The attack on Nadzab (5 September 1943) was a successful airborne assault carried out in order to support the Australian advance on Lae, at the head of the Huon Gulf .
Lae was the first target for Operation Postern, the New Guinea part of the second stage of Operation Cartwheel. It was carried out as part of a two-pronged assault on Lae. Australians troops landed on the coast east of Lae on 4 September, and prepared to move west towards the port. A second attack was to be mounted from the west, using the pre-war airfield at Nadzab as a staging post.
The attack on Nadzab was the first major airborne assault in the Pacific. It involved 302 aircraft, coming from eight different allied airfields (itself a sign of how successful the Allies had already been in New Guinea). One of the aircraft carried General MacArthur himself, who wanted to watch the attack, while another carried General Kenney.
The operation began with a bombing raid. This was followed by the creation of a smoke screen to guard against any Japanese air attack. Finally some 1,700 men from the 503rd Parachute Regiment (Colonel Kenneth H. Kinsler) jumped onto the base after flying in from the west.
The Japanese were caught entirely by surprise. The airfield fell without any fighting, and the Allies had gained a major base only twenty miles from their main target at Lae. Three paratroops were killed and 33 were injured during the drop itself. By the end of the day a battery of Australian 25pdr guns had also been landed.
After landing the US force split into three. The 1st Battalion stayed on the airfield. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions moved north and east to create a defensive perimeter. Later in the day Australian troops who had advanced down the Watut River from their inland bases arrived on site, and the combined force began work on making the airfield serviceable. They worked so quickly that the first C-47 was able to land on the following morning.
Two days after the landing the HQ of the 7th Australian Division flew into Nadzab, followed by the first troops from the 25th Brigade.
The only contact between the 503rd and the Japanese came in mid-September, to the east of Nadzab. This cost the Americans eight dead and twelve wounded.
On 10 September the Australians began to advance east from Nadzab towards Lae. The Japanese realised that the town couldn't be held, and ordered a retreat, but did put up a series of delaying actions. The last major Japanese forces left Lae on 15 September, at the start of a costly march to the north coast of the Huon Peninsula, and the first Australian troops entered the town on the morning of 16 September.