Operation Campaign for the Kokoda Track

The 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track' was fought between Japanese and Australian forces on the Kokoda Track (otherwise known as the Kokoda Trail) between Buna and Port Moresby over the Owen Stanley mountain range in Papua (21 July/16 November 1942).

This was primarily a land battle, between the Japanese South Seas Detachment under Major General Tomitaro Horii and Australian and Papuan land forces under the command of Lieutenant General S. F. Rowell’s (from 1 October Lieutenant General E. F. Herring’s) New Guinea Force, which was actually led by General Sir Thomas Blamey for a time. The Japanese objective was to seize Port Moresby by an overland advance from Papua’s northern coast along the Kokoda Track over the mountains of the Owen Stanley range, as part of a strategy to isolate Australia from the USA.

Japanese forces landed and established beach-heads near Gona and Buna in 'Ri' on 21 July 1942. Opposed by the 'Maroubra' Force, then commanded by Brigadier S. H. W. C. Porter and comprising four platoons of the 39th Battalion and elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion, they quickly advanced and captured Kokoda and its strategically vital airfield on 29 July. Despite reinforcement, the Australian forces were continually pushed back. The veteran 2nd Australian Imperial Force’s 21st Brigade, commanded by Brigadier A. W. Potts, narrowly avoided capture in the 'Battle of Mission Ridge-Brigade Hill' on 6/8 September. In the 'Battle of Ioribaiwa' on 13/16 September, the 25th Brigade under Brigadier K. W. Eather fought the Japanese to a halt but ceded the field to the Japanese, withdrawing to Imita Ridge.

The Japanese advanced to within sight of Port Moresby but withdrew on 26 September: they had outrun their supply line and had been ordered to withdraw in consequence of reverses suffered on Guadalcanal island in the Solomon islands group. The Australian pursuit encountered strong opposition from well-prepared positions around Templeton’s Crossing and Eora Village from 11 to 28 October. Following the unopposed recapture of Kokoda, a major battle was fought around Oivi and Gorari from 4 to 11 November, resulting in a victory for the Australians. By 16 November, two brigades of Major General A. S. Allen’s 7th Division had crossed the Kumusi river at Wairopi, and advanced on the Japanese beach-heads in a joint Australian and US undertaking. The Japanese forces in the area of Buna and Gona held out until 22 January 1943.

Australian reinforcement was hampered by the logistical problems of supporting a force in isolated and jungle-clad mountainous terrain. There were few aircraft available for aerial resupply, whose techniques were still primitive. Australian command considered that the Vickers machine gun and medium mortars were too heavy to carry in jungle terrain, and would moreover be ineffective in such terrain. Without artillery, mortars or medium machine guns, therefore, the Australians faced an opponent equipped with mountain guns and light howitzers that had been carried into the mountains and proved to be a decisive advantage. The Australian forces were unprepared to conduct a campaign in the jungle environment of New Guinea, and the lessons learned during the course of this campaign and the subsequent 'Battle of Buna-Gona' led to widespread changes in doctrine, training, equipment and structure.

In consequence of the rapid Japanese advance and the perceived failure to implement a quick counterattack, there developed a 'crisis of command' in which manoeuvring by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the South West Pacific Area, and Blamey, commander of Allied Land Forces, resulted in the sackings of three high-ranking Australian officers. The generalship of MacArthur and Blamey has been criticised for unreasonable and unrealistic perceptions of the terrain and conditions under which the campaign was fought, to the severe detriment of the troops. The 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track' has since been mythologised as Australia’s Thermopylai and incorporated into the Anzac legend even though the premise of an opponent of vastly superior numbers has since been shown to be wholly incorrect.

After the fall of Singapore in February 1942, the Australian government and many Australians feared that Japan would invade the Australian mainland. The nation was ill-prepared to counter such an attack. Major General H. G. Bennett’s whole Australian 8th Division, deployed to Malaya, Ambon, Timor and Rabaul, had been lost or rendered ineffective as the Japanese advanced rapidly to the south and south-east. The Royal Australian Air Force lacked modern aircraft and the Royal Australian Navy was too small to counter the Imperial Japanese navy. Both the air force and the navy were taken in hand for great expansion, although it took years for these services to be built up to their peak strengths. The militia was mobilised but, although a large force, it lacked both experience and modern equipment. In response to the threat, the Australian government appealed to the USA for assistance, and the 6th and 7th Divisions of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force were brought back from the Middle East. The British prime minister, Winston Churchill, attempted to divert these two formations to Burma, but the Australian prime minister, John Curtin, refused to authorise this movement. As a compromise, two brigades of the 6th Division disembarked in Ceylon, where they formed part of the garrison until they returned to Australia in August 1942.

Early in 1942 the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters considered a proposal for the invasion of Australia, but in February of that year decided against doing so as it was judged to be beyond Japanese capabilities, and therefore neither planning nor preparation was undertaken. Instead, during March 1942 the Japanese military adopted a strategy of isolating Australia from the USA and preventing Allied offensive operations by the capture of Port Moresby on the southern coast of Papua, the Solomon islands group, Fiji, Samoa and New Caledonia. The 'Mo' (i) attempt to capture Port Moresby by amphibious assault was thwarted by the 'Battle of the Coral Sea' in May 1942 and, one month later, most of the Japanese carrier fleet was destroyed in the 'Battle of Midway', further reducing the possibility of major amphibious operations in the South Pacific. Following this, the Japanese began to consider an overland advance on Port Moresby.

Meanwhile MacArthur, the Allied Supreme Commander in the South-West Pacific Area, set in motion a plan for the development of airfields for the defence of Port Moresby and to strike against the Japanese. The first of these was 'Boston' (i), which was authorised on 20 May and initially planned for the Abau-Mullins Harbour area. Milne Bay was subsequently determined to be preferable and a garrison force was sent by ship from Port Moresby on 22 June. Another airstrip at Merauke, on the southern coast of the Netherlands New Guinea was authorised on 22 June to protect the western flank. On 9 June, MacArthur questioned Blamey as to the measures taken for the defence of the overland approach to Port Moresby from Buna. This set in train the deployment of forces to Kokoda. MacArthur also began to consider the development of an airfield in the Buna area. An initial reconnaissance team, landed by flying boat, was conducted on 10/11 July. Orders for the 'Providence' airfield construction were received by the New Guinea Force on 17 July, but were postponed by seven days on 18 July, and cancelled following the Japanese landings that soon followed.

In 1942, Papua was an Australian territory. There had been little development and the territory was largely devoid of infrastructure beyond that around Port Moresby. The pre-war economy was based primarily upon copra and rubber in plantations established intermittently in the coastal regions, an upon mining. The administrative centre of Port Moresby had basic airfield and port facilities. There were no roads beyond the vicinity of Port Moresby and, by modern standards, these were little more than tracks. As a result, travel to the north of Port Moresby was undertaken largely by air or sea. There were a few landing fields around Port Moresby, with others on the northern side of the Owen Stanley mountain range at the government stations of Buna and Kokoda.

The village of Kokoda is positioned on a plateau in northern foot-hills of the Owen Stanley mountain range. It overlooks the Yodda valley (formed by the Mambare river) to its north. The Mambare river runs approximately from south-east to north-west. As the crow flies, Kokoda is about 62 miles (100 km) from the northern coastal village of Buna, which formed part of the Japanese beach-head positions occupied in their 'Ri' landing, but on the ground the distance is about 100 miles (160 km). The track to the coast crosses the Kumusi river at Wairopi, some 16 miles (25 km) to the east of Kokoda. The river was spanned there by a wire-rope bridge. There was a wide track leading from there to the coast which the Japanese subsequently set about developing as a road for vehicle traffic.

In 1942, Kokoda was the location of a government station, rubber plantation and strategically important airstrip. The Kokoda Track is a foot track that runs roughly to the south-west from Kokoda 60 miles (96 km) overland through the Owen Stanley mountain range toward Port Moresby. It was known before the war and had been used as an overland mail route. While there were a 'main track' that is associated with the campaign’s fighting, there were many parallel, interlocking tracks that followed much the same general course. The southern end of the track is now considered to start at Owers' Corner, 38 miles (61 km) from Port Moresby. The vehicle track from Port Moresby originally terminated at McDonald’s [Corner], where it serviced the McDonald homestead. Between June and a time late in September 1942, sone 7 miles (11 km) of road was completed, extending it to Owers' Corner.

The Kokoda Track passed through what was known during the early war years as 'the Gap'. To the Japanese, who had learned of 'the Gap' through vague explorers' accounts, it offered the possibility of a corridor from Buna through the Owen Stanley mountain range along which they could launch a quick advance on Port Moresby. Conversely, the Allies believed it was a narrow and largely impassable path that could be blocked and held with only limited resources. In reality, 'the Gap' is a dip in the Owen Stanley mountain range about 7 miles (11 km) wide, convenient for the passage of aircraft crossing the range.

The track reaches an altitude of 7,185 ft (2190 m) as it passes around the peak of Mt Bellamy. The terrain rises and falls with regularity, up to 16,000 ft (4875 m) up and down over the full length of the track. This markedly increases the distance to be traversed, although there are several flat areas, particularly around Myola. The vegetation is largely dense jungle. The climate is mostly hot and humid with high rainfall, although the higher parts are cold, particularly at night. The higher elevations are frequently above cloud level, resulting in fog.

Myola is close to the watershed. A stream flowing from Myola is part of the headwaters of Eora Creek on the northern watershed. On the northern part of the track, its course, to Deniki, is determined by Eora Creek. It follows along the side of the steep valley formed by the creek, and crosses the creek from one side to the other at several points along its course. From Deniki, the track descends to the Kokoda plateau.

Operations in New Guinea were severely affected by endemic tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, scrub typhus, tropical ulcers and dysentery as a result of a range of causes and fungal infections. The north-eastern and south-western ends of the Kokoda Track were those most afflicted by malaria, which was substantially absent from the cooler, higher elevations along the track, and most of the cases observed in these areas were relapses rather than primary infections. The immediate vicinity of Port Moresby is relatively dry. While this tends to reduce the risk of malaria, significant rates of the disease were observed in troops, mainly militia, sent to New Guinea for defence of the port in the period before to the campaign. The risk from malaria was particularly high for troops operating in the coastal area around the south-western end of the track and when the Australian forces had been forced back to Imita Ridge. Units of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force units returning from the Middle East were more aware of the threat this disease posed and arrived with supplies of quinine. For these reasons, the disease did not have the same degree of significance or impact on operations as it did at Milne Bay or the subsequent operations round Buna and Gona.

The Japanese 17th Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake, was a corps-sized command based at Rabaul on New Britain island, and was responsible for operations in the New Guinea, Guadalcanal and Solomon islands campaigns. Following the 'Battle of the Coral Sea', the 17th Army considered an overland advance on Port Moresby. This was based on pre-war intelligence that there was a road linking Port Moresby and Kokoda. Initial aerial reconnaissance was inconclusive but plans were made for a reconnaissance in force and to exploit the possibility of an advance along such a route. The 15th Independent Engineer Regiment (less one company) and the South Seas Detachment, led by Horii, were assigned to these tasks. At the time, Horii was unenthusiastic as to the possibility of success, given the logistical difficulties that would have to be faced and overcome, but he did not press his objection.

