History

Stories From The 39th Infantry Battalion 1941-43

Compiled By Carl Johnson – Mud over Blood & Mud over Blood ‘Revisited’

A brief in regards the final fate of Captain Samuel Templeton and the six other ranks captured between 26-29th July 1942 and executed at Oivi 15th August 1942. Carl Johnson 9/2/2012

In 2006 when the 1stedition of ‘Mud Over Blood’ was released, this being primarily a memorial publication intended for those living veterans of the 39thand for the many families of those that had since departed, I chose to query, what till then, had been avoided, the final fate of Captain Templeton.

‘What Happened to Uncle Sam?’ was intended to put forth as much accurate information, which was till then available both publicly and privately to this compiler. This work was produced prior to the centralisation of ADF records (and digitalisation), which were at the time of collating not then publicly available, and with the assistance of as many of those actual veterans involved at these two actions – & who had chosen at that time to speak.

The piece made it very clear that not only was Templeton a known P.O.W. but so were numbered another six members of the famed 39thBattalion, these being cited on Templeton’s dossier, and having been accounted for by members of ‘B’ and ‘D’ Company whom had been present. The compiler made it clear as well what the end fate of these prisoners was to be.

In 2010 a media storm erupted over new revelations by Kokoda Trekking operator and researcher, Mr Wayne Wetherall, who had been advised and shown the actual spot where Templeton had been buried by a Japanese veteran member. The details as then aired by Mr Wetherall were based on these firsthand accounts, the ability which this veteran demonstrated in being able to accurately place the spot of burial, and an in depth investigation vide Australian Offical records regards the death of this officer by Mr Wetherall personally.

This compiler was after initially being misinformed of the intentions of such research, decided it was time to revisit certain files which he had decided needed not be aired until such a time was befitting, in regards actual Japanese Intelligence to substantiate or otherwise, such claims which by now had caused much debate over the internet, as since viewed by this writer.

Little will be said in regards this aspect then two points of concern 1) in the name of ADF heritage preservation and the sharing of such, the intervention of personal politics, racial bigotry, and misuse of primary resources does nothing but harm to a genre those doing such too, profess to be passionate about serving! 2) the internet as a medium or carriage of conveying and preserving actual history should be avoided, and the free range which some commercial net site’s feel they own, in this case those concerned with the Owen Stanley’s have demonstrated over the last few years, especially since 2010, where by distorting published works to be bent to their requirements, is to say the least deplorable, and shameful.

For the record as this is meant to serve, not one Kokoda type orientated site, presently carrying the piece ‘What Happened to Uncle Sam?” has even bothered to either seek the compiler’s permission to upload, nor checked to see whether their ‘new’ information, now purporting to be relevant to the piece published by this writer was suitable or even slightly correct before attaching it to the uploaded aspect of ‘Mud Over Blood’ and using my name as its credibility!

To this the only site which this compiler has availed permission to use the piece regards Templeton is Mr Wetherall, and this is because both his claims (in their greater degree have been proven officially), and that Mr Wetherall, had the good manners to actually ask the compiler’s permission, and had valid information which the writer felt was indeed actually relevant and new. This is not a claim any other site carrying this the writer’s piece and connecting ‘their new research’ to can presently claim!

The new information which will be availed the Australian public in published form later this year, will carry the actual facts and missing details in regards the loss, the captivity and the audacious bravery of this fine officer, and it will reflect the steadfast loyalty of those other six, till now completely overlooked by historians etc, and now as well captive, carried on with, and thus stood by their officer until death.

It will explain the reasons why ‘that grave’ at the Waterfall at Oivi now lies empty, and it will explore the fate of the actual remains from this and for those of the other six men captured, and finally after over two weeks of captivity were killed.

This research will as well explain the final fate and whereabouts of Lieutenant Hercules ‘Hec’ Crawford, whose disappearance has been for decades confused with the mystery of Templeton’s loss. Another of the forgotten men, lost in the mystery by academics and historians in their quest for Sam.

From the officially records of the I.J.A. and from other members of the same Regiment as Nishimura comes more compelling proof, all primary, indicating the manner in which Templeton faced his death, and well explains in their own words as exactly how much harm this officer had caused his enemies advance towards Port Moresby, in what were some of the darkest days experienced by this young Nation during what is now collectively termed ‘The Battles that Saved Australia’, and during which, these seven men were to play an extraordinary part in fighting.

The story to come, to be compiled by Carl Johnson, Wayne Wetherall & Sarah Well’s, will demonstrate that to our national shame, the deeds of Captain Templeton in protecting his new adopted homeland, is better known and celebrated by the Japanese people then it is by the Australian public!

The first step has been taken to officially acknowledge the deeds of Sam and his men in his own country. By using the firsthand accounts and actual I.J.A. Intelligence as now available to the compilers of this pending work, the names of all seven have finally been added to the National Prisoners of War Memorial at Ballarat on 5thFebruary 2012, a mute tribute to those thousands of Australian’s who paid the highest price for our Nation’s freedom.

Captain Templeton lived up to all he stood for, – in life, the 39th’s motto, ‘Factis Non Verbis’ -‘Deeds Not by Words’. And in death, the Australian P.O.W’s oath. “When you get back home tell them this, that we gave up our todays, – for their tomorrows”.

Sam and his men’s deception of their enemy under interrogations brought the 39thBattalion two valuable weeks to muster further towards the defence of the Kokoda Track, they brought too Port Moresby two weeks to better prepare herself for what could well be a bitter besiegement.

They brought these at the cost of their own lives. – ‘Lest We Forget’

Carl Johnson

Compiler

Mud over Blood and Mud over Blood Revisited

Stories from The 39thInfantry Battalion 1941-43

In 1942, a sometime single-file track which blazed across some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain defined a generation of Australian soldiers during World War II.

Described by ABC war correspondent Chester Wilmont as a ‘dark blanket of green treetops broken only by the white waters of the turbulent creek’, the 96-kilometre Kokoda Track connected the tiny, northern outpost of Kokoda with Port Moresby. Snaking across Papua New Guinea’s rugged interior and the Owen Stanley Range which soars above the clouds at 2250 metres (7380 feet), the Kokoda Track played centre-stage to one of the Pacific War’s most brutal and strategically important battles that threatened Australia’s security.

Despite their lack of jungle training a band of Australian and Papuan battalions were ordered to protect the flank of the Australian army during the battle for Kokoda in surroundings as brutal as the battles they fought. In addition to 1600 soldiers that were wounded, 625 ‘Diggers’ and an untold number of Papuan Infantry Battalions and carriers (Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels) lost their lives.

This is their harrowing story.

The Trail To Kokoda

On February 19, 1942, the largest air raid by the Japanese after Pearl Harbour rained down on Darwin, Australia – also the single largest assault ever inflicted on the country. An important defence base for the Dutch East Indies, 260 Japanese bombers attacked the city’s harbour and airfields, killing 252 Allied service personnel and civilians – the first of 97 air raids to occur on mainland Australia. The bombing of Darwin followed just four days after the surrender of Singapore and a full-scale invasion of the Solomon Islands and New Britain the previous month.

The next coveted prize for the Japanese was Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, a strategic base that was not only vital to their intended dominance in the South Pacific but also one that the enemy could use to invade the industrialised cities of eastern Australia and control the trade routes to the USA. At the beginning of May, an enemy seaborne strike against Port Moresby was launched under the command of Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue.

Though the Japanese had swept through South East Asia and the South Pacific with swift success in April 1942, US code-breakers deciphered radio messages outlining their pending invasion of Port Moresby by sea. On May 4, 1942, a joint Australian-American strike force including the carriers, Hobart and Australia were deployed to intercept and drive back the Japanese fleet in a surprise attack. Within three days, several enemy destroyers and cruisers were sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Japanese quickly withdrew. Their first major defeat was followed by the Battle of Midway in June, which not only destroyed Japan’s naval strength but also reduced the likelihood of another amphibious invasion of the coastal port and advancing further south to Australia.

The Japanese promptly mounted an overland invasion of Port Moresby from the northeast coast of the island. And linking the region to Ower’s Corner in the terraced hills just 40 kilometres from Port Moresby was the Kokoda Track – a ribbon of dense, impenetrable rainforests, treacherous white water and steep mountainous inclines that formed the Owen Stanley Ranges.

Landing at the northern coastal villages of Buna, Gona and Sananda under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hatsuo Tsukamoto, the first wave of Japanese soldiers prepared to strike the Allied outpost of Kokoda and its airfield on July 21, 1942. It was near the village of Awala where they met a small militia from the 39th Battalion led by Captain Stan Templeton under the command of (Australian) Major General Basil Morris. Inexperienced in jungle warfare and hampered by 30 kilogram supply packs that had to be carried in extreme humidity, cold and rain, the young Diggers were finally outnumbered by 1500 enemy fighters.

