kabakaul, the day was windless and hot-so hot that, on landing, his men emptied rations, blankets, and clothing out of their haversacks to lighten the load. As they formed up, Elwell took command and went on with the right half-company, Gillam following with the left half in support. Gunner Yeo, to whom Buller had passed on Bowen’s message for reinforcements, guided them to the Bitapaka road. About a mile from the shore they were fired on, either by one of the patrols sent out by Wuchert earlier in the morning, or by a detachment from Mayer’s company at Takubar. Elwell, who knew nothing of the location of Bowen's party except that it must be fighting somewhere ahead of him, thereupon decided to send scouts into the hush on each side, and to proceed quickly with his main body along the road in fours, since reports were coming from the connecting files left by Hill that Bowen was hard pressed. The dust of a long drought was deep under their feet, and rose in fine clouds, choking their nostrils and filling their eyes; but the reinforcements pushed eagerly on. In as much as those who were forcing their way through close- matted jungle and undergrowth could not keep up with men advancing on the highway, patrols of six men at a time were sent along the road ahead of the company; from these, fresh scouts deployed as the others were overtaken, and the men left behind fell in and formed a rearguard under Signal- boatswain Hunter. The reinforcements had advanced in this manner for about forty minutes when they again came under fire from some enemy in the bush on the right front whom they could not see. Able Seaman Courtney was shot dead near a sharp bend in the track. The company therefore immediately extended into the bush on the left and advanced through the jungle, Elwell, with half the company, leading and Gillam following him with the other half extended in support. They still could see nothing whatever of any friend or enemy ahead, but bullets-probably from natives near by in the scrub-constantly flew past. Two of Gillam's half-company were wounded, and a few yards farther on Signalman Moffat and Able Seaman Skillens fell. At the same juncture there occurred an incident of some importance. One of Moffatt's mates crawled to Gillam and reported that he had seen Moffatt collapse, and believed that he had been shot by a native soldier whom he had observed in a tree. Gillam ordered the man to go back and shoot this native and then advance. The seaman reached the tree and was peering into its branches when a native, who must have been hiding in the dense undergrowth at its foot, actually grabbed at his rifle. With a struggle the seaman regained it, and shot the native as he ran.

The native had no rifle. But about this time one of the seamen reported that he had come upon wires laid through the bush to the foot of this tree, about 120 yards from the road. It was at once suspected that these wires led to a mine, probably beneath the road. Signal-boatswain Hunter, sent to make a search, found that the tree was in fact a look-out station; by means of dog-spikes driven into the trunk and a rope fastened to an upper branch, it could easily be climbed. Near its foot, at the end of the wires, was an electric battery and firing-key, and the intention appeared to be that an observer high in the tree should warn a German below, in charge of the firing-key, if any enemy troops were approaching. It is highly probable that the native who was shot was the observer. The German was not in position and the Australians, working through the bush and not along the road, had actually passed the mine when it was discovered. Elwell, however, saw to it that the wires were cut and the key removed.

Almost immediately after this, Elwell began to come upon signs of Bowen’s and Hill’s parties, now close ahead and held up by Kempf’s troops in the trench. Pushing on, about 250 yards from the still unseen trench, the reinforcements reached some of Hill’s men, who raised a cheer. Elwell, meeting Hill, ascertained that most of the attacking force was on the left of the road. He decided to leave Hill on that side and, calling on his men to follow, ran across to the right. Gillam, still on the left, recognised that great care must now be exercised in order to avoid shooting the men of his own side (of whom he only twice caught a glimpse-a white fleck seen for an instant in the scrub). He accordingly ordered his half -company to cease fire and to push on so as to get into alignment with Elwell, at the same time closing somewhat towards the road. Although he had not yet heard of the trench, the slight change of direction actually brought his party towards it. At this stage he was taken by Buller to where Bowen was lying wounded and dazed but with just sufficient consciousness to be able to explain that he had handed over command to Hill. Bullets were continually thudding into the log behind which they sheltered; and Bowen, being under the impression that he was dying, extracted from Gillam a promise that the Chinese guide should not be handed back to the Germans, and that a pair of Zeiss glasses borrowed from a German officer whom he had taken prisoner should be returned. His advice was, he repeated, to scour the right-hand side of the road. Gillam sent for the ambulance to pick up Bowen, a d pushed on to get into line with Elwell. Strangely enough Hill’s men, with their ragged dress and variety of weapons, had suffered no casualties, the native troops having been instructed to fire at men in khaki armed with rifles and at soldiers in helmets (officers); especially, it would seem, were officers to be picked off. The fire from the trench was sweeping the straight stretch of road, which in one part ran through a cutting whose sheer banks were topped with bush so trammelling as to render an advance in extended order difficult. As Elwell’s company came up, Hill’s force was working round to outflank the position; at 1 o’clock Elwell took over command q from Hill-who was directed to continue his advance on the left q flank of the attack. Elwell himself advanced on the right to within eighty yards of the trench. Here, after giving the order to fix bayonets and charge, he was shot dead, drawn sword in hand, at the head of his men. He appears to have believed, even before he pressed Beresford for permission to land, that this would be his fate. Hill, who had discarded the badges and uniform of an officer and fought in shirt and trousers, was thus again (although he did not know it) in command of the attacking force. But the end came almost immediately after the shot which killed Elwell. With the arrival of the reinforcing company Kempf's position had become untenable; his troops were far outnumbered, the trench was outflanked on both sides, and escape was threatened. The natives began to cower at the bottom of the trench and, with few exceptions, could not be induced to look over the parapet to take aim. At about half-past 1 p.m. a white flag went up in the trench.a0 Hill immediately gave the order to cease fire, and Kempf came out of the trench to parley. He asked for the officer in command, and refused to deal with Hill, whose lack of badges and uniform made it incredible to a German that he should be an officer at all. Hill and Gillam thereupon decided to take Kempf, and two other Germans who had left the trench with him, back to meet Commander Beresford, who was known to be on his way up from Kabakaul; at the same time they withdrew the Australians under their command, since all opposition seemed now to be crushed. Beresford was found about a mile down the road, and to him Kempf – after a long discussion and with great reluctance-surrendered both the wireless station and what was left of his defending force." To make the surrender effective Beresford decided that Kempf and his fellow-prisoner Sergeant Ritter (the latter as inter- preter) should accompany the troops under Bond towards Bitapaka, in order to explain to any German troops met on the way that the fighting was over, and to prevent further resistance. So Bond with a half-company of No. 6, and Harcus with his machine-gun section, accompanied by Travers, and taking with them Kempf and Ritter and a flag of truce, set forward along the dusty bush road.