An advance party, under the command of Colonel Yokoyama Yosuke of the 15th Independent Engineer Regiment, was to consist of the main force of the regiment, the 1/144th Regiment and the 1st Company of the 1/55th Mountain Artillery Regiment. It also included 500 Korean and Formosan labourers and 2,000 native labourers from Rabaul. A naval force based on the 5th Yokosuka Naval Landing Force was to land at the same time as the advance party and begin the construction of an airfield at Buna. Japanese planning proceeded on the premise that an overland assault would take place.

The initial Japanese landing took place from the evening of 21 July 1942, and one infantry company was immediately despatched toward Kokoda. A second component of the 5th Yokoyama Special Navy landing Force arrived on 29 July. The landing was reinforced by successive convoys over the following weeks, and the main part of the 144th Regiment landed on 18 August. The 41st Regiment (less its 1st Battalion) landed on 21 August, with the 1st Battalion then landing on 27 August.

Horii linked with the advance party at Kokoda and began to assemble his force for the overland advance. By 26 August, it consisted of the 144th Regiment (three battalions), the 41st Regiment (2nd and 3rd Battalions, with the 1st Battalion yet to arrive) joining the main force on 14 September, and the 1/55th Mountain Artillery Regiment. The 3/41st Regiment was tasked with the protection of the Japanese force’s line of communication. The 41st Regiment mustered only 1,900 men as its 1st and 3rd Battalions each had some 400 men detached for road construction and supply tasks. This the Japanese force has been estimated at 6,000 men, and Horii began the advance with each man carrying rations for 16 days. Men of both regiments were seasoned veterans, and the 41st Regiment had fought Australians in Malaya.

The Australian territories of Papua and New Guinea formed the 8th Military District of Australia (subsequently designated New Guinea Force) under command of Brigadier B. M. Morris. As war in the Pacific approached, there were two local militia units: the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. With growing tensions, the 49th Battalion was sent to Port Moresby in March 1941, and on 3 January 1942 the 49th Battalion was joined by the 39th and 53rd Battalions under command of Porter’s 30th Brigade. At the end of May, the force protecting Port Moresby was increased by the arrival of Brigadier W. E. Smith’s 14th Brigade, comprising the 3rd, 36th and 55th Battalions. The militia units were considered poorly trained, though some effort had been made to infuse them with experienced junior officers, and most of their time in New Guinea was spent labouring rather than training. Morale in the 53rd Battalion was particularly low. A draft, numbering about 100 men, was drawn from other militia units on short notice. With embarkation in late December, they were denied Christmas leave. Destined for northern Queensland, they were diverted to New Guinea en route, and this undermined morale and has been cited as a significant factor in respect of the battalion’s subsequent poor performance.

As well as defending Port Moresby, New Guinea Force commanded operations against the Japanese landings around Wau, which occurred on 8 March 1942, and was starting development of an air base at Milne Bay. The 7th Division was poised to deploy to New Guinea: its 21st and 25th Brigades would be assigned to the defence of Port Moresby, while its 18th Brigade would be sent to Milne Bay.

On 12 June 1942, Morris ordered the Papuan Infantry Battalion to patrol a wide area of the northern coast around Ioma, located approximately 35 miles (60 km) to the north-north-east of Kokoda; Awala, between Kokoda and Gona; and Tufi, on Cape Nelson, with its headquarters at Kokoda. The battalion, commanded by Major William Watson, comprised three companies with a total strength of 310 men, including 30 Europeans primarily as officers and senior non-commissioned officers. The battalion’s role was reconnaissance. There were indications of Japanese plans to land in the vicinity of Buna, and on 22 June Morris was ordered to deploy 'Australian infantry' to Kokoda for the forward defence of Port Moresby.

About the middle of July, the Allied headquarters was 'Providence' for development of an airstrip in the vicinity of Buna. When orders were issued to Morris for 'Providence' on 17 July, he intended to use the 39th Battalion as the force required under the plan to garrison the Buna area. The initial deployment of the 39th Battalion had an entirely different aim though, which has been clarified by the statement that 'On 15 July General MacArthur issued orders for the first forward in this area [meaning Buna-Gona]. These orders directed that a small force of Australian infantry and American engineers should march across the Kokoda Trail to Buna where they would be joined by another party moving by sea. The object was to construct an airfield at Dobodura. Actually, the overland part of this movement had already begun, though it had an entirely different aim. On 20 June General Blamey…had ordered Morris to take steps to secure the Kokoda area and its airstrip…Preceded by the PIB, the leading company of the 39th was to leave Illolo on 26 June. Actually the company did not leave that point until 7 July.'

On 23 June, an initial order was given for one company of the 39th Battalion to deploy to Kokoda with the possibility of it being joined by the rest of the battalion. This was amended on 24 June for deployment of the battalion (less one company). The instrument for this was Operational Instruction no. 18, which placed the Papuan Infantry Battalion under command of the 39th Battalion. It also assigned detachments of service units in support. Attachments were placed under command of Lieutenant Colonel William Owen, commanding officer of the 39th Battalion. 'Maroubra' was assigned as the code word. An advance party, the battalion’s B Company, assembled at Illolo. Departing on 8 July, it reached Kokoda on 14 July. As a codeword, 'Maroubra' continued to be used throughout the campaign to refer to operations along the track and the Australian forces deployed forward, even though references to 'Maroubra' Force in sources remains somewhat enigmatic.

The Japanese 'Ri' landings around Buna and Gona saw B Company of the 39th Battalion in position at Kokoda and C Company advancing along the track, departing Illolo on 23 July. The remainder of the battalion was poised to move and most of the battalion had reached Deniki by 4 August.

In the early evening of 21 July 1942, Japanese troops landed close to Gona. The Japanese advance party moved rapidly toward Kokoda, reaching the Kumusi river at Wairopi in the afternoon of 23 July. The Papuan Infantry Battalion and Australians engaged the advancing Japanese with ambushes. B Company of the 39th Battalion assembled a force (including what remained of the Papuan Infantry Battalion) to make a stand near Oivi on 26 July. One platoon remained at Kokoda. Threatened with encirclement, the force at Oivi withdrew to the south toward Deniki. Having lost contact, the platoon at Kokoda also withdrew to Deniki on 27 July. With the force reassembled, it reoccupied the village unopposed on 28 July. The first battle at Kokoda was fought over 28/29 July, when repeated, determined Japanese attacks caused the Australians to withdraw to Deniki. Owen, commanding officer of the 39th Battalion, was mortally wounded in the fighting.

There was then a pause in the Japanese advance. Remaining companies of the 39th Battalion arrived overland and Major Allan Cameron, the 30th Brigade’s brigade major was appointed to assume command of the force. He planned an attack for 8 August toward Kokoda, with three companies advancing on different lines. Two of the companies were held up and forced to retire. A Company was able to occupy Kokoda but, isolated and under attack, it withdrew during the night of 9 August. Companies of the 39th Battalion had withdrawn to Deniki by 12 August and were attacked the following morning. With the threat of envelopment, the battalion began to withdraw towards Isurava on the morning of 14 August.

Meanwhile, the 53rd Battalion and the headquarters of Porter’s 30th Brigade were sent as reinforcements. Two battalions of Potts’s 21st Brigade were following. Porter established a defensive position at Isurava with the 30th Brigade to be relieved by the 21st Brigade. As his leading battalion approached, Potts took command of the combined force to effect the relief. However, the Japanese advance overtook events and, from 26 to 31 August, a battle ensued in which four Japanese battalions were committed. The 53rd Battalion failed to secure the eastern flank and, with the Japanese taking a commanding position to the Australian front, ultimately forced an Australian withdrawal. The 21st Brigade then fought a series of engagements between 31 August and 5 September as it withdrew from Eora Village to Templeton’s Crossing.

The Japanese had landed at Milne Bay on 25 August in 'Re' but, as the Australian position there firmed, the third battalion of Potts’s 21st Brigade was released to join the fighting along the track. With this reinforcement, he determined to make a stand on Mission Ridge, running forward from Brigade Hill. In fighting from 6 to 9 September, two battalions of the brigade withdrew, narrowly avoiding encirclement while the 2/27th Battalion was feared lost until its remnants emerged from the jungle three weeks later.

Following the battle, Potts was recalled to Port Moresby and replaced as commander by Porter. The depleted 21st Brigade was withdrawn to Ioribaiwa Ridge. It was reinforced by the 3rd Battalion and awaited relief by Eather’s 25th Brigade. Eather took command of the combined force, but the Japanese attacked just as his battalions were taking up position, and the fighting lasted from 14 to 16 September. Porter obtained permission to withdraw and consolidate at Imita Ridge, the final defensive position along the Kokoda Track. Meanwhile, US forces had landed at Guadalcanal on 7 August in 'Watchtower'. Unable to support both operations, the Japanese ordered Horii to withdraw. When Eather attacked the Japanese positions on 28 September, he found them abandoned. The Australian forces cautiously pursued the Japanese withdrawal. The 16th Brigade was committed to the advance and direct command passed to Allen’s 7th Division.

The 25th Brigade took the vanguard. On 10 October, Myola was occupied unopposed and contact was made with the Japanese defence. The 25th Brigade was held up at Templeton’s Crossing from 16 October until the 16th Brigade pushed through on 20 October and advanced toward Eora Village. Here, the advance was held until the Japanese forces withdrew on 28 October. Pressured to hasten the advance by MacArthur, Allan was replaced by Major General G. A. Vasey on 28 October. The 7th Division advanced towards Kokoda and, when a patrol reported it unoccupied, it was retaken on 2 November.

A further battle was fought around Oivi and Gorari from 4 to 11 November. Vasey was able to turn the flank and rout the Japanese. On 15 November, the 7th Division crossed the Kumusi river and commenced its advance toward the beach-heads at Buna and Gona.

As the Kokoda Track campaign was taking place, a Japanese invasion force of Japanese special naval landing force units attempted to capture the strategically valuable Milne Bay area on the eastern tip of New Guinea in August 1942. The 'Battle of Milne Bay', fought from 25 August to 7 September 1942, resulted in a Japanese defeat. This was the first notable Japanese land defeat and raised Allied morale across the Pacific theatre.