On July 22, Lieutenant John Chalk and his indigenous Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) ambushed Japanese forces near Gona before withdrawing back into the coastal jungle. The next day at Awala, the Maroubra Force engaged in six days of savage fighting. Withdrawing under a barrage of mortar and machine gun fire, the village of Oivi and Kokoda’s airstrip were finally captured by the Japanese but not before General Morris flew in reinforcements from the 39th Battalion and PIB, and ambushed the enemy at Gorari Creek. Fighting to the bitter end, nearly 40 men including their commanding officer, Lt Colonel Owen were killed during the first Kokoda Track assault.

Despite moving back into the steep ridges of the Owen Stanley Ranges, the Diggers’ fierce resolve led the Japanese to believe that their force comprised 1200 men; not the remaining 77 soldiers who fought them in a full-scale assault.

Now having taken control of Kokoda, the Japanese continued with their overland offensive against Port Moresby. For the Australians, the loss of the airstrip meant that other companies of the 39th, 30th and 53rd Battalions and 35 indigenous troops from the Papuan Infantry Battalion had to be deployed to the village of Deniki, just south of Kokoda where they were ordered to recapture the airfield. With only two transport aircraft available in Port Moresby supplies were now air-dropped by the US Army Air Force (USAAF); the sick and injured also had to carried through the Owen Stanley Ranges by heroic Papuan stretcher bearers – known as the legendary ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ by their Australian comrades.

At the village of Isurava the campaign along the track intensified into a full-scale bloodbath. It was here where the 39th and 2 /14th Battalions, with back up support from the 2/16th and 53rd Battalions met the opposing Japanese forces on August 26 in a fight to the death. Amid a hail of machine gun and rifle bullets, grenades, bayonets and ferocious hand-to-hand combat over the next five days, the fatigued Diggers held their positions against an endless wave of Japanese assaults before being forced back into the jungle. Ambushed by the Australians every inch of the way, the Japanese dead quickly began to stock pile – so much it was said that the Koiari villagers of Isurava claimed that the nearby creek ran red for almost a week.

It was amongst the carnage of the second assault that Private Bruce Kingsbury was killed as he rushed forward to drive back the advancing Japanese in a counter-attack. The Digger was posthumously awarded the first Victoria Cross during the New Guinea campaigns.

Despite the increasing number of sick and wounded, over the next two weeks the Australian units continued to engage in repeated attacks against the Japanese at Eora Creek, Templeton’s Crossing, Efogi and Mission Ridge. Exhausted from the hard fighting, the 7th Division Brigade comprising 2/1st Pioneer Battalion and 3rd Infantry were sent to relieve the 39th Battalion.

Unable to hold back the Japanese, the new battalion of Diggers and Papuan fighters continued to withdraw along the Kokoda Trail until they reached Imita Ridge on September 17, 1942 – the last natural obstruction along the trail. It was here near the junction road at Ilolo where the ill-equipped Australians could now access a route that they could travel by jeep. The Diggers located a vantage point at the end of the trail – now known as Ower’s Corner – to drive back the Japanese. Trucking in supplies and artillery, heavy field guns were positioned to fire upon the advancing Japanese who held the opposite ridge at Ioribaiwa. The Japanese found the track to be impassable and for the first time the Australians were at an advantageous position.

Just 48 kilometres from Port Moresby, the equally exhausted enemy was ordered by the Japanese military authorities to ‘advance to the rear’ to the north coast of the island where they were to establish a new defence line. On September 24, the Japanese army withdrew with the Australians now began their advance against the enemy on the track where the fighting all began. Retreating back to the Owen Stanley Ranges, the Japanese met the Australian 16th Brigade at Eora Creek and on November 2, the Diggers finally recaptured Kokoda before reaching the Kumusi River on November 18, 1942.

Only a month passed before the savage fighting continued. Joining the 16th and 25th Brigades were two U.S. regiments who engaged the well-fortified Japanese at Buna, Gona and Sanananda. Despite suffering heavy casualties in the fierce fighting, the Allies recaptured Gona Mission before advancing on Sanananda on December 21 where fighting ensued. It was here where the 39th Battalion suffered crippling losses – now down to seven officers and 25 men. On January 2, 1943, Australian and US troops finally reclaimed Buna and within three weeks, had captured or killed most of the defending Japanese forces.

The success of the Kokoda Trail Campaign and the defence of Port Moresby was largely due to the Diggers and Papuans’ refusal to yield to the sheer scale of the Japanese advancement in what historians now claim was one of the greatest military feats in Australian military history.

For over 70 years the story of the Battle of Kokoda has been told by survivors, memoirs and war records. No matter the interpretation the poignant narratives tell a very human story of comradeship and true grit that took place along the formidable Kokoda Trail, single file trail that links New Guinea’s interior to the coast near Port Moresby.

The Kokoda Track is simply a prevailing journey of endurance and indomitable spirit.

When you begin the 96 kilometre trek you will feel the same level of physical exhaustion in the same way the Diggers and their Papuan brothers once experienced when they fought the Japanese. You will also quickly gain a sense of Diggers’ camaraderie and share a similar bond with your own group as you meet the environmental challenges that awaits in New Guinea’s interior; the deep ravines and precipices of the Owen Stanley Ranges, the raging waters only accessed by a log bridge and miles of inhospitable terrain though dense rainforests. And in a quiet moment of reflection, you may even think about the men who lived with the constant threat of another enemy ambush. Wonder how they persevered when they fell sick with malaria or were shot. Or even imagine how they walked day after day in the searing heat with their with feet covered in festering blisters.

But as you look across the remarkably beautiful and untamed panoramas from atop Papua New Guinea’s highest peak, you will feel a sense of exhilaration at having experienced one of the world’s most extraordinary treks that is steeped in history and valour.

At the heart of your journey is Oro Province, one of the most beautiful landscapes in Papua New Guinea. Located between the Solomon Sea and the foothills of the Owen Stanley range is the sleepy village of Kokoda where the northern end of the Kokoda Track ends. Established as an outpost for miners travelling to the Yodda Kokoda gold fields in the 1890s, Kokoda’s airfield became the central focus of Allied and Japanese interests during the 1942 Kokoda Trail Campaign.

Starting at Ower’s Corner near Port Moresby (or v/v from Kokoda) on an eight or nine day trek either led by Australian or Papuan trek masters, your trekking experience will include camp stays (in tents) near the villages and battlefields at the forefront of the campaign while enjoying the warmth of Kokoda Spirit’s Papuan hosts.

At the end of your Kokoda Spirit journey you will walk away with a sense of personal triumph at having trekked one of the most challenging tracks in the world. And your spiritual bond with the heroic men who left their footsteps along the Kokoda Track will forever stay with you.

Please view Kokoda Spirit’s selection of treks that include set departure dates or suggested itineraries for customised treks.

Is it courage, sacrifice, endurance, selflessness, mateship or something else?

I have listened to great men speak; I have read many wonderful books and watched inspirational documentaries seeking inspiration.

For my inspiration is close at hand, the legends of Kokoda, the men who saved Australia the Kokoda Spirit is contagious.

It will inspire you as well.

When you walk the Kokoda Trail with all its obstacles and challenges you feel the aura and spirit of the young men who defeated an enemy, an enemy who had never been conquered, an enemy that had never tasted defeat, they overcame overwhelming odds and atrocious conditions, outnumbered and out gunned their victory was possible due to their trust and respect for each other, their dependence on each other, their ability to never give up, to hang in there when all seemed lost, self belief and strong leadership.

TO WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF HEROES, TO WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OUR BROTHERS is a heady experience, it is an experience a turning point that blows away our preconceived limitations of our physical ability, endurance and reminds us that the human spirit and our boundaries are only limited by our ability to dream and believe.

Our Australian Soldiers retained their faith that they would prevail and win against the Japanese in the end, regardless of the difficulties. They did this by confronting the most brutal facts of their current situation, whatever that may be.

I have a simple saying or belief on what the word SPIRIT means to me. Perhaps you may want to reflect on this or insert your own.

S spirituality, (what you believe in)

P perseverance, persistence, presence (to be there to assist or give support)

I initiative

R respect, resilience responsibility

I integrity

T tenacity, teamwork

The Kokoda Spirit is many things to many people. To me it is confronting the brutal facts of our situation and knowing that we will succeed.

It is turning the impossible into the possible, it is coming to terms with our spirituality, religion or our inner belief and feelings. It is being present for our family, friends and community, allowing time to share and experience relationships.

It is also perseverance and persistence, never giving up, no matter how impossible it seems or how difficult the task. You never know how close you are to success.

It is showing initiative to make the best of a difficult situation, doing whatever it takes to achieve a goal or objective. It is having resilience to carry on when situations become difficult.

It is about the ability of the human body to push past its perceived limitations and achieve greater outcomes.

