Kokoda History

Kokoda Track Campaign

(from Wikipedia) The Kokoda Track campaign or Kokoda Trail campaign was part of the Pacific War of World War II. The campaign consisted of a series of battles fought from July to November 1942 between Japanese and Allied — primarily Australian — forces in what was then the Australian territory of Papua.
The Kokoda Track itself is a single-file track starting just outside Port Moresby on the Coral Sea and (depending on definition) runs 60–100 kilometres through the Owen Stanley Ranges to Kokoda and the coastal lowlands beyond by the Solomon Sea.
The track crosses some of the most rugged and isolated terrain in the world, reaches 2,250 metres (7,400 ft) at Mount Bellamy, and combines hot humid days with intensely cold nights, torrential rainfall and endemic tropical diseases such as malaria. The track is passable only on foot; this had extreme repercussions for logistics, the size of forces and the type of warfare that could be conducted.[3]
As part of their general strategy in the Pacific, the Japanese sought to capture Port Moresby. The port may have given them a base from which they could strike at most of north eastern Australia, and control of a major route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but evidence of a plan to invade the continent is slim.[4]. The first attempt by seaborne amphibious invasion was thwarted by the Battle of the Coral Sea.
A month later, the Battle of Midway destroyed most of the Japanese carrier fleet, and reduced the possibility of major amphibious operations in the south Pacific. The Japanese now resolved to mount an overland assault across the Owen Stanley Range to capture Port Moresby, which might have succeeded against virtually no resistance, had it been mounted in February.[5]
Looking for ways to counter the Japanese advance into the South Pacific, the Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur, decided to build up Allied forces in New Guinea as a prelude to an offensive against the main Japanese base at Rabaul.
Aware that an enemy landing at Buna could threaten Kokoda and then Port Moresby, MacArthur asked his commander of Allied Land Forces, General Sir Thomas Blamey for details of how he proposed to defend Buna and Kokoda. In turn, Blamey ordered Major General Basil Morris, the commander of New Guinea Force, to secure the area and prepare to oppose an enemy advance.
Morris created a force to defend Kokoda called Maroubra Force, and he ordered the 100-strong B Company of the Australian 39th (Militia) Battalion to travel overland along the track to the village of Kokoda. Once there, B Company was to secure the airstrip at Kokoda, in preparation for an Allied build-up along the Papuan north coast. The unit was ordered to leave on 26 June but did not depart until 7 July. The rest of the 39th Infantry Battalion stayed on the near side of the Owen Stanley range, improving communications. As the militia company was securing its positions, news reached them of Japanese landings on the north coast of New Guinea.[6]

Prelude: Japanese landings and initial assault
The Japanese, having already captured much of the northern part of New Guinea earlier in the year, landed on the northeast coast of Papua on July 21, 1942, and established beachheads at Buna, Gona and Sanananda.[1]:122-125
The first Australian Army unit to make contact with the Japanese on mainland New Guinea was a platoon from the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB), made up of indigenous soldiers, under an Australian officer, Lieutenant John Chalk.[7]
On July 22, Chalk reported the arrival of the Japanese, by sending a runner to his immediate superior; he received a handwritten note later that day, stating simply: “You will engage the enemy.” That night, Chalk and his 40-strong unit made a lightning ambush on Japanese forces from a hill overlooking the Gona–Sangara road, before retreating into the jungle.
Japanese attempts to build up the force at Buna also had to get past the Allied air forces. One transport got through on 25 July, but another on July 29 was sunk, although most of the troops got ashore. A third was forced to return to Rabaul. Another convoy had to turn back on July 31. However, bad weather and Japanese A6M Zero fighters allowed a convoy under Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa to get through on August 14 and land some 3,000 Japanese, Korean and Formosan troops of the 14th and 15th Naval Construction Units.
On August 17, the 5th Sasebo Special Naval Landing Force, and elements of the 144th Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hatsuo Tsukamoto, 55th Mountain Artillery, 47th Anti Aircraft Artillery and 55th Cavalry arrived under the overall command of engineer Colonel Yosuke Yokoyama. On August 21, two battalions of the 41st Regiment arrived.[1]:145
Colonel Yokoyama ordered Colonel Tsukamoto to seize the airstrip at Kokoda, and to conduct a reconnaissance-in-force along the Kokoda Track. Encountering the Australian troops deployed near Kokoda, Tsukamoto deployed his infantry and marines for an attack, and quickly moved inland.

First Battle of Kokoda
At 4pm on 25 July, the 39th Battalion made its first contact with the Japanese when the 60-strong 11th and 12th Platoons, along with some PIB soldiers and commanded by Captain Templeton, staged an ambush at the village of Gorari on 500 troops of Japan’s 144th Regiment. Pursued by the Japanese the two Australian platoons then staged a fighting rearguard withdrawal down the track to the village of Oivi where both forces dug in for the night. [8]
Several hours apart on the morning of 26 July two transport planes each landed 15 additional troops of the 39th Battalion which were sent to reinforce the two platoons at Oivi. Shortly after the first 15 reinforcements arrived the Japanese troops attacked the 75 militia and handful of local PIB troops now defending Oivi.
Despite repeated frontal and flank attacks over the next six hours the Japanese failed to break through. By 5pm the remaining 15 reinforcements had not yet arrived and Captain Templeton moved down the track to warn them that they might encounter Japanese troops between them and his position. Unknown to Templeton the Japanese had already surrounded his troops and he was killed when he ran into them.
Major W.T. Watson of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) assumed command. As the track to Kokoda was now cut off Lance Corporal Sanopa of the PIB, under cover of darkness, led the Australian and Papuan troops to Deniki by means of a creek below Oivi. At Deniki the men joined up with Lieutenant Colonel Owen’s company.
On the morning of 27 July Lieutenant Colonel Owen, with the remnants of the militia companies and a handful of troops of the PIB, who had had little food or rest for the previous three days and knowing he would be facing some 500 elite Japanese marines, decided to attempt a defence of the Kokoda airstrip and hope that reinforcements would arrive in time to support him. Leaving around 40 troops at Deniki he took the remaining 77 and was deployed in Kokoda by midday on 28 July.
Owen then contacted Port Moresby by radio to request reinforcements. Shortly two Douglas transports carrying reinforcements from the 39th Battalion circled the airfield, but the American pilots refused to land for fear that the Japanese would attack while they were still on the ground and returned to Port Moresby. During the afternoon the Japanese poured machinegun fire and mortars on the Australians, Lieutenant Colonel Owen received a fatal wound and Major Watson assumed command.[2]
The Japanese launched a full-scale assault at 2.30 a.m. on 29 July. Only after his position was completely overrun did Major Watson give the order to his troops to withdraw to Deniki. The Kokoda airstrip was captured by the Japanese who, having achieved their objective, did not pursue the Australians.
Although the defenders were poorly trained, outnumbered and under-resourced, the resistance was such that, according to captured documents, the Japanese believed they had defeated a force more than 1,200 strong when, in fact, they were facing 77 Australian troops.[9]
Next to establishing the strength of the defending forces, and with the strategically vital supply base and airstrip at Kokoda within his grasp, Tsukamoto deemed the track to be practicable for a full-scale overland assault against Port Moresby. The Imperial Japanese Army’s 10,000-strong South Seas Force, commanded by Major-General Tomitaro Horii, based at Rabaul, was tasked with the capture of Port Moresby.