Allied forces identified a Japanese airfield under construction at Guadalcanal island, and 19,000 US Marines were embarked to capture the airfield. The resulting 'Watchtower' amphibious landing was made on 7 August and opened a campaign which lasted to 9 February 1943. The fighting was severe on land, at sea and in the air. Hyakutake’s initial thrust on 14 September to retake the island’s Henderson Field was defeated. In an unequal battle, Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi’s forces lost about 850 killed, while the US Marines lost 104. When the news reached Japan, the Imperial General Headquarters decided in an emergency session that Japan could not support fronts in New Guinea and on Guadalcanal. Hyakutake decided that he had troops and matériel sufficient only for the defeat of the Allied forces on Guadalcanal, and therefore prepared to send more troops to Guadalcanal in another attempt to recapture the airfield. With the concurrence of the Japanese command staff, he ordered Horii to withdraw his troops on the Kokoda Track until the issue at Guadalcanal had been decided. After several weeks of exhausting fighting and heavy losses, the Japanese force on the Kokoda Track was at Ioribaiwa, a mere 20 miles (32 km) from Port Moresby. There were also concerns that the Allies might land forces at Buna at any time.

Horii’s instructions to halt the advance appear to date from as early as 16 August, and when interviewed after the war, several senior Japanese officers thought that the factor most influencing the postponement was not Guadalcanal but rather 'stronger than anticipated Australian resistance at Kokoda.

The orders issued to Horii on 28 August stated that he was to 'advance to the southern slopes of the Owen Stanley Range…but amass your main strength on the north side of the range in preparation for future operations'. On 8 September, the 17th Army ordered Horii to assemble the 41st Regiment in the Kokoda area. Horii did draw back the main body of his force but continued to thrust forward. When, on 19 September, Hyakutake became aware that Ioribaiwa had been occupied on 16 September, he 'issued strict orders for front-line troops to immediately occupy a position to the north of Mawai'. An order of 23 September was to secure the area of Isurava and Kokoda as a 'base for future operations'. By this time, however, the South Sea Detachment had completely outrun its supply line and therefore faced with extreme rationing as well as the inevitability of no further advance. On 24 September, the 2/144th Regiment withdrew from Ioribaiwa, and the 3/144th Regiment formed the rearguard and withdrew during the night of 26 September.

For each side, the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track' and the battle that followed at the Japanese beach-heads around Buna and Gona were defined by the limitations imposed by terrain and the capability to supply and maintain their forces under the conditions they faced. As Morris said to Rowell on handing over command of the New Guinea Force 'The mountains will beat the Nips and we must be careful they don’t beat us.' Commanding in a theatre substantially devoid of infrastructure, Morris had set about an ongoing programme to expand, improve and develop harbour and airfield facilities at Port Moresby. Opened in early October, a T-shaped wharf was constructed on Tatana island, and this more than doubled the port’s capacity. Under orders from General Headquarters, an airfield and subsequent port facilities were developed at Milne Bay. This saw Allied forces fortuitously placed to counter the Japanese landing that occurred there. Roads were virtually non-existent. In concert with orders to deploy the 'Maroubra' Force to Kokoda, Lieutenant Bert Kienzle was ordered to construct an overland road for its resupply: this was an order essentially impossible of fulfilment, and by the end of September 1942 only slightly more than 6.8 miles (11 km) of road had been completed from McDonald’s to Owers' Corner under the supervision of Lieutenant Bert Kienzle.

Kienzle guided Templeton’s B Company of the 39th Battalion along the track to Kokoda. As they went, Kienzle identified staging points along the track and made arrangements for provisioning them. When they arrived at Kokoda, food was running low. Kienzle made a brief visit to his homestead in the Yodda valley and returned with supplies. The trek was considered too arduous for the soldiers to carry any heavy equipment. Arrangements had been made for a coastal vessel to transport supplies and other equipment to Buna, where they were unloaded the day before the Japanese began landings at Basabua, to the north around the coast near Gona. While Kokoda was held, it was possible to resupply by air landing. Owen flew into Kokoda to take command on 24 July. Two days later, one platoon of D Company was landed: without serviceable aircraft, this was done in two lifts by a single aeroplane.

Having returned overland, Kienzle reported on the supply situation. A porter could carry a load equivalent to 13 days' rations. If he carried rations for a soldier, between them they would consume the load in 6.5 days. This made no allowance for ammunition, other necessary equipment or the porter’s return, and the trek to Kokoda was eight days. Kienzle therefore concluded that operations could not be sustained without large-scale air drops. Aerial resupply commenced with drop sites at Kagi and Efogi, but neither of these sites was wholly suitable. Significant quantities fell outside the drop zone and could not be recovered. Unreliable maps or poor visibility in the drop zone meant that supplies were often mis-dropped. Recognising that a better drop zone was needed, Kienzle set out on 1 August, to find a large open area he recalled having seen from the air. On 3 August, he identified the smaller of two dry lake beds near the crest of the range, which he called Myola. Kienzle immediately requested that dropping begin at Myola. Access to this large area alleviated the proportion of supplies lost to the jungle. It also made the task of carriers achievable. He set about establishing it as a supply camp and cut a new track toward Eora Creek. This new track joined the existing track at Templeton’s Crossing, which he also named.

While the discovery of Myola alleviated one of the problems associated with resupply, it did not solve them all. Air drops requested during the second battle at Kokoda were delayed by weather, which was a factor which frequently interfered with air operations over the range. At the start of the campaign, effective air-drop techniques had not been developed. Belated drops to Kokoda were made by fighters because of the lack of transports. Belly tanks were filled with supplies, but this was not a method which could not be widely used. Parachutes were initially unavailable and, after a quantity had been delivered in the middle of September, remained in short supply and were reserved for essential equipment. Most supplies were therefore 'free dropped'. Packaging was primitive: supplies were wrapped in blankets or tied in sacks. There was, however, a conscious choice to utilise packing, such as blankets, that were required by the troops and might otherwise have been supplied separately. The rate of breakage and loss was high: on average, it was 50%, and on occasion reached 90%. Lieutenant Fayle, Allen’s aide-de-camp, commented that 'The whole fact of the matter, and NGF seemed unable to understand all through the campaign, was that recoveries were never 100 per cent of the supplies dropped and wastage was at times terrific.'

The lack of transport aircraft was another constraint. On 5 August, the only two aircraft available for supply work returned to Australia. On 17 August, a Japanese air raid on Port Moresby destroyed five aircraft and severely damaged 11 others when the aircraft had been parked close together. Of these, seven transports were destroyed or put out of commission, leaving only one in service. Tis was a disastrous event which significantly curtailed the Allied capacity to resupply the troops fighting along the track. Civilian aircraft and pilots were pressed into service in an effort to meet demand, and were used mainly for flights between Australia and New Guinea or in rear areas in order to release military aircraft and personnel for service in forward areas, but this did not solve the immediate problem.

Potts’s two battalions began their advance along the track on the basis that 40,000 rations plus ammunition and other supplies had been stockpiled at Myola and additional supplies existed at staging points along the route. Potts arrived at Myola on 21 August to find only 8,000 rations (five days' reserve) and a further two days' reserve forward, and was thus compelled to hold his force at Myola until a sufficient reserve could be accumulated, and this had an effect on the 'Battle at Isurava', which began on 26 August.

As a result of this short-fall and the earlier loss of transport aircraft at Port Moresby, urgent requests were forwarded by Rowell through the chain of command. Transport aircraft in the theatre at this time were largely operated by the US 5th Army Air Force, with Major General George C. Kenney commanding the Allied Air Forces. MacArthur released six Douglas A-24 single-engined dive bombers, one Boring B-17 Flying Fortress four-engined heavy bomber and two transport aircraft, noting that at the time there were only 30 transport aircraft in Australia and, of these, only half were available at any one time. MacArthur’s response stated that the resources being made available should be sufficient for the 20,000 lb (9072 kg) of supplies necessary to supply the forces at Wau and along the track (as estimated by Rowell) each day. The figure supplied by Rowell explicitly did not allow for the establishment of any reserve to be established. MacArthur concluded by stating that 'Air supply must necessarily be considered an emergency rather than a normal means of supply. Consequently every effort should be made by the GOC, NGF, to develop other means of supply.'

When Potts asked for 800 additional labourers to help alleviate the supply situation, Rowell replied that only 300 could be provided. There was simply not the labour force available to establish a reserve. As Allen was advancing, he estimated that he required 3,000 carriers to support his operations forward of Myola but, late in October, there were only 1,250 forward of Myola and none to the rear. During the Australian advance, the Myola 2 dried lake bed was developed as the major resupply point: in this larger area, an airstrip was developed, but this was considered too risky for general use.

As Potts withdrew from Isurava, Myola was lost, everything of use that could not be removed being destroyed as the Australians fell back. Successive withdrawals towards the start of the track eased the supply burden. As Allen advanced, following the withdrawing Japanese forces, he was acutely aware of the logistical problems facing his force. He faced pressure from Blamey and MacArthur to advance his forces without being able to assure their supply. His reluctance to do so was a significant factor leading to his replacement by Vasey who, of course, faced exactly the same problem.

Initial Japanese reconnaissance had indicated, quite wrongly, that there was a motorable road Kokoda. While the road was improved for vehicle transport to Sonobo, about halfway from Gona to Wairopi, levies from Rabaul and pack-horses had to carry supplies the remaining distance to Kokoda and farther forward. Meanwhile, Allied airpower interfered with the Japanese line of communication, particularly at the Kumusi river, which could not be crossed by day. Soldiers advanced from Kokoda carrying 16 days' rations. The advance, from the end of July until Ioribaiwa, in the middle of September, in fact lasted more than 45 days. Each Japanese soldier’s load included ammunition for the artillery and machine guns as well as 40 lb (18 kg) of rice per man.

A convoy carrying four independent supply companies destined to arrive at Buna on 20 September was delayed, so by the time the South Seas Detachment had advanced as far as Ioribaiwa, there was extreme rationing and the daily rice ration had been reduced to 6.3 Imp oz (180 g) per day without the prospect of captured stores alleviating the difficulty. Horii’s force was unable to advance farther. As the Japanese withdrew, Allied soldiers found that many Japanese had died of malnutrition with evidence that some Japanese had been reduced to eating wood, grass, roots and other inedible materials. Australian soldiers were also confronted with evidence of cannibalism: dead and wounded Australian and Japanese soldiers who had been left behind in the Australian retreat from Templeton’s Crossing had been stripped of flesh.

The Japanese made little use of aerial resupply, although one exception that was recorded was the drop of supplies at Kokoda on 23 September. When Australian forces reoccupied Kokoda, they found the strip there overgrown and unused.

The pre-war plantation economy of the Australian territories of Papua and New Guinea was based on a system of indentured labour. On 15 June 1942, Morris issued the Employment of Natives Order under the National Security (Emergency Control) Regulations, and this provided for the conscription of Papuan labour to support the Australian war effort. While resupply of the Australian forces on the track would have collapsed without airdrops, the Papuan carrier force remained an essential component, moving supplies forward from the drop zones under arduous conditions.

On their return, the carriers ferried back the wounded with solicitude: there are many testaments of praise for the care rendered.