The Kokoda Spirit is also about integrity, keeping your word, not letting your mates, family or others down. The Spirit is also about tenacity to keep going to stick at it and also teamwork, supporting your family, mates and team, not letting anyone or yourself down.

There are a number of other words and thought that reflect the Australian Spirit here are just a few.

COURAGE, ENDURANCE, MATESHIP, SACRIFICE

A Larrikin approach, humour, no matter what the situation, desperate or solemn

Irreverence, ingenuity, trust, loyalty.

The ANZAC legend is many things to many people, to me the legend is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago, it is embedded in our DNA, it is who we are as a nation. The Anzac Legend is the Australian Spirit.

This Anzac spirit has changed little over the past 95 years, the fundamental appeal and Spirit of the ANZAC legend is as relevant and strong today as it was on the day it was born, 25th April 1915, they were united under a common flag, a common emblem and a common outlook.

Over the ensuing 8 months of fighting at Gallipoli the Anzac legend, took hold and became a badge of honour, a rite of passage and an unwritten guide of Digger qualities and expectations.

Simply put the Anzac Spirit is, helping your mate out, regardless of the consequences and knowing that your mate will do the same if the situation was reversed, it’s doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

The ANZAC legend is confronting the difficult facts of our situation, whether as a combatant, POW or support staff. It is showing initiative to do whatever is required to achieve a goal or objective and knowing that we will survive and thrive in the end regardless of the difficulties.

It is overcoming overwhelming odds and atrocious conditions; it is turning the impossible into the possible. It is about the ability to push past ones perceived limitations and to achieve greater outcomes.

It is about perseverance, resilience, tenacity and persistence, never giving up, no matter how impossible it seems or how difficult the task.

It is about trust, tradition, integrity and respect for each other, dependence on each other, keeping your word, not letting your mates, family or others down, the ability to never give up, and self belief, to hang in there when all seems lost.

Perhaps General Cosgrove best sums it up. We are real people. Australians automatically form teams. We can’t see another Australian without feeling an immediate and strong sense of identity. You’ve automatically got a team. We instinctively trust each other until something happens to say that trust was misplaced. ‘And that’s why Australians are, almost as a fundamental premise, so good when they put a military uniform on.

The ANZAC legend did not suddenly and magically manifest itself on that fateful dawn 95 years ago but has been forged out of desperation and necessity since our Nation was founded in misery and despair over 200 years ago.

Our founding fathers showed the initial qualities of this unique Spirit and needed to draw strength and mutual support from the other inhabitants, just to survive in this new and unforgiving land.

Strength of Character and resolve was necessary to survive in this new land, with the vastness of distance, harshness of the terrain and violent an unpredictable weather.
Those that did not adapt to the conditions and environment of this new land, failed and perished.

Our early settlers took an early dislike for unnecessary restrictions and authority and dismissed anyone that was seen to be disruptive or counterproductive to progress and survival. This Australian indifference to authority would be viewed later on by some British military authorities as undisciplined and difficult to manage.

The Australian Soldiers character was viewed initially as an undesirable quality, but those that were close to the Australians soon realise that behind this veil of contempt for authority lay a dedicated and tenacious fighter that was more concerned in getting the job done as uncomplicated and efficiently as possible.

Australia has a strong reputation in both war and sport and we have a tradition of turning to sport to hone the skills, competitiveness and fitness of our service personal and to lift their spirit and morale. This involvement in sport contributed to our higher level of physical fitness, robustness and emphasis on the importance of teams.

The early characteristics and spirit were born out of necessity, needed to survive and thrive in this new land. The difficult environment and frequent natural disasters of fire flood and drought made it necessary for our forebears to rely on each other to assist each other to survive. Australians adapted better to their environment, they knew how to live rough.

This reliance on each other forged the bonds and character of our nation to volunteer for service, believing that volunteering and helping your neighbour or mate was the right thing to do.

There was also a shared sense of camaraderie and reliance on each, the separation and vastness of the land helped develop our laconic and sardonic sense of humour, our toughness, our ability to cope with difficult and uncomfortable situations and our casual dismissal of danger.

Australia has a rich and proud military tradition, beginning well before the Anzacs first landed at Gallipoli when four companies of Marines totalling 212 men arrived with the first fleet in Sydney in 1788.

It is ironic that our first Australian to be killed in a foreign war happened in the land of our ANZAC partner New Zealand during the Maori wars in 1863.

Our tradition of volunteering for service continued in 1885, when our first true Australian Military Force was raised to assist the British in the Sudan, and continued into the Boer wars where the British Command commented favorably on the dash, courage and initiative of the Australians.

The legend of the Australian Soldier was born; soon that legend would enter Australian Folk Lore at Gallipoli.

The traditions of the Anzac legend were built around the Digger on the frontline, but these qualities and traditions apply equally to those unsung heroes that played important and sometimes overlooked roles in supporting the fighting machine.

The cooks, drivers, stretcher bearers, transport drivers, Doctors, nurses, mechanics, coast watchers, transport pilots and communication people.

There is a lesser known Australian hero that is rarely mentioned or noticed, the Australian woman of those times.

They were the back bone of our country. They rolled up their sleeves and got stuck into the work that was traditionally done by the men folk, they kept the house, fed, clothed and educated the children.

When their sick and injured men returned from war, they patched them up and nursed them back to health, with dignity, respect and without complaint or thinking about themselves, it’s just what they did.

The original Anzac legend has varied only slightly over the years with the original Anzacs fighting for King, country and the Empire; it is without a doubt that the ANZAC legend is fundamentally unchanged and relevant today.

While today’s Defence Force mission is no longer to fight for King or Empire, but to defend Australia and ensure the security of its people and national interests are protected, our service personal continue to display all the characteristics of the Anzac legend.

This ANZAC legend can be seen in the pride and commitment of our present day diggers, who no longer fight for King or Empire but for Australia, its people and its National interests.

The traditions and values of those original ANZACS has been handed down to every service personal that has served our country in any capacity and any field.

The ANZAC characteristic or spirit is fundamentally an Australian Spirit; it is who we are as a nation. It can be seen every day in, everyday Australians, suburban neighbour hoods, sporting fields, places of Academia and Science.

The men and woman of the Anzac legend have done much with their lives, their sacrifice and service we are forever grateful, and while we continue to talk about them and remember their deeds their spirit will live forever.

Never forget the Anzac legend and spirit is the core characteristics and values of our nation, be proud of our Nations achievements and those that have served and continue to serve our country.

The ANZAC legend is very much alive, and the spirit of those Anzacs lives inside me and you.

LEST WE FORGET

Australia has a rich and proud military history, beginning with the first fleet’s arrival in Sydney in 1788 with four companies of Marines totalling 212 men.

In 1863 Australia sent its first soldiers off to war in a foreign land, 1475 volunteers from the colonies fought in the New Zealand Maori Wars.

Ironically the first Australians to be killed in a foreign war fell in the land of our greatest ally New Zealand.

Our first genuine Australian Military Force was raised in 1885; it came about because of the direct action of the Dervishes of the Sudan who overran the British Garrison at Khartoum.

750 troops from NSW joined other units from Britain to help recapture the Sudan.

Our next major conflict was the Boer War where thousands volunteered to fight against the Boers, the descendents of the original Dutch settlers in South Africa.

In the aftermath of the Boer War, the British Elgin Commission commented favourably on the dash, the courage and the initiatives of the Australians.

The legend of the Australian Soldier was born, soon that legend would enter Australian Folk Lore.

While Gallipoli was the birth of the Anzac legend and is seen as the birth of our Nation, then Kokoda was our coming of age….

It is difficult to firmly fix Australia’s National identity or core values in a simple way, there does not appear to be a ‘typical Australian’ with us coming in all shapes and sizes and from all back grounds and walks of life. There does however seem to be some unique Australian features and a strong sense of identity.

When you see an Australian, you recognise it, a kind of connection and synergy.

Our national characteristics were clearly identifiable in the Diggers-mateship, endurance, ingenuity, teamwork, courage, resilience and the like. Clearly these didn’t emerge overnight.

They were honed by the challenges our forebears faced in surviving in our remarkable country, with its vast distances, harsh terrain and unpredictable climate.

Australians in almost every sector overcame obstacles to build our Nation with a practical and pragmatic approach built up over long periods of hardship. The spirit needed to survive and grow was constantly tested. It produced generations of Australians capable of heroic struggles in their daily lives.

Patrick Lindsay: The Spirit of the Digger Then and Now.

