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Thursday, 11 September 2008
The Battle of Bitapaka, New Guinea, 11 September 1914, Military Journal January 1915 Account
Topic: BatzNG - Bitapaka

The Battle of Bitapaka

New Guinea, 11 September 1914

Military Journal January 1915 Account


German reservists drilling native troops, 1914.


Military Journal, January 1915, Seizure of German Pacific Possessions, pp 45-54:

Quartermaster - Captain Goodsell.
Signalling Officer - Lieutenant Sadler.
Transport Officer - Lieutenant K. Heritage.

The military portion of the expeditionary force was raised in the 2nd Military District (New South Walers). The naval portion was recruited from the States of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, and reported for duty at Sutherland Dock, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, as a complete unit, under Commander J. H. Beresford, R.A.N., at the same time as the infantry.

The work of organizing, clothing, awning, equipping, and training of the military portion was vigorously proceeded with, and within one week the force was embarked on board the transport Berrima, as a complete self-contained unit, ready to proceed to sea on active service.

The following narrative of events is taken from the first issue of the Government Gazette, British Administration, German New Guinea:

The Berrima commenced her voyage from Farm Cove, Sydney Harbor, at 12 noon on 19th August, and after a delay of some days off the coast of North Queensland and Port Moresby, the expedition, escorted by the ships of the Royal Australian Navy, under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir George Patey, arrived at Blanche Bay, New Britain (New Pommern), at about 7.45 a.m. on 11th September.

"At about 9.50 a.m. a message was received from the shore that a party of 25 men from the naval portion of the expedition, under Lieutenant Bowen, which had been landed at dawn by the direction of the Admiral, at Kabakaul, with instructions to locate the wireless station, was meeting with serious opposition. A force, consisting of two companies of naval reserves under Lieut.-Commander Elwell, and one infantry machine gun section under Captain Harcus, the whole under the command of Commander J. A. H. Beresford, R.A.N., and accompanied by Captain R. J. A. Travers, intelligence officer, was landed to reinforce the shore party.

"At 1.45 p.m. a signal was received from H.M.A.S. Sydney at Herbertshohe, that nothing had been heard since early morning of a party of 25 naval reserve men, which had been landed at that place by the Admiral's orders. Lieut.-Colonel Watson was therefore directed to land with four companies of infantry, a machine gun section, and 12-pr. field gun, with instructions to gain touch with the missing party and co-operate with. Commander Beresford's force at Kabakaul in the attack on the wireless station. This force was landed at 3 p.m.

The Brigadier then visited the Admiral and conferred on the situation, and recommended that the balance of the force on the Berrima be landed at Kabakaul to reinforce Commander Beresford, and if the attack were not successful that afternoon, both Commander Beresford and Lieut.-Colonel Watson be directed to return to the coast before dark; that at daylight on the 12th the guns of the fleet should shell with shrapnel the ridge between Kabakaul and Herbertshohe, which appeared to be strongly held, and on completion of the shelling the forces at Kabakaul and Herbertshohe should attack simultaneously. The Admiral concurred in the proposals of the Brigadier.

"Early on the 12th September, however, information was received that the troops defending the wireless station had surrendered, during the previous afternoon, to Commander Beresford's force, and that the station itself had been occupied during the night by a party under Lieutenant Bond and Captain Travers.

"The casualties on our side were as follows:

Lieut.-Commander C. B. Elwell, R.A.N.,
Captain B. C. A. Pockley, A.A.M.C.,
Able Seaman W. C. V. Williams,
Able Seaman J. Courtney,
Able Seaman R. Moffatt,
Able Seaman H. W. Street.

Lieut. R. G. Bowen, R.A.N.,
Able Seaman D. Skillen,
Able Seaman T. Sullivan,
Able Seaman J. H. Tonks.

"The enemy's casualties, of which there are known to be a number, could not be ascertained, but 19 Germans, of whom 3 were officers. and 56 armed native constabulary were taken prisoners.