The carrier force under Kienzle’s command is reported at more than 1,600 men. The total number which worked on the track was significantly larger, but was characterised by attrition through desertion and sickness. The ever-increasing need for labour impacted the communities from which they were conscripted by reducing their capacity to produce food.

The Japanese also relied on native labour to transport supplies for their forces on the Kokoda Track. Some 2,000 conscripted workers were transported to the mainland from Rabaul, and a further 300 residents of the northern coast of Papua were pressed into service. These labourers were poorly treated, and suffered from overwork. Many carriers who became sick or injured were murdered by Japanese forces, and mistreatment of this and other natures led to high desertion rates among the Papuan carriers. As the Japanese had difficulty obtaining replacement carriers, the casualties and desertions contributed to shortfalls in the quantities of supplies which reached the combat troops.

When the 21st Brigade joined the fighting early in the campaign, the medical plan was for the evacuation of the wounded and ill forward to Kokoda, and thence by air on the premise that it would soon be recaptured. This was discarded as it quickly became apparent that this would not happen and any serious casualties were moved back toward Myola. Potts had requested air evacuation but this was refused for a lack of suitable aircraft. As Myola was threatened by the Japanese advance, the casualties gathered there had to be evacuated to the head of the track. The report of the Australian 7th Division’s senior medical officer noted the difficulty of providing sufficient means to move stretchers. Each required eight bearers, which meant those wounded who were able to stagger were treated with 'absolute ruthlessness' and not provided with stretchers. In one case, a casualty with a severely fractured kneecap walked for six days and some with worse injuries volunteered to walk to free a stretcher for the more seriously wounded.

As the Australians advanced back along the track to Kokoda, Myola again became the main evacuation point. Aircraft were sent from Australia and approximately 40 patients were evacuated by air before a Ford Tri-Motor three-engined aeroplane and a Stinson single-engined aeroplane each crashed and further air evacuation from Myola was suspended. With the recapture of Kokoda, air landings and evacuation could occur from its landing strip and it became the main point of evacuation. As well as Douglas C-47 twin-engined transports arriving with supplies and Stinson L-1 Vigilant single-engined light observation aircraft were adapted for use as air ambulances and flew into Kokoda. At the start of November, the detachment at Myola was caring for 438 sick and wounded. Many walked back along the track as they became sufficiently well to make the trek. Some had to wait up to 10 weeks before porters were available to carry the stretcher cases forward to Kokoda for evacuation by air. The last arrived at Port Moresby only just before 25 December.

While the weapons of the 144th Regiment were limited by what they could carry, this included 18 medium machine guns, three 70-mm (2.76-in) infantry guns, two 37-mm rapid-fire guns and two 75-mm (2.95-in) regimental guns. The mountain artillery battalion deployed with three companies each with a single 75-mm (2.95-in) gun, while leaving one gun in reserve at Buna. The 44th Regiment deployed with 13 medium machine guns, three battalion guns, one regimental gun and one rapid-fire gun.

Each Australian brigade included one regiment of artillery, comprising two batteries each with 12 25-pdr gun/howitzers. This piece had a range of 13,400 yards (12255 m) but weighted 4,000 lb (1814 kg) and was not intended to be broken down into pack loads. As the Japanese advance threatened Imita Ridge the 14th Field Regiment (less one battery) deployed to a location near the head of the track to defend against a break-out by the Japanese into more open country. Two guns were hauled to Owers' Corner by caterpillar tractor. On 20 September, they shelled the Japanese positions at Ioribaiwa at a range of 11,000 yards (10060 m). A third such piece was stripped down and manhandled forward, taking 50 men five days to move it just 1.85 miles (3 km) through the mountainous jungle terrain, but by the time the guns were in position and ready to fire the Japanese were out of range.

In response to the situation, the 1st Mountain Battery was raised and equipped with 3.7-in (94-mm) pack howitzers hastily obtained from the Royal New Zealand Navy. Initially it was intended that the guns would be moved by pack horse; however, following the unit’s arrival in Port Moresby in early October it soon became clear that horses would be unsuited to the humid conditions in New Guinea, and the guns were therefore moved by Jeeps and native carriers. It took about 90 porters to move one gun without ammunition. The battery did not take part in the fighting along the track but on 15 November, a detachment with one gun was flown into Kokoda to support the Australian 7th Division.

Each Australian infantry battalion had a platoon with four 3-in (76.2-mm) mortars capable of throwing a 9.9-lb (4.5-kg) bomb to a range of 1,600 yards (1465 m). Battalions also had access to the Vickers medium machine gun. When Australian forces deployed forward, neither of these weapons were carried as it was considered that they were too heavy to be carried and that they could not be effectively employed in jungle terrain. However, a post-action report by the 2/14th Battalion indicates that it was a mistake not to take these weapons forward. By the time of the 'Battle of Brigade Hill-Mission Ridge' (from about 6 September), the 21st Brigade was operating a section of three 3-in (76.2-mm) mortars which had been parachuted into Myola. When the Australians started their advance from Imita Ridge, most battalions carried one 3-in (76.2-mm) mortar with 24 bombs and one Vickers machine gun with 3,000 rounds.

Despite this increased fire-power, the Japanese still held a significant advantage by quantity and range, and it had been reported that there were instances in which Australian mortars and Vickers machine guns brought into service were quickly targeted and destroyed by Japanese artillery. There was also a high rate of misfires with mortar ammunition that had been airdropped and, after such a round exploded in the barrel and killed the crew, the use of air-dropped mortar ammunition was suspended by the 16th Brigade.

The Japanese carried into the mountains 13 pieces of artillery and employed 15 in the 'Battle of Oivi-Gorari' at the end of the campaign, and weapons of this time proved to be effective force-multipliers, inflicting about 35% of Australian battle casualties and having a major effect on Australian morale.

Australian soldiers initially entered battle wearing a khaki uniform which contrasted with the darker greens of the jungle, and the webbing of the 21st Brigade had been bleached white from their service in Syria. In contrast, the Japanese wore a green uniform more suited to the jungle environment and were adept at camouflage. By the time the 25th Brigade was committed to the fighting, it was wearing jungle green uniforms: these were khaki uniforms which had been dyed, but the dye ran and caused skin complaints among the wearers.

Much of the Australian equipment and tactical thinking was that which had been standardised across the British army and the armies of the Commonwealth nations. This imperial legacy meant a force structure intended for fighting in open country and which was highly reliant on motor transport. Thus weight was not so much a consideration where equipment was not intended to be man-packed. Thus the standard radio set and associated equipment required 19 carriers to transport, were temperamental as a result of the 'excessive handling' and were susceptible to moisture and humidity. In contrast, the Japanese used compact wireless sets and lightweight aluminium signal wire.

Apart from the significant logistical contribution in support of the Australian forces, Allied air operations included bombing missions against Rabaul, the Japanese base supporting the landings in Papua, and the attempts to resupply and reinforce the beach-heads around Buna and Gona. The bombers were based in Australia, staging through Port Moresby, and this entailed considerable crew fatigue. Bombing sorties also targeted the Japanese beach-heads, particularly the airfield being constructed at Buna, and the Japanese line of communication. Regular missions against Buna effectively neutralised the airfield, damaging it almost as quickly as it could be repaired, thereby rendering it ineffective. The crossing of the Kumusi river at Wairopi was regularly targeted and bridging works repeatedly destroyed. The Australian forces on the track called for bombing and strafing missions in support of operations on several occasions but such requests were not always fulfilled and, moreover, weather conditions across the Own Stanley mountain range constantly interfered with operations.

After being ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to leave the Philippine islands group, MacArthur arrived in Australia on 17 March 1942 and was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific Area. MacArthur had to compete with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s plan to drive toward Japan through the central Pacific. Ambitious, he was concerned that his command should not be sidelined. Blamey had been recalled from the Middle East, arriving in Australia on 23 March 1942 and soon after this was appointed as commander-in-chief of the Australian army and subsequently, to the separate position, which he held simultaneously held, of Commander of the Allied Land Forces in the South-West Pacific Area.

As noted above, Papua and New Guinea had been the Australian 8th Military District under Morris’s command. On 9 April 1942, it was formed into the New Guinea Force, with Morris promoted major general. As events developed and the forces involved increased, Rowell arrived from Australia with the headquarters of the Australian I Corps, taking command of the force on 12 August 1942. Morris was moved to command the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU). At about this time, the Australian 7th Division was deploying to New Guinea and responsibility for the immediate defence of Port Moresby, including 'Maroubra' Force and the Kokoda Track operation was devolved to the divisional headquarters under Allan.

Both Blamey’s Allied Land Headquarters and MacArthur’s General Headquarters became increasingly alarmed by the situation on the Kokoda Track, with Australian forces suffering a series of reversals, and by the Japanese 'Re' landings at Milne Bay. Vasey, then Blamey’s deputy chief-of-staff, wrote privately to Rowell on 1 September, that 'GHQ is like a bloody barometer in a cyclone – up and down every two minutes.' MacArthur also had a poor opinion of the Australian troops and no real appreciation of the conditions under which the fighting in New Guinea was being conducted. On 6 September, MacArthur wrote to General George C. Marshall, the US Army chief-of-staff, that 'the Australians have proven themselves unable to match the enemy in jungle fighting. Aggressive leadership is lacking.'

The Australian government was also concerned. On 9 September, the army minister Frank Forde directed Blamey to visit Port Moresby, which he did, from 12 to 14 September. On his return, he was able to assure the government of his confidence in Rowell and that the situation was in hand. Nonetheless, MacArthur persuaded Australian prime minister Curtin to send Blamey to New Guinea to take command and 'energise the situation'.[214] By this manoeuvre, MacArthur ensured that Blamey would be the scapegoat if Port Moresby fell.

MacArthur himself visited Port Moresby briefly from 2 October. On 3 October, he went as far forward as Owers' Corner, where he spent about an hour. He was present as the 16th Brigade was starting its advance along the track, and subsequently established his advance headquarters in Port Moresby on 6 November 1942, just after Kokoda had been reoccupied, until January 1943.

Complying with Curtin’s directive, albeit reluctantly, Blamey arrived in Port Moresby on 23 September 1942 with only a small personal staff. It was a situation which Blamey felt was quite reasonable but with which Rowell saw significant difficulties. Rowell’s objections were that the circumstances of Blamey’s presence in his headquarters would ultimately undermine the good conduct of its operation by forcing it to serve two masters. Reporting of the initial situation suggests that Blamey, while maintaining his position, was conciliatory and empathetic toward Rowell’s concerns, and that Rowell’s objection was not to Blamey using his headquarters as much as the expectation that Rowell was expected to be Blamey’s chief-of-staff. It has also been observed that this was much how the headquarters subsequently operated under Herring. Underpinning the events that followed was the bad blood between them stemming from Blamey’s conduct in the Middle East and Greece. Perhaps, more importantly, there was a sense of disappointment in Blamey’s lack of support by way of resolve to oppose the decision to send Rowell to New Guinea. In a letter to Major General C. A. Clowes, commander of the Milne Force at Milne Bay, Rowell stated plainly that either I am fit to command the show or I am not.'