In consequence of the discovery of a mine close to the first trench, Bond approached this stretch of the road with caution.

Although the wires had been cut and the firing-key removed by No. 3 Company, he considered it possible that other means of exploding the mine had been devised. He therefore placed Kempf on the mined portion of the road while the Australians marched over it. When they drew near the first trench, Kempf and Ritter went on a short distance ahead with the fag of truce, and Kempf, explaining the position to the occupants (6 Germans and about 20 natives), ordered them to surrender. They were at first defiant, and refused to obey: but the sight of Bond’s preparations for attack daunted them-they surrendered, and were mustered and sent under guard to Kabakaul.

Bond then pushed forward to the second trench, the machine-gun section following in the rear. Along this stretch of about two miles there was some desultory sniping from the bush, but the Australians suffered no casualties. At the second trench no opposition was offered by its occupants - 3 Germans and 20 natives - the white flag being hoisted as soon as Bond’s troops appeared. The troops were halted on the road while Bond disarmed the occupants of the trench and Travers and Kempf walked on ahead towards the wireless station. While Bond was thus occupied, shots rang out, apparently from a third trench constructed at the top of a steep cutting at the side of the road and commanding the second trench. Ritter, the German interpreter, was seen endeavouring to rally the natives who had just surrendered to Bond. A brisk exchange of fire took place, and in the skirmish three of Bond’s men - Able Seamen Tonks, Sullivan, and Street - were wounded, the last-named mortally, and the German sergeant, Ritter and several natives were killed. The rest of the enemy troops were then disarmed and taken prisoners. Kempf and the three Germans who had been just captured took no part in the affair.

Leaving his company with Harcus at the second trench to guard against any further outbreak at this point (a machine-gun was also mounted there), Bond, accompanied by Travers and Eitel - an interpreter chosen from the machine-gun section-walked on towards the wireless station, taking Kempf with them to explain the position. On the way they captured a German cyclist armed with a rifle and carrying a message from Haber - an order to the Bitapaka garrison to dismantle the wireless station and retire on Toma. Farther on they took another prisoner, a German on horseback with a message signed by von Klewitz stating that 800 men were marching inland (this was, of course, an echo of Mauderer's report). The mounted man was sent on by Kempf to the wireless station with news of the surrender and a message that further opposition would be futile.

At the police barracks 1,000 yards from the wireless station a party of eight Germans and twenty native troops was encountered. The Germans were armed with magazine pistols and the natives with rifles. Kempf ordered this force to surrender, but they defied his command. Bond, warning Travers to stand by with his revolver, turned quickly to the group of Germans and snatched their pistols from their holsters. So surprised were they by this sudden and daring act that they were unable to defend themselves, while the native troops were powerless to fire, inasmuch as their own officers were between them and the three Australians. The position forced an immediate surrender. The prisoners were marched off to the wireless station, which was found to be abandoned, and here they were kept under guard by Bond, Travers, and Eitel until, half-an-hour later, Midshipman Buller arrived with reinforcements. Bond and Travers then made an inspection of the station: they found that the masts had been cut through, but that the machinery and instruments had not been damaged. Thus about 7 o’clock the station fell into the hands of the Australians.

