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Federation and MeteorologyBureau of Meteorology
Table of Contents

War History of the Australian Meteorological Service




Chapter 1: D.Met.S.—Australia's Wartime Weather Service

Chapter 2: The Weather Factor in Warfare
Meteorology Through History
Enemy Use of Weather Strategy
Battle of the Coral Sea
Milne Bay and Buna-Gona
The Lae and Salamaua Landings
Weather in the Allied Advance
Chemical Warfare Experiments

Chapter 3: Met in the Retreat

Chapter 4: Met in the Advance

Chapter 5: Meteorology in Aviation

Chapter 6: Central Forecasting Services

Chapter 7: Met With the Army

Chapter 8: Research and Personnel Training

Chapter 9: Instrumental Development and Maintenance

Chapter 10: Scientific Developments in the RAAF Meteorological Service

Chapter 11: Divisional Bureaux and Their Work

Appendix 1: List of Reports Provided by D.Met.S. for Advances Operational Planning and Other Purposes

Appendix 2: List of Service Personnel RAAF Meteorological Service

Appendix 3: List of Civilian Personnel Who Worked Together with Service Personnel of the RAAF Meteorological Service

Appendix 4: List of Locations at which RAAF Meteorological Service Personnel Served


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Milne Bay and Buna-Gona

Just as the importance of the tactical use of weather is clearly demonstrated by the actions of the opposing naval task forces in the battle of the Coral Sea, so the ground-air engagements that followed the enemy attacks on Milne Bay and on Buna and Gona later in the same year again stress the meteorological factor in the correct timing of the initial strike. In both cases, however, subsequent developments reacted against the attacking forces.

At Milne Bay (24 August—8 September 1942) the Japanese invasion convoy moved in just after the passage of a meridional front in conditions of low cloud and continuous heavy rain that were calculated to give the attackers advantage of terrain and weather. During the first few days of the engagement little air communication was possible over the Owen Stanley Range from Port Moresby because of the difficulty of breaking through the low cloud over the battle ground, so that the main air defence against the invaders came from the two RAAF fighter squadrons that had been established at Milne Bay as garrison. These aircraft were taking off and landing in water on the Milne Bay airstrip during the worst part of the bad weather, but after 7 September improving conditions allowed increased numbers of supporting fighters to come in from Port Moresby, thereafter joining the Milne Bay squadrons in their ceaseless attacks on the enemy troops and shipping.

Meanwhile the same heavy rain that was drenching the defending fighters was also hampering the invaders, bogging their tanks and placing Japanese long range air support at a disadvantage compared with our interceptor aircraft. Thus, after intense land and air engagements, the enemy was forced to retire after what was virtually his first major land defeat.

For other reasons, reminiscent of the advantages and disadvantages secured by the Allied and Japanese task forces in the Coral Sea encounter, the seaborne landings at Buna and Gona (22 November 1942) failed after initial success. Although the enemy again used the familiar tactics of advancing under bad weather to achieve the surprise element, his convoys suffered greatly in later stages of the battles when clear breaks in the storms exposed the ships to Allied air attack.

Invasion of Buna and Gona was carried out by enemy troops brought from Rabaul by naval vessels, moving down the stormbound northern coast of New Britain under cover of adverse weather conditions, and was designed to provide beachheads for an attack on Port Moresby—90 miles away—across the Owen Stanleys. How near it came to success is well known; as also is the performance of the Australian soldiers who met the enemy on the Kokoda trail and drove him back to Buna, Gona and Sanananda—a performance made possible by the introduction of supply dropping by American transport squadrons and by Hudsons and former civil aircraft operated by the RAAF. Here, again, the weather factor occupied an important place, for it was essential to make the most complete use of varying cloud conditions over the whole route to attack the enemy forces and keep our own men supplied. Strafing planes, for instance, were most effective in clear weather, with good visibility, since they were protected by their speed, while on the other hand varying amounts of cloud cover were most suitable to the different types of bully beef bombers employed.

Forecasters engaged in supplying predictions of these conditions were assisted by the fact that weather reports were readily and rapidly available to the base meteorological office from aircraft in flight, because of the short distance involved, and this condition also obtained for advices to Allied planes attacking the Japanese ships at the beachheads, once they became vulnerable after the clearing of initial bad weather.

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Haldane, T. 1997 'War History of the Australian Meteorological Service in the Royal Australian Air Force April 1941 to July 1946', Metarch Papers, No. 10 October 1997, Bureau of Meteorology

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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