The command situation continued to simmer until it came to a head after Blamey had visited Milne Bay on 25 September at MacArthur’s suggestion and ordered Clowes to send a force by air to Wanigela. Kenney noted that Rowell was 'not even consulted anymore'. Rowell confronted Blamey on the issue and was relieved of command on 28 September. In a communication to Curtin, Blamey referred to Rowell as insubordinate and obstructive. Rowell was replaced by Herring.

On 9 September 1942, Allen’s command responsibilities were narrowed to the direct prosecution of the Kokoda Track campaign and flank protection. Importantly for subsequent events, the New Guinea Force retained control of air resupply. The Australian advance started with the attack of 28 September against the now-abandoned Japanese positions on Ioribaiwa Ridge, and the 16th Brigade began to move forward on 3 October.

Allen had moved his headquarters forward to Menari by 11 October. The 25th Brigade was advancing on two tracks from Efogi toward Templeton’s Crossing, and Allen was mindful of the need to keep his troops fresh enough to fight, and also of the supply problems imposed by operations over the track. There were already difficulties in air drops to meet the division’s needs. These concerns were expressed to Herring on 7 October, including the need to create a reserve over and above the daily needs. As a consequence, the supply programme intensified.

On 5 October, Blamey wrote to MacArthur in 'hard terms' of the logistical difficulties faced by the New Guinea Force and , more specifically, by Allen’s division. Despite this, Blamey and MacArthur pressured Allen to increase the rate of his division’s advance, and Blamey forced the issue by arranging for supplies to be dropped only at Myola, effectively forcing Allen to advance to meet his point of supply. Blamey and Herring wished Allen to maintain pressure on the retreating Japanese and push home the advantage. The concept of dropping supplies forward helps to maintain the momentum of advance, but there was the concomitant disadvantage that this quickly breaks down if the advance is stalled and there are limited reserves. The Blamey’s position was premised on the proposition that the Japanese were in retreat. In fact, they had made a clean break from Ioriabiawa and had established defences that were blocking Allen’s advance on both routes to Templeton’s Crossing. With supplies dropped at Myola, Allen could not easily support the advance being made along the Mt Bellamy track and, until the position forward of Templeton’s Crossing had been secured, there was the risk of Myola being compromised.

On 17 October Allen, now at Myola, received the following message from Blamey: 'General MacArthur considers quote extremely light casualties indicate no serious effort yet made to displace enemy unquote. You will attack enemy with energy and all possible speed at each point of resistance. Essential that Kokoda airfield be taken at earliest. Apparent enemy gaining time by delaying you with inferior strength.'

Allen’s response was measured. He requested that any decision on his progress be deferred until a report could be made by a liaison officer or more senior officer. MacArthur and Blamey continued to press Allen through the delays experienced at Templeton’s Crossing and Eora Village. To his credit, Allen stood by his subordinates. Just as the 16th Brigade was advancing on Eora Village, a signal from MacArthur through Blamey on 21 October further increased the pressure on Allen: 'Operations reports show that progress on the trail is NOT repeat NOT satisfactory. The tactical handling of our troops in my opinion is faulty.' Allen replied, in part: 'I have complete confidence in my brigade commanders and troops and feel that they could not have done better.' Allen’s trust may have been misplaced, however, has Lloyd had 'botched' the tactical handling of the first two days of the engagement at Eora Village that were just then unfolding. It is also notable that the pressure 'from on high' for haste likely weighed heavily in Lloyd’s decision to proceed initially with a frontal attack. The pressure for more haste thereby contributed to increasing the delays. On 28 October, Blamey ordered Allen’s recall and replacement by Vasey. Allen had vouched for the judgement and professionalism of his brigade commanders, and in this he was ultimately responsible.

Potts had been sent forward to Isurava with orders to attack and recapture Kokoda. Instead, his force was unable to withstand the Japanese attacks and he was forced to conduct a fighting withdrawal, suffering a disastrous defeat at Brigade Hill. Increasingly concerned, MacArthur applied pressure down the chain of command. Potts was recalled to Port Moresby by Rowell on 10 September, being replaced by Porter, with Rowell’s motive being dissatisfaction with Potts’s 'mishandling' of his brigade and a need to obtain a first-hand account of conditions. Allen agreed with the decision, judging that Potts was 'either tired or losing a grip of the situation'. On arriving at Port Moresby, Potts was interviewed by Rowell and Allen, whereupon, satisfied with his performance, he was returned to command his brigade.

However, in a private interview on 22 October, the day of the 'running rabbit' address, Blamey told Potts that he was no longer required in New Guinea: 'Failures like the Kokoda Trail…could not be tolerated - the men had shown that something was lacking…[and he] blamed the leaders.' Potts was transferred to command the 23rd Brigade re-forming in Darwin, exchanging postings with Brigadier I. N. Dougherty. Herring has claimed that the decision was his on the basis that he felt that Potts needed to be rested and wanting Dougherty to take the position. Murdoch was inundated with resignation papers from officers affronted by Potts’s treatment, but Potts instructed Murdoch to reject all resignations.

On 22 October, after the relief of the 21st Brigade by the 25th Brigade, Blamey visited Koitaki, near Port Moresby, where the 21st Brigade was encamped. 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. 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 murmuring and restlessness among the soldiers. Officers and senior non-commissioned officers, managed to quiet the soldiers and many later said that Blamey was lucky to escape with his life. During the march-past, many disobeyed the 'eyes right' order. In a later letter to his wife, an enraged Potts swore to 'fry [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 general interpretation of the above is that the actions of MacArthur and Blamey were designed 'to salvage their own positions at the expense of the troops', but it should also be remembered that MacArthur was himself under pressure as seen in a cable from the US Joint Chiefs-of-Staff on 16 October, 'reminding him that they viewed the situation in Papua as 'critical''. It is also worth noting that this coincided with the relief of Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, commander-in-chief of the US forces in the South Pacific Area, who had operational control of the forces engaged at Guadalcanal. The pressure brought to bear by MacArthur was in the face of 'complicated operational and strategic contexts' in which 'an understanding of these contexts [had] been poorly done in most accounts of the fighting [in Papua]. This is encapsulated in correspondence from Brigadier General Stephen J. Chamberlin, MacArthur’s chief of operations, to Major General Richard K. Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief-of-staff, on 30 October 1942: 'the key to our plan of action lies in the success or failure of the South Pacific in holding Guadalcanal' which, by implication, was tenuous.

It has also been claimed, in regard to MacArthur’s treatment of Allen, that 'MacArthur showed an abysmal lack of trust in his subordinate [Blamey and his view that Allen was doing all he could], and an unwarranted interference in the tactical handling of troops some 1,500 miles from his headquarters.' While the Australian government had been largely steadfast in it recall of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force from the Middle in the face of considerable opposition from Churchill, it was now seemingly in complete dependence on MacArthur, which compromised Blamey’s relationship with it.

Regardless of the various justifications made, the sackings created a climate of suspicion, animosity, personal rivalries and a 'toxic atmosphere' which pervaded the senior ranks and was detrimental to the war effort. Blamey trod a precarious line between 'maintaining his own position and protecting the Australian commanders, between risking his own replacement and risking the distrust of his subordinates, and it has also been claimed, with some justification, that 'the arguments between generals and politicians might seem of little consequence. But the opposite is the case. It was errors by men like MacArthur and Blamey which lead to the near disaster in New Guinea. As usual, it was the men in the front line who paid the heaviest price.'

On the ground, the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track' began on 21 July 1942 when the Japanese began to land at Gona at about 17.30. The landings were opposed by Allied air attacks until the fall of night, and these resumed soon after dawn on the following. The Japanese lost the transport vessel Ayotosan Maru, though not before the embarked troops had been landed. The Japanese landings were observed by patrols of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and officers of the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit. Templeton brought forward two of his platoons, leaving the third to protect Kokoda, and first contact was made at about 16.00 on 23 July, when a Papuan Infantry Battalion patrol ambushed advancing Japanese near Awala. The bridge across the Kumusi river at Wairopi was destroyed by the withdrawing Australians and the Japanese were harassed as they made a crossing.

Owen had flown to Kokoda on 24 July and went forward with Templeton to assess the situation before returning to Kokoda and calling for reinforcements to be landed. An ambush position was sited about 800 yards (730 m) to the east of Gorari and sprung at about 12.00 on 25 July. The force of two platoons and the remaining men of the Papuan Infantry Battalion then withdrew to Oivi, taking up a position that evening. D Company’s No. 16 Platoon arrived by air at Kokoda in two flights, the first landing at 10.00, on 26 July and the men were immediately sent forward to join the force at Oivi before the Japanese attack at 15.00. The force was able to hold the Japanese for a short time but was then forced to retire to a secondary position. With the Japanese trying to encircle this position, Templeton was concerned for the second flight yet to arrive and set out to warn it. There was a burst of fire shortly after he left, and Templeton was never seen again.

Watson now took command. As the force was increasingly threatened by encirclement, it broke toward Deniki. At Kokoda, Owen had lost contact with his forward platoons and also withdrew to Deniki, departing at 11.00 on 27 July. On the following morning, a small party of stragglers arrived. Having spent the previous night at Kokoda, these men reported that the village was unoccupied and, leaving two sections at Deniki, Owen quickly advanced back to the village.

By 11.30, Owen had reoccupied Kokoda with a force comprising B Company, the remaining men of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and members of the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit who had joined the 'Maroubra' Force, variously numbered at between 80 and 148 men. Owen called for reinforcements, and shortly after this two aircraft appeared overhead but did not land as the defenders were slow in removing the barricades that had been placed across the airstrip and the pilots believed the situation too risky to land. There are inconsistencies in the various accounts of this event: most significant is whether this occurred on 28 July or the day before, when Owen was about to abandon Kokoda.

The Kokoda plateau is shaped like a tongue, with steeply sloping sides. The government station was located at its northern tip. The track from Oivi approached the tip from the east, and the track to Deniki extended down its centre to the south. Owen positioned his force around the station at its tip. At 13.30, advance elements of the Japanese force, which totalled about 200 men, were sighted. As the Japanese commander, Captain Ogawa, assembled his force, the Australian defenders were harassed through the night, including fire from light mortars and a 70-mm (2.76-in) battalion gun, which was particularly telling as the Australians had no means to respond to it. The main Japanese attack started at 02.30 in the early morning of 29 July. Owen was in the forward positions to inspire his troops and received a mortal gunshot wound above his right eye, and Watson then assumed command and, as the force was being overrun, ordered a withdrawal to Deniki.