From the German official report it appears that about noon Dr. Haber had dictated a message to Bitapaka ordering the attack signal (two dots and two dashes with wireless telegraphic names interpolated) to be sent to the German fleet; if the fighting appeared to be unfavourable to the Germans, the masts of the station were then to be lowered, and the apparatus dismantled. The officials were to abandon the station and proceed to Toma, taking with them the receiving apparatus and everything necessary to complete the reserve wireless station at Taulil. This message failed to reach the chief telegraphist at the station, and during the afternoon all telephonic communication between Toma and Bitapaka was interrupted by a German planter who, in a state of nervous excitement, cut the wires where they traversed his plantation at Paparatava. It was not until late in the afternoon that the wireless officials received Haber’s noon message; they obeyed it, but took to flight thereafter too hastily to allow time for removal of the apparatus. Bond took possession of the instruments and brought them back with him next day to Kabakaul. Beyond the fact that the advance on Bitapaka was being contested, no definite information as to the progress of Bowen’s party or of the reinforcements had, during the fore- noon, reached Colonel Holmes in the Berrima, which still lay off Kabakaul. Shortly after 11 o’clock a request was received from the shore that a medical officer should be sent from the Berrima to attend to a wounded German, and soon afterwards information was received that Captain Pockley and Able Seaman Williams had been seriously wounded and were being sent aboard. Just on 2 o’clock a message arrived from the Sydney at Herbertshöhe stating that nothing had been heard of Webber’s party since early in the morning. Colonel Holmes thereupon decided to put a force ashore at Herbertshöhe. Lieutenant-Colonel Watson was directed to land with four companies of infantry, a machine-gun section, and 12-pounder gun, to gain touch with Webber’s party, and co-operate with Beresford’s force in the attack on the wire- less station. The Berrima moved up to Herbertshöhe, and Watson’s force was landed in her boats. It was by then 3 o’clock. Holmes went aboard the flagship, and recommended to the admiral that the remainder of the force still in the Berrima should be landed at Kabakaul to reinforce Beresford; that, if it appeared that the operation would not be successful before dark (which in these latitudes comes swiftly and without twilight soon after 6 o’clock), instructions should be given to Beresford and Watson to retire to the coast before nightfall; that next morning at daylight the fleet should shell with shrapnel the ridge between Kabakaul and Herbertshöhe, which seemed to be strongly held : and that immediately thereafter the forces at Kabakaul and Herbertshöhe should attack simultaneously and carry the positions. The admiral concurred in these plans.

After landing his force at Herbertshöhe - an operation which in the circumstances naturally took a considerable time - Watson attempted to proceed across country towards Bitapaka. He was still near the coast when he found the country ahead almost impenetrable jungle and forest. It was already late in the afternoon; progress in that terrain was difficult, slow, and uncertain. Nothing could be done that day, and the force returned the same night to its base at Herbertshöhe in accordance with instructions. To that place Webber also returned by nightfall with his twenty-five men. They had reconnoitred the Toma road as far as Gire Gire (about half-way between Herbertshöhe and Toma), but had been unable to find any trace of, or information about, the site of a wireless station. This arrival at Gire Gire he came to the conclusion, from the distance traversed, either that he had overshot his mark or that the information was erroneous. He accordingly decided to return to Herbertshöhe. From German reports it appears that Webber’s party had been under surveillance by a detachment of the German forces from Toma, which had not, however, ventured to attack.

About 6 o’clock that evening Sir George Patey received from the Acting Governor a reply to his letter of the early morning. It read as follows:-

Imperial Governor of German New Guinea.

Toma, 11th September, 1914.

I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s letter of to-day.

The administration of the German Protectorates devolves on His Majesty the Kaiser in the name of the Empire. In my capacity as Acting Governor, I have not the authority to surrender the Protectorates to Your Excellency. Also, it appears to me impossible to open negotiations about a modus vivendi during the state of war which exists, since Your Excellency has already opened hostilities. For the same reason I am also compelled to abstain from any interference with wireless operations.

I have noted the fact that Your Excellency contemplates a military occupation of Rabaul and Herbertshöhe. Both places and their precincts are unprotected. There are women and children there. The townspeople are going peacefully about their business. Also you have my explicit assurance that there are no mines in the harbour of Rabaul and the roadstead of Herbertshöhe. I should, therefore, be glad if Your Excellency would refrain from hostile operations against the said places, and would permit the local administration, even after occupation by Your Excellency’s troops, to look after the public order and safety.

I take this opportunity to assure Your Excellency of my highest esteem.

I have the honour to be,


Acting Governor of New Guinea. His Excellency Rear-Admiral Patey,

Commander-in-Chief of His Britannic Majesty’s Australian Fleet.

By the time this letter was received the operation orders of Captain von Klewitz, the officer commanding the German forces, were known: papers had been found on Mayer when he was taken prisoner. It will be remembered that these orders gave the disposition of the various detachments and assigned code names for the principal positions: thus the Herbertshöhe force was termed “Luttich,” and the Bitapaka force “Bebra.” With this information in his possession the admiral considered that Dr. Haber’s letter misrepresented the actual position and evaded the real issues. He therefore sent a reply couched in the following very definite terms:-

H.M .A.S. Australia,

At Rabaul.

Your Excellency, 12th September 1914.

I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of 11th September 1914.

With regard to the statement therein as to my having already opened hostilities, I would point out to Your Excellency that my letter was sent ashore at 7.0 a.m. on 11th September. Owing, however, to Your Excellency having proceeded to Toma, I was unable to get into communication with any representative of your Government except by sending to Toma. Consequently your answer did not reach me until 6.0 p.m. on that day.

I would remark that if Your Excellency had arranged an effective means of communication between Toma, where you had gone, and Herbertshöhe, which. I understand was still then the seat of your Government, it should not have taken eleven hours to exchange letters over a distance of under 20 miles.

The responsibility for the greater part of the fighting that has occurred must lie upon the lack of a proper means of communication between your seat of Government and the locality selected by Your Excellency as a residence at the time the British Forces appeared-and moreover Your Excellency continued to allow your wire- less installation to be used for hostile purposes despite my written warning to you, contained in the third paragraph of my letter of 11th September, that this was to cease.