"Commander Beresford was ordered to move his force to Herbertshohe and garrison that place, as originally arranged, and Lieut. Colonel Watson's troops were re-embarked on board the Berrima, which then proceeded with the fleet to Simpsonhafen and Rabaul, which latter place was reached at 6 p.m., when four companies of infantry, a machine gun section, a detachment of A.A.M.G., under the command of Lieut.-Colonel J. Paton, were at once landed as a garrison.

"At 3 p.m. on Sunday, 13th September, a parades of all available troops under the command of the Brigadier was bolt} on shore, at a place now known as Proclamation Square, where, during the forenoon, a flagstaff had been erected. The troops were formed up on three sides of a square facing the flagstaff, with the band of the flagship, kindly placed at the disposal of the Brigadier by Rear Admiral Patey, in the centre. The fourth side of the square was occupied by the Rear-Admiral commanding and officers of H.M.A. Fleet, Lieut.-General Wylde, Royal Marines, and many German and other residents of Rabaul.

"Precisely at 3 p.m. the flag was broken by Lieutenant B. Holmes, A.D.C., and solemnly saluted by the troops, the ships in Simpsonhafen at the same time firing a royal salute. The National Anthem was sung by all present, and three cheers were given for His Majesty the King.

"The proclamation of military occupation on behalf of His Majesty the ping, issued by the Brigadier, was then read by the Brigade Major, after which the troops marched past in column of route, and again saluted the flag.

“It was ascertained that the seat of government had, about a month previously, been removed from Rabaul to Toma, in the interior, where the Governor was located, along with the remainder of his military forces and his principal civil officials. As he had not surrendered in response to the Admiral's, and subsequently the Brigadier's, request, and moreover the replies from him being considered unsatisfactory, Lieut.-Colonel Watson was ordered to march with one 12-pr. field gun, one machine gun section, and four companies of infantry at 5 a.m. on 14th September from Herbertshohe to Tomaa and effect the arrest of the Governor and clear up the situation generally.

"At daybreak on 14th September, H.M.A.S. Encounter shelled the ridge in the direction of Toma for about an hour. Immediately afterwards Lieut.-Colonel Watson commenced his advance, and reached Toma at about 3 p.m.

“This expedition was most successful, as Lieut.-Colonel Watson made arrangements for the Governor to attend at Herbertshohe at 11 a.m. on the following day to meet the Brigadier, for the purpose of discussing terms of capitulation. The force returned to bivouac at Herbertshohe at 9 a.m.

"At 11.30 a.m. on 15th September the Brigadier had his first interview with the Governor at Herbertshohe, and discussed terms and conditions of surrender. At 1.30 p.m. the conference was adjourned until noon on 17th September, on which date the parleying was continued and definite terms and conditions were arrived at, and an agreement was signed. The surrender of the Governor and his forces took place at Herbertshohe on 21st September 1914.

"On 22nd September at 9.45 a.m. the Berrima, escorted by the Australia, Montcalm, and Encounter, left Simpsonhafen for Friedrich Wilhelmshafen, which was reached on the 24th idem. and occupied without opposition. The German flag was removed from the flagstaff in front of the administrative buildings, and the Union Jack hoisted in its place and saluted.

“A garrison force, consisting of half company naval reserves, one and a half companies of infantry, and a detachment of A.A.M.C., under Major Martin, was landed. The proclamation of the Brigadier was read and posted in various places. All German residents, including four officials and thirteen others, were taken prisoners, but were subsequently released on their taking the oath of neutrality. The principal official was absent in the country. The ships sailed from Friedrich Wilhelmshafen at 5.15 p.m. the same day, and reached Rabaul at 2.40 p.m. on 26th September.

"In conclusion, Colonel Holmes desires to offer his sincere personal thanks to every officer, warrant, petty, and non-commissioned officer and man of the expeditionary force under his command for their loyal service and devotion to duty, without which the eminently successful results attained in such a marvellously short time after organization could not possibly have been achieved. At the same time he regrets deeply that the operations have resulted in loss of life, and the shedding of some of Australia's best blood, and he offers his sympathy, and also the sympathy of all those under his command, to the relatives of those who have so nobly fallen."