Australian reinforcements
The loss of the airstrip at Kokoda forced the Australian commanders to send the other companies of the 39th Infantry Battalion plus the rest of the Militia’s 30th Infantry Brigade — the 49th and 53rd Infantry Battalions — over the Track, rather than reinforcing Kokoda by air.[10] Supplies, which had previously been flown in to Kokoda by the United States Army Air Force, would now need to be carried in by Papuan porters. Wounded soldiers could no longer be evacuated by air, and would now have to be carried out by Papuans, who were nicknamed fuzzy-wuzzy angels by the Australian soldiers.
By the first week in August all the reinforcements had arrived in Deniki. The Australian force at Deniki now comprised thirty-three officers and 443 other ranks of the 39th Battalion; eight Australians and thirty-five native troops of the PIB; and two officers and twelve native members of the Australian and New Guinea Administrative Unit for a total of 533 troops.[11] The new commander Major Allan Cameron, who believed the B company survivors’ failure to hold Oivi and Kokoda against the Japanese troops indicated a lack of fighting spirit, had them sent back up the track to Eora Creek.
On 9 August 1942, Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell’s I Corps headquarters arrived at Port Moresby. Rowell assumed command of New Guinea Force on 18 August 1942. Blamey ordered Major General Arthur “Tubby” Allen’s veteran Australian 7th Division, which had fought in the Middle East, to embark for New Guinea. The 18th Infantry Brigade was ordered to Milne Bay while the 21st and 25th Infantry Brigades would go to Port Moresby.
The 21st Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Arnold Potts, was the first to arrive at Port Moresby. It was composed of the 2/14th, 2/16th, and 2/27th Battalions. The 2/14th and 2/16th immediately began moving north along the Track to reinforce Maroubra Force. The 2/27th Battalion was tasked for the Kokoda Track but following the Japanese landings at Milne Bay, the 2/27th was held in Port Moresby as the divisional reserve

Second Battle of Kokoda
On the arrival of the 39th Battalion, Cameron decided to retake Kokoda, a three hour march from Deniki. This risky attack against unknown enemy forces later found to number 1,000 was carried out using three companies of the 39th Battalion attacking along different tracks. Between 6.30 and 8am on 8 August the three companies left Deniki separately.[5]:179 Only Captain Noel Symington’s[13] ‘A’ Company succeeded in reaching Kokoda and successfully re-took the village, finding it very lightly defended. ‘D’ Company ran into enemy troops which resulted in heavy fighting continuing throughout the day with the Japanese continually reinforcing their position. As nightfall approached ‘D’ Company began a fighting withdrawal which lasted two days. ‘C’ Company was ambushed by a large Japanese force and pinned down. After their commanding officer was killed the company repeatedly attempted to withdraw under heavy fire during the day but were unable to do so until night fell. Upon reaching Deniki their pursuers continued the attack on Cameron and his troops for several hours before withdrawing towards Kokoda.[5]:179 At 10 am on the following day, two Papuan policemen arrived at Deniki to advise Cameron that they had occupied Kokoda the previous day and he was awaiting reinforcements and supplies.[5]:179 Cameron contacted Port Moresby and was told that the reinforcements would not be available until the following day due to poor weather conditions.[5]:179
Having repulsed ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies, Lieutenant Colonel Tsukamoto now concentrated his troops against ‘A’ Company.[5]:179 From late morning on 9 August, the Japanese repeatedly attacked Captain Symington’s force at Kokoda and the battles continued into the night when the Japanese were able to infiltrate the Australian perimeter under cover of darkness. Hand to hand fighting continued until the next morning. An attempt to reinforce ‘A’ Company using troops from the 49th Battalion failed when the aircrew were unable to establish that the airstrip was in friendly hands.[9]:326 By late afternoon, the Australians had consumed all of their food and had very little ammunition left. As such, at around 7 pm, Symington ordered a fighting withdrawal to the west of the Kokoda plateau and then at first light made for Deniki.[5]:179 Unable to break through the Japanese lines while carrying their wounded they entered the village of Naro, sending a villager to Deniki for help where Warrant Officer Wilkinson volunteered to lead a small patrol of native troops to Naro. Wilkinson reached Naro and led the men of ‘A’ Company past the Japanese to Isurava, rejoining the rest of the 39th Battalion on 13 August.[5]:180