Australian society now has people from more then 200 different birthplaces around the world. Our makeup includes the remarkable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have inhabited and thrived in most parts of the Australian Continent. They spoke one or more of hundreds of separate languages and dialects, and their lifestyles and cultural traditions differed from region to region. Their complex social systems and highly developed traditions reflect a deep connection with the land. While the dispossession of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders from their land was harsh and unjust, they have made a strong and positive contribution to Australia’s spirit and identity. In Australia there is a considerable percentage of Australians who were born overseas or have at least one of their parents born overseas. Australian society is fluid and in a constant flux, constantly changing and redefining itself. Given our great diversity and increasing ethnic diversity it may become more difficult to truly identify the Australian Spirit. I believe the Australian Spirit is in our blood embedded in our genes and we will continue to pass on our powerful traits to future generations of Australians. In times of crisis- terrorism, bushfires, floods, accidents, disasters and conflicts our Australian Spirit will continue to shine through.

Perhaps General Cosgrove best sums it up.

We are real people. Australians automatically form teams. We can’t see another Australian without feeling an immediate and strong sense of identity. You’ve automatically got a team. We instinctively trust each other until something happens to say that trust was misplaced. ‘And that’s why Australians are almost as a fundamental premise, so good when they put a military uniform on.

Leadership is defined as the process of influencing others in order to gain their willing consent in the ethical pursuit of missions. Australian Defence Doctrine ADDP00.6 This can also be viewed as, “in the ethical pursuit of objectives.” The core of the Australian Army lays in the quality of its sub- units, the section, the squadron, the platoon, the battery and the company and the quality of men who command these units. There is an important distinction between ‘leaders’ and ‘commanders’. A commander commands resources. A leader actually leads men.

Leadership can also be described as the power to create belief; the leaders on the ground on the Kokoda Track certainly did this. Junior ranks would often step up to take responsibility when one of their own leaders fell, knowing and believing in the objective.

Leadership can be episodic or an ongoing part of a person’s role in life. It can ebb and flow in our daily lives in an accidental way. If we are discussing with friends where we will go for a bite to eat at lunch, the one taking the initiative to suggest a restaurant has, for that moment, acted as a leader.

General Peter Cosgrove (retired), 2006

There is a difference between leadership and management. The leader and his men who follow him represent one of the oldest, most natural and most effective of all human relationships. The manager and those he manages are a later product, with neither so romantic nor so inspiring a history. Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision: its practice is a science. Managers are necessary; leaders are essential.

Field Marshall Sir William Slim

Governor General of Australia, 1953-60

Ralph Honner knew how to draw the best from his young charges:

“War is largely a matter of confidence. If the troops have confidence in their mates, their weapons, their leadership and sufficient confidence in their numbers – in that they’ve got a fair chance and are not hopelessly outnumbered – they’ll fight well. When that confidence goes, then something snaps and the force can be dissipated.” Their new CO, Lt Colonel Ralph Honner, arrived from Australia on July 16, the day before his 38th birthday. To the teenage Diggers of the 39th, Ralph Honner, seemed like their grandfather. But his appointment was an inspired move. Honner was one of our finest tactical commanders, having proved his brilliance in the Middle East and Crete.

While the Japanese regrouped at Kokoda, Honner set his defences at Isurava and, equally importantly, set about instilling his young troops with confidence.

“Isurava provided as good a delaying position as could be found on the main Track. To the front and to the rear, tributary creeks flowed eastwards, down into the Eora Valley, providing narrow obstacles with some view over them. The creeks, which became known simply as ‘front creek’ and ‘rear creek’, were bordered by a belt of thick scrub, but between them were cleared spaces either side of the Track.In a flat clearing on the right was Isurava village, commanding a track dropping steeply down to Asigari in the Eora Valley. Above the clearing of long grass on the left was timber thickening into almost impenetrable jungle beyond.Forward of front creek, to the left of the northward Track to Deniki, was an overgrown garden through which a path from the main Track ran westward toward the Naro Ridge.” (Ralph Honner)

Honner’s orders were simple: hold Isurava until you are relieved. He knew the AIF forces, which had been rushed back from the Middle East, were on their way to reinforce him. He just had no idea when they would arrive. The young Diggers of the 39th, like Private ‘Spud’ Whelan, knew what was expected of them:

“We got a message from Port Moresby that the 2/14th were on the way and we had to stay there and fight till death. That was horrifying. I thought, ‘Well, I won’t see my family again, I won’t see Australia again.’ But I was prepared, like the rest of us, to stay there and fight to the finish.”

The 39th responded to Honner’s leadership and, when the inevitable attacks came, they acquitted themselves magnificently. The onslaught began on August 26, first with Japanese mountain guns raining down on the Australians’ position, then with relentless human wave attacks up the steep gullies. The Australians hurled them back, with grenades, rifles and machine guns and then with bayonets in ferocious hand-to-hand fighting.

History Of The Track

From its entry into World War II with the surprise destruction of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour in December 1941, the Japanese Army quickly established a reputation of invincibility. Pearl Harbour signalled a massive onslaught which saw Japan invade Malaya and Thailand and attack Hong Kong, the Philippines, Guam and Wake Island.

On January 23 1942, 20,000 troops from the Japanese South Seas Detachment (the Nankai Shitai) overwhelmed the 1400-strong Australian garrison at Rabaul on New Britain Island in PNG, an Australian Protectorate. For the first time in our history, Australian territory had been invaded.

This shock was compounded when the supposedly impregnable fortress of Singapore fell on February 15 1942. Some 130,000 British and Allied troops were trapped there, including virtually the entire Australian 8th Division – about 15,000 Diggers. They began the tortuous road which would see them decimated in Changi, Sandakan and on the Burma-Thailand Railway.

The war was on Australia’s doorstep and we were hopelessly ill-prepared, as war correspondent, Osmar White, pointed out in his book Green Armour: “It is difficult to imagine a nation more completely open to even the most hastily prepared invasion than Australia was in the first three months of 1942. All that stood between her and the Japanese were a few hundred miles of unguarded sea, a few hundred miles of uninhabited jungle, a few groups of palm-filled, road less islands and her own shellback of desert – the inert armour or a neglected and undeveloped north.”

The government rushed back our most experienced troops from the Middle East and, in the meantime, sent a handful of untried militia battalions to Port Moresby to try to hold on until the AIF troops could return to defend their homeland.

These young militia soldiers had volunteered just months earlier and had received minimal training before being put on to transport ships and sent to PNG. They were under-trained, under-equipped and vastly outnumbered. Their average age was eighteen and a half.

Yet it would be these young Diggers who would shatter the myth of invincibility surrounding the Japanese invaders – hardened veterans who had been undefeated in almost constant combat since they invaded Manchuria in 1937.

Japanese Landing

On July 21 1942, the first of 14,430 troops of the Japanese South Seas Detachment from Rabaul began pouring ashore at the tiny seaside village of Buna on the north-east coast of the PNG mainland. They planned to march across the Owen Stanley Range, which formed the mountainous spine of New Guinea, using a native walking track which meandered from Buna to Port Moresby. Once the invaders had secured Moresby, Australia would be at their mercy.

The Battle

The young men of the first Militia 39th battalion were ordered up the Track, they had never fired a shot in anger before being thrown in against the Japanese invaders. Most volunteered around October or November of 1941 and by Christmas that year they were on the steamship Aquitania heading for Port Moresby. They’d done their basic training in Victoria using wooden replica weapons and the first time they handled Bren machine guns was when they unpacked them and cleaned the grease off them on the ship. Even their opportunity to train for combat at Port Moresby was wasted as they, and their sister battalion, the 53rd, were used as labourers – building defences and unloading supplies – instead of learning the techniques of jungle fighting.

Initially, the Japanese advance inland made rapid progress against light Australian resistance. Opposing the Japanese was “Maroubra Force”, comprising the 300-strong Papuan Infantry Battalion and an Australian militia unit, the 39th Battalion. Ordered up the Track in the face of the Japanese landings at Buna and Gona, the young Diggers of the 39th were burdened with packs weighing almost 30 kilograms and wore desert khaki uniforms instead of jungle camouflage kit. Many were already malarial because their anti-malaria medicine had been administered too late.

In June it was ordered to proceed up the Kokoda Trail to block any possible Japanese overland advance. The 39th B Company and troops from the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) left Mc Donald’s Corner on 7 July 1942 led by Captain Sam Templeton and guided by Bert Kienzle reached Kokoda on 15 July. Japanese forces landed at Gona, on the north coast of Papua, a week later and quickly moved inland.

Indeed, for the first month after the Gona landings the young Victorians of the 39th were virtually the only Australian force resisting the enemy drive towards the Owen Stanley’s. The first patrols clashed at Awala on 23 July, one company or about 120 Diggers faced the first wave of Japanese, about 1500 seasoned troops. Not surprisingly, the untried Aussies found the first skirmishes difficult but still caused considerable Japanese casualties.

Kokoda Battles

The weight of enemy numbers forced them to fall back to Kokoda where they regrouped. By this stage, the battalion’s Commander, Lt Colonel Owen, had 77 men left, most of who had not slept for three nights. Nevertheless, Owen deployed his men around the Kokoda plateau and prepared to hold it against the invaders. Kokoda fell after a sharp engagement on 29 July. Lieutenant Colonel William Owen, the commanding officer of the 39th Battalion, was killed.