Following the first battle at Kokoda, there was a brief pause in fighting during which both the Japanese and the Australians concentrated their forces for the next phase. For the Japanese, this was the 1/144th Regiment, whose 1st Company had faced B Company at Kokoda. The battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Tsukamoto Hatsuo. C Company and A Company of the 39th Battalion arrived at Deniki on 30 and 31 July respectively. Major Allan Cameron, brigade major of the 30th Brigade, had been sent forward to take command of the 'Maroubra' Force, arriving on 4 August. Cameron formed a low opinion of B Company after encountering troops moving to the south along the track as he moved forward. Cameron’s arrival coincided with the establishment of a telephone line between the head of the track and Deniki, and this served to effect a great improvement in communications with Port Moresby. D Company arrived on 6 August. With this force, Cameron resolved to counterattack and recapture Kokoda. His plan was to advance along three routes assigned to each of his fresh companies with B Company securing Deniki, C Company advancing along the main track to Kokoda and A Company, under Captain Noel Symington, pressing forward along a parallel track to the east that was unknown to the Japanese. D Company was to advance on a track from Deniki to Pirivi. The latter was just to the south of the track linking Oivi and Kokoda track, and about 3.2 miles (5 km) to the east of Kokoda. There it was to take up a blocking position.

Cameron issued his final orders during the afternoon of 7 August for an advance in the morning of the following day to the form-up points and an attack at 12.00. Cameron’s force totalled 550 men, its three attacking companies numbering 430 men. This was opposed by 522 men of the 1/144th Regiment within a total force of 660, including an artillery platoon and combat engineers. Tsukamoto also chose to attack toward Deniki on the same day along the main track, and C Company encountered resistance after advancing only 220 yards (200 m).

The attack on Kokoda was preceded by bombing and strafing by 16 P-39 fighter-bombers. Symington was able to advance into Kokoda and, meeting minimal resistance, was able to occupy it. A message was sent with Corporal Sanopa to Cameron requiring resupply by air and reinforcements to hold the village. Advancing on the main track, C Company met increasing resistance as it came upon Tsukamoto’s main force. Unable to advance farther, it withdrew to Deniki, with the Japanese following closely. It arrived there at 17.50. As D Company, under Captain Max Bidstrup, took up a position at the junction on the track linking Oivi and Kokoda, it came under strong attack by engineers from both directions. Judging the attack on Kokoda had been unsuccessful he withdrew at 16.30 back to Deniki with his main force, arriving at about 13.30 on 9 August. No. 17 Platoon, which had become isolated in the fighting, arrived on the next day.

Sanopa arrived with Symington’s message in the morning of 9 August. Cameron requested both an air drop of supplies and air reconnaissance to ascertain the situation at Kokoda. He was informed that resupply could not occur until the following day. Tsukamoto had sent a company back to Kokoda, arriving at 11.30 on 9 August. Without resupply and facing determined attacks, Symington’s force held until 19.00 on 10 August and then withdrew to the west by a circuitous route back to Isurava, arriving on 13 August. The reconnaissance flight occurred in the morning of 10 August but the promised resupply was delayed by weather until 12 August and was then dropped into the hands of the Japanese.

The 39th Battalion’s Machine Gun Company (less its medium machine guns) had deployed along the track and had been holding a position at Isurava for about a week. Cameron called it forward: arriving in Deniki at 17.0, on 12 August, it exchanged roles with B Company. Patrols from Deniki had reported the Japanese advancing en masse from Kokoda, and their attack began at 05.30 on 13 August and continued throughout the day. Sporadic gunfire continued through most of the night and the attack was renewed the next morning. As the Japanese threatened his flanks and rear, Cameron ordered the withdrawal to Isurava at 09.50.

Tsukamoto did not press the advance at this stage, but waited for Horii to concentrate his main force, estimating that the Australian force holding Kokoda had numbered around 1,000 to 1,200 men. The force available to Horii was based on five infantry battalions with supporting arms and services, and has been variously reported at 3,000 and 5,000 men. Horii planned to attack with four battalions, holding one of these in immediate reserve to exploit the result. The force that engaged the Australians at Isurava totalled 2,130 men including the artillery.

On 16 August, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner arrived at Isurava to take command of the 39th Battalion. He also assumed command of the 'Maroubra' Force which, by then, included the first company of the 53rd Battalion to arrive at Alola, about 1.25 miles (2 km) south of Isurava. Command passed to Porter when he arrived with headquarters of the 30th Brigade on 19 August. Potts and two battalions of the 21st Brigade were also moving forward but their advance was delayed at a 'critical time' by the insufficiency of supplies at Myola. Potts assumed command of the combined force on 23 August, with orders to attack toward Kokoda and the intention of relieving the 39th Battalion and thus alleviate his supply difficulties. The Australian force commanded by Potts totalled some 2,290 men.

The position at Isurava held by the 39th Battalion was bounded front and rear by small creeks that run into the gorge-like Eora Creek to the west, and there is also a steep spur-line rising to the west. Main ridges, bounding Eora Creek, extended north/south. The Isurava position and main track were on the so-called Isurava ridge or western side of Eora Creek. A parallel track ran along the side of the 'Abuari ridge' or western side of Eora Creek. Honner later recounted that it was 'as good a delaying position as could be found on the main track'. However, the position was overlooked by a spur-line to the north, which afforded the Japanese a position from which they could enfilade the Australian position. The main force of the 53rd Battalion was located at Alola but tasked with security of the Abuari track on the western flank.

Contact had been established between forward positions and patrols on both tracks on 26 August. The 39th Battalion’s positions came under artillery fire as the 2/14th Battalion was moving to occupy them. The 39th Battalion then took-up a position to their immediate rear. The 53rd Battalion was responsible for protecting the eastern flank and approach along the Abuari ridge. Through 26 and 27 August, the position there became increasingly uncertain. Forward companies of the 53rd Battalion failed to act decisively, and the command party of the battalion, moving forward to take direct command, was ambushed, leaving Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Ward dead. The 2/16th Battalion was called up from near Myola to shore up the position on the eastern flank.

From 27 August, the Japanese attacks increased in intensity along both approaches. On the Abuari track, reinforcement by two companies of the 2/16th Battalion was able to check the advance of the 2/144th Regiment on this axis. Japanese sources later noted that the defence by the 53rd and 2/16th on the right offered them 'little opportunity to make a speedy exploitation', but the Japanese commander has been criticised for not pressing his advantage there, apparently in the belief that it was more strongly held than was actually the case.

On the approach to Isurava, the 2/14th and 39th Battalions came under increasing pressure from Japanese attacks, culminating in hand-to-hand fighting. Throughout this time, the Japanese were able to bring telling fire down on the Isurava position, mostly with machine guns, mortars and as many as eight pieces of artillery. The Australians were able to reply with only one 3-in (76.2-mm) mortar of the 39th Battalion that arrived on 27 August, having been brought up by the 2/14th after being air-dropped at Myola.

With its western flank threatened, the Australian force at Isurava withdrew to a position at the Isurava resthouse (between Isurava and Alola) during the late hours of 29 August. On 30 August, the 3/144th Regiment attacked from the western flank and cut the route rearward to Alola. The attack was preceded by intense fire from the Japanese mountain artillery, and at 15.00 Potts ordered a withdrawal to Eora Village. Many men of the 'Maroubra' Force became separated, these including Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Key, who was subsequently captured and killed. In his post-operation report, Potts noted that 'At no time were 2/14th and 2/16th Australian infantry battalions ever intact and available for a concerted operation, wholly and solely due to the delays occasioned by supply.'

Disengaging from the battle at Isurava, Potts was compelled by the pursuing Japanese to conduct a fighting withdrawal. As the situation at Milne Bay stabilised, Allen released the 2/27th Battalion to join the rest of the 21st Brigade. Departing along the track on 30 August, it would take several days to reach the front and have no impact on this stage of the campaign. During the battle Horii decided to commit the 2/41st Regiment, under Major Mitsuo Koiwai, with the aim of moving in a wide arc to the west and emerging on the track to the south of Alola. The Japanese battalion became lost, however, and in fact did not regain contact with the main Japanese force until after the battle, without firing a single shot. Horii then assigned the battalion to the vanguard to pursue the withdrawing 'Maroubra' Force.

In the initial withdrawal, the 2/16th Battalion had a screening role, withdrawing by stages from the rear of Alola toward Eora Village, while the village itself was held by what remained of the 39th Battalion. As most of the 'Maroubra' Force had withdrawn through their positions, the 2/16th Battalion then retired on Eora Village, arriving at about 12.00 on 1 September. It then took up a defensive position on a bald spur on the southern side of the creek that overlooked the crossing and village. The 2/14th Battalion was about 1,095 yards (1000 m) to the south along the track. The 39th Battalion, by then numbering less than 150 men, was ordered to proceed to Kagi and hold there. It remained forward until it was withdrawn on 5 September. On the morning of 31 August, the 53rd Battalion was sent out of battle and ordered to return to Myola, where part of the battalion remained, providing work parties.

Starting with Eora Village, the 2/16th Battalion occupied delaying positions along the track: it withdrew from Eora Village at 06.00 on 2 September to a position forward of Templeton’s Crossing until dusk of 2 September, and to a position overlooking Dump 1 on Eora Creek about 1.6 miles (2.5 km) to the south of Templeton’s Crossing, until the night of 4 September. At each stage, the 2/14th Battalion screened the withdrawal of the 2/16th Battalion.

With this final engagement, Potts was able to make a clean break from the Japanese advance, but only with the loss of Myola: the terrain afforded the Japanese too great an advantage and it could be bypassed, using the original track to the west. Potts abandoned Myola, destroying what supplies could not be carried out.

Under mounting pressure from Allen and Rowell to make a stand, Potts determined to do so at Mission Ridge, which extends to the north from Brigade Hill toward the village of Efogi. Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Cooper, commanding the 2/27th Battalion, had reached as far as Kagi with his leading companies on 4 September and then concentrated his battalion in a position just to the south of Efogi, where he could screen the brigade before he was recalled back to the position of the main force during the afternoon of 6 September. The 2/27th Battalion occupied a forward position astride the track. The 2/14th Battalion was to its immediate rear and slightly to the east. Brigade headquarters was approximately 2,000 yards (1830 m) to the rear. The main strength of the 2/16 Battalion was between brigade headquarters and the forward battalions, while its D Company was located with brigade headquarters as rear protection.

Horii had become dissatisfied with the rate of advance made with the 41st Regiment in the van and replaced it with the 144th Regiment on 5 September. Colonel Kusonose Masao employed his 2 and 3/144th Regiment in the attack. As the Japanese moved into position through the night of 6 September, the Australians observed lights, and called for an air attack for the following morning, when eight Martin B-26 Marauder twin-engined medium bombers, escorted by four Curtiss P-40 single-engined fighters, bombed and strafed. Anderson later reports that this attack had a greater effect on morale, positive for the Australians and negative for the Japanese, than it did in causing casualties.

During 7 September, the 3/144th Regiment probed toward the position of the 2/27th Battalion, with artillery and machine guns firing on the forward Australian battalions. The 21st Brigade was able to direct fire only from a section of three mortars under command of the brigade. At 17.00, the brigade war diary reported the 2/27th Battalion being 'hammered by mortars, QF gun and HMG'.