Battle of Isurava
On 26 August,[5]:206 Horii moved the first of his disembarking troops forward, a body of some 2,500 soldiers, against the 39th Battalion—now under Ralph Honner, who had assumed command on 16 August[5]:182—and elements of the 49th and 53rd Battalions, some 400-strong. The Japanese force made contact with the outer positions of Maroubra Force and began frontal attacks against the dug-in defenders with the aid of a mountain gun and mortars manhandled up the Track. Japanese reconnaissance had revealed a parallel track bypassing Isurava, defended by the Australian 53rd Battalion.[5]:206 The 2/14th Battalion had been dispatched from Myola the previous day with orders to relieve the 39th, and a company reached their position at Isurava in the middle of the afternoon on 26 August, while others deployed to Alola and Templeton’s Crossing.[5]:206 Nevertheless, the 39th were forced to stay on as several times the Japanese threatened to break through the perimeter. Potts, who had taken command of Maroubra Force,[5]:184 realising that Horii had launched a major attack, decided to deploy the 2/14th at Isurava, using the 39th to screen their movement, while bringing up the 2/16th to Myola where it would be held in reserve.[5]:206 By the time the 2/14th Battalion had deployed, the Japanese were still able to field a force some 5,000 strong.[1]:228
Japanese tactics were little-changed from the campaign through Malaya—pin the enemy in place with frontal attacks while feeling for the flanks, with a view to cutting off enemy forces from the rear. However, Horii was on a strict timetable; any delays in finding the Australian flank meant the gradual debilitation of his force from disease and starvation. As a result, Maroubra Force endured four days of violent attacks from aggressive, well-trained and well led Japanese troops.[1]:200–211
As dawn broke on 27 August the Australians defending Isurava were subjected to heavy mortar and mountain gun fire as the Japanese launched a number of probes against the 39th Battalion’s lines. As the morning progressed, the probes began to penetrate the 39th’s defences; however, the deployment of the 2/14th Battalion restored the situation and by nightfall the Australian perimeter had been re-established.[5]:206 The situation on the right flank, where the 53rd Battalion was guarding the alternate track, was critical, however. A Japanese force was sent to open this route, and met with success. Infiltrating the 53rd’s perimeter, the Japanese managed to achieve a break-in and rolled up the Australian’s positions, killing a number of the battalion’s senior officers, including its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Ward. As a result of this loss, communications between the companies broke down rendering co-ordinated action impossible and 53rd gave ground, retreating to the Track junction behind Isurava.[14] Although the Japanese failed to exploit the situation, the way to Alola was open to them and as a result Potts was forced to bring up the 2/16th Battalion to plug the gap.[5]:206
During 28 August the fighting continued along the front of the Australian position and on both flanks. The Japanese commander, realising that the Australians had brought up reinforcements, decided to commit the two battalions he had been holding back in reserve.[5]:207 The following day the Japanese attacked with the equivalent of six battalions; in possession of the ridges that dominated the Australian position from both sides of the valley in which it sat, the Japanese were able to lay down considerable volumes of mortar and machine gun fire in support of their assaults.[5]:207 Unable to respond with similar firepower, the Australian perimeter began to shrink, and it was during this stage of the fighting that Private Bruce Kingsbury of the 2/14th made a unique individual contribution to the campaign and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross as a result. His citation read, in part:
Private Kingsbury, who was one of the few survivors of a platoon which had been overrun … immediately volunteered to join a different platoon which had been ordered to counterattack. He rushed forward, firing the Bren gun from his hip through terrific machine-gun fire, and succeeded in clearing a path through the enemy. Continuing to sweep enemy positions with his fire, and inflicting an extremely high number of casualties upon them, Private Kingsbury was then seen to fall to the ground, shot dead by the bullet from a sniper hiding in the wood.[15]
Eyewitnesses said that Kingsbury’s actions had a profound effect on the Japanese, halting their momentum. However, as Australian casualties mounted and ammunition ran low, the Japanese came close to making a breakthrough on the alternate track. Horii had now deployed several companies on the flanks and near the rear of the 2/14th and 39th Battalions, threatening the Australian positions with encirclement.[5]:207 Outnumbered, Maroubra Force withdrew towards Nauro and Menari. Potts relieved the exhausted 39th and 53rd Battalions; they were ordered to make their way back to Port Moresby. The 53rd, whose performance during the fighting had come to be seen in less than favourable light was reduced to being used for reinforcements and work parties,[14] however, the 39th subsequently returned to the battle when the forward troops were under pressure.[16]
Tropical diseases in general, and malaria in particular, took a devastating toll in this campaign, outnumbering combat casualties by ten to one. While the Australian Army had encountered malaria in the Middle East, few doctors with the Militia had seen the disease before. The need for a strict anti-malaria program was not fully understood, and many men wore shorts and short-sleeved shirts after dark. Others failed to take their quinine, which was still the major drug in use, not having yet been supplanted by atebrin. Many officers saw this as a medical rather than a disciplinary issue, and did not compel their men to take their medicine. Moreover, anti-malarial supplies of all kinds were in short supply.[17]:70–71

