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 ...

Into the Mountains

Overview

Before Deniki the fighting took place in low lying country north of the Owen Stanley Range...

A plaque erected at Templeton’s Crossing to mark the 50th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign. [Photo: Peter Williams]
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Once the Japanese entered the Range in pursuit of the Australians two things changed. First the rugged, jungled slopes on which the fighting took place altered the tactics used. In the low country it was easy to march around the enemy flank to threaten their rear. In the mountains both sides were to find this was still possible, but extremely difficult and slow. The Kokoda track became the major tactical feature and if the Australians could block it, and not be cut off from supplies coming up the track, then they would stop the Japanese. Secondly Maroubra Force was strongly reinforced and, abandoning a delay and retire policy, the Australians made three determined but unsuccessful attempts to stop the Japanese at Isurava, Efogi and Ioribaiwa.

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Teaching and Learning Activities for the Classroom

The engagement at Eora - the Japanese perspective

Major Koiwai Mitsuo (Japanese names have surname first) wrote an account of his participation in the engagement at Eora. Read this, and the account of the engagement in From Eora to Templeton's Crossing: 31 August to 5 September 1942 and answer the questions.

Koiwai's story begins on the morning of 2 September, after the Australians had withdrawn from their position overlooking Eora village.

‘I thought it unusual for the hard working Australians to give up a position so quickly. Anyhow it was good news and took a load off my mind. Our loss since yesterday amounted to 17 dead and 27 wounded. This day we buried our dead in the mountains for the first time since landing in New Guinea. I issued an order to start the pursuit at 7am. Number 7 company, the most exhausted, was sent back. Numbers 5 and 6 company rested where they were while 8 and 12 companies took up the pursuit.’

Koiwai's superior, Colonel Yazawa Kiyomi, arrived to rebuke Koiwai for advancing too slowly when, as Yazawa said, ‘There seemed to be no Australians about.’

‘Since yesterday's failed attack he had not liked my cautious approach. He seemed to be anxious for a quick victory but it was not easy to attack the enemy without knowing where they were. Being too eager for a victory could result in delaying the pursuit and increasing our losses. This is the last thing a commander should do.’

The next day, 3 September, Koiwai's men caught up with the Australians.

‘After considering all the options I decided to attack the enemy at night. I had 8 Company on hand but they had been worked very hard since 1 September so I could not push that company too much. I was looking forward to the arrival of 7 Company because of the quality of the commanders. Lt Nakao had experience in China and his Warrant Officer, Kaneshige, was also a great fighter with lots of experience. I had one artillery piece. It is usually not done to fire artillery at night but human psychology is kind of beyond tactics. My plan was that after firing a few shells at the enemy position and terrifying them out of their senses we would charge with bayonets and they would be in fear of us in the darkness of the jungle.

It all went as I had hoped. After hard fighting my men got in among the Australians. I then ordered them to hold their positions as I expected a counter attack. It never came and at dawn we were surprised to find that the Australians had again retreated.’

Answer each question in at least 20 words.

  1. How does Koiwai's version of events differ from that given in the website?
  2. Is there anything in Koiwai's version that you think might be incorrect?
  3. Considering both accounts, who would you say won the fight?
  4. What does Koiwai think of the Australians?
  5. Explain, in your own words, the reason for the tension between Koiwai and Yazawa.
  6. What things was Koiwai particularly worried about?
  7. What does Koiwai's account tell you about the problems faced by the Japanese?
  8. What can you tell from the account about Koiwai's personality?