On 8th October Lieut.-Commander J. M. Jackson, R.N., was ordered by the Administrator (Colonel Holmes) to take command of the armed yacht Nusa and to search the north coast of New Britain for the German warship Komet, 977 tons gross, armed with one Hotchkiss quick-firing gull and equipped with wireless, and effect her capture. A machine gun section and a small force of infantry, under the command of Lieut.-Colonel Paton, accompanied Lieut.-Commander Jackson. The Nusa left Simpsonhafen at midnight, 8th-9th October. The Komet was located at Talassia, a small plantation about 170 miles south-west of Rabaul, on the 10th, and at dawn on the following day she was approached by the Nusa. Lieut.-Colonel Paton proceeded with a white flag in a boat to the Komet, and the captain surrendered in response to his demand. The captain, four German officers, and the native crew of 52 were taken prisoners. Later in the day the two vessels sailed for Rabaul, which was reached at 12 noon on the 13th October.

On 16th October Major Heritage, with a detail of troops, left- in the armed yacht Nusa to Kawieang, with the object of hoisting the flag, proclaiming British occupation over Now Britain, to release the British Consul, Mr. Jolley, who had been detained there as a prisoner, and to deport the German Commissioner. In addition, Major Heritage was instructed to search for and capture the steamer Siar, which had been engaged in smuggling cargo into New Britain, &c. Kawieang was reached during the following afternoon, and the flag was hoisted all([ saluted, the proclamation was published, and stops were taken to release Mr. Jolley and get the German Commissioner in. In the evening the Nuss put to sea and steamed for Garden Island, about 70 miles south-east of Kawieang. This was reached in a thick haze at about 11 a.m. on the 18th, and the Nusa was headed at full speed for the little harbor of Tekeriki, where the Siar, the large motor schooner Matupi, and the smaller motor schooner Senta were found anchored. Before the officers, who were on shore, could reach their ships, prize crews were placed on board, and all the arms seized and papers taken into custody. The engines of the Siar were found to have been temporarily disabled. At daylight on the 19th the Nusa, towing the Siar, and the motor schooners under their own power, weighed anchor, and arrived at Kawieang at 8 o'clock on the following morning. The Siar's engines were placed in working order and fuel was taken on board. In the meantime Mr. Jolley had been released, and the German Commissioner came in at noon and surrendered himself, at the same time formally handing over New Ireland to the British Government. On the 21st the flotilla put to sea, and came to anchor at Rabaul at an early hour on the 23rd.

On 24th October the Madang, in charge of Lieut.-Commander R. S. Lambton, V.D., R.A.N.R., left Rabaul in search of the Samoa, a three masted auxiliary schooner of 260 tons, 110 horse-power. Steaming along the west coast of New Ireland for about 50 miles, the Samoa was discovered on the morning of the 25th in Kalibi Bay. The schooner surrendered without resistance. A prize crew was placed on board, and the two vessels reached. Rabaul later in the day.

On 28th October the Administrator, with 50 infantry, a machine gull section, and a detachment of A.A.M.C., left Rabaul in the steamer Messina for Ocean Island, en route to Nauru. Ocean island was reached on 3rd November, and there Colonel Holmes had an interview with the Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate. HO was informed that about 40 British officials and employees of the Pacific Phosphate Company had been deported by the Germans from Nauru to Ocean Island on 6th September. Leaving Ocean Island at 10 a.m. on 5th November, Nauru was reached at daybreak on the following day. The German Resident Commissioner visited the Administrator on board ship and was informed that the whole of the German possessions in the Pacific, including Nauru, had been surrendered by the Acting Governor. The lauding of the troops was a difficult and slow process, as surf boats, manned by natives, had to be obtained from the shore to enable the dangerous coral reef to be passed. The Government administrative buildings, post-office, and wireless station were seized by advance parties, and by 5 p.m. the whole of the German residents, 30 in number, were placed in arrest, their houses searched, and arms and ammunition collected. The first duty performed on reaching Government House was to haul down the German flag and hoist the Union Jack, but in order to impress the natives, this was done officially, with as much public ceremony as possible, at 3 p.m. on the 7th. The proclamation was read and interpreted to the natives. Prior to the ceremony the Administrator held a levee of all the native chiefs, to whom it was explained that the reign of the Germans was ended, that two officers and many British soldiers would be left to protect them, and that as long as they and their people did what was right the King of England would protect them. Of the 30 German residents who were arrested, four subscribed to the oath of neutrality, and the remainder were sent to Sydney by the steamer Messing.