With regard to your statement that the areas of jurisdiction of Rabaul and Herbertshöhe are unprotected, I have in my possession a document, signed by Sub- Commander von Klewitz detailing Military Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers, by name, to act with the armed forces at Bebra, Paparatava, Raluana, and Luttick - one of the Officers named thereon is at present a prisoner. The date of this document is 21st of August 1914. Moreover the ground fought over on 11th September was trenched and mined. It therefore appears either that you were unaware of the actions of Sub-Commander von Klewitz or that that Officer acted contrary to your orders. Your Excellency’s attention is invited to the point involved.

Communications as to transferring control of the Administration should now be addressed to Colonel Holmes, Brigadier of the Occupying Force, who will administer the Government.

I have sent that Officer a copy of your letter to me and of this reply.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your Excellency’s obedient servant. GEORGE E. PATEY.

Rear-Admiral Commanding H.M. Australian Fleet. His Excellency,

The Governor of German New Guinea.

The evening wore on, and no word had come through from Bond or Travers. Nine o’clock passed without tidings of them or of the capture of the wireless station. No. 6 Company of the Naval Reserve and Harcus’s machine-gun section had remained at the second trench, but had neither seen nor heard anything of Bond’s party. Beresford, with the other companies of the Naval Reserve, was at the Kabakaul cross-roads, and some time after 9 o’clock received instructions to retire with his forces to the beach, as the ridge would be shelled at daylight. He therefore sent Midshipman Stirling with the left half of No. 3 Company (which knew the road) to find Bond and Travers, and order No. 6 Company and the machine-gun section to retire on Kabakaul. But late at night a message came through from Bond that his party was in possession of the wireless station and would remain there pending further instructions. Beresford had this information signalled to the Warrego, which communicated it to the flag-ship. The admiral received the news at 1 o’clock in the morning, and an intimation was promptly sent on to Colonel Holmes.

The position was now clearly defined. The Bitapaka section of the German forces had surrendered to Beresford during the afternoon, and the wireless station itself had been handed over to Bond and Travers. These factors cleared up the situation on the Bitapaka sector, unless the enemy should attempt to recover his lost ground by further operations directed towards that place. There was, however, no indication of any such movement, and when day broke on September 12th the necessity no longer existed for shelling the Kabakaul - Herbertshöhe ridge.

As the wireless station had been put out of action by the Germans prior to its capture, and there was little chance of effecting repairs for some time to come, Admiral Patey after consultation with Colonel Holmes, gave instructions that it should be abandoned; the party in possession was to retire to the coast, taking with it such essential instruments as would preclude the repair or further use of the installation.

The casualties among the Australians were 2 officers and 4 men killed, and I officer and 3 men wounded. The proportion of the number killed to that of the wounded bears evidence to the closeness of the fighting, and in view of the nature of the terrain, the losses were lighter than might have been expected. Steady troops in those entrenched and picked positions could have taken heavy toll of advancing parties, who In unknown country had at every turn to meet the fire of an unseen enemy at close range. But the morale of the native constabulary had been unequal to the test of facing disciplined white troops, and with all the advantages of cover and prepared positions had proved a failure. The German official report admits that the capacity of the Australians to fight in bush country had been underestimated; and it is known that the advance in extended order disconcerted the Germans, who had expected it to be confined to the narrow line of the road, and had not contemplated the effect on native soldiers of white troops emerging suddenly from the bush and attacking them in flank and rear. Apart from this factor, the method of advancing partly along the road and partly through the bush had minimised the chances of heavy casualties. The Australians were also fortunate in escaping the mines on the road. When these mines were afterwards located by the occupying force, they were found powerful enough to have caused great loss of life. Each consisted of an iron pipe, four inches in diameter and twenty-one feet in length, packed with plugs of dynamite, and placed lengthwise along the middle of the road, four or five feet deep. Nuts, bolts, and stones had been piled over the pipes, the trench had been filled in, and the surface of the road made smooth again. When the first mine was eventually exploded, the hole made in the road was twenty-seven feet long, fifteen in width, and seven in depth; according to Lieutenant Gillam, “it took a company of men a day to fill it.” The second mine was therefore lifted out and exploded in the bush. In a despatch dated the 13th of September, 1914, Colonel Holmes, after giving the names of the officers and men who fell and of those who were wounded, states:

From information received by me up to the present in the absence of Commander Beresford’s report, the three officers referred to - Captain Pockley, Lieutenant- Commander Elwell, and Lieutenant Bowen - also Lieutenant Bond who accepted the surrender of the wireless station and Captain Travers (Intelligence Officer) who accompanied him, acted in a very gallant way. Captain Pockley removed the Red Cross badge from his arm and handed it over to one of his men who was without one, and paid the penalty with his life.

I wish to specially mention these five officers.

On the German side the casualties were officially reported as one white non-commissioned officer and 30 native soldiers killed, and one white non-commissioned officer and 10 native soldiers wounded. The prisoners taken were 3 officers, 16 white non-commissioned officers and men, and 56 native troops. A number of native soldiers had fled into the bush during the fighting: some of these during the next few days found their way to the German headquarters at Toma.