Isurava to Brigade Hill
Retreating soldiers, Papuan porters and wounded immediately flooded the Track causing it to become a sea of mud in parts. However, no wounded were left behind — Japanese patrols routinely mutilated and executed any wounded found; sometimes using the corpses as bait to draw Australian soldiers into ambushes.
No suitable defensive terrain existed between Isurava and a feature known as Mission Ridge, which was south of Nauro and Myola. As a result, Brigadier Potts and Maroubra force retreated back through Menari, mounting small delaying actions where possible.
Myola, a large dry lake bed, to that time had been used as a supply dump. It was a “massive yellow brown oasis in a green desert” allowing supply drops by United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) “biscuit bombers”. The USAAF had two transport squadrons in the theatre, the 21st and 22nd Troop Carrier Squadrons, formed in Australia in April 1942. They operated a collection of acquired aircraft, including C-39, C-47, C-53, DC-2, DC-3, DC-5 and L-14. Many of the pilots were civilians and losses were high. Four of the 32 available transports were lost in August 1942.[12]:27
Myola has been described as “one of the great mysteries of the Papuan campaign”.[13] Potts had been told that 40,000 rations had been stored at Myola prior to 17 August and that there was no need for his troops to carry rations. Potts on hearing this ordered his men to pack five days’ rations.
Upon arrival Potts found only 5,000 rations. Rowell maintained that the missing rations “fell outside the target area” and in his autobiography he stated that the claim that “the rations were never dropped at all or that the explanation lay in faulty work by an inexperienced staff”[1]:198 was “preposterous”, noting that “all through the New Guinea Campaign cargo dropping remained notoriously unreliable”.[14] On 21 August, a patrol discovered a second, much larger, dry lake bed at Myola. The two lake beds came to be called Myola 1 and 2 but at this time maps showed and air crew expected only one. It seems likely that drops were made at the wrong one.[15]
Rowell pressed Blamey to ask for additional drops but lacking aircraft MacArthur told Blamey “Air supply must necessarily be considered an emergency rather than a normal means of supply” and that he was to “find other means of supply” – meaning native carriers. Potts would have to make do with the scheduled drops.[16]
Due to a shortage of parachutes, all the supplies had to be “free-dropped” — dropped without parachutes. Packaging at this time was primitive and inadequate, even for normal handling under New Guinea conditions, and woefully inadequate for being dropped from a plane, so the rate of breakages was high.
Tactics for dropping had not been developed and the recovery rate was correspondingly small.[17] Due to this the 2/14 and 2/16 battalions were forced to wait several days until enough supplies arrived for them to carry out their orders, time which allowed the Japanese to concentrate their forces.
Allen, under significant pressure from Blamey and MacArthur, asked Potts when offensive actions would be resumed now that air-drops were ensuring a regular, if sparse and intermittent flow of supplies. Potts in turn requested the 2/27th Infantry Battalion as reinforcements. In view of the situation at Milne Bay, MacArthur withheld this force until the situation at Milne Bay was clearer.
Under pressure from above, Allen ordered Potts to hold Myola as a forward supply base and to gather sufficient supplies for an offensive against the Japanese advance. But Potts was in an indefensible position; threatened with an outflanking manoeuvre through a loop of the Track and with insufficient terrain near Myola suitable for a set-piece defence, he retreated through Myola, destroying the supply base behind him.

Battle of Brigade Hill

Maroubra Force withdrew to the next defensible strong point on the Track, a feature known as Mission Ridge. Following the containment of the Japanese at Milne Bay, Allen finally released the 2/27th Infantry Battalion from the divisional reserve at Port Moresby. After advancing along the Track from Port Moresby, the 2/27th Infantry Battalion finally joined Maroubra Force at Mission Ridge, and Brigadier Potts was finally able to commit his entire brigade to the battle.
Taking up positions on a hilltop straddling the Track, which later became known as “Brigade Hill”, Maroubra Force awaited the Japanese advance. The usual Japanese frontal attacks began soon after, upon the Australian leading elements. However, the Japanese launched a strong flank attack, aimed at cutting off the lead elements from the rest of Maroubra Force.
The flank attack cut Maroubra Force in two, separating the brigade headquarters staff from the three battalions. With Brigade HQ about to be overrun, Brigadier Potts and the rear elements of Maroubra Force were forced to retreat back along the Track to the village of Menari.
Having run out of rations and with almost no ammunition left, when it became clear that they were in danger of being cut-off and destroyed, the remaining soldiers of all three Australian battalions immediately left the Track and were ordered to “go bush”, effectively an order of every man for himself, and find their own way to the village of Menari.
The 2/14th and 2/16th Infantry Battalions managed to re-unite with Brigadier Potts and 21st Brigade headquarters at Menari, but the 2/27th Battalion was unable to reach Menari before the rest of the brigade was again forced to retreat by the advancing Japanese. The 2/27th, along with wounded from the other battalions, were forced to follow paths parallel to the main Track, eventually making their way back to Ioribaiwa, and thence to Imita Ridge.
Elements of the 2/14th and 2/16th Infantry Battalions accompanying Potts later managed to regroup for the defence of Imita Ridge, but the 2/27th only managed to regroup much later, after the Japanese retreat began. The result of this action was the shattering of Maroubra Force.
The defeat of the 21st Brigade at Brigade Hill finally ended Maroubra Force’s defence of the Kokoda Track as a cohesive fighting unit, and was a decisive victory for the Japanese. The defeat was one of many factors leading later to the infamous “running rabbits” incident at base camp at Koitaki.
On 8 September, Rowell informed Blamey that he had decided to relieve Potts. Rowell ordered Potts to immediately report to Port Moresby “for consultations”, replacing him as Maroubra Force commander with Brigadier Selwyn Porter on 10 September.
The series of defeats had a depressing effect back in Australia. On 30 August, MacArthur radioed Washington that unless action was taken, New Guinea Force would be overwhelmed. General George Vasey wrote that “GHQ is like a bloody barometer in a cyclone — up and down every two minutes”. MacArthur informed General George Marshall that “the Australians have proven themselves unable to match the enemy in jungle fighting. Aggressive leadership is lacking.” He wanted Blamey to go up to New Guinea and “energise” the situation.
Prime Minister John Curtin ordered Blamey up to Port Moresby to take personal command of New Guinea Force, which he did on 23 September. Rowell remained in command of I Corps, but saw this as a supersession. Blamey soon concluded that he could not work with Rowell, and relieved him of his command on 28 September, replacing him with Lieutenant General Edmund Herring.