The Australians were forced out during the early hours of the following morning and were forced to withdraw to Deniki. On 8 August the 39th launched a counter-attack at Kokoda but, outnumbered and short of ammunition, fell back to Deniki after two days of fighting. The Australians eventually managed to repeal the ongoing Japanese attack and on 14 August the 39th and PIB fell back to Isurava.

For nearly two weeks the Japanese did not heavily press the Australians. During this time the 39th Battalion was joined by another militia unit, the 53rd Battalion, and the headquarters of the 30th Brigade under Brigadier Selwyn Porter. On 23 August part of the seasoned AIF 7th Division had also reached the forward area. This was the 21st Brigade led by Brigadier Arnold Potts, and comprised another two battalions. (The 2/14th and 2/16th)

Isurava Battle

Lt Colonel Ralph Honner arrived at Isurava on 16 August 1942 as the Japanese were beginning to probe his forward positions. At that point, any determined enemy assault would probably have overrun Honner’s weary battalion. A second battalion, the 53rd, had trekked from Port Moresby and Honner sent it towards Abuari to protect a side-track over which the Japanese could also advance. Coming up the Kokoda Track in the second half of August were reinforcements in the shape of the 21st Brigade, Australian Imperial Force. Forward elements of the brigade’s lead battalion – the 2/14th – began reaching Isurava on 26 August. As these hardened soldiers, veterans of the fighting in the Middle East made their way through the mountains they had begun to understand just how much the 39th had endured on this toughest of battle fronts.

Using bayonets, bully-beef tins and their steel helmets, the 39th Battalion dug in at Isurava.

“There were countless acts of unrecognised courage as the young Diggers held on grimly. They ignored their lack of sleep, their hunger and their fear as they waited for the next assault. Some positions rebuffed as many as ten human-wave assaults in a day. The Japanese dead piled up around their perimeters like sacks of grain. But they kept on coming.” (From The Spirit of the Digger)

The 39th Battalion withstood these withering attacks for a day and a night. They were on their last legs – outnumbered by ten to one, almost out of food and ammunition and racked with malaria and dysentery – when the first troops of the 2/14th AIF Battalion reached them in the early hours of August 27. Even after the reinforcements arrived, the 39th remained with them and continued to fight against the growing number of Japanese throwing themselves at the Isurava perimeter.

Two platoons of the 2/14th, 10 and 12 platoons, held the key position during the battle – the high ground dominating the ridge. They beat off perhaps 40 attacks from waves of 100 and 200 Japanese throughout the day and night. Lt Harold ‘Butch’ Bisset commanded 10 Platoon superbly but was mortally wounded by a burst of machine-gun fire when handing out ammunition. He was brought out by his men but died later that night in his Brother Stan’s arms.

By August 29, the enemy’s numbers began to take their toll.

Gallant Soldiers

One of the most remarkable feats of sustained bravery came from Corporal Charlie McCallum of 12 Platoon of the 2/14th.

“Charlie had already been wounded three times when his platoon was ordered to withdraw just as the Japanese were about to swamp their position on the high ground at Isurava. Despite his wounds, Charlie held off the charging enemy, allowing his mates to pull back to another position down the Track. Charlie held and fired his Bren gun with his right hand and carried a Thompson submachine gun in the other hand. When his magazine ran out on the Bren, he swung up the Tommy gun with his left hand and continued to cut down the surging Japanese as he changed magazines on the Bren. When the Tommy gun was empty he used the Bren gun again, and continued his one-man assault until all his comrades were clear. At least 25 Japanese lay around him. One got so close he actually ripped a utility pouch from Charlie’s belt before falling dead at his feet. When he knew his mates were clear, Charlie fired a final burst and calmly moved off back down the Track.” (From the Spirit of the Digger)

Charlie was recommended for the Victoria Cross – a recommendation endorsed by brigade and division commanders – but it was inexplicably downgraded to the second-highest award for gallantry, the Distinguished Service Medal.

Bear and Kingsbury

At the height of the battle for Isurava, the weight of enemy numbers placed the entire position in jeopardy after they broke through on the north-eastern perimeter and directly threatened battalion headquarters. A group volunteered to lead a counter-attack to try to block the hole in the defensive position. Among them were three of the 2/14th‘s finest sons, Bruce Kingsbury, Lindsay ‘Teddy’ Bear and Alan Avery. With Teddy Bear firing the Bren gun, the patrol fought back. The firing was so intense, the barrel of the Bren gun glowed red and teddy could only hold it by its folding legs. Teddy began to wilt from loss of blood from his wounds and he handed the Bren to Bruce Kingsbury.

“There are turning points in battle – as in life – critical moments in which the course of events is frozen for an instant, waiting for someone bold enough to seize a fleeting chance at immortality. At that very moment, the Japanese were poised, ready to make a final triumphant charge through to battalion headquarters. It would have been the terminal blow to the 2/14th. Bruce Kingsbury saw his chance. Firing from the hip, he charged straight at the stunned attackers. Alan Avery watched in awe: ‘He came forward with this Bren and he just mowed them down. He was an inspiration to everybody else around him. There were clumps of Japs here and there and he just mowed them down. He just went straight into them as if bullets didn’t mean anything. And we all got a bit of the action, you see. When we saw him – when you see a thing like that – you sort of follow the leader, don’t you?” (From The Spirit of Kokoda)

Kingsbury’s extraordinary charge sent the Japanese diving for the jungle. He personally cut down as many as 30 enemies and enabled his comrades to follow up and restore their defences.

Sadly, at the height of his glory, Bruce Kingsbury was killed by a single shot from a sniper. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the first ever won on Australian territory. Bruce’s Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel Phil Rhoden, believed it was the turning point in the campaign:

“Nobody knew its importance until later. But it gave us time to consider action, gave us options. If he hadn’t stopped them it would have been like water pouring through a hole in the dam wall. They would have come through and it would have been a domino effect. You can argue his action saved Australia because, at the time, the 25th Brigade was still on the water and the 16th Brigade was still in Australia. Without Kingsbury, the Japanese could have been waiting for them in Moresby when they arrived.”

Potts and his men fell back first to Eora Creek on 30 August, then Templeton’s Crossing on 2 September, and Efogi three days later. As one writer has described it: “From the 31 August to 15 September the Australians, against vastly superior numbers, fought a decisive military game of cat and mouse along the track. Company by company, platoon by platoon, section by section, they defended until their comrades passed through their lines, broke off contact sometimes 20 to 30 metres from the enemy and repeated the procedure again and again down the track.”

Throughout this fighting, Australian resistance was increasing in strength and becoming better organised while the Japanese were showing signs of feeling the strain of their own lengthening supply line. Both sides, however, were beginning to suffer the effects of reduced effectiveness caused by exhaustion and sickness entailed by operating over such harsh terrain. Moreover, the Australian build-up, while still relatively modest, proved impossible to sustain via the only supply line stretching over the mountains, which depended on native carriers to manhandle rations and ammunition forward, and to evacuate the sick and wounded to the rear. The commander of 1st Australian Corps at Port Moresby, Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell, accordingly decided to withdraw the tired 39th Battalion on 5 September to relieve the problem.

Brigade Hill

By the time the withdrawal reached Brigade Hill, the three AIF battalions were able to fight together for the first time. The 2/14th, 2/16 and the 2/27th battalions took up defensive positions on the high ground at Brigade Hill and Mission Ridge. But the Japanese brought up even more troops and made a final concerted assault, aiming to wipe out the defenders with a knock-out blow.

In their first action against the Japanese, the newly-arrived 2/27th held the forward position with the other two units on ridges behind them. In a furious attack, the Japanese threw themselves at the Australians and drove a wedge between the two positions. Many who had survived the cauldron at Isurava, like Charlie McCallum, fell trying to hold Brigade Hill. Others, like Captains ‘Lefty’ Langridge and Claude Nye died in magnificent but futile attempts to break through to brigade headquarters against impossible odds.

“I particularly think of blokes like ‘Lefty’ Langridge and Claude Nye, one with a company of the 2/16th and the other with a company of the 2/14th who were ordered to go around the right flank where the Japanese were, to try to force a way through them to Brigade Hill. They knew they couldn’t do it. They knew they were going to die. Langridge handed over his pay book and his dog tags to one of his mates. He was a brave soldier. So was Claude Nye. They were both killed.” (Lt Colonel Ralph Honner)

The 21st Brigade continued to withdraw through Eora Creek, Templeton’s Crossing and Myola, the Japanese followed hard after them. Between 30 August and 6 September, the 2/14th and the 2/16th fell back as far as Efogi where they encountered the advance parties of the 2/27th Battalion. The 2/27th now mounted a defensive screen at Mission Ridge just south of Efogi. From here, throughout the night of 6-7 September, they watched as a procession of lights moved down the track between Myola and Efogi. The Japanese were getting themselves into position for an attack that came just before dawn on 8 September. All day long the Japanese charged the Australian frontal positions with determination but were beaten back by an equally determined defence. So severe was the fighting that Captain C A W Sims’ company on that day used up its entire supply of grenades and ammunition as well as the whole battalion ammunition reserve.