On the 12th Beresford was ordered to move his force to Herbertshöhe and garrison that place, in accordance with the original dispositions made during the voyage. His garrison consisted of four companies of the Naval Reserve, two companies of infantry, one 12-pounder gun from the Sydney, one machine-gun section, and a detachment of the Army Medical Corps. Watson’s force, which had been landed at Herbertshöhe on the previous day, was re-embarked in the Berrima. During the afternoon the troopship was escorted up Blanche Bay, and about 6 o’clock made fast to the long wharf at Rabaul. A force consisting of four companies of infantry, one company of the Naval Reserve, one machine- gun section, and a detachment of the Army Medical Corps, was landed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Pa ton.

Rabaul was occupied without opposition: all government offices were seized, and the German flags hauled down. Paton’s force remained ashore to garrison the town.

The remaining ships of the convoy reached Blanche Bay during the forenoon of the 12th, and proceeded to Simpson Harbour, where the Parramatta, Upolu, and Protector lay off Rabaul. On the same day the Melbourne arrived, and reported that on September 9th she had destroyed the wireless station at Nauru. On September 13th the hospital ship Grantala, which had made the voyage from Australia without escort, joined the ships in the bay.

It will be remembered that in his letter of September 12th the admiral had stated that communications as to transferring control of the administration should for the future be addressed to the brigadier of the occupying force. As a first step towards settling the control of public affairs, Holmes on September 12th forwarded by motor-cycle orderly to Dr. Haber a formal demand for surrender. The messenger returned the same night with a letter from a German official stating that Dr. Haber's answer would be sent at half-past 4 p.m. on the following day. Holmes thereupon decided that, if the answer were not satisfactory, or if Haber did not call in person in accordance with his request, a force would be despatched to arrest him.

At 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoon, September 13th the British flag was hoisted at Rabaul.

The ceremony was held in an open space (now known as Proclamation Square) bordered by casuarina trees and over- looked by white tropical bungalows. Through the trees could be seen the blue waters of the bay sparkling in the sunlight, and the ships of the Australian fleet riding at anchor. All available troops, including a newly-enrolled native police force under British officers, were formed up on three sides of a square, facing the flagstaff, with the band of the Australia in the centre. The fourth side of the square was occupied by Rear-Admiral Patey, the officers of the Royal Australian Navy, and residents of Rabaul. Punctually at 3 o'clock the flag was broken by Lieutenant Basil Holmes and saluted by the troops, the warships at the same time firing a salute of twenty-one guns. The national anthem was sung; three cheers were given for the King; the military occupation of the Territory was formally proclaimed by the brigade-major, and the naval and military officers and troops, followed by the native police force, marched past in column of route and saluted the flag.

Copies of the proclamation issued by Colonel Holmes, in English and German, were posted in conspicuous places in Rabaul and Herbertshöhe The text is here given:


Proclamation on behalf of His Majesty George the Fifth, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the Dominions Overseas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.

By Colonel WILLIAM HOLMES, D.S.O., V.D., Brigadier Commanding His Majesty's Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force.

WHEREAS the Forces under my command have occupied the Island of New Britain;

AND WHEREAS upon such occupation the authority of the German Government has ceased to exist therein: AND WHEREAS it has become essential to provide for proper government of the said colony, and for the protection of the lives and property of the peaceful inhabitants thereof.

Now I, WILLIAM HOLMES, Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, Colonel in His Majesty's Forces, Brigadier Commanding the aforesaid Expeditionary Force, do hereby declare and proclaim as follows :- (1) From and after the date of these presents, the Island of New Britain and its dependencies are held by me in military occupation in the name of His Majesty the King.

(2) War will be waged only against the armed forces of the German Empire and its Allies in the present war.

(3) The lives and private property of peaceful inhabitants will be protected, and the laws and customs of the colony will remain in force so far as is consistent with the military situation.

(4) If the needs of the troops demand it, private property may be requisitioned. Such property will be paid for at its fair value.

(5) Certain officials of the late Government may be retained, if they so desire, at their usual salaries.

(6) In return for such protection it is the duty of all inhabitants to behave in an absolutely peaceful manner, to carry on their ordinary pursuits so far as is possible, to take no part directly or indirectly in any hostilities, to abstain from communication with His Majesty's enemies, and to render obedience to such orders as may be promulgated.

(7) All male inhabitants of European origin are required to take the oath of neutrality prescribed, at the garrison headquarters; and all firearms, ammunition, and war material in the possession or control of inhabitants are to be surrendered forthwith, as is also all public property of the late Government.

(8) Non-compliance with the terms of this Proclamation, and disobedience of such orders as from time to time may be promulgated, will be dealt with according to military law.

(9) It is hereby notified that this Proclamation takes effect in the whole Island of New Britain and its dependencies from this date.

Given at Government House, RABAUL, this twelfth day of' September, 1914.

WILLIAM HOLMES, Brigadier Commanding.

Witness - FRANCIS HERITAGE, Major, Brigade Major.

Later in the afternoon Holmes received a reply from the Acting Governor. Dr. Haber repeated his previous statement that no resistance would be offered to the occupation, hat that he had not the authority to surrender New Britain or any other part of the German Protectorate. He would, however, have no objection to meeting Colonel Holmes and discussing the situation. Holmes considered the reply unsatisfactory, and, as the address on the letter indicated that Haber had retired to Baining, formed the opinion that he was merely temporising in order to arrange an escape. He therefore decided, after consultation with the admiral, to send a force from Herbertshöhe to clear up the situation and arrest Haber. For this purpose Watson, who had previously been instructed to proceed in the Encounter from Rabaul to Herbertshöhe with two companies of infantry to reinforce the garrison there, was ordered to march from Herbertshöhe at 5 a.m. next day towards Toma with one 12-pounder gun, a machine-gun and crew from the Encounter, and four companies of infantry. It was arranged that at daylight the Encounter should shell a position between Herbertshöhe and Toma, which, judging from a captured map, was believed to be occupied by German forces, and that, as soon as the shelling had ceased, Watson should commence his advance.

