Supply in the Jungle (New Guinea, 1943) – By Indigenous Feet.*

In my post Supply in the Jungle – By Air I began to refer to the difficulties involved in supplying soldiers, using the Third Australian Division in the Wau-Salamaua, New Guinea, campaign of 1943 as an example. Once aircraft – if they were available – had ‘dropped’ the required supplies, however, they still needed to be transported to the troops in forward positions, and this was accomplished in Papua, New Guinea, and the islands, in large part by the indigenous inhabitants who volunteered for such duties. Managing the ‘carrier lines’ is a topic for another post, however the 17th Australian Infantry Brigade’s ‘Report on Operations’ at the conclusion of their Salamaua, New Guinea Campaign in late August, 1943, provides an idea of the complex logistics involved in getting what was needed to those who needed it.

To physically carry from either the air dropping ground or other supply base, required 1 native for a single 25-pounder artillery round (complete), while 2 x 3.7inch howitzer (mountain gun) rounds could be carried by 2 natives. One indigenous carrier could transport 2 complete boxed 75mm artillery rounds. Two natives were required for the carrying of a box of 1,000 rounds of .303 standard rifle rounds, and similarly two for a box of 1,000 rounds of .45 inch pistol/Thompson sub-machine-gun ammunition. One indigenous man could carry 12 x 2-inch mortar bombs or 4 x 3-inch mortar bombs. Two boxes of 12 x 4-second grenades could also be carried by one man, or 1 box of 12 x 7-second grenades (the weight difference being due to the baseplates on the latter).

In regards to rations, 1 native carrier could shoulder an 8-day x 1 man South-West Pacific rations, or 12-days Field Operational rations, or 8-days of native rations. One hundred and twenty-five cans of ‘Burnzo’ for heating food or water for tea could be handled by one carrier, while one man could also safely carry 6 picks, 8 axes, or 15 machetes (in a case).

Much-needed clothing was often only transported if there was space (labour) after ammunition and food, however when available, 1 indigenous volunteer could carry 32 shirts, or 20 pairs of trousers, or 144 pairs of (highly sought-after) socks, or between 8-10 pairs of boots (depending upon size). Five x 2-man tents or 10 blankets (actually 9 blankets with a groundsheet wrapped around them for protection) or 12 ground sheets or 16 mosquito nets were also considered one-person loads.

Bulky and heavy signals communication equipment required more labour, with a No.11 wireless set, for example, requiring 18 men to carry. A No.101 set required only 8, while a 12-volt battery charger was a four-man load, and a single battery a two-man job.

To move a complete medical Advanced Dressing Station required 70 men.

Ideally, each infantry battalion required the assistance of 262 native carriers, 144 of these being to transport the ammunition required for each of the 8 x 3-inch mortars (60 rounds per gun). With the 17th Brigade usually having two battalions in the general forward area (though often only one truly ‘forward’ while the second was situated on the L of C between the forward battalion and the rear base in the Bulolo Valley), in addition to a field ambulance, engineer, signals, and artillery detachments, not to mention 1000+ natives, one can imagine the planning involved in providing for everyone’s needs.

On the 17th Brigade L of C (Line of Communication – ‘the track’ in this case), supplies were physically carried from the jeephead a distance of just over 43 kilometres (27 miles), over a period of three days, to the most forward supply depot. The maximum load was 18 kilograms [40 pounds].


[References will be provided on request].

* I’m disinclined to refer to the indigenous people who volunteered to assist the Australians (for which they were paid) as ‘Fuzzy Wuzzies,’ not because of political correctness, but because the term originally referred to the Papuans who assisted greatly in the early-war campaigns in Papua, such as over the Owen Stanley Range, otherwise known as the Kokoda Campaign. While Papuans also carried for the Australians in the Wau-Salamaua, New Guinea campaign in 1942-43, other indigenous groups also participated, including some from the local Iwal language group. Not all indigenous groups shared the same physical characteristics, though the term ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ is invariably complimentary.

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1 Response to "Supply in the Jungle (New Guinea, 1943) – By Indigenous Feet.*"

  1. Adam Rankin says:


    Really interesting post. I found this an interesting contrast in efficiency to some of the earlier ANGAU reports on the Kokoda LOC. There is a good report from Cpt. Kienzle in the Sep 1942 ANGAU diary that gives his impressions. I’m including the military use of New Guinean and Papuan labour in my PhD and your post and the analysis is a great find.

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