While Sims’ position was being subjected to this frontal assault, other Japanese soldiers infiltrated around the 2/27 Battalion’s positions. They moved well to the Australian rear where elements of the 2/16th were guarding brigade headquarters. Soon the headquarters was under attack and forced to move back. Effectively, the enemy had now cut the track between headquarters and the forward Australian positions. On the afternoon of 8 September the 2/14th tried to break out through the Japanese positions to get back down the track. Captain Claude Nye. 2/14th and Captain Frank Sublet, 2/16th led a charge in which Nye was eventually killed. Although a few men broke through, the Japanese positions held and the Australian battalions had to find another way round the Japanese through the jungle to Menari.

As they moved off the track, the enemy pursued them vigorously but was successfully driven off in a rearguard action by B and D companies of the 2/27th. Captain Harry Katekar, 2/27th Battalion, realised that the gallantry of these two companies had saved them all:

After another hard-fought stand at Brigade Hill between 6 and 8 September, Potts handed over command to Brigadier Porter, who decided on a further withdrawal to Ioribaiwa. The 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions made it into Menari just as the Japanese began to shell the area but the 2/27th was too far behind and, being forced to turn back, began its long trek through the mountains to Jawawere. From Menari the Australians withdrew back to Ioribaiwa where the battalions of the fresh 25th Brigade – 2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd – along with the 3rd Battalion took over the defence. By 17 September, the tired battalions of the 21st Brigade had been pulled back. After further Japanese pressure, the Australians withdrew to Imita Ridge where the 25th Brigade, the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion and the 3rd Battalion took up defensive positions. From Imita Ridge there was to be no more withdrawal. This was made clear in a message from Lieutenant General Sydney Rowell, commander, New Guinea Force, to Major General Arthur Allen, commander 7th Division, AIF:

However many troops the enemy has they must all have walked from Buna. We are how so far back that any further withdrawal is out of the question and Eather (commander, 25th Brigade) must fight it out at all costs.

Here the Japanese attacked next day but made little progress. In fact, severe fighting continued around Ioribaiwa for a week. But the Japanese advance was losing impetus, while the Australian defence was gaining in strength through the arrival of more units of the 7th Division. Command of the forward area passed to Brigadier Ken Eather, leading the 25th Brigade, AIF, on 14 September. In addition to its normal battalions (2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd), that brigade also had attached the 3rd Battalion and the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion – a total of 2,500 combat troops. By September 17 the Australians had fallen back on Ioribaiwa, high on the slopes of a ridge in the last area of high country before the approaches to Port Moresby. This proved the turning point of the Japanese advance. Here, as a result of their mauling down the Track and their rapidly deteriorating supply situation, they were forced to reconsider their position.

Ioribaiwa would have been an excellent defensive position, except that the Australians were on its forward slope and the Japanese appeared with their mountain guns on the northern side of the valley. Unbelievably, they had managed to break them down into man-sized parts and lug them over the Track and reassemble them.

With almost every shot, the Diggers suffered casualties as Phil Rhoden recalled.

“Fellows who had got through the whole thing unscathed were shot dead. That upset me. By the time we got back to Ioribaiwa we were down from 550 to about 200 men. By the last days there we were five and 86 – five officers and 86 other ranks. The rest were killed, wounded sick or missing.”

But Ioribaiwa was the end of the line for the Japanese. Their commander Major General Horii was forced to finally accept reality and admit his Kokoda campaign was over. Because there was no word in the Japanese military lexicon for ‘retreat’ he ordered his men to ‘advance to the rear’. It was the beginning of the end for the Japanese South Seas Detachment.

It was to continue his defence from the strongest available ground that Eather chose to withdraw to Imita Ridge on 17 September. Although this was the last effective barrier preventing a march on Port Moresby, the limits of the enemy advance had actually already been reached by this stage. Supply lines had been stretched beyond breaking point, leaving many Japanese troops starving and unsupported, and other events were intervening – principally the reverse suffered by Japanese forces fighting American marines at Guadalcanal in the southern Solomon Islands. As early as 18 September it had become clear to the Japanese commander at Rabaul, Lieutenant General Hyakutake Harukichi that the gamble he had taken with an overland advance in Papua had failed. By then Guadalcanal was an area of higher priority to which other effort had to be diverted.

After the local Japanese commander, Major General Horii Tomitaro, received orders to establish a primary defensive position around his landing bases on the north coast, he began withdrawing on 24 September. The Australians were able to follow up the retreating Japanese, reversing the path they had been forced to follow during the enemy advance..

The final phase of the Battle of Kokoda Track lasted from 28 September to 15-16 November. For the Australians it was a period of pursuit of their enemies back over the Owen Stanley’s. At Templeton’s Crossing (12-17 October), Eora Creek (21-29 October) and Oivi-Goiari (5-11 November), Japanese rearguards mounted stubborn delaying defences. These were not small actions but drawn out and costly affairs which drew in the bulk of the Australian forces committed to the advance – the 25th Brigade, the 16th Brigade (2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/3rd Battalions) and the 3rd Battalion. Supporting units included the 2/4th, 2/6th and 14th Field Ambulances and 2/5th and 2/6th field companies, Royal Australian Engineers. The Japanese purpose was to but time for the bulk of their men to escape back to the north coast. During this withdrawal the Japanese soldiers went through an ordeal every bit as grueling as the Australians had faced in the earlier phase of the battle. The 3rd Battalion led the way back up the Kokoda Track. As they moved on through Nauro, they saw much evidence of the swift Japanese withdrawal. Bodies and equipment lay everywhere and many of the enemy had died of malnutrition and disease. Indeed, it was realised that some Japanese had been reduced to eating wood, grass, roots and other inedible material. By 12 October, elements of the 2/33rd and 2/31st Battalions were converging on Templeton’s Crossing. Higher command thought this rather slow progress against a weakened and outnumbered enemy force, but nobody back in Australia, or among those senior commanders who had ever ventured to the beginning of the Kokoda Track, had any idea of the difficulty of supply in the high Owen Stanley’s. The 16th Brigade took over the advance beyond Templeton’s Crossing in an area of deep ravines along Eora Creek. Here the track crossed steep ridges hemmed in by jungle making its way over what the official Australian historian described as ‘the torn side of the mountain’. In this rugged country, the Australians fought their way forward until they reached an area just to the north of the village of Eora Creek, regarded as the best position of the whole Kokoda Track from which to mount a defence. Here the Japanese were well dug in and waiting.

The Japanese had the good sense to establish this forest fort (Eora Creek) on the only water to be found on the ridge. Consequently, for the four days before support arrived, the men of the company (Captain J M Gall’s company, 2/3rd Battalion) had to catch rainwater in their gas capes and drink water from the roots of the ‘water tree’. Their only food was dehydrated emergency ration, eaten dry and cold. Every time one of the patrols from the company located one of the outlying Japanese machine gun posts, scouts were killed or wounded. Then the post would be outflanked and overrun with Brens, Tommy guns, and grenades, but each night the attacking parties had to withdraw to defensive positions and in the darkness the Japanese would re-establish the posts or put out others. The Japanese snipers were alert and good shots.

At Templeton’s Crossing, the Japanese mounted their first serious defensive action. It took the men of the 2/33rd, 2/25th, 2/31st and 3rd Battalions virtually a week of hard fighting to force the Japanese out of their positions before the advance could proceed. In this high area, the track ran along narrow, bamboo-lined ridges and the Japanese had made many carefully concealed weapons pits. Each of these had to be individually captured before further forward movement was possible.

Australian Advance – The Battle of Templeton’s Crossing

Templeton’s Crossing was the name given to the first point where the Kokoda Trail, outward bound from Port Moresby, crossed Eora Creek. It was named in remembrance of Captain Sam Templeton of the 39th Battalion, who was killed near Oivi on 26 July 1942. During their withdrawal along the trail, the Japanese conducted a determined defence of the Templeton’s Crossing area. The 2/33rd Battalion first made contact with these positions forward of Templeton’s crossing about midday on 12 October 1942. For the next two and a half days the battalion sought to attack and then outflank the Japanese positions, but made no progress. The 2/25th Battalion, advancing on the Templeton’s Crossing area along a subsidiary track, had also encountered Japanese positions and had likewise been unable to force its way through. On the morning of 15 October the 3rd Battalion moved in a wide arc around the right flank of the 2/33rd with the aim of attacking the Japanese from their flank, but their positions were found abandoned. The same day, the 2/25th was also able to break through the enemy force holding them. The three Australian battalions converged on Templeton’s Crossing, but the Japanese had withdrawn.