Ioribaiwa and Imita Ridge

Upon reaching Ioribaiwa, the lead Japanese elements began to celebrate – from their vantage point on the hills around Ioribaiwa, the Japanese soldiers could see the lights of Port Moresby and the Coral Sea beyond. However, Major-General Horii ordered his troops to dig in on the ridgeline.
It was becoming clear to General Horii that the logistics trail along the Track from Buna was close to complete collapse. No new supplies had reached the forward Japanese battalions for some days now, and the few meagre supplies captured from the Australians were insufficient for a new offensive.
The foodstuffs taken from the former Australian supply dump at Myola were deliberately contaminated by the withdrawing Australians, and hundreds of Japanese soldiers were now succumbing to dysentery as a result, while others were showing the advanced stages of starvation.
Meanwhile, the worn-out soldiers of Maroubra Force were relieved by the 25th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Ken Eather, and the 16th Infantry Brigade (of the 6th Division), commanded by Brigadier John Lloyd. The Australian brigades dug in at Imita Ridge, near the start of the Kokoda Track outside Port Moresby, and were supported by an artillery battery of 25 pounders, which had been brought up the Track.
At this time, Major General Horii received orders from the Japanese commander at Rabaul – that due to the ongoing commitments of the Battle of Guadalcanal, no more reinforcements could be spared for the Kokoda Track offensive, and General Horii was to withdraw to the Buna-Gona beachheads. The order to withdraw was given, and the Japanese began to rapidly move back towards Kokoda.

Japanese withdrawal

Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi’s attack on 14 September to retake Guadalcanal was unsuccessful. In an unequal battle, Kawaguchi’s forces lost about 850 killed, while the American marines lost 104.[20]:184–194 When the news reached Imperial General Headquarters in Japan, they decided in an emergency session that they could not support fronts on both New Guinea and Guadalcanal. They concluded that Guadalcanal and its airfield was essential to securing Japanese operations in the South Pacific, and Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake decided that he only had sufficient troops and materiel to defeat the Allied forces on Guadalcanal. Hyakutake prepared to send more troops to Guadalcanal in another attempt to recapture Henderson Field. With the concurrence of the Japanese command staff, he ordered General Horii to withdraw troops on New Guinea, who were within 48 kilometres (30 mi) of Port Moresby, to the Buna–Gona beachheads until the issue at Guadalcanal was decided.[20]:162–193

Flanking manoeuvre failed

While Rowell felt he could contain the Japanese with the extra troops, MacArthur was anxious to flank the Japanese. He asked his staff to plan a flanking manoeuvre that would push the Japanese off the mountains more quickly.[6]:91 Since the 32nd Division in Australia had to move to another camp in any event, MacArthur issued orders for them to move to New Guinea.[6]:92 Brigadier General Hanford MacNider, in charge of the G-4 (Logistics) unit in MacArthur’s headquarters group, learned when he arrived in Port Moresby that the previously chosen flanking route across the peninsula to Wairopi proposed by headquarters staff was not practical. It crossed the Australian’s rear area and a region where the soldiers could be cut off by the Japanese. It was also so mountainous that the only way they could receive supplies would be by air. An alternative route was then considered: an 85 miles (137 km) trail, from Port Moresby along the coast to Kapa Kapa, thence inland via Kalikodobu, Arapara, Laruni, to Jaure. From Jaure other minor trails would lead the soldiers to Wairopi and Buna.[6]:94 The total distance over the mountains to the Japanese positions was over 130 miles (209 km), and most of the trail was barely a goat path.[6][page needed]
Beginning on 14 October, 1,250 men from the 32nd Division—members of the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment, 114th Engineer Battalion, and 19th Portable Hospital—commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Henry A. Geerds, left Karekodobu on foot. The men departed Karekodobu—nicknamed “Kalamazoo” by the GIs who had a hard time pronouncing the local name—were accompanied by several hundred natives.[6]:95 So rough was the journey ahead that they became the only Americans to cross the extremely rugged 10,000 feet (3,000 m) Owen Stanley Mountains on foot.[6][page needed] The first troops reached Jaure on 25 October 1942.[6]:115 Captain Boice, scouting ahead, had reached this village on 4 October.[6]:110[21] They began to depart from Jaure on 28 October and reached the Natunga area on 2 November. They spent more than a week drawing rations, helmets, boots, and other equipment before pushing on to Gora and Bofu, which they reached on 12 November.[6]:115 On 20 November 1942, after 42 days of crossing extraordinarily difficult terrain, including hogback, razor-sharp ridges, dense jungle, and mountainous high-altitude passes, and without having encountered a single enemy, ‘E’ Company was the first unit to reach Soputa at the front. By the time the 2nd Battalion emerged from the jungle, the 32nd Division’s 1/126th, the 128th which had been flown overland to Wanigela, and the Australian 2/10th Battalion had already engaged the Japanese. Tropical diseases and exhaustion had taken a severe toll on the 2/126th, which had lost a significant part of its strength before it first engaged the Japanese in the subsequent Battle of Buna–Gona.[6]:134[22]

The “running rabbits” incident

On 22 October, after the relief of the 21st Brigade by the 25th Brigade, Blamey visited the remnants of Maroubra Force at Koitaki camp, near Port Moresby. While Rowell had allowed Potts to return to his brigade, Herring was unfamiliar with Potts and preferred to work with officers he knew. Blamey relieved Potts of his command, replacing him with Brigadier Ivan Dougherty, an officer he knew from when Blamey commanded the Northern Territory Force. Blamey cited Potts’ failure to hold back the Japanese, despite commanding “superior forces” and, despite explicit orders to the contrary, Potts’ failure to launch an offensive to re-take Kokoda. Blamey explained that Prime Minister John Curtin had told him to say that failures like Kokoda would not be tolerated.[23]:257–258
Shortly after relieving Potts, Blamey addressed the men of the 21st Brigade on a parade ground. The men of the Maroubra Force expected congratulations for their efforts in holding back the Japanese. However, instead of praising them, Blamey told the brigade that they had been “beaten” by inferior forces, and that “no soldier should be afraid to die”. “Remember,” Blamey was reported as saying, “it’s the rabbit who runs who gets shot, not the man holding the gun.”[23]:257-258 There was a wave of murmurs and restlessness among the soldiers. Officers and senior NCOs managed to quiet the soldiers and many later said that Blamey was lucky to escape with his life. Later that day, during a march-past parade, many disobeyed the “eyes right” order.[23]:257-258 In a later letter to his wife, an enraged Brigadier Potts swore to “fry his [Blamey’s] soul in the afterlife” over this incident. According to witnesses, when Blamey subsequently visited Australian wounded in the camp hospital, inmates nibbled lettuce, while wrinkling their noses and whispering “run, rabbit, run” (the chorus of a popular song during the war).[23]:257-258
Dougherty commanded the 21st Brigade[24] until the end of the war, while Potts went to command the 23rd Brigade.[25]

