When the first Japanese troops began to push over the Kokoda Track towards Port Moresby, the only soldiers opposing them were Victorian militiamen of the 39th Infantry Battalion and the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB). These troops engaged the Japanese at Awala on 23 July 1942 but were heavily outnumbered and withdrew soon after.
On 29 July 1942, the Japanese captured the village of Kokoda and its vital airfield. The 39th Battalion retook but failed to hold the village (9 -10 August 1942 and fought a desperate holding action at Deniki (13 - 14 August 1942 before falling back and digging in at Isurava. Here they waited for the 8,500 Japanese soldiers of the 144th Regiment. Australian reinforcements were sent north from Moresby to aid the exhausted militiamen. The Victorian 2/14th Battalion arrived at Isurava on 26 August 1942. These Australian Imperial Force (AIF) veterans of the Syrian campaign were the spearhead of the crack 21st Brigade and arrived just as the Japanese renewed their offensive.
The Battle of Isurava (26 – 29 August 1942) which followed was a vicious close-quarter affair where the men of 2/14th and 39th Battalions displayed extraordinary valour. Private Bruce Kingsbury (1918 – 1942) earned a posthumous Victoria Cross but the forward Australian units, called Maroubra Force, were forced to withdraw.
The 53rd Militia Battalion, meanwhile, was routed at nearby Alola and the 21st Brigade’s other units, the 2/16th and 2/27th Battalions, were sent up the Track. The Australians made further stands at Eora Creek (31 August – 1 September 1942), Templeton’s Crossing (2 September 1942) and Brigade Hill (7 – 9 September 1942) but the Australian withdrawal continued. An important supply base at Myola had to be destroyed and abandoned in early September 1942.
The 25th Brigade, AIF, comprising the 2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd Battalions, relieved Maroubra Force at Ioribaiwa on 14 September 1942 but not even these fresh troops could stop the Japanese reaching Imitia Ridge on 16 September 1942. This was, however, as far as the enemy would get. The Japanese now came within range of Australian heavy artillery and their communication lines were stretched to breaking point. Their commander, Major General Tomitaro Horii (1890 - 1942) ordered a retreat.
GUINEA. 1942-10. MEMBERS OF THE 2/1ST, 2/2ND AND 2/3RD AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY
BATTALIONS COMPRISING THE 16TH AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BRIGADE MOVING UP ALONG THE
TRACK ACROSS THE OWEN STANLEY RANGES, PHOTOGRAPHED IN THE VICINITY OF NAURO AND
MENARI. THE MEN ARE MINGLED AND IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DISTINGUISH BATTALIONS. AWM:
Australian militiamen of the 3rd Battalion, the 25th Brigade and the 16th Brigade, AIF, comprising the 2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/3rd Battalions, pursued the Japanese for the next six weeks. The Australians won a series of victories between Templeton’s Crossing and Eora Creek (13 - 28 October 1942).
PAPUA, NEW GUINEA. 1942-10. DOUGLAS C47 TRANSPORT PLANE OF THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE DROPPING FOOD SUPPLIES ON A CLEARED SPACE AT NAURO VILLAGE DURING THE ADVANCE OF THE 25TH AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BRIGADE OVER THE OWEN STANLEY RANGE. AWM: 027019
The Australian supply problems were greatly alleviated when Kokoda airfield was recaptured on 2 November 1942. The Japanese made a determined stand at Oivi-Gorari (4 - 13 November 1942) but when the Australians reached the Kumusi River on 18 November 1942 the battle for the Kokoda Track was over. The price had been high. 624 Australians were dead and 1,023 wounded. The Japanese counted their casualties in the thousands.
PAPUA. 1942-11-14. ALLIES RETAKE KOKODA. AUSTRALIAN FLAG IS RAISED AS TROOPS ENTER KOKODA, WATCHED BY A GROUP OF AUSTRALIAN TROOPS. AWM: 013572
TAKEN A SHORT WHILE BEFORE AUSTRALIAN TROOPS LAUNCHED AN ATTACK AGAINST JAPANESE FORCES IN THE KOKODA AREA. (PHOTOGRAPHER DAMIEN PARER)