The next day, seeking to consolidate their hold on Templeton’s Crossing, the three Australian battalion commanders decided the 3rd would press on several hundred metres up the track. In doing so, it encountered another Japanese rearguard position. Attacks on 17 October captured some of the position, but the Australians were harried by counter-attacks throughout the night and the next day. Further offensive action by the Australians was hampered by two companies of the 3rd Battalion becoming lost in the jungle, and a break down in communication between the 3rd and the 2/25th. A stalemate ensued during which the 16th Brigade began to relieve the tired 25th.

The trail above Templeton’s Crossing was finally cleared by an attack mounted by the 2/2nd Battalion on 20 October. The 2/2nd concentrated its efforts on the right flank of the Australian positions (the Japanese left flank), with two companies attacking at right angles to the trail, and another two at roughly 45 degrees. Like much of the fighting along the Kokoda Trail, it was an affair of small groups of Australians tackling Japanese machine-guns with small arms and grenades. By nightfall, however, the four companies’ occupied two positions astride the trail, with the Japanese sandwiched between them. It was planned to renew the attack on the morning of 21 October with the assistance of a company of the 2/1st Battalion, but patrols at first light discovered the Japanese had escaped through the jungle and fallen back on Eora Creek.

Eora Creek

Eora Creek runs north, roughly parallel to the Kokoda Trail, from the central ridge of the Owen Stanley Mountains, near Myola, to join the Mabare River east of Kokoda. The trail crosses the creek at two points: at Templeton’s Crossing and just north of the village of Eora Creek. In the vicinity of Eora Creek village the creek runs through a deep gorge – terrain described by the Official Historian as offering the “most favourable conditions for defence” along the whole length of the trail. Eora Creek village was the site of a rearguard position between 31 August and 1 September during the retreat of Australian forces along the Kokoda Trail, occupied in succession by the 39th, 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions. During the Australian advance back along the track, Eora Creek was the scene of bitter fighting when the 25th Brigade sought to overcome a strong Japanese defensive position established on heights that dominated the village and creek crossing. The 2/1st Battalion first contacted the Japanese forward of the Eora Creek village on 21 October but the main engagement did not begin until the leading troops of the battalion entered it the next morning. Heavy Japanese fire stalled the Australian advance behind the bare ridge on which the village stood and it was not until the small hours of 23 October, under the cover of darkness, that the 2/1st Battalion was able to cross the creek. In succeeding days, up-hill frontal attacks made little progress against the Japanese positions rapidly sapping the 2/1st Battalion’s strength. Meanwhile, the 2/3rd Battalion had been seeking a way around the Japanese flanks. This move proved decisive. The battalion closed on the western flank of the Japanese position on 27 October and the next afternoon launched an attack downhill into it. The surviving defenders fled into the jungle. Ninety-nine Australians were killed in the battle of Eora Creek and another 192 were wounded. Pursuit of the retreating Japanese began on 29 October. It was a phase in the fighting which reached its triumphant culmination on 2 November, with the re-occupation of Kokoda.

Now the Australians became the pursuers as the shattered invaders retraced their steps back along the Track to the beachheads where they had landed two months earlier.

One last hurdle faced the Australians along the Kokoda Track – the Japanese defences between the settlements of Oivi and Goiari. Here bitter fighting against well-developed positions again held up the advance. By 9-10 November the Australian battalions had encircled the area and the Japanese defenders were trapped. On 11 November, the Japanese finally broke and tried to make their way through the jungle to the Kumusi River. Some managed to cross in two boats while others, including General Horii himself, attempted to raft down the river to the coast. Many were drowned, including Horii, and others were shot by snipers from Papuan Infantry Battalion patrols.

On 13 November, Australian patrols reached the Kumusi where the famous Wairopi Bridge lay in ruins. The 2/5th Field Company Engineers repaired a wrecked Japanese boat and, attaching it to a block and tackle, ferried a company of the 2/33rd Battalion to the far bank, where a small bridgehead was established. Allied aircraft dropped steel rope and tools and the engineers soon rigged up two flying foxes and two small suspension bridges, made from rope and logs. By 17 November, the battalions of the 16th and 25th Brigades were across the river.

With the Australian crossing of the Kumusi River, the Battle of the Kokoda Track came to an end.

The retreat turned into a rout until the Japanese regained their beachheads at Buna, Gona and Sanananda where their comrades had prepared a network of interconnected defensive positions and from which they determined to fight to the death.

Clearly the South Seas Detachment no longer posed an offensive threat. But, instead of isolating it and starving it into submission, General MacArthur insisted that the Japanese be swiftly dispatched.

The Diggers were joined by American forces but many of these underperformed and it was left to the Diggers, already veterans of the Kokoda campaign, to carry the brunt of the fighting. Again, many survivors of the horrors of the Kokoda Track lost their lives in attacks against an enemy that was heavily entrenched and grimly determined to fight to the last.

And, all the while, MacArthur was trumpeting about how he was leading his men from the front. Not so according to his biographer William Manchester:

“The great hero went home without seeing Buna, before during or after the great fight while permitting press articles from his GHQ to say he was leading his troops in battle. MacArthur … just stayed over at Moresby 40 minutes away and walked the floor. I know this to be a fact.”

In the pestilent swamps and beaches of Buna and Gona, every metre was paid for in blood. On December 9, Ralph Honner was able to send his famous cryptic report: ‘Gona’s gone’ Buna succumbed on January 2 1943. Eventually Sanananda fell on January 22 1943, ending one of the most gruelling campaigns in Australian military history.

It was a total disaster for the Japanese. Less than 10 percent of the original 14,000 invasion force ever returned to their homeland.

Overall, in the Papuan campaign, 2165 Diggers were killed and 3533 wounded.

Ask any of the Diggers of Kokoda and they will tell you they were just doing their duty, as Phil Rhoden said:

“We were fighting for Australia, on Australian soil for the first time. It was important that we won because if we didn’t win who knows what would have happened.”

Perhaps the best example of the spirit of the Diggers during the withdrawal came from a group separated from the main body of the defenders after Isurava. About 50 men, three officers and 47 other ranks, found themselves behind enemy lines during the confusion of the withdrawal. Under the command of Captain Sydney Hamilton ‘Ben’ Buckler, they began a six week odyssey to skirt around the Japanese and regain their own lines. The party was slowed down by a group of wounded – four stretcher cases, three walking wounded and the remarkable Corporal John Metson.

“He’d been shot in both ankles but he refused to let his mates carry him. He knew how much energy was needed to carry stretchers through the thick jungle, a task made even more onerous because Buckler’s party had to avoid the Track and travel through the jungle for fear of running into the enemy. So John Metson wrapped a torn blanket around his knees and hands and he crawled. For three weeks he cheerfully crawled through the jungle, ignoring the growing pain in his shattered ankles and the damage to his hands, knees and legs as he kept up with his mates in the cloying mud and torrential rain. He was a constant inspiration to the others in the party as they lived off the land and avoided Japanese patrols before reaching a friendly village called Sangai on September 20 1942.” (From The Spirit of The Digger)

Buckler was forced to leave John Metson and the other wounded at the village to give the main group a chance of making it to safety. Buckler ordered his party to ‘present arms’ in salute to the wounded before reluctantly leading the rest back to the Australian lines down a parallel track to the Kokoda Track and, finally, by raft down the Kemp-Walsh River. Unfortunately, when a rescue party returned to Sangai village for the wounded, they found they’d been betrayed and massacred. John Metson won him the British Empire Medal – and a place in the annals of the Digger.

Lt Col. Ralph Honner CO 39th Bn

… Like the care of a nurse and the love of a mother.

Papuan Carriers

The Papuan carriers were critical to the Australians’ success in the Kokoda campaign. Their practical experience on the Track, combined with their invaluable bush skills, physical strength and dedication, enabled the Diggers to create and maintain a human supply line between the frontline deep in the jungle and the base at Port Moresby.

The Australians were lucky to have two Papuan ‘old hands’, Bert Kienzle and Dr Geoffrey Vernon, to organise and maintain the Fuzzy Wuzzy lifeline. Their experience and skill gave the Australians a major advantage over the Japanese, who because of their mistreatment of the PNG nationals found it difficult to sustain a carrier system – the only practical way of moving supplies along the Track. The Japanese were often forced to use their soldiers in this role.