During the night, the 2/144th Regiment undertook an undetected enveloping move to the west and attacked up the ridge just before dawn to join the track between brigade headquarters and the forward battalions. At much the same time, the 3/144th Regiment launched an intense attack against the 2/27th Battalion. In the fighting that developed, the 2/27th Battalion drew back on the 2/14th Battalion’s position while the 2/16th and 2/14th Battalions counterattacked to the south. Brigade headquarters and D Company of the 2/16th Battalion also attacked, to the north, to try unsuccessfully to dislodge the incursion of the 2/144th Regiment.

Immediately before the breakdown in communications, Potts passed command of the brigade group to Caro. As the situation deteriorated, the headquarters group withdrew to Nauro. The 2/14th Battalion and the 2/16th Battalion broke track to the east and were able to rejoin the brigade. The 2/27th Battalion was unable to follow, however, and was deemed effectively lost until it emerged from the jungle three weeks later. The battle at Brigade Hill-Mission Ridge has been described as a 'stunning victory' for the Japanese and a 'catastrophe' for the Australians.

Even before the battle at Mission Ridge had come to an end, Rowell had issued orders recalling Potts to Port Moresby. What remained of the 2/14th Battalion and 2/16th Battalion rejoined the 21st Brigade and withdrew to the south toward Ioribaiwa and harassed the Japanese advance. Ordered to stabilise the position, Porter assumed command of the 'Maroubra' Force on 10 September, by which time the 2/14th Battalion and 2/16th Battalion had been so reduced in strength that they were formed into a combined force fielding a strength of a company equivalent from each battalion. This force was reinforced by the 3rd Battalion and by the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion, although the latter did not move forward. Eather’s 25th Brigade was being sent forward to relieve the situation, and as he readied his attack Eather assumed command of the 'Maroubra' Force.

Porter had positioned the composite battalion astride the track on the line of he Ioribaiwa Ridge, running from the main range to the north-west. The track followed a spur-line falling north toward Ofi Creek. The 3rd Battalion was positioned on the ridge to its immediate right on the eastern side of the track. This was the major ridgeline before Imita Ridge and the head of the Kokoda Track. Eather planned to attack, advancing past Porter’s flanks with two of his battalions: the 2/31st Battalion and 2/33rd Battalion on the western and eastern flanks respectively. The 2/25th Battalion was Eather’s reserve, and took up a position on the track behind Porter’s force. On the night 13/14 September, the 25th Brigade bivouacked to the rear of Porter’s force ready to advance. As Eather’s battalions were deploying, the Japanese attacked. Eather immediately called off the attack and adopted a defensive posture. This had the effect of placing his advancing battalions on either flank and significantly increasing his frontage.

From Brigade Hill, Kusonose had continued to pursue the Australians with the 2/144th Regiment and 3/144th Regiment. Horii had halted his main force awaiting permission to continue the advance. Kusonose’s initial attack was made with half of the 3/144th Regiment advancing along the axis of the track, while 2/144th Regiment was to make a flanking attack from the west. Kusonose was able to bring fire on the Australian positions from eight guns. Fighting continued through the day, but both attacks were held. An attack on 15 September was made by his reserve, the second half of the 3/144th Regiment, against what Kusonose thought was the eastern flank of the Australian force. Unaware that the 'Maroubra' Force had been reinforced, this was checked in a gap between the 3rd Battalion and the 2/33rd Battalion. Counterattacks by two companies of the 2/25th Battalion and two companies of the 2/33rd Battalion on that day were unable to dislodge the Japanese from this foothold.

Fighting on 16 September continued much as it had on the previous day, although the Japanese between the 3rd Battalion and the 2/33rd Battalion took to the high ground they called Sankaku Yama (triangle mountain). From there, they compromised Eather’s communication with the 2/33rd Battalion. Feeling his position was vulnerable, Eather requested and received permission from Allen to withdraw to Imita Ridge, Allen using the opportunity to stress that there could be no further withdrawal. Eather began the withdrawal from 11.00, and this had beeen described as 'well-organised and orderly. However, Eather has been criticised by some for disengaging from battle too soon and ceding victory to Kusonose when the latter was at an impasse and frustrated. Having committed his reserve, Kusonose was still unable to break the Australian defence.

On 17 September, Eather was able to consolidate his position on Imita Ridge. The 2/33rd Battalion had been tasked to delay any further Japanese advance. A number of ambushes were set with mixed results. Located near the head of the Kokoda Track, the Austrlaian position substantially resolved the difficulty of supply, and the force was soon to be bolstered by the arrival of the 16th Brigade. Two 25-pdr gun/howitzers of the 14th Field Regiment would at last be able to provide the 'Maroubra' Force with artillery support.

As the Japanese advanced from Brigade Hill, an Australian programme of patrolling was instigated to secure the flank approaches to Port Moresby. This utilised the 2/6th Independent Company extensively to patrol from Laloki along the Goldie river toward Ioribaiwa and for other tasks. 'Jaw' Force was raised from rear details of the 21st Brigade to patrol the eastern flank and the approach from Nauro to Jawarere, and 'Honner' Force was raised with orders to attack the Japanese supply lines between Nauro and Menari. Though the plan came to nought as a result of supply difficulties, it patrolled the western flank to the limit of its supply without encounter.

Reaching Ioribaiwa, the Japanese leading elements began to celebrate as, from their vantage point on the hills around Ioribaiwa, they could see the lights of Port Moresby and the Coral Sea beyond. However, the Japanese made no concerted attempt to advance on Eather’s position at Imita Ridge.

In this interlude, Eather patrolled toward Ioribaiwa, both to harass the Japanese and to gather intelligence on their disposition. By 27 September, he had issued orders to his battalion commanders for an 'all-out' assault on the following day. When committed, however, the attack found that Ioribaiwa had been abandoned and the artillery fired by the Australians had been without effect. Patrols followed without delay, with one of the 2/25th Battalion’s patrols finding that by 30 September, Nauro was unoccupied. Ordered to withdraw, the position at Ioribaiwa had been abandoned by the last Japanese troops during the night of 26 September.

The 25th Brigade, to which the 3rd Battalion was attached, began its advance against the Japanese, and the 16th Brigade followed to occupy the positions on Imita Ridge. Allen was conscious of the supply difficulties he would encounter and moderated his advance accordingly, but was placed under pressure by Blamey and MacArthur to pursue what these more senior commanders perceived to be a fleeing opponent. In fact, however, the South Sea Detachment had made a clean break and withdrawn to a series of four defensive positions that had been prepared in advance. These were the responsibility of the Stanley Detachment, which was based on the 2/144th Regiment. The first two positions were forward, near the northern ends of the two tracks to the north from Kagi (the main Myola track and the original track, also known as the Mt Bellamy track), the third position overlooked Templeton’s Crossing, where the two tracks rejoined, and the fourth position was at Eora Village.

On 10 October the Australians reoccupied Myola, and by 12 October the 2/33rd Battalion was advancing toward Templeton’s Crossing on the Myola track and the 2/25th Battalion on the Mt Bellamy track. The 16th Brigade was advancing on Menari to adopt a position at Myola with the intention of becoming the vanguard as the brigade moved through Templeton’s Crossing.

On the Myola track, the Stanley Detachment had deployed its main force along the track in considerable depth and in well developed positions. A forward patrol of the 2/33rd Battalion contacted the most lightly held forward position on 10 October, but this position resisted a series of frontal and flanking manoeuvres. Through to 14 October, the 3rd Battalion moved round the western flank to co-ordinate with the 2/33rd Battalion in an attack on 15 October, but this attack found that the Japanese had withdrawn.

On the Mt Bellamy track, the 2/25th Battalion met with the lesser Japanese force on 13 October and, after reporting the Japanese positions clear on 15 October, patrolled to Templeton’s Crossing on the following day. These two engagements have subsequently been identified as the opening phase of the second battle of Templeton’s Crossing-Eora Creek.

The 25th Brigade, less the 2/31st Battalion that was farther back, reached the northern junction of the tracks at Templeton’s Crossing on 16 October. As the 3rd Battalion advanced, the Japanese position was identified late in the afternoon. It straddled the track on the high ground to the east of Eora Creek and 500 yards (455 m) to the north of the crossing. The Stanley Detachment had occupied two parallel spurs running toward the creek from the main ridge line. Now commanding the 3rd Battalion, Cameron concentrated his force for an attack on the following day. Attacks on 17 and 18 October were directed from the high ground on the Japanese eastern flank by the 3rd Battalion and A and D Companies of the 2/25th Battalion, but failed to achieve a decisive result.

During the morning of 19 October, the 2/2nd Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Cedric Edgar pushed forward to assist the 3rd Battalion, while the remaining two battalions of the 16th Brigade, under the command of Brigadier John Lloyd relieved the 2/25th and 2/33rd Battalions. On 20 October, the 2/2nd Battalion mounted an attack by four companies from the high ground to the east. This attack was to be renewed the following day, 21 October, but by then the Stanley Detachment had withdrawn in the night. Horii’s main force had been withdrawn to Kokoda-Oivi. When the Stanley Detachment was forced to withdraw from Templeton’s Crossing, Horii sent all available reinforcement to hold the final position at Eora Village.

The Australian advance then began toward Eora Village, and as a patrol entered this village at about 10.30 it was taken under fire. From the village, the track crossed log bridges over Eora Creek and a tributary before continuing along the western side of Eora Creek as it headed to the north. Overlooking the village from the north was a spur-line rising to the west. It was here that the Japanese had prepared two defensive positions: one was on the lower slopes of the spur and the other much higher up. The Japanese had spent nearly two months in the fortification of the positions, and from them could bring down the fire of medium machine guns and five pieces of artillery. On the afternoon of 22 October, and against representations from his battalion commanders, Lloyd ordered a frontal attack on the lower Japanese position. What followed was highly confused but, by dawn on 24 October, the battalion-strength attacking force was largely pinned down in front of the Japanese position, having suffered 34 men killed and many more injured, with no prospect of success. Lloyd then ordered the 2/3rd Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel John Stevenson to attack down on the Japanese positions from the top of Eora Ridge, lying to the west, but the battalion took two days to deploy to its forming-up point.

The attack of the 2/3rd Battalion began in the morning of 27 October. Horii had ordered a withdrawal from the position on the night of 28 October. The 2/3rd Battalion resumed its attack on 28 October, co-ordinated with an assault by the remainder of the brigade. The position was now only lightly held by the 3/144th Regiment, which was about to withdraw, and the situation turned into a rout.

On 28 October, Vasey arrived at Myola to relieve Allen. The Australian advance recommenced on 29 October. With a loss of positions that commanded the Gap and the approach to Port Moresby, Horii now focused his attentions on the defence of the beach-heads at Buna and Gona. He concentrated his force around Oivi and Gorari, and while a rearguard screened his preparations, this was successively withdrawn before the Australians could make contact.