On the morning of September 14th the Encounter’s 6-inch guns shelled an outlying ridge near Toma, and Watson then pushed on along the Toma road. His advance was not opposed: no enemy forces were seen, with the exception of native constabulary, and these were dispersed by a few shells from the 12-pounder. The Encounter’s guns and the advance of the troops had produced the desired effect, and before Watson reached Toma he was met by a flag of truce from Haber, who offered to come in and confer with the officer commanding the occupying force, and in the meantime requested an armistice of four hours. This concession was at first refused; it was finally agreed that Haber should come to Herbertshöhe at I I o’clock the following morning to discuss the situation with Colonel Holmes. Watson’s force, which had reached Toma in the afternoon and carried out reconnaissances of the Wunakokor Ridge, began its return march as soon as the parleys were ended, and the troops bivouacked at Herbertshöhe that night.

On the morning of September 15th Holmes, accompanied by Stevenson and the members of his staff, proceeded from Rabaul to Herbertshöhe. There at the District Office head- quarters-a white bungalow with a wide trellised verandah, shaded by poinciana trees and commanding a view over Blanche Bay and across to the mountains of New Ireland- the meeting with Haber took place. While the terms of surrender were being discussed, a cruiser flying the tricolour of France passed before them in full view, making up the bay towards Rabaul. It was the French flagship Montcalm, with Rear-Admiral Huguet on board. She had helped to convoy the New Zealand expeditionary force to Samoa, and was now co-operating with the Australian fleet in New Guinea waters. Holmes drew Haber’s attention to the presence of the French flagship. This manifestation of identity of policy between Great Britain and France cannot have been lost upon the German. The negotiations continued into the afternoon and were, as Haber afterwards stated, “neither pleasant nor very easy.” Holmes was firm; but, considering the strength of his military position, it must be admitted that he was scrupulously just and reasonable. With the knowledge that he had the other side at his mercy, he declined to take the easier way of high-handed action. He framed his proposals in accordance with what he deemed to be the Imperial policy, and in conformity with the laws relating to the military occupation of enemy territory. He had regard not only to the existing conditions of the Territory but also to its future welfare, in the patriotic conviction that the British flag in New Guinea would never be hauled down. Before the end of the conference the parties had arrived at a general basis of agreement, and certain conditions of surrender were tentatively agreed to; but Haber, stating that he desired to consult with his advisers before signing the document, took with him a draft of the proposals, and arranged to meet Holmes again at Herbertshöhe on September 17th for a final settlement.

It is clear from a perusal of the German official reports that the developments in the military situation from September 14th were the decisive factors in bringing the Governor to terms. No reliance could be placed upon the native troops in action against white soldiers; the Australians had displayed an unsuspected capacity for bush fighting, and the sense of comparative security afforded by the nature of the country had thus been destroyed. With Herbertshöhe occupied by a strong garrison, the Germans were cut off from the resources of the settled coastal district, while the Australians possessed a base from which an attack could be launched at any time in the direction of Toma. It was also believed that the various approaches to Taulil were by that time known to the occupying force through intelligence gained from natives familiar with that tract of country. The shelling of the Toma ridge by the Encounter had shown that the outlying heights could not be held against artillery. Watson's advance on Toma had proved that field-guns could be brought up to command the Taulil plain, and that the German position there could be attacked by infantry converging by several routes and under cover of artillery. Moreover] the inaccessible Baining country offered no retreat, and the Australian ships could cut off any attempt to escape to the coast in the direction of Weber Harbour. Finally, the Germans were convinced of the hopelessness of further resistance to the overwhelming naval and military strength of the Australian forces. On September 16th - the day before the negotiations were to be resumed von Klewitz rode from Vundidir to Taulil and discussed with Haber the military clauses the draft agreement. On his return to Haber that evening he prepared and forwarded to his chief a report in which he stated that the native troops were demoralised, and that to keep them together as a military unit required the unceasing vigilance of the white soldiers, among whom many were disabled for military service by dysentery and malaria. He considered, therefore, that the troops were no longer in a condition to offer resistance. Later the same night he despatched a further report, in which he emphasised the sickness among the white soldiers and the difficulty of maintaining military discipline over the "thoroughly terrified natives," and stated his opinion that further action during the next few days would dissolve the force. He urged Haber to come without delay to Haber; this Haber did early the following morning, inspected the, troops, conferred with von Klewitz as to their condition and their general situation, and decided to take the commandant I with him to Herbertshöhe.

Noon was the time appointed for resuming the discussion: but Holmes, coming from Rabaul, was delayed by a strong head wind which swept up the bay, and Haber has recorded that, when the stipulated hour passed and Holmes had not arrived, he feared that negotiations were broken off. The strain of the position was evidently beginning to tell on the German.