Subsequent events

The Japanese commander, Horii, disappeared, presumed drowned, while withdrawing with his troops across the Kumusi River, towards the beachheads. The fierce current of the river swept away a horse on which he was riding; instead, Horii opted to float down the Kumusi River in a canoe with other senior officers, in order to quickly get back to Buna and organise the beachhead defences. The canoe was floated down to the river mouth, but Horii and his staff were swept out to sea in a freak squall. None were ever seen again.[26] Meanwhile, several grisly discoveries by advancing Australian troops starkly illustrated the logistical nightmare of the Track—Japanese corpses were often found with no sign of external trauma, having died from malnutrition, typhoid and dysentery, and several corpses of Australian soldiers were found to have had body parts removed, a result of malnourished Japanese resorting to cannibalism.[notes 3][27]:80
The Japanese withdrew within their formidable defences around the Buna–Gona beachheads, reinforced by fresh units from Rabaul. A joint Australian–United States Army operation was launched to crush the Japanese beachheads, in what later became known as the Battle of Buna–Gona. Following the conclusion of the action at Buna and Gona, about 30 remaining members of the 39th Battalion were airlifted out of the front line and in March 1943 they were withdrawn back to Australia where it was disbanded in July 1943.[16] Allied operations against Japanese forces in New Guinea, including Operation Cartwheel and the Salamaua-Lae campaign, continued into 1945.[5][page needed]

Air Operations
Since Port Moresby was the only port supporting operations in Papua, its defence was critical to the campaign. The air defences consisted of P-39 and P-400 fighters. RAAF radar could not provide sufficient warning of Japanese attacks, so reliance was placed on coastwatchers and spotters in the hills until an American radar unit arrived in September with better equipment.[18]
Japanese bombers were often escorted by fighters which came in at 30,000 feet – too high to be intercepted by the P-39s and P-40s – giving the Japanese an altitude advantage in air combat.[12]:20 The cost was high. By June, 20 to 25 P-39s had been lost in air combat, eight more in landings and three on the ground. The Australian and American anti-aircraft gunners of the Composite Anti-Aircraft Defences played a crucial part.
The gunners got a lot of practice; Port Moresby suffered its 78th raid on 17 August 1942.[12]:31 A gradual improvement in their numbers and skill forced the Japanese bombers up to higher altitude, where they were less accurate, and then, in August, to raiding by night.[18]
Because of the Japanese air attacks, long range bombers like B-17s, B-25s, and B-26s could not be safely based at Port Moresby, although RAAF PBY Catalinas and Lockheed Hudsons were based there, but staged through from bases in Australia.
This resulted in considerable fatigue for the air crews. Due to USAAF doctrine and a lack of long-range escorts, long range bomber raids on targets like Rabaul went in unescorted and suffered heavy losses, prompting severe criticism of Lieutenant General George Brett by war correspondents for misusing his forces.[12]:24 However fighters did provide cover for the transports, and for bombers when their targets were within range.[12]:38
Aircraft based at Port Moresby and Milne Bay fought to prevent the Japanese from based aircraft at Buna, and attempted to prevent the Japanese reinforcement of the Buna area.[12]:31-33 As the Japanese ground forces pressed towards Port Moresby, the Allied Air Forces struck supply points along the Kokoda Track.[12]:42 Japanese makeshift bridges were attacked by Curtiss P-40s with 500-lb bombs.[12]:4

Supply Logistics
MacArthur visited Blamey in Port Moresby on 4 October 1942 and the two agreed to establish a Combined Operations Service Command (COSC) to co-ordinate logistical activities in Papua-New Guinea. To command it, MacArthur appointed Brigadier General Dwight Johns, the deputy commander of USASOS in SWPA, an expert on airbase construction. He was given an Australian deputy, Brigadier V. C. Secombe, who had directed the rehabilitation of the port of Tobruk in 1941. All Australian and American logistical units were placed under COSC. COSC also controlled a fleet of small craft and luggers.
The development of the bases at Port Moresby and Milne Bay was now well advanced, and supplies were being built up. At Port Moresby, a T-shaped wharf was constructed on Tatana Island and linked to the mainland by a causeway. Opened in early October, it more than doubled the capacity of the port, allowing it to handle several large ships at a time when previously it had been able to handle only one.[19]
Australian counter-offensive
With two Australian brigades committed to action on the Track, “Tubby” Allen now took operational command of operations on the Kokoda Track. Each brigade in turn kept contact with the withdrawing Japanese who fought delaying actions as determined as those of the Australians.
The Japanese established a number of heavily defended positions, notably at Templeton’s Crossing and Eora Creek which slowed the Australians’ advance and resulted in heavy casualties. Unsatisfied with the speed of his advance, Lieutenant General Edmund Herring relieved Allen of command, and replaced him with Major General George Vasey of the Australian 6th Division. Kokoda was re-taken on November 2nd and the 16th and 25th Brigades crossed the Kumusi River at Wairopi on November 13th.
Several grisly discoveries by advancing Australian troops starkly illustrated the logistical nightmare of the Track — Japanese corpses were often found with no sign of external trauma, having died from typhoid and dysentery, and several corpses of Australian soldiers were found to have had body parts removed, a result of the starving Japanese resorting to cannibalism.[20]
In order to try to cut off the Japanese at the Kumusi River crossings, the U.S. 126th Infantry of the 32nd Division set off on an advance from Port Moresby along tracks parallel to the Kokoda Track. However, the Japanese withdrawal was more rapid than expected, and the 126th Infantry emerged near the Buna–Gona beachheads without encountering the Japanese. Unfortunately, tropical diseases and exhaustion took their toll on the 126th, which lost a significant part of its strength for the subsequent Battle of Buna-Gona.
In a dramatic and bizarre turn of events, Major General Horii disappeared, presumed drowned, while withdrawing with his troops across the Kumusi River, towards the beachheads. The fierce current of the river swept away a horse on which he was riding; instead, Horii opted to float down the Kumusi River in a canoe with other senior officers, in order to quickly get back to Buna and organize the beachhead defences. The canoe was floated down to the river mouth, but Horii and his staff were swept out to sea in a freak squall. None were ever seen again.


