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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Into the Mountains

Falling back to Deniki: 12-14 August 1942

After the second Kokoda engagement the Australians retired to Deniki. There they were attacked by the Japanese and driven back to Isurava...

Papua, November 1942. Looking northward towards Deniki over a native grass hut towards Kokoda which is some 3,000 feet below and obscured by the roof of the hut. Australian soldiers, who are members of the 2/4th Field Ambulance, and native Papuan carriers rest briefly at the hut as they make their way along the Kokoda trail from Alola to Kokoda. [Donor: A. Watson] [AWM P02424.101]
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In the several days between the end of second Kokoda and the beginning of the Japanese attack on Deniki the Maroubra Force commander, Major Cameron, reorganised his force. He brought up from reserve a fresh company of 39th Battalion so as to give a rest to the two companies which had borne the brunt of the earlier fighting. Sickness began to deplete the force, reducing Cameron's effectives to about 470 men.

Tsukamoto, the Japanese commander, was on his way to attack Deniki when Cameron's retaking of Kokoda upset his plans. The importance of Deniki was that it overlooked Kokoda, six kilometres to the north, it was at the junction of other tracks leading north-east towards Oivi, and it guarded the entrance to Eora Gorge along which the Kokoda track went south towards Isurava. Now a week later, with Kokoda back in Japanese hands, Tsukamoto was able to go ahead with the planned attack on Deniki. He had 450 men, his own battalion together with its single artillery piece.

Video Still of Isurava Battlefield

The Isurava battlefield - where Bruce Kingsbury won the Victoria Cross.

On 12 August Tsukamoto's scouts sought out the enemy position. Unknown to the Australians the Japanese scouts located at least one Australian platoon position that, when the attack commenced next day, was immediately the target of accurate artillery fire. Wary of losing too many men Tsukamoto's attack progressed slowly and methodically. Japanese experience in the war to this point taught them a useful lesson: That an enemy could often be 'worried' out of their position by a day of probing and skirmishing, preferably around the flanks to give rise to a fear for their line of retreat, followed by a night of enough of the same to keep the enemy sleepless and anxious.

The day of 13 August and the following night conformed to this pattern. By the morning of 14 August it was perhaps the effect of the Japanese tactics on his soldier's steadiness, or the reports of Japanese in the rear, that persuaded Cameron to withdraw. It was well that he did, for soon after Tsukamoto decided that he had softened up the Australians to the point where a major attack by two infantry companies should be successful. The attack swept into Deniki to find the Australians gone. The Australian losses were five killed and eight wounded. Japanese losses, confirming the wisdom of Tsukamoto's method, were just three killed and six wounded.