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Australia's War 1939 - 1945
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Overview
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Kokoda Trail, George Browning
[Oil on canvas on hardboard 61 x 45.4cm AWM ART 24074]

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illustration

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The ‘Golden Stairs’ rise towards Imita Ridge on the Kokoda Track, photographed in October 1942.
[AWM 26837]

Kokoda

Visit our site dedicated to The Kokoda Track

The Kokoda Track
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The Kokoda Track
[DVA]

More than 600 Australians were killed and some 1680 wounded during perhaps the most significant battle fought by Australians in World War II.

Forced to repel a Japanese invasion force, which landed at Gona on the north coast of Papua on 21 July 1942, the Australians fought in appalling conditions over the next four months. The Japanese objective was to capture Port Moresby, the main Australian base in New Guinea, by an overland strike across the Owen Stanley Range. The most direct way across these rugged mountains was by a jungle pathway known as the Kokoda Track. During the next four months, until 16 November 1942, Australian soldiers fought the Japanese, first to keep them from reaching Port Moresby and then to push them back over the Owen Stanleys to their north coast strongholds at Buna, Gona and Sanananda.

In late July 1942, as the Japanese advanced towards Kokoda village, they were engaged by forward elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the Australian 39th Infantry Battalion. Despite the Australians’ stubborn resistance, Kokoda fell to the larger Japanese force and by 27 August the Australians and the few Papuan troops who had stayed with them had been forced back to Isurava. Reinforcements were sent from Port Moresby: first the 53rd Battalion, which protected a side-track behind Isurava, and then the veteran 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions, which had previously served in the Middle East.

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A cross-section of the track shows the back-breaking terrain between Owers' Corner and Kokoda. (1000 feet is approximately 305 metres)
[DVA]

At Isurava, in the last days of August, the 39th and the 2/14th Battalions, with support further back from the 2/16th and 53rd Battalions, were able to temporarily hold the Japanese during an intense five-day action. Three days into the battle, on 29 August, in the face of yet another enemy assault, Private Bruce Kingsbury, 2/14th Battalion, was killed as he rushed forward with his Bren gun, driving back the enemy in a determined counter-attack. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, the first VC awarded during the New Guinea campaigns.

Damien Parer
award

Throughout September, the Australian units withdrew down the Kokoda Track, being joined by the 2/27th Battalion. They made further stands against the Japanese at Eora Creek, Templeton’s Crossing, Efogi, Mission Ridge and Ioribaiwa. Allied airmen dropped supplies and made repeated attacks on the enemy’s supply lines. During those gruelling days, the Papuan men employed as carriers played a vital role in the battle. They carried supplies forward for the troops and then, as the number of troops who were wounded or fell sick increased, carried back to safety those who were unable to walk.

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Between 26 August–25 September
1942 the Australians made a
strategic withdrawal from Kokoda
back to Imita Ridge. On 25
September the Japanese abandoned
their attempt to reach Port Moresby.
[DVA]

By 16 September, after more troops had come forward from Port Moresby and dug into a defensive position at Imita Ridge, the Japanese were exhausted. They had been forced to fight hard to cross the mountains and had run out of many supplies. Following setbacks on other battlefields against Australian and American forces, which robbed them of further reinforcements, the Japanese on the Kokoda Track were ordered to withdraw. As Australian patrols pushed forward of Imita Ridge on 28 September, they found that the enemy had slipped away.

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Australians buried many Japanese in
common graves along the Kokoda
Track. Here, an Australian burial party
placed dead men’s helmets on one grave.
[AWM 013645]

During the next six weeks, the Japanese fell back over the mountains. They were pursued by troops of the 25th Brigade – comprising the 2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd Battalions – and the 16th Brigade – comprising the 2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/3rd Battalions – along with the 3rd Battalion and men from medical and supply units. Significant actions were fought at Templeton’s Crossing, where it took more than a week of hard and costly fighting for the 25th Brigade to push back the enemy, and at Eora Creek where the 16th Brigade also doggedly attacked enemy strongpoints to slowly make ground. The Australians were plagued by supply shortages that increased the difficulties of jungle warfare. Finally, on 2 November, Kokoda was retaken. The Australians had one more tough battle to fight at Oivi-Gorari, where the Japanese were determined to make another stand, before they were able to finish the advance over the mountains. By 18 November the Australians had reached the Kumusi River. The battle for the Kokoda Track was over.

 

 

Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Kokoda Trail, George Browning
[Oil on canvas on hardboard 61 x 45.4cm AWM ART 24074]