On 22 October, after the relief of the 21st Brigade by the 25th Infantry Brigade, Blamey visited the remnants of Maroubra Force at Koitaki camp, near Port Moresby. While Rowell had allowed Potts to return to his brigade, Herring, who was unfamiliar with Potts, preferred to have Brigadier Ivan Dougherty, an officer Herring was familiar with from his time in command of Northern Territory Force.
Blamey relieved Potts of his command, citing Potts’ failure to hold back the Japanese, despite commanding “superior forces” and, despite explicit orders to the contrary, Potts’ failure to launch an offensive to re-take Kokoda. Blamey explained that Prime Minister John Curtin had told him to say that failures like Kokoda would not be tolerated. Blamey replaced Potts with Brigadier Ivan Dougherty, who was to command the 21st Infantry Brigade until the end of the war, while Potts went to the 23rd Infantry Brigade.
Later, Blamey addressed the men of the 21st Infantry Brigade on a parade ground. Maroubra Force expected congratulations for their efforts in holding back the Japanese. However, instead of praising them, Blamey told the brigade that they had been “beaten” by inferior forces, and that “no soldier should be afraid to die”. “Remember,” Blamey was reported as saying, “it’s the rabbit who runs who gets shot, not the man holding the gun.”
There was a wave of murmurs and restlessness among the soldiers. Officers and senior NCOs managed to quiet the soldiers and many later said that Blamey was lucky to escape with his life. Later that day, during a march-past parade, many disobeyed the “eyes right” order.
In a later letter to his wife, an enraged Brigadier Potts swore to “fry his [Blamey’s] soul in the afterlife” over this incident. According to witnesses, when Blamey subsequently visited Australian wounded in the camp hospital, inmates nibbled lettuce, while wrinkling their noses and whispering “run, rabbit, run” (the chorus of a popular song during the war).[21]

Subsequent events
The Japanese withdrew within their formidable defences around the Buna-Gona beachheads, reinforced by fresh Japanese units from Rabaul. A joint Australian-United States Army operation was launched to crush the Japanese beachheads, in the Battle of Buna-Gona.
Following the conclusion of the action at Buna and Gona, about 30 remaining members of the 39th Infantry Battalion were airlifted out of the front line and the battalion was dissolved, to the regret of some members. Allied operations against Japanese forces in New Guinea continued into 1945.
Japanese war crimes
As the Japanese withdrew the Australian soldiers were confronted with evidence of cannibalism. Dead and wounded soldiers who had been left behind in the Australian retreat from Templeton Crossing were stripped of flesh.
Soldiers testified that the Japanese had not run short of rations having uncovered rice dumps and significant amounts of tinned food. The Japanese were also responsible for the execution of three nuns, a priest, layworkers and their children shortly after their arrival on the island. Witnesses stated that the Japanese executed the children last, after beheading their parents.[22] There was not enough evidence to bring formal charges at the Tokyo War Crimes trial with regards to the claims of cannibalism.

Significance of the Kokoda Track campaign

While the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I was Australia’s first military test as a new nation, the Kokoda and subsequent New Guinea Campaign was the first time that Australia’s security had been threatened directly. Given that at the time, Papua was an Australian Protectorate, Kokoda saw Australians fight and die repelling an invader on Australian soil, without the material presence or support of the United Kingdom.
The Kokoda Track campaign was hampered by the senior military commanders lacking knowledge of the Papuan environment. Both MacArthur and Blamey were unaware of the appalling terrain and the extreme conditions in which the battles were fought. Orders given to the commanders on the ground were sometimes unrealistic given the conditions on the ground. In the end though, the strategy used against the enemy in Papua — widely criticised at the time — was proven sound.
The Kokoda Track campaign highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the individual soldiers and the lower level commanders. The U.S and Australian Armies would take steps to improve individual and unit training. Logistical infrastructure would be greatly improved. The 39th Infantry Battalion became famous. Ralph Honner summed up the perceived magnitude of his Battalion’s achievement when he described the Battle of Isurava as “Australia’s Thermopylae”.

Etymology; “Track” or “Trail”?

Before World War II, paths in many remote areas of New Guinea were commonly referred to as tracks. The name Kokoda Trail — which conforms with U.S. English usage — was popularised by Australian wartime reportage. Kokoda Trail is used in Australian Army battle honours. The Australian Macquarie Dictionary states that while both terms are in use, Kokoda Track “appears to be the more popular of the two”.[23]
In 2008 the national government of Papua New Guinea established a Place Names Commission. “On 12th October 1972, they formally gave notice they intended to assign the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ to the section of the old mail route not accessible to motor vehicles, that is, the ‘walking path’ from Owen’s Corner on the Sogeri Plateau to Kokoda. There was much debate but the name ‘Kokoda Trail’ was selected.”[24].
In 2002 the Australian War Memorial published an article in their official magazine ‘Wartime’ [25] which advised: “There has been considerable debate about whether the difficult path that crossed the Owen Stanley Range should be called ‘Kokoda Trail’ or the ‘Kokoda Track’. Both terms have been in common use since the war. ‘Trail’ is probably of American Origin but has been used in many Australian history books, including the official history, and was adopted by the Australian Army as an official ‘battle honour’. ‘Track’ comes from the language of the Australian bush. It too is commonly used by veterans, and is used in some volumes of Australia’s official war history.
Thus both are correct, but ‘Trail’ appears to be used more widely. The memorial has adopted the term ‘trail’ because it is favoured by a majority of veterans and the Battles Nomenclature Committee, because it appears on the battle honours of units which served in Papua in 1942.[26][27]

