Lewis Guns at Kokoda
On my way to Port Moresby earlier in 2007 I was passing time by reading The Knights of Kokoda by Geoffrey Scott. In the chapter titled Militia in the Jungle, an account of two WW1 vintage Lewis Guns used by the 39 th in the defence of Kokoda either side of the Track near Gorari is given. I recalled back in 2004 when I first visited the museum at Kokoda, that I had noticed among the relics freely sitting on the wooden shelves at the rear of the building, two barrels from what looked to be WW1 Lewis Guns .
There is no mistaking the air vents running down the length of the barrel underneath the housing. Shown above and below are the two barrels located at Kokoda, one with the housing still intact and the other without.
On page 26 of Geoffrey Scott's The Knights of Kokoda it reads;
"Owen worked feverishly to prepare an ambush, dispersing his men along the hillside on both sides of the trail ordering them to dig in and site their two World War 1 vintage Lewis guns"
Again on page 27 there is mention to the Lewis guns .
"With their rifles, few pistols and two old Lewis guns-one of which had only one drum of ammunition-they could not hope to match the enemy's fire- power."
Indeed the 39 th were out numbered and outgunned against a formidable enemy. I can not find any reference to the Lewis guns after the contacts at and near the Kokoda airstrip, with this in mind it is just possible that the two Lewis gun barrels that lay unlabelled in the Kokoda Museum belonged to the 39 th .
The Lewis Gun , a light machine gun, was developed in the United States in 1911. At 12 kg it was far lighter than the Vickers Machine-Gun and in 1915 the British Army decided to purchase the gun for use on the Western Front.
Another advantage of the Lewis is that six of these guns could be made in the time taken to produce one Vickers gun. Although too heavy for efficient portable use, it became the standard support weapon for the British infantry during the First World War. It used either a 47 or a 97 round cylindrical magazine note the vents at the rear of the barrel just below the drum magazine.
The Knights of Kokoda was first published in paperback 1963 by Horwitz Publications Inc. Pty Ltd and was written by Geoffrey Scott. Now out of print and hard to get, I believe it is one of the best books ever written on Kokoda. My fellow historian and Kokoda guide Soc Kienzle who spent many hours with his father Bert walking over the Track and playing near Kokoda station. Recalls how he found these two Lewis Guns when he was a boy. I have no doubt that these belonged to the 39th Battalion.
By David Howell Kokoda Historical
1939-Militia Troops Training with a WW1 Lewis gun.