Into the Mountains
From Eora to Templeton's Crossing: 31 August to 5 September 1942
As a result of the defeat at Isurava the Australians withdrew rapidly south along the Kokoda track...
Covering the withdrawal was a large rearguard composed of 2/16 and 2/14 Battalions. These, especially the latter, had been dispersed as a result of the Isurava fighting and had only 700 men between them. The fighting done by 2/16 and 2/14 as they covered the withdrawal of Maroubra Force in the week after Isurava is known as the first Eora-Templeton's engagement. Colonel Key of 2/14 was among those missing after Isurava so Colonel Caro of 2/16 commanded the force.
The first position the Australians held was just south of Alola on the night of 30 August. After dark they withdrew. It was well that they did as a fresh Japanese pursuit group, elements of 41 Regiment, none of which had participated at Isurava, was advancing rapidly after them. With 1305 men and four guns its aim was to overtake and destroy the Australian rearguard. When Yazawa, the regimental commander, saw the Australians drawn up south of Alola he thought the position too strong to attack frontally. At night he sent his main force into the jungle to the west to circle around and attack the Australians from the rear. While this was in progress the Australians withdrew and, for a third time in the campaign so far, a Japanese battalion wandered lost in the jungle unable to find its enemy.
A day lost to the error, Yazawa's pursuit group caught up with Caro's force dug in on the southern heights above Eora village, on the slope from which Damien Parer took his famous photographs. The line was held by 2/16 while 2/14 was behind it ready to act as a reserve or respond to a Japanese flank attack. The Japanese placed their artillery and machine gun company on the same height to the north of the village that they were to use when they defended this area during their retreat in October. Five infantry companies were available to them. After an artillery bombardment of the Australians these made a night attack. Two were held in reserve, one attacked the Australian frontally and two went around the Australian right flank.
By early morning of 2 September the Japanese had penetrated the Australian position in several places. Caro decided he must withdraw. The Japanese followed cautiously and the following evening found the Australians further down the track at Templeton's Crossing. This time Caro withdrew before the Japanese had time to develop their attack. On the following night the Australians crossed Eora Creek onto heights south of it and here made another stand. The Japanese had only one gun forward to support their infantry which again made a frontal pinning attack combined with a sweep around a flank. Both attacks were successful and the Australians had either to withdraw or face destruction. This withdrawal uncovered Myola, the dry lake in the mountains from which the Australians were receiving their supplies by air. The Australian rearguard then fell back to Efogi where they rejoined Maroubra Force.
Eora-Templeton's 1 is rightfully regarded as a successful rearguard action on the part of the Australians. The Japanese were faced with the choice of a fast advance which would cost them more casualties or a less costly slow advance. In this phase of operations in the Owen Stanley Range Yazawa opted for a slow advance in an attempt to keep casualties down. He failed in this as Eora-Templeton's 1 cost the Japanese 43 killed and 58 wounded against an Australian loss of 21 killed and 54 wounded. Horii, the Nankai Shitai commander, was highly dissatisfied and removed Yazawa's regiment from the pursuit. He replaced it with 144 Regiment which had been resting since Isurava. From an average advance of two kilometres per day under Yazawa the speed of the pursuit increased to eight kilometres per day. From the Australian perspective the slow Japanese advance in the week after Isurava gave them time to prepare to make another stand, this time at Efogi.