From the officers of the expedition the Administration of the possessions occupied has been formed. Although there were many difficulties inseparable from the institution of a new regime - difficulties rendered the more serious by reason of the scattered nature of the islands - yet they have been met and surmounted successfully. That this is the case is surely a tribute to the initiative and versatility of the Australian sailor and soldier. The personnel of the Administration is as under:
Administrator-Colonel W. Holmes, D.S.O., V.D.

Military Secretary-Major F. B. Heritage.

Officer Commanding Troops-Lieut.-Colonel W. W. Russell Watson, V.D.
Officer Commanding Garrison at Rabaul-Lieut.-Colonel J. Piton, V.D.
Officer Commanding Garrison at Herbertshohe -Commander J. A. H.
Beresford, R.N.R.

Officer Commanding Garrison at Friedrich Wilhelmshafen - Major Martin.

Treasurer-Captain W. A. Fry.

Director of Works-Lieutenant J. S. Whittle, R.A.N.R.

Director of Lands and Surveys-Lieutenant B. T. Goadby, R.A.E.
Assistant Judge Advocate-General and Judge of the Colony of New
Guinea-Captain C. E. Manning.

Principal Medical Officer-Major F. A. Maguire, A.A.M.C.

Officer in charge of native police-Captain E. Twynam.

Assistant officer in charge of native police-Lieutenant G. O. Manning

Officer in charge of Government stores and transport Officer - Lieutenant K Heritage.

Troops Supply Officer-Paymaster A. F. B. Livesay, R.N.
Provost-marshal-Captain Ravenscroft.
Government Printer and Interpreter-Lieutenant J. Lyng.
Chief Postmaster-Sergeant G. W. Moore.
Secretary to the Court of Justice-Sergeant G. B. Lane.


As a result of a visit of inspection paid by the Administrator and his staff to the scene of fighting which took place on the road from Kabakaul to the Bitapaka wireless telegraph station on the 11th September, the bodies of Able-seaman Street, of the naval reserves, and the German soldier Ritter have been exhumed from the position in which they were hurriedly buried where they fell at the side of the road, placed in shells, and reinterred at the cemetery at Herbertshohe, alongside the graves of Captain Pockley and A. B. Williams. The work was performed by a party from the Herbertshohe garrison; under the personal superintendence of Captain Donaldson, A.A.M.C. An impressive burial service was held over the graves on Sunday, 11th October, by Commander J. A. H. Beresford, R.A.N., which was attended by most of the men of the garrison, all of whom were anxious to pay the last sad tribute of respect to the departed soldiers, both British and German. The bodies of Lieut.-Commander Elwell and A. B. Courtney are lying at Kabakaul, where they were impressively laid to rest in a most suitably position by Commander Cumberlege of the destroyer Warrego. It is not proposed to interfere with these. The body of A. B. Moffatt, who died on board H.M.A.S. Australia, was buried at sea.-Government Gazette, British Administration, German New Guinea, 15th October, 1914.

