The Germans established a station here in 1905 and the jail they built in 1906 still stands above the town. It was used by the Japanese during WWII.
In 1944 an Australian division pushed inland from Aitpe, against considerable Japanese opposition, to establish a base in the Torricelli Mountains. From there, they pushed the Japanese eastward until Wewak fell on 22 May 1945. A B24 bomber sits outside Aitape High School between Tadji airstrip and the town. There’s a Japanese war memorial between the town and the Santa Anna Mission.
As fierce as that fighting was, the tsunami on 17 July 1998, really laid waste to the area. A 10m tsunami struck a 14km stretch of coastline and swallowed everything within 500m from the shoreline. More than 2200 people were killed, 1000 terribly injured and 10, 000 became homeless in an instant. Help didn’t arrive for 16 hours and it was three days before most of the injured were admitted into hospitals at Vanimo and Wewak.