construction battalions had transformed the prewar airfield and
Lae into a major air base and anchorage on the Huon Gulf.
Lae thus anchored the Japanese Army's offensives in eastern
New Guinea, and to
February 1943, U.S. Navy cryptanalysts handed MacArthur solid
intelligence that the Japanese were planning another major transport
to Lae in early March. Every available aircraft was thrown into a
three-day struggle from 2 to 5 March, known as the Battle of the
Bismarck Sea. Eight transports and four destroyers were lost in all.
Of the 51st Division's 6,912 troops, about 3,900 survived,
but only 1,000 soaked, oil-stained, and dispirited officers and men
The destruction of the 51st Division condemned
the Japanese to the strategic defensive on New Guinea.