Green Shadows – the Papuan Infantry Battalion

Anna Edmundson
Tuesday, 30 April 2024

The Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) was an Australian Army unit established in 1940 in the Territory of Papua to bolster the Territory's defences against the looming threat of a Japanese invasion. The battalion comprised mainly Papuan native soldiers, led by Australian officers and non-commissioned officers. Enlistments in the PIB began in June 1940, with the first 63 recruits drawn from current or former members of the Royal Papuan Constabulary. To facilitate communication within the battalion, Police Motu was adopted as the common language. 

When the Japanese invaded in 1942, the PIB quickly gained a reputation for their bravery and unparalleled stealth in reconnaissance missions. The Japanese came to fear the PIB's presence, knowing that these skilled warriors could move through the jungle without leaving a trace or making a sound. Their effectiveness in navigating the dense jungle terrain was so remarkable that the Japanese came to dub them the ‘Green Shadows’.

Sergeant Katue 

Sergeant Katue, from the Kikori Delta, was the fourth recruit (Service Number PN 4) for the PIB, and already a respected member of the Royal Papuan Constabulary. When the Japanese landed at Gona in northern Papua on 21 July 1942, Katue was recovering from a minor injury in a local village and found himself stranded behind enemy lines.

Undeterred by his circumstances, Katue recruited a small force of 14 local men and began a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. Over the course of 73 days, Katue and his men engaged in a series of covert operations, killing 26 enemy soldiers, burning a storehouse, stirring up local resistance, and even capturing a Japanese Corporal.

After 2 and a half months of laying siege to the Japanese, Katue made his way to the Australian station at Wanigela and was flown back to PIB headquarters in Port Moresby. Upon his return, he sported a unique uniform adorned with the stripes, badges, and insignia of several of the Japanese officers he had killed, sewn onto his standard-issue ‘army greens’. In an interview with war correspondent George Johnson, Katue explained that these decorations served as a tally of his kills and a reminder of their ranks. In recognition of his extraordinary bravery and resourcefulness, Sergeant Katue was awarded the Australian Military Medal.

Service records

Within the Second World War service records held by National Archives is significant material relating to the Papua New Guinean men who served in the PIB and New Guinea Infantry Battalions of the Australian Army. These records provide us with an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the service and sacrifice made by Papua New Guinean soldiers during WWII. National Archives is actively working to preserve and share the stories of these men by digitising these records and making them readily accessible online, ensuring that their contributions to the war effort are remembered, honoured, and reflected upon by current and future generations. Their contributions to the war effort and their long-standing dedication to service alongside Australian forces have left an indelible mark on the history of both nations.