The Tide Turns
Australian advance to Eora: 13-27 October 1942
After the Japanese retreat from Ioribaiwa Ridge they dug in to defend a series of positions along the Kokoda track from Templeton's Crossing to Eora village. In two weeks of continuous fighting there the Australians, in their first victory on the Kokoda track, overcame the Japanese and drove them from the Owen Stanley Range...
Plans and forces present
The Australians were now on the offensive, fighting their way north along the same track on which they had suffered defeat after defeat from July to September. Reinforcements, primarily from 7th Division, brought Maroubra Force up to 4600 men. Supply problems persuaded Lt General Allen, commander of 7th Division and now also Maroubra Force commander, that all his force could not be used in the front line at one time. He decided to alternate his two infantry brigades forward, just as the Japanese had done in their advance. After a two-week pursuit from Ioribaiwa it was 25th Brigade with 3rd Militia battalion attached, 1882 men in all, which encountered the Japanese defences.
Australian firepower had been enhanced. The value of the Thompson submachine gun was apparent in jungle fighting. Where possible, the number of this weapon in each battalion was doubled. In addition one Vickers medium machine gun and one three-inch mortar were now carried with most battalions.
The Japanese had not given up hope that they would win at Guadalcanal and so be able to reinforce Papua and again advance on Port Moresby. Indeed in the midst of the Eora-Templeton's fighting Horii, the Nankai Shitai commander now back at Kokoda, was told that 38 Division was to be sent to reinforce him. His superior, Hyakutake in Rabaul, changed his mind later and sent this division to Guadalcanal but in mid-October Horii had good reason to expect to be able to hold Eora-Templeton's until events once again favoured the Emperor's cause.
Horii ordered four positions to be entrenched. First, there were two forward posts, one on each of two tracks leading north from Kagi. If pressed, the Japanese on these two tracks would retire to the main position overlooking Templeton's Crossing, where the two tracks joined. This was where Horii expected to stop the Australians though, as insurance against failure, he ordered a fourth position to be constructed at Eora village.
The Eora-Templeton's action - first phase
On 13 October the Australians found and attacked the two outlying Japanese posts garrisoned by 667 men with three artillery pieces. The 2/25th Battalion failed to make any headway against the smaller Japanese post on the track over Mount Bellamy. On the Kokoda track 2/33rd Battalion, up against all three Japanese guns on what the Battalion called Myola Ridge, was similarly stopped cold. The 3rd Battalion was brought up to support 2/33rd on 14 October but the next day the Japanese on both tracks withdrew to the main Templeton's position.
The Eora-Templeton's action - second phase
The second phase of fighting at Eora-Templeton's was at the main Japanese position overlooking the crossing of Eora Creek at Templeton's Crossing. Allen closed up to the Japanese with 25th Brigade and, during the fighting, committed 16th Brigade to replace the worn battalions of 25th Brigade. Thus over 3000 Australians were engaged in the course of phase two but never more than 2000 at one time.
The Japanese were not reinforced to the same degree. Tsukamoto, now commander of 144 Regiment, took over the Stanley Detachment, as their force in the mountains was called, and brought with him the majority of his much depleted regiment. At Templeton's Crossing he had at least 800 men.
The decisive moment of the second phase took place on 20 October. The Australian 2/2nd Battalion worked around to high ground on the Japanese left and on this day attacked and broke into the position prompting a hasty Japanese retreat. This was the first time in the campaign that Australian infantry had closed with dug-in Japanese defences and captured them outright.
The Eora-Templeton's action - third phase
The 2/2nd Battalion attack was the turning point of the entire two weeks fighting from Templeton's to Eora. At the end of September Horii was so confident Tsukamoto would easily hold Templeton's that he had, with the exception of the Stanley Detachment, withdrawn all his forces from the mountains. These men spent two weeks resting in the Kokoda-Oivi area where, closer to their base, they were much easier to feed.
When 2/2nd Battalion forced Tsukamoto's sudden retreat Horii was badly placed to do anything about it. He rushed troops into the Eora village position, his last prepared defence and the one he did not expect to need. Worse still the position was designed for a much larger force than Horii was able to send. To the end of the action there was a weakly held gap in the centre of the Japanese position that the Australians never found. In hindsight it is clear that there was an opportunity here for Allen to throw his entire force at Eora and perhaps take it before Japanese reinforcements arrived. He did not do so, his one brigade attack of 22-23 October proving to be insufficient for the task. By 24 October Japanese reinforcements had, to a degree, stabilised their situation at Eora though this whole third phase of the fighting should be seen as a desperate Japanese attempt to recover from the parlous circumstances created by 2/2nd Battalions attack on 20 October.
Under pressure from Generals MacArthur and Blamey for advancing too slowly, Allen directed Lloyd, the 16th Brigade commander, to try a flanking attack around the Japanese right. This took time and it was not until 28 October that the key to the Japanese defences, the high ground on their right from where their artillery dominated the battlefield, was threatened.
Meanwhile there were developments on the Japanese side. Owing to yet another reverse at Guadalcanal, Hyakutake ordered Horii to fall back towards his coastal base. It was while the Japanese were withdrawing from Eora that the Australians struck on 28 October. The Japanese guns and the wounded had left the previous day but the Japanese battalion holding the right of their line was caught at the worst moment, while in the act of withdrawing. It suffered heavy casualties but Australian pressure along the front of the Japanese line was insufficient and the rest of the Japanese force made good its escape to Kokoda.
For two weeks the Australians were attacking carefully prepared defences so it is no surprise that their casualties were higher than those of the defenders. At second Eora-Templeton's, from 13 to 28 October, the Australians suffered 412 battle casualties against 244 Japanese. That almost one third of the Japanese casualties were lost on the last day of fighting, when they were caught while retreating, is a measure of the success of 2/3rd Battalion's attack on Eora Heights. With their victory at Eora-Templeton's it was apparent the Australians would soon retake Kokoda. With the Kokoda airstrip in their hands the supply problems that had dogged the Australian advance so far would be solved.