The following is a copy of the proclamation which was read to the natives at Rabaul on 12th September last, on the annexation of the late German possessions in the Pacific:

“All boys belongina one place, you savvy big master he come now, he new feller master, lie strong feller too much, you look, him all ship stop place; he small feller ship belongina him. Plenty more big feller he stop place belongina him, now lie come here to take all place. He look out good you feller. Now he like you feller look out good alongina him. Suppose other feller master, he been speak you, 'You no work alonga new feller master.' He gammon. Suppose you work good with this new feller master, he look out good alonga you, he look out you get good feller kai-kai; he no fighting black boy alonga nothing.
"You look him new feller flag, you savvy him? He belongs British (English) ; he more better than other feller; suppose you been making paper before this new feller master come, you finish time belonga him first, finish time belonga him, you like make him new feller paper longa man belonga new feller master, he look out good alonga with you; he give good feller kai-kai. Suppose you no look out good alonga him, he cross too much. British (English) new feller master he like him black feller man too much. He like him all same you piccanin alonga him. You get black feller master belongina you, he all same police master. You look out place alonga with him, he look out place alonga with you. You no fight other feller black man other feller place you no kai-kai man. You no steal Mary belongina other feller black man. He finish talk alonga with you soon. Byand-by ship belongina new feller master he come, and look out place belongina you. You look out him now belongina place belongina you, you speak him all the same.

“Me been talk with you now, now you give three good feller cheers belongina new feller master.

"No more 'um Kaiser. "God save 'um King."


The capture of the wireless telegraphy station at Bitapaka put out of action the last of the four stations forming the German Pacific chain. These stations were situated at Yap, Bitapaka, Nauru, and Samoa. Yap was destroyed by H.M.S. Hampshire. Nauru was put out of action by a landing party from H.M.A.S. Melbourne, Samoa was put out of action by the Germans on the landing of the New Zealand expedition at Apia. The importance of the stations for the defence of the German possessions in the Pacific was of no little value, and from a Government and commercial aspect a convenience, but not to the extent as to justify their existence. The Bitapaka station was, on the outbreak of war, in the early stages of construction, and up to the time of its capture was working on low power only. There appears to be little doubt that military considerations -were the primary object of these stations, but the establishment of a chain of high-power stations without sufficient military protection has proved, in the Pacific, a failure. It might be regretted that sufficient time had not been given to our friends the enemy to provide a garrison at all these stations. Great credit is reflected by the enterprising spirit exhibited in their establishment.-Government Gazelle, British Administration, German New Guinea, 15th October, 1914.


Recently a number of Germans brutally assaulted Mr. Cox, a Wesleyan missionary hailing from Australia, at New Ireland. Mr. Cox was suspected of having given the British certain information detrimental to German interests. Of course lawlessness cannot be allowed. The Administration has dealt severely with those members of the Expeditionary Force who have trespassed against good order, and cannot permit residents to take the law into their own hands. It should be unnecessary to point that out to anyone. The culprits in the above case will, as a matter of course, be brought to task. With that in view, a punitive expedition, consisting of Major Ralston, Second-Lieutenant Bruce, and 56 men left Rabaul on the 9th instant, aboard the Madang. After getting well out on the journey to New Ireland, however, the Madang sprung a leak, and the party had to return with all speed to Rabaul. The Meklong was then made ready, and the expedition left on the following day.-The Government Gazette, British Administration, German New Guinea, 15th November, 1914.


A wireless station has been erected at the seat of government, Rabaul, and is now working very satisfactorily. It is interesting to know that most of the apparatus was previously the property of the German Government, and was being used by a high-power station at Bitapaka, and which was captured after a sharp encounter, during which the late Captain Pockley and others lost their lives. The whole of the installation has been carried out, and is now being operated by members of the Naval and Military Expeditionary Force. The station, which is comprised of Telefunken and Marconi instruments, is under the capable charge of the senior operator, Corporal G. Smith, signaller “A” company, assisted by W. Shaw, Marconi operator, and J. Fitzpatrick, telegraphist of H.M.A.S. Australia, and two junior ratings. The power is being supplied by a captured German A.E.G. dynamo and converter, driven by a Bolinger oil engine. - The Government Gazette, British Administration, German New Guinea, 15th November, 1914.


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, Military Journal January 1915 Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 4 February 2011 6:10 AM EAST

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