At this second conference, which lasted about two hours, the conditions which had previously been tentatively agreed to were confirmed. It was evident that the civilian officials and leading planters bad brought their influence to bear, for Haber'e efforts at the second meeting aimed at obtaining personal privileges of a financial nature for the Government officials - such as the right to return to Germany and the payment of three months' salary in advance - and at safeguarding the important agricultural interests in the Territory. The military position being regarded as hopeless, the terms imposed by Holmes in regard to the military occupation and the surrender of executive authority were not contested; von Klewitz's chief concern was to obtain the insertion of a condition that, at the formal surrender of the German armed forces, military honours should be granted. All matters at issue having been finally adjusted, the terms of capitulation were duly signed, Dr. Haber’s signature being attested by Captain von Klewitz and that of Colonel Holmes by Commander Stevenson. The full text of the document is as follows :-


Made this seventeenth day of September, 1914, between Colonel William Holmes, D.S.O., V.D., Brigadier Commanding the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, on behalf of His Most Gracious Majesty King George the Fifth of the first part, and Herr E. Haber, Acting Governor of the German Possessions known as Deutsch Neu Guinea, on behalf of the Imperial German Government of the second part.

WHEREAS the principal centres of Deutsch Neu Guinea have been occupied by an overwhelming force under the command of the said Colonel Holmes;

And whereas the said Acting Governor has no authority to surrender any portion of the German Possessions under -his administration, but in view of the said occupation by the said overwhelming force, the said Acting Governor is prepared to give an assurance that all military resistance to such occupation in Deutsch Neu Guinea shall cease forthwith.

NOW, the following terms and conditions are solemnly agreed upon between the said contracting parties :-

(1) The name Deutsch Neu Guinea (German New Guinea) includes the whole of the German Possessions in the Pacific Ocean lately administered from Rabaul by the said Acting Governor on behalf of the German Imperial Government, and the said Possessions are hereafter referred to as “The Colony.”

(2) All military resistance to the said military occupation of the Colony shall cease forthwith.

(3) The armed German and Native forces now in the field are to be surrendered at Herbertshöhe on the 21st day of September at Ten (10) o’clock in the forenoon. Military honours will be granted.

(4) Upon the said Acting Governor giving his parole to take no further part directly or indirectly in the present war, no obstacle will be placed in the way of his returning to Germany. Such parole shall not prevent the said Acting Governor from tendering to the Imperial Government at Berlin such advice as he may deem proper with regard to terms of peace.

(5) Such officers of the said forces in the field as are officers of the German Regular Forces will be treated as prisoners of war in the usual manner. Such of the officers of the said forces as are not officers of the German Regular Forces, but whose usual occupation is civil, on taking an oath of neutrality for the duration of the present war, will be released and permitted to return to their homes and ordinary avocations, except where such avocations are official, in which case the provisions of paragraphs 10 and 11 hereof will apply.

(6) As the said Acting Governor gives his assurance that none of the white Non-commissioned Officers and men now in the Geld belong to the Regular Forces of the German Empire, such white Non-commissioned Officers and men, upon taking the said oath of neutrality, will be released and permitted to resume their ordinary avocations, except where such avocations are official, in which case the terms of paragraphs 10 and 11 hereof will apply.

(7) As it is understood that the safety of the white population depends to an extent on the existence of a Native Constabulary, that portion of the armed Native Constabulary which now forms part of the German Forces in the field, if found satisfactory, will be transferred to the Military Administration.

(8) As the administration of the Colony during the military occupation will be conducted by the British Military Commander, all monies and properties of the late Administration are to be handed over to the said Colonel Holmes, Brigadier Commanding.

(9) During the said military occupation the local laws and customs will remain in force so far as is consistent with the military situation.

(10) As it is intended that administration shall be carried on under the control of British officers, subject to the succeeding paragraph, such only of the civil officials of the late German Administration as it may be considered necessary to retain in an advisory capacity will be continued in their offices. Officials so retained will be required to take the oath of neutrality and their former salaries will be continued. Officials not so retained, and those who refuse to take the said oath, will be deported to Australia, but will have no obstacle placed in the way of their returning thence to Germany as soon as is possible.

(11) For the protection of the white population against the natives, the German officials now in charge of outlying portions of the Colony will continue in their official capacities until relieved by the Military Administration.

(12) Any British subjects at present imprisoned. or held in duress in the said Colony, are to be released and returned to their homes and former positions forthwith. This does not apply to such persons (if any) who may be serving a sentence imposed by a Criminal Court of competent jurisdiction.

In witness whereof the said contracting parties of this first and second parts have hereunto set their hands this seventeenth day of September, 1914, at Herbertshöhe, New Britain.

E. HABER. Witness to signature of E. Haber-

Witness to signature of William Holmes-

On September 20th a detachment of one officer and eleven reservists reached German headquarters from Port Weber. They had left Madang (Friedrich Wilhelm Harbour) for Herbertshöhe in the Government steamer Kolonial Gesellschaft, in response to the proclamation calling up men liable to serve in the armed forces of the Protectorate; the steamer had stranded on the reefs at Cape Lambert (on the north coast of New Britain), and the contingent had marched along the coast to Port Weber. They had with them a machine-gun. The circumstances were reported by Haber to the officer commanding the garrison at Herbertshöhe, and the party was sent in under a flag of truce to surrender.

