Morobe Province encompasses rugged mountain ranges, coastal swamps, fast-flowing rivers and a wide fertile plain, the Markham River valley. The large town of Lae (PNG’s second city) is situated near the mouth of the Markham, and other centres include Wau, Bulolo, Salamaua, and Finschhafen on the Huon Peninsula.
Morobe saw the full gamut of experiences of the War. The invading Imperial Japanese Army occupied Lae, Salamaua, and Finschhafen in March 1942, and proceeded to build up substantial forces there. The Allies carried out frequent air raids on Japanese centres from the beginning of the Japanese occupation until Lae, Salamaua, and Finschhafen were recaptured later in 1943. Throughout this time, a bitterly fought guerrilla campaign was conducted in the mountains on either side of the Markham River, involving Australians, Papuans, Japanese, and the New Guineans living there, as Peter Ryan recounts in his classic Fear Drive My Feet (1959).
To the south, a probe by Japanese forces to Wau was defeated early in 1943, and was followed by a savage campaign where Papuan, Australian, and American soldiers were able to push the Japanese out of their strongholds at Salamaua and Lae in September of the same year.
With Lae recaptured, fighting continued up the Markham River valley and along the coast and into the rugged interior of the Huon Peninsula to its north, culminating in the seizure of Madang in April 1944. Allied airbases were established at Nadzab and several other locations, from which bombing missions were conducted against Madang, Wewak, New Britain and other Japanese centres until the War’s end in 1945.