The Battle of Bitapaka

Why it is important to remember


For many years, PNGAA members and contributors to Una Voce have shown a developed interest in the history and events surrounding the Battle of Bitapaka at the outbreak of World War I and its aftermath. That interest extends to the battle itself wherein the first Australian soldiers to die in WWI lost their lives; the loss of the submarine AE I, and the aftermath of the surrender of German Imperial Forces in New Guinea and the installation of Australian military rule.

Bitapaka is a few kilometres inland from Kabakaul Blanche Bay, Rabaul, on the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. Today it is the site of the Bitapaka War Cemetery in which 1,120 soldiers of the British Commonwealth who lost their lives in World War II are buried or commemorated together with 32 First World War servicemen. The first of those World War I servicemen were Australians who fell on 11 September 1914 during the Battle of Bitapaka. On that day, an Australian naval squadron and military expeditionary force, in one of Australia's first actions of the 1914-18 war, seized a German wireless station at Bitapaka. In the days following, the then German Protectorate was proclaimed to be subject to British military occupation and under Australian Military governance.

After the war, the island became part of the Territory of New Guinea, which was an Australian mandated territory. The site of the wireless station later became the War Cemetery. In association with the Anzac Centenary, the first Australian casualties of WWI, those who fell at Bitapaka, and the related events associated with 11 September 1914, are the subject of this review article of sources and materials.