The Kokoda Track | Australians in World War II | The Pacific War

Exploring the site of the battle fought by Australians in World War II

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Special features

  • New Guineans on the Kokoda Track

    Sergeant Sanopa thumbnail

    The great majority of the 20,000 New Guineans who participated in the campaign did so as carriers of supplies for the Allies, though 800 men from the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the Royal Papuan Constabulary fought against the Japanese in 1942. more ...

  • Animated Battle Maps

    Animated Battle Maps thumbnail

    There were a number of key battles in the Papuan campaign. In the initial stages the Australians were forced to withdraw on numerous occasions, but as the tide turned they they were able to push the Japanese back to Gona and the coast. more ...

  • A Kokoda Timeline

    Kokoda Timeline thumbnail

    On July 7 1942 Australian troops (Maroubra Force) began operations along the Kokoda track. On July 21 Japanese forces landed near Buna and Gona on the north-east shore of Papua New Guinea. View an interactive timeline of the Kokoda campaign within the larger Pacific War. more ...

  • Track or Trail?

    Native bearers carrying wounded thumbnail

    Kokoda track or the Kokoda trail? The official name is the Kokoda trail, but this term is rarely used in Australia. Pre-war documents referred to it as the 'overland mail route' and the 'Buna road' . Locally it is now called the Kokoda dala or Kokoda road and 'Kokoda road' was sometimes used during the war. more ...

  • Why Port Moresby?

    Painting of Japanese bombing of Port Moresby thumbnail

    Port Moresby was important because any Allied attack north through New Guinea towards Rabaul required Port Moresby as a base. Similarly for any attack south towards Australia, the Japanese required Port Moresby. more ...

  • A Fighting Retreat

    Lieutenant Colonel William Taylor Owen thumb

    At the first of two engagements at Kokoda the Japanese defeated Lieutenant Colonel Owen's force and captured the airstrip from which they expected to receive supplies from Rabaul. The combined Papuan/Australian force fell back to Deniki. more ...

  • The Stand at Isurava

    Soldiers of 2/14th Infantry Battalion thumbnail

    In late August both the Australians and the Japanese were greatly reinforced and prepared for a decisive battle at Isurava. While the Japanese were victorious they failed to achieve their main objective - the total destruction of Maroubra Force. more ...

  • Retaking Kokoda

    Kokoda Plateau

    In the morning fog on 25 October 1942, while the two armies fought at Eora-Templeton's 25 km to the south, Winkle, having come from an Australian patrol base in the Yodda valley, crossed the Kokoda airstrip and entered Kokoda Government Station. more ...

  • The Decisive Moment

    Australian burial party thumbnail

    As a result of the decisive defeat suffered by the Japanese at Oivi-Gorari they abandoned their plan to take Port Moresby and turned their attention to holding their base at Buna-Gona. The Japanese cut through the surrounding Australian infantry and retreated to the coast. more ...

  • Casualties

    Casualties of war thumbnail

    Casualty statistics are not reliable in every category. Numbers for those killed in action are accurate but Australians evacuated sick during the campaign can only be estimated. The situation is much worse when assessing the losses of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. more ...

Casualties

Overview

An order to all Australian army formations in 1942 stated that ‘to ensure uniformity in the rendering of casualty returns the following standards entries will be used.’ ...

28 November 1942, Papua. Four dead Japanese soldiers lying beside a large pillbox at Buna. [AWM 013933]
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The standards the order set were not always followed, consequently army statistics for casualties are not reliable in every category. For example numbers for those killed in action are accurate but Australians evacuated sick during the campaign can only be estimated.

Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy casualty returns did not conform to army returns nor to each other. A key difficulty was in the categorisation of casualties. The following is by no means an exhaustive list of possibilities. A casualty might be killed in action, died of wounds, died on active service, died of misadventure or accidentally, died of illness, executed by enemy, died while prisoner of war, missing in action, missing believed killed, wounded in action, evacuated sick, drowned, or even ‘died of exhaustion and privation’ as in the case of one Royal Australian Navy seaman in Papua.

Casualty returns for the United States Army and the United States Army Air Force contain similar difficulties and the situation is much worse when assessing the losses of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. Most uncertain of all are casualties for New Guineans on both sides.

Read the List of casualties for Kokoda, Milne Bay and Buna-Gona.

Teaching Aid Thumbnail

Teaching and Learning Activities for the Classroom

Casualties

Answer the following questions in at least 20 words each.

The Photograph

In the photograph at the top of the page are four of the 10,200 Japanese killed in battle in Papua. Examine the photograph closely. Think about it, then answer the following questions.

  1. How do you feel when you look at the dead men?
  2. What do the three Australians in the photograph seem to be thinking about?
  3. What do you think happened immediately after the photograph was taken?
  4. Would you feel differently if the dead men were Australians, or if you were Japanese?
  5. Is there any evidence to indicate if the photographer came across this by chance, or do you think he posed the scene?
The Text

Now read the text. Find the answers there to the following questions.

  1. The list in the text shows the wide variety of ways in which a soldier may become a casualty. Can you think of any kind of casualty missing from the list?
  2. What is the main problem in obtaining accurate casualty statistics?
  3. Why do you think it is so difficult to find accurate casualty statistics for New Guineans?
The Statistics

Using the List of casualties for Kokoda, Milne Bay and Buna-Gona answer the following questions.

  1. How many Australians altogether were ‘missing presumed killed’?
  2. In which battle were the most Australians killed?
  3. Adding together all categories of casualties for all those who fought against the Japanese in New Guinea, what is the total number of casualties?
  4. What is the total number of Japanese who survived the campaign?