The carriers brought food and ammunition in packs usually weighing around 20 kg or more to the Diggers up the Track. On their return journey they acted as stretcher bearers carrying wounded Diggers back to safety. Because of the extreme terrain, it usually took eight bearers to carry one stretcher. The carriers used their ingenuity to construct the most effective stretcher for the task, as the Medical Officer of the 2/16th Battalion, Dr ‘Blue’ Steward, recalled:

“Some of the bearers disliked the tight, flat canvas surfaces of the regulation army stretchers, off which a man might slide or be tipped. They felt safer with the deeper beds of their own bush-made stretchers – two blankets doubled round two poles cut from the jungle. Each time we watched them hoist the stretchers from the ground to their shoulders for another stint we saw their strong leg, arm and back muscles rippling under their glossy black skins. Manly and dignified, they felt proud of their responsibility to the wounded and rarely faltered. When they laid their charges down for the night they sought level ground on which to build a rough shelter of light poles and leaves. With four men each side of a stretcher, they took it in turns to sleep and to watch, giving each wounded man whatever food, drink or comfort there might be.”

The work took a heavy toll on the carriers, as Dr Geoffrey Vernon wrote:

“The condition of our carriers at Eora Creek caused me more concern than that of our wounded. Overwork, overloading (principally by soldiers who dumped their packs and even their rifles on top of the carriers’ own burdens), exposure, cold and under-feeding were the common lot. Every evening scores of carriers came in, slung their loads down and lay exhausted on the ground; the immediate prospect before them was grim, a meal that consisted only of rice and none too much of that, and a night of shivering discomfort for most as there were only enough blankets to issue one to every two men.”

Despite these privations, no known live casualty was ever abandoned by the Fuzzy Wuzzies. It’s not known how many lost their lives in this noble cause. They displayed the same admirable qualities that have been used to describe the Australian diggers – courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice.

Bert Kienzle was at Kokoda when it was retaken and he looked on with pride as Major-General Vasey presented six outstanding carriers with medals for their loyalty and dedication. These are the only medals ever awarded to our beloved Fuzzy Wuzzy.

Lt Colonel Ralph Honner, CO 39th Battalion

“Whereas Gallipoli may have been the birth of a nation amongst the blunders of Gallipoli, the Kokoda campaign was the overcoming of blunders in another campaign where Australia was doing its growing up. For the soldiers, it was just another lone example in a long series of blunders in sending troops into battles they shouldn’t have been sent into, under-trained, under-equipped, and under-manned against odds they shouldn’t be asked to cope with. It’s a triumph I think of the Australian soldier over extreme adversity which should never have been asked of him.”

Dudley McCarthy, Australian Official Historian

“… it is the story of small groups of men, infinitesimally small against the mountains in which they fought, who killed one another in stealthy and isolated encounters beside the tracks which were life to all of them; of warfare in which men first conquered the country and then allied themselves with it and then killed or died in the midst of a great loneliness.”

Pte Kevin ‘Spud’ Whelan 39th Battalion

“It was terrifying in hindsight. How we got through it, I’ll never know. It was just guts and determination. I often hear people, especially sporting commentators, saying ‘So-and-so broke through the pain barrier. Every one of us broke through the pain barrier, climbing up those bloody mountains. Take one step, slip down two. That’s where we broke the pain barrier.”

Capt Toshiya Akizawa, Platoon Commander Japanese 144 th Rgmt

“You need a special kind of courage. When you draw your sword and point it forward, this is a display of your own courage as well as a signal to the men. it doesn’t just mean, right now we’re going to attack, in that sense it is a signal but also its deeply linked to your personality and courage. It’s like in music when the conductor raises the baton to the orchestra. It’s the same as music; however, instead of raising the baton, you draw your sword and say ‘charge!’ You give the order. Obviously, you’re not trying to cut the opponent. It’s in order to get everybody up and into the attack.”

Japanese soldier, quoted in Touched with Fire by Eric Bergerud

“We make our way through a jungle where there are no roads. The jungle is beyond description. Thirsty for water, stomach empty. The pack on the back is heavy. My arm is numb like a stick. My neck and back hurt when I wipe them with a cloth. No matter how much I wipe, the sweat still pours out and falls down like crystals. Even when all the water in your body has evaporated, the sun of the southern country has no mercy on you. The soldiers grit their teeth and continue advancing, quiet as mummies. No one says anything unnecessary. They do not even think but keep on advancing toward – the front.”

Sgt Colin Blume, 2/14 th Battalion

“I’m not ashamed to say I prayed several times. Mine was: if I get through this I’ll try to live a better life, that’s all. Everybody should have faith of some sort. If you haven’t got faith, where will you go? You got to have faith in something, or yourself, or what object you’re aiming for – there’s got to be faith. You’ve faith in what your mate’s going to do. He won’t let you down and you’re not going to let him down. Many suffered a lot for their mates. I think some blokes who went well beyond their job were the medical orderlies. They took a lot of risks and it was mateship, no doubt about it. They could have got knocked themselves but they went out and did something for those fellows that were in trouble.”

Lt Colonel Phil Rhoden, CO 2/14th Battalion

“I learned that the ordinary bloke is probably far better than some of the people that are so-called leaders. Surely the fellow that carried the burden in the heat of the battle – the fellow with the gun, the fellow with the rifle, in the front line – is far more important than the generals’ way back.

Kokoda Time Line

July 7 1942- 39th Battalion walks past Mc Donald’s Corner on route to Kokoda, led by Captain Sam Templeton and guided by Bert Kienzle.

July 15 39th Battalion arrive in Kokoda

July 21 Japanese land in Buna

July 23 39th Battalion engages Japanese in fight at Awala north of Kokoda.

July 24 Australian withdraw to Kokoda

July 29 first battle of Kokoda is lost, Australians withdraw to Deniki. Lt Col Owen Killed.

August 8 Australians retake Kokoda unopposed.

August 10 Japanese retake Kokoda and withdraw to Deniki and onto Isurava.

August 16 Lt Col Ralph Honner arrives in Isurava to replace Owen’s

August 26 Forward elements of 21st Brigade led by 2/14 battalion arrive at Isurava

August 26 Battle of Isurava commences.

August 29 Bruce Kingsbury wins VC, Charlie McCallum holds off Japanese and kills 20 plus Japanese firing Bren gun and Tommy gun alternatively from hip while wounded three times, while his mates withdraw. Awarded DSM.

August 29 Battle of Isurava ends with withdrawal back through Alola.

August 30-September 2 Withdrawal to Eora creek. Eora creek defence.

September 2-3 Templeton’s crossing defence

September 5 Withdrawal to Efogi

September 6-8 Battle of Mission Ridge/Brigade Hill

September 17 Australians dig in at Iorabaiwa

September 17 Australians withdraw to Imita Ridge.

September 21 53rd Battery of the 14th Australian Field Regiment fire first rounds on Japanese at Iorabaiwa from Ower’s Corner. From Ower’s Corner to Iorabaiwa Ridge is 10km. It takes 25 seconds for rounds to hit their mark. Over the next few days 700 high explosive rounds are fired.

September 24 Japanese begin their withdrawal. Japanese have no word for retreats so are ordered to advance to the rear.

September 28 Australian troops attack Iorabaiwa, but find Japanese have already withdrawn.

October 12-17 Japanese dig in at Templeton’s crossing.

October 21-29 Japanese dig in at Eora Creek

November 2 Kokoda recaptured unopposed

November 5-11 Oivi-Goiari Battle

November 17, 16th and 25th Brigades cross the Kumusi River. The battle of Kokoda is over.

Bomana War Cemetery Port Moresby Commonwealth War Cemetery

Known Unknown Total
Australian troops 3069237 3306
British 2 438 440
New Zealanders66
Dutch1 1
Allied 22
Others 4
Subtotal3078701Total 3779

Two VC winners Kingsbury and French

One lady nurse buried, youngest 16, oldest 67merchant seaman

Most British were POW killed in Bougainville

Units That Served On Kokoda Track

Initial

39th Battalion

53rd Battalion Abuari Track

Isurava, as above plus 21st Brigade 2/14th Battalion

Abuari, 2/16 Battalion and Isurava withdrawal

2/27th Mission Ridge

Fresh Troops arrive at Iorabaiwa

25th Brigade

2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd

3rd Battalion and 2/1st Battalion took over defence

Advance

25th Brigade

16th Brigade, 2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/3rd and 3rd Battalion

Supporting Units

2/4th, 2/6th, and 14th Field Ambulance

2/5th and 2/6th Field companies, Royal Australian Engineers

Army Organisation:

In the Pacific War the army was structured along the following lines although it should be remembered that during the Kokoda campaign units were under strength to due manpower problems, wounds and the ravages of disease:

Division: The highest level combat unit in the army structure. It is commanded by a Major General and comprised 14,000 men.

Brigade: 3 Brigades form a Division. Each one commanded by a Brigadier and comprised 3,300 men.

Battalion: 3 Battalions form a Brigade. Each on commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel and comprised 850 men.

Company: 5 Companies form a Battalion. Each one commanded by a Captain and comprised 140 men.

Platoon: 3 Platoon form a Company. Each one commanded by a Lieutenant and comprised 39 men.

Section: 3 Sections form a Platoon. Each one commanded by a Corporal.