KOKODA TRACK CAMPAIGN
In 1942, WWII was on Australia’s doorstep for the very first time with the Japanese invasion of Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. With most of our forces tied up in the Middle East, a group of young, inexperienced militia soldiers were tasked with intercepting the Japanese before they took Port Moresby from the north.
They were mostly teenagers – they were outnumbered, undertrained and ill-equipped. Victory looked unlikely if not for the courage of the Diggers and their indispensable alliance with PNG nationals, fondly named the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. Over four arduous months, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels helped secure an Australian victory by forming a human supply chain along the Kokoda Track, moving food, ammunition and wounded soldiers to and from the front line.
By January 22nd 1943, the Diggers had successfully warded off the advance, with less than 10% of the 14,000 strong Japanese force returning to their homeland. 2,165 Diggers died honourably, and 3,533 were wounded in battle.
Since then, Kokoda has resonated with many Australians, and to replicate the Diggers’ journey has become an essential rite of passage.
The trek is physically, mentally and spiritually tough. It remains a powerful reminder of Australia’s and PNG’s shared history, teaching Australians young and old the true meaning of courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice. Importantly, it reaffirms our responsibility to the descendants of the PNG nationals who played such a crucial role in the Kokoda Campaign.
The first main troops on the track were that of the 39th battalion, they were mostly young, undertrained and ill-equipped. Victory looked unlikely if not for the courage of the Diggers and their indispensable alliance with PNG nationals, foundly named the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.
Over four arduous months, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels helped secure an Australian victory by forming a human supply chain along the Kokoda Track, moving food, ammunition and wounded soldiers to and from the front line.
The Kokoda Track is a mostly very narrow path that links Owers Corner, approximately 40 km northeast of Port Moresby and the small village of Wairopi, on the northern side of the Owen Stanley mountain range. From Wairopi, a crossing point on the Kumusi River, the Track was connected to the settlements of Buna, Gona and Sanananda on the north coast.
The Japanese having had their initial effort to capture Port Moresby by a seaborne evasion disrupted by their defeat at the battle of the Coral Sea, saw the Kokoda Track as a way by which to advance on it overland. Soldiers of the South Seas Detachment began landing at Gona on 21 July 1942, intending initially just to test the feasibility of the Kokoda Trail as a route of advance, but a full-scale offensive soon developed. The first fighting occurred between elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion at Awala on 23 July. The Australian force was unable to hold back the Japanese, they were poorly equipped, had not yet developed effective jungle warfare tactics, and were fighting at the end of a very long and difficult supply line. A number of desperate delaying actions were fought as the Australians withdrew along the Track. They finally stopped on 17 September at Imita Ridge, the last natural obstacle along the Track, a mere 8 km from the junction with the road to Port Moresby. The Japanese held the opposite ridge, 6 km in the distant at Ioribaiwa, which was to be their final advance.
The tactical situation, however, had now swung in favour of the Australians. Their artillery at Owers Corner was now in range and their supplies could be trucked most of the way forward; whereas Japanese supplies had to be carried all the way from the north coast. As a result of severe losses suffered by the Japanese at the Guadalcanal following the American landing there, the South Seas Detachment was ordered to withdraw to the north coast of Papua and establish a defensive position there.
Australian troops of the 25th Brigade began to edge forward from Imita Ridge on 23 September; the Japanese withdrew from Ioribaiwa the next day. In the course of their retreat the Japanese fought delaying actions every bit as determined as those of the Australians. Several difficult and costly battles were fought before the 16th and 25th Brigades crossed the Kumusi at Wairopi in mid-November heading for even more bitter fighting around the Japanese beachheads at Gona, Buna and Sanananda.
The Kokoda Track fighting was some of the most desperate and vicious encountered by Australian troops in the Second World War. Although the successful capture of Port Moresby was never going to be precursor to an invasion of Australia, victory on the Kokoda Trail did ensure that Allied bases in northern Australia, vital in the coming counter-offensive against the Japanese, would not be seriously threatened by air attack. Approximately 625 Australians were killed along the Kokoda Trail and over 1,600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4,000.
"Kokoda Trail" and "Kokoda Track" have been used interchangeably since the Second World War and the former was adopted by the Battles Nomenclature Committee as the official British Commonwealth battle honour in October 1957.
See below the significant dates and sites notable for Australian's Kokoda campaign. Click 'Read More' to learn about this particular event.
On 20 June, 1942 on the command of the Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific campaign (General Douglas McArthur), General Blamey (Commander of the Australian Army) gave orders to General Basil Morris (Commander Allied forces in PNG) to take action.
B Company arrived in Kokoda in fairly good condition; however, were tremendously exhausted from the seven-day trek across the jungle.
On the 20th of July 1942, Simpson Harbour in Rabaul was alive with action. Two high-speed freighters (Ryoyo Maru and the Ayatosan Maru) were ready to depart with an invasion force of soldiers and supplies. At 8 pm they departed in convoy with a protection party of two Navy cruisers and two destroyers.
The first battle with the Japanese near Kokoda occurred at Awala on 23 July 1942. A small force from the Papuan Infantry Battalion, under the command of Major William Watson, (AIF) made with the Japanese.
On the 31 August 1942, the Australian forces withdrew from the Alola area and positioned on the south side of the village of Eora Creek.
Lieutenant Colonel Key, who was the Commanding ...
Brigadier Potts’s Brigade’s was severely depleted. They had been in constant fighting for nearly a week and the fighting so severe that they were unable to even brew a mug of tea or have a meal. Without shelter and slee...
The village of Menari is located in the shadow of Brigade Hill approximately three hours walk south.
After the withdrawal of Australian troops across the Kokoda Track, the Australian c...
The main Japanese force continued to retreat towards Templeton’s Crossing. In an effort to slow the pursuit and to enable some rear guard defence, General Horri raised a new unit from within his forces. This unit was...