In accordance with the terms of capitulation, the German troops still in the field-5 officers, 35 non-commissioned officers, and IIO native soldiers-marched from Tom into Herbertshöhe on the morning of September 21st under the command of Captain von Klewitz, exchanged salutes with the British troops, and laid down their arms. Dr. Haber and the Government officials came to Herbertshöhe the same day. The executive and administrative authority in the Protectorate had passed into British hands.

To constitute effective military occupation of the Colony in accordance with the principles of international law, it was necessary that the expeditionary force should take actual possession of, and establish its authority at, administrative centres throughout the Protectorate. With garrisons at Rabaul and Herbertshöhe, and after the surrender of the German armed force, New Britain could be considered as effectively occupied, and Holmes turned his attention to the seizure and occupation of other administrative centres, the most important of which was Friedrich Wilhelm Harbour, a former capital of the Protectorate and the chief seat of authority for the German mainland of New Guinea. On September 22nd, therefore, Holmes in the Berrima, escorted by the Australia, Montcalm, and Encounter, left Rabaul with the intention of occupying Madang (Friedrich Wilhelm Harbour). The expedition reached its destination at daylight on September 24th. No one knew whether the harbour was mined, or whether opposition would be offered, and due precautions were taken. The Encounter approached the entrance flying a flag of truce, and sent ashore in her steam launch Captain Travers, Intelligence-Officer, accompanied by Lieutenant Lyng as official interpreter and the German officer Lieutenant Mayer.

Travers carried with him copies in English and German of the terms of capitulation, and the following letter from the admiral:

Your Excellency,

Australia, Friedrich Wilhelnishafen,

24th September 1914.

His Excellency Herr E. Haber, Acting Governor of the German Possessions known as Deutsch Neu Guinea, has entered into an agreement with the representative of the British Government in the terms given in the attached copy. I therefore call upon you to transfer your sub- administration in accordance with the terms of the said agreement.

In the event of resistance being offered by you, I would point out that it is contrary to the terms of the said agreement; and, moreover, I have ample force at my disposal to render useless any opposition you can offer, and armed resistance will only entail useless bloodshed.

I therefore desire that you will inform me as to your intentions without delay, and give me assurance with regard to any submarine mines that may have been laid in the harbours.

Will you please be good enough to state when you will interview the Administrator of the Force of Occupation or his representative? It is desirable in the interests of yourself and of the inhabitants that this should be arranged as soon as possible.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your Excellency's obedient servant, GEORGE E. PATEY,
Vice-Admiral Commanding Ships and Vessels of the Allied Fleets.
His Excellency
The Officer Representing
The Government of Deutsch Neu Guinea at Friedrich Wilhelmshafen.

The District Officer of Madang (Friedrich Wilhelm Harbour) was not in the town: it was alleged by his deputy that he had set out two days previously on a punitive expedition against natives. The Deputy District Officer, accompanied by another official and a civilian, came off in the Encounter’s boat to the Australia, where they inspected the original document of the terms of capitulation, intimated that no resistance would be offered at Madang, and gave an assurance that no mines were laid in the harbour. But no risks were taken: the centre of the channel was swept by the Australia’s picket- boats, and the Encounter and the Berrima then entered the harbour. The Australia and the Montcalm lay outside the entrance. The German residents surrendered immediately, and took the oath of neutrality. The British flag was hoisted and saluted, and the proclamation of military occupation read. A garrison under Major Martin, consisting of a half- company of the naval reserve and one and a half companies of infantry, and including a detachment of the Army Medical Corps under Captain Byrne, was landed and posted, the commodious stores of the New Guinea Company being taken over as barracks for the troops. All arrangements having been completed at Madang, the expedition left for Rabaul about 6 o’clock in the evening of the same day, and on September 26th arrived at Blanche Bay.

Among the instructions given to Martin by Holmes before leaving Madang were orders to secure the arrest of the principal German officials, and to construct defences against boat landings.

One of the ships, however, against which such defences were to be provided was at that moment actually in hiding at Port Alexis, twelve miles northward along the coast. This was a converted merchantman renamed the Cormoran, which on August 30th had been detached by von Spee to raid Australian commerce, and was to meet there a consort, the Prins Friedrich. It was to this harbour that the District Officer had in fact fled when the expeditionary force arrived off Madang, and there is good authority for believing that another German official that evening carried thither particulars of the occupation of Madang, and also the information that the Australian fleet had left in the afternoon. The Cormoran sailed hurriedly the same day for Yap, where, on the night of the 29th, she embarked most of the garrison, intending with this access of strength to make a surprise attack upon the Australian garrison at Madang. With this purpose she left next day for Port Alexis. Precisely what prevented the carrying out of the plan is not yet known, but a rumour spread afterwards that the commander of the Connoran was dissuaded by the District Officer, who pointed out that the Governor had capitulated and that German residents would have to bear the consequences of any breach of the agreement. It might be argued that the agreement between Holmes and Haber did not extend to the operations of the German Navy. However that may be, the Cormoran, with the District Officer on board, waited vainly for a collier in the Hermit Islands. a day’s sail from Port Alexis, and then, after returning to Yap, where she nearly ran into a Japanese battleship. was interned at the American station at Guam.



Further Reading:

The Battle of Bitapaka, New Guinea, 11 September 1914

The Battle of Bitapaka, New Guinea, 11 September 1914, Allied Forces, Roll of Honour

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: The Battle of Bitapaka, New Guinea, 11 September 1914, Mackenzie Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 4 February 2011 6:08 AM EAST

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