1. ^ a b c d e f McCarthy, Dudley (1959), South-West Pacific Area – First Year, 
2. ^ a b c Kokoda Campaign
3. ^ Pérusse, Yvon (July 1993). Bushwalking in Papua New Guinea (2 ed.). Lonely Planet. p. 98. ISBN 0-86442-052-8. 
4. ^ Stanley, P. (2008). Invading Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia, 1942. Penguin. 
5. ^ Willmott, H. P. (1983). Barrier and the Javelin:Japanese and Allied Pacific strategies, February to June 1942. United States Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0870210920. 
6. ^ Milner (1957) pp. 43–44.
7. ^ D. D. McNicoll, 2007, “Forgotten heroes” (The Australian, April 25, 2007) Access date: May 2, 2007.
8. ^ McNicholl, Ibid.
9. ^ “Japanese Operations in the Southwest Pacific Area, Volume II – Part I”. Reports of General MacArthur p. 166 (1966).
10. ^ Battles for Kokoda Only two transport aircraft were available at Port Moresby with each capable of carrying reinforcements of only twenty soldiers on each trip. These reinforcements would be untrained militia only. This information was withheld from Major Cameron who was ordered to retake the airfield from superior forces to allow the reinforcement.
11. ^ The troops were woefully short of supplies. None had waterproof ground sheets and the 533 troops had only 70 blankets between them. Few had a change a clothes or shoes and their uniforms were khaki desert camouflage unsuitable for the jungle and the extreme rain and cold of the track. The minimum weight carried by each man was 18 kilograms plus their rifles. With other battalion equipment passed around in rotation, the burden for each man could reach as much as 27 kilograms.
12. ^ a b c d e f g h Watson, Air Action in Papua
13. ^ Brune, Those Bloody Ragged Heroes, p. 93.
14. ^ Rowell, Full Circle, pp. 113-115
15. ^ Moremon, A Triumph of Improvisation, pp. 171-174
16. ^ Brune, Peter (2003). A Bastard of a Place : The Australians in Papua. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-403-5. 
17. ^ Logistics was a major problem at kokoda. Free dropping consisted of a plane flying as low and slow as possible to the ground at heights of often less than 20 feet to reduce breakages. Firearms, ammunition and food were wrapped in blankets before dropping. Only two transport aircraft were available at any one time for the track itself. Native bearers were also used to carry food in with each able to carry enough food for 1 man for 13 days, a bearer would consume most of this load in transit leaving an average of 5 days rations per bearer reaching the troops and the bearer then required to live off the land for his return.
18. ^ a b Craven & Cate, Plans and Early Operations, pp. 476-477
19. ^ Milner (1957) p. 103.
20. ^ Japanese survivor Kokichi Nishimura in the book “The Bone Man of Kokoda” recounts how the Japanese forces were provided with only 50 grams of rice per day per man as rations. Weighing 73 kg at the beginning of the campaign, Nishimura weighed 28 kg when evacuated in June 1943.
21. ^ Brune (2003). Pages 257–258.
22. ^ Rees, Laurence (2001). “Murder and Cannibalism on the Kokoda Track”. Horror in the East. BBC publication. “Corporal Bill Hedges conveyed the following: “The Japanese had cannibalised our wounded and dead soldiers. We found them with meat stripped off their legs and half-cooked meat in the Japanese dishes (pots)”.”
23. ^ Macquarie Dictionary (4 ed.). 2005. p. 791. ISBN 0868240567. 
24. ^ Hawthorne, Stuart (2003). The Kokoda Trail. Central Queensland University Press. pp. 232–233. ISBN 1 876780 30 4. 
25. ^ . Wartime (Canberra: Australian War Memorial) 19. 2002. 
26. ^ Australian War Memorial – Australian Military Units – Kokoda Trail Campaign – “”Kokoda Trail” and “Kokoda Track” have been used interchangeably since the Second World War and the former [RE: preceding in place or arrangement & first in order of two [1] was adopted by the Battles Nomenclature Committee as the official British Commonwealth battle honour in October 1957.” [2]
27. ^ Australian War Memorial – Encyclopedia – Kokoda Trail [3]


* Brune, Peter (2003). A Bastard of a Place : The Australians in Papua. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-403-5.
* Bullard, Steven (translator) (2007) (pdf). Japanese army operations in the South Pacific Area New Britain and Papua campaigns, 1942–43 (internet version). Canberra: Australian War Memorial. ISBN 9780975190487.$file/JpnOpsText.pdf?OpenElement.
* Volume I: Plans and Early Operations, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948
* FitzSimons, Peter (2005). Kokoda. Hodder Headline Australia. ISBN 0-7336-1962-2.
* Ham, Paul (2004). Kokoda. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-7322-8232-2.
* Horner, David (1978). Crisis of Command. Australian Generalship and the Japanese Threat, 1941–1943. Canberra: Australian National University Press. ISBN 0708113451.
* Johnston, Mark (2005). The Silent 7th: an illustrated history of the 7th Australian Division 1940-46. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1741141915.
* Scott, Geoffrey (1963). The Knights of Kokoda. Horowitz Publications.
* Milner, Samuel (1957). Victory in Papua. United States Department of the Army. ISBN 1410203867.
* McCarthy, Dudley (1959). “South-West Pacific Area – First Year”. Australia in the War of 1939-45.
* Rottman, Gordon (2005). Japanese Army in World War II: Conquest of the Pacific 1941-42. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 1841767891.
* White, Osmar (1945). Green Armour (Australian War Classics series). Penguin. ISBN 0140147063.
* Watson, Richard L. Jr (1944) (pdf), USAAF Historical Study No. 17: Air Action in the Papuan Campaign, 21 July 1942 to 23 January 1943, Washington, DC: USAAF Historical Office, Bazza rocks


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s