Aola was entered on 30 October, and air drops on the following day alleviated supply problems as the Australian line of communication extended from Myola. On 2 November, a patrol of the 2/31st Battalion entered Kokoda and found that it had been abandoned, and at 15.30 on the following day, Vasey led a flag-raising ceremony. The 7th Division could now land supplies at Kokoda. On 6 November, Vasey held a further ceremony in which he awarded medals and made gifts of trade goods to the Papuans who had supported the Australians.

From Kokoda, the route to Wairopi, and thence to Buna and Gona, was mainly to the east, whereas the advance from Eora Village was mainly to the north. On the main track from Kokoda to Waropi, at the crossing of the Kumusi river, Horii had ordered the construction of strong defensive positions, prepared over a period of several weeks. These defences were centred on the heights overlooking Oivi, with a position in depth at Gorari, which also covered an approach from the southern parallel track. The 41st Regiment, together with one battalion of the 144th Regiment and seven pieces of artillery, faced an advance from the west. Two battalions of the 144th Regiment held the position at Gorari and a track approaching from the south. The force headquarters was to the immediate rear.

The 16th Brigade (including the 3rd Battalion) patrolled toward Oivi, making contact on 4 November. In fighting which lasted to 6 November, it tried unsuccessfully to break the position. Vasey then committed the 25th Brigade, with the 2/1st Battalion attached, to an attack from the south toward Gorari. The brigade was to advance along the southern parallel track as far as Waju. The 2/1st Battalion, in the lead, initially overshot this and had to retrace its steps, but was ready to advance to the north on 7 November. Horii had become aware of the Australian movement and despatched his two battalions at Gorari to the south along the connecting track. The two battalions established an all-round defence on a position near Baribe, about halfway between the two parallel tracks. Horii also recalled the 1/144th Regiment from Oivi to occupy the position left vacant at Goari.

On 8 November, Eather contacted the position at Baribe, enveloping it with the 2/25th Battalion and 2/31st Battalion. On 9 November, the 2/33rd Battalion and 2/1st Battalion pushed around the Japanese position on the connecting track and advanced on Gorari, where they attacked the 1/144th Regiment and Horii’s headquarters. Bombing and strafing attacks were also conducted against the Japanese positions near Oivi. By 10 November, Horii had ordered a withdrawal, but the situation for the Japanese had degenerated into a rout. Fighting had largely ceased by 12.00 on 11 November, by which time the Japanese had lost about 430 men killed and some 400 wounded, and abandoned 15 pieces of artillery among other matériel.

Most of the Japanese force withdrew to the Kumusi river and 1,200 are estimated to have made the crossing of this river despite the fact that it was in flood, but Horii was swept downstream and later drowned. Others followed the river downstream to the coast, where some 900 men gathered under the command of Colonel Yazawa. The 25th Brigade contacted the Japanese rearguard near Wairopi on 12 November, but the Japanese withdrew during the night. While most of Vasey’s force was rested, patrols continued to search out Japanese survivors, and engineers dealt with the problem of establishing a bridgehead. The crossing of the two brigades was completed on the morning of 16 November, and then they began their advance on the Japanese beach-heads. The 25th Brigade took the track toward Gona while the 16th Brigade advanced along the track toward Sanananda. Elements of Major General Edwin F. Harding’s US 32nd Division were advancing on Buna by a coastal route from the south-east.

The US 32nd Division had arrived in Australia during May. With few US forces available to him, MacArthur ordered the divisional headquarters and two regimental combat teams from the 126th Infantry and 128th Infantry to deploy to Port Moresby, which they reached between 15 and 28 September 1942. On 11 September, MacArthur added a plan for the 126th Infantry to conduct a wide flanking move to the east with the goal of engaging the Japanese rear near Wairopi. The 2/126th Infantry, with supporting elements attached, was tasked with traversing the track from Kapa Kapa to Jaure. From Jaure, at the headwaters of the Kumusi river, the force was to advance toward Wairopi. The little-used track from Kapa Kapa to Jaure was 85 miles (137 km) long.

The 32nd Division established a position at Kalikodobu, a short distance along the track. From here, the main body of the 2/126th Infantry departed on 14 October, and the battalion had assembled at Jaure by 28 October. The Americans were utterly unprepared for the extremely harsh conditions they faced which significantly delayed their advance.

The planned envelopment of the Japanese forces did not take place as a result of both the slow rate of the US advance and the unexpected and rapid pace of the Japanese force’s withdrawal. While the 2/126th Infantry crawled over the Kapa Kapa Track, the balance of the 32nd Division was flown to newly developed advanced airfields on the northern side of the island. The 128th Infantry was flown to the most forward of these, located at Wanigella, from which its men moved overland toward Buna or were ferried part of the way in coastal vessels, to link with Australian forces advancing on the Japanese beach-heads. The first units of the 2/126th Infantry arrived in Soputa on 20 November.

A similar proposal for attacking the Japanese rear near Wairopi was made by Potts, following the withdrawal of the 21st Brigade after Ioribaiwa. 'Chaforce', raised from battalions of the 21st Brigade, of which each contributed one company, was to be assigned the task of penetrating from Myola into the Kumusi river valley. With initial approval to advance to Myola, the operation was subsequently cancelled sometime shortly after 18 October 1942.

The Japanese who had fallen back to link with the base forces at Buna and Gona were reinforced by fresh units from Rabaul. The joint Australian and US operation faced a formidable defence that had been prepared well in advance of their arrival, and the battle lasted to 22 January 1943. The 39th Battalion participated in the fighting at the beach-heads and, following its withdrawal, was able to parade only about 30 men as it ranks had been so greatly depleted by death, injury and illness: in March 1943 the battalion was withdrawn to Australia, where it was disbanded in July 1943.

While this campaign, the land battle for Milne Bay and the sea battles of the Coral Sea and Midway ended the threat to Australia, the Australian government continued to warn its citizens until the middle of 1943 that an invasion was possible. Allied operations against the Japanese forces in New Guinea, including 'Cartwheel' and the 'Campaign for Salamaua and Lae', continued to 1945.

A total of 13,500 Japanese had ultimately been landed in Papua for the fighting during the 'Campaign for the Kokoda Track'. Of these, about 6,000 men (the equivalent of two infantry regiments) were directly involved in the forward areas along the track. Against this, the Allies assembled approximately 30,000 troops in New Guinea, although at any one time no more than one infantry brigade, or about 3,500 men, were involved in the fighting for most of the campaign.

Casualties among the Australians between 22 July and 16 November 1942 were 39 officers and 586 men killed, and another 64 officers and 991 men wounded, for a total of 625 killed and 1,055 wounded. Notably, three battalion commanders were killed or captured in the first month of fighting. Non-battle, or sickness, casualties were not recorded accurately, but are stated to have been about two to three times the battle casualty figure. The exact number of Japanese casualties is not known, although their battle casualties have been estimated at 2,050 men between the initial fighting around Awala and the final battle at Oivi-Gorari. Non-battle casualties, however, increase this figure and it is estimated that of the 6,000 men, or the equivalent of five infantry battalions, committed to the fighting, as many as three-quarters became casualties, being killed, wounded or becoming ill.

During the Tokyo War Crimes trial after the war, there was insufficient evidence to charge Japanese soldiers with cannibalism. Some Japanese soldiers were tried and convicted in Australian-run military courts held in New Guinea, however, and the Japanese were also shown to have been responsible for the torture and execution of both combatant and non-combatant personnel including two female missionaries during the campaign. All the Australian servicemen captured during the course of the campaign were executed.

Australian soldiers also treated their opponents harshly. Most took a 'no quarter' attitude, and killed Japanese personnel rather than attempt to take them prisoner in the infrequent occasions where Japanese troops attempted to surrender. Despite official instructions against doing so, Australian soldiers often took the personal possessions of dead Japanese and there were several instances where gold teeth were taken from corpses. These attitudes were influenced by a view that the Japanese were deceitful, a desire to exact revenge for atrocities committed against Allied personnel (including the killing of prisoners of war), and a latent degree of racism.

There is some debate as to whether the correct name for the route over the range is the 'Kokoda Track' or 'Kokoda Trail'. The battle honour awarded for the campaign, as determined by the Battlefields Nomenclature Committee, is 'Kokoda Trail', and the Australian War Memorial adopted 'Kokoda Trail' largely for this reason. Despite the historical use of 'Kokoda Trail', 'Kokoda Track' became prevalent in the 1990s.

While the Gallipoli campaign of World War I was Australia’s first military test as a new nation, the fighting during the Kokoda campaign represents the first time in the nation’s history that its security was directly threatened. Although it has since become accepted that an invasion of Australia was not possible, or was even planned by the Japanese, at the time there was a very real belief within Australia that this was possible and as such the Kokoda campaign has come to be viewed by some as the battle that 'saved Australia'. As a result, within the collective Australian psyche, the campaign in general and the role of the 39th Battalion in particular have become a key part of modern notions of the Anzac legend. Indeed, the Battle of Isurava has been described as 'Australia’s Thermopylae', although the key premise of this comparison (the notion that the Australians were outnumbered) has since been shown to be inaccurate.

Nevertheless, the Allied campaign was hampered by the poor intelligence available, which included antiquated maps, unfamiliarity with the terrain, and limited aerial photography. Senior military commanders including MacArthur and Blamey were unaware of the extraordinarily difficult terrain and the extreme conditions in which the battles would be fought, and orders given to the commanders were sometimes wholly unrealistic and therefore impossible of realisation given the conditions on the ground. In the end, however, the strategy used against the Japanese in Papua, which was widely criticised at the time, paved the way to an eventual, although costly, victory. The US official historian judged that 'the only result, strategically speaking' of the Kokoda Track campaign and subsequent fighting in Papua 'was that after six months of bitter fighting and some 8,500 casualties, including 3,000 dead, the South West Pacific Area was exactly where it would have been the previous July had it been able to secure the beachhead before the Japanese got there.' More recently, an Australian historian has reached the conclusion that while the Kokoda Track was a significant Allied victory, it was less important to the outcome of the Pacific War than the defeat of the main Japanese effort at this time during the Guadalcanal campaign.

The campaign also served to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the individual soldiers and the lower-level commanders. Following this, and the fighting that followed at Buna and Gona, the US and Australian armies took steps to improve individual and unit training, and both the medical and logistic infrastructure were also greatly improved, with an increased focus upon air transport to resolve the supply problem. Within the Australian army, there was a major restructure with the formation of jungle divisions which addressed manpower issues and were more suited to operations in jungle environments. There was a significant reduction in the scale of motor transport, and Jeeps, which offered far greater cross-country mobility, were employed rather than trucks. At the battalion level, changes included increasing the number of mortars to eight, the addition of a machine gun platoon with four Vickers guns to enhance organic fire support, and the removal of the carrier platoon. The Land Warfare Centre, as it is now known, was established at Canungra, Queensland, with an emphasis on training for jungle warfare.