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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Jungle Warfare

The problem of supply

There is a natural tendency in writing about war to concentrate on the fighting soldier who risks his life and, if he survives, has exciting stories to tell...

19 November 1942.  Kokoda. Natives bring in fruit for Allied troops. Payment is made on the barter principle, often using tobacco. [Photo: George Silk] [AWM 013612]
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Video Still of Myola 2.

The Australians air dropped supplies at Myola 2.

It is a fact though that half of the Australians who served in New Guinea never fired a shot in anger, for their jobs were to deliver all the things the fighting soldier needs. Each bean or bullet had to be unloaded from a ship in Port Moresby and stored in a warehouse. When required it had to be transported to the end of the Kokoda track where thousands of Papuan carriers shuttled back and forth, or to the airfield so the supplies could be air dropped. Without constant re-supply the fighting soldier would have quickly run out of ammunition, fallen ill, or gone without food.

The Australians in 1942 found that their supply system was unsuitable for operations in the Owen Stanley Range. The recent experience of the AIF in two years fighting in North Africa, Greece, Crete and Syria had accustomed the army to a road bound supply system. By trucking all supplies to the front line, the 19 tons of supplies required for each 1000 Australian fighting men each day, could be delivered.

In the Owen Stanley Range there was no road. Initially everything had to be carried on the back of man or beast and Maroubra Force was able only to get about one quarter of what was desirable. When air drops commenced this improved but a shortage of aircraft was a problem for most of the campaign. The Australians eventually settled on a reduced requirement of 12 tons per thousand men per day. A single aircraft could air drop almost two tons of supplies - so six aircraft per day, in addition to what was carried up the track, could keep each thousand men of Maroubra Force tolerably well supplied.

November 1942, Kokoda. One of the major problems of maintaining a supply line in Papua was the requirement to build a hundred or more bridges across fast running streams. The photograph, taken during the Australian advance, shows on the left the recently built Australian bridge. On the right is the remains of a Japanese built bridge. [P02423.026]

November 1942, Kokoda. One of the major problems of maintaining a supply line in Papua was the requirement to build a hundred or more bridges across fast running streams. The photograph, taken during the Australian advance, shows on the left the recently built Australian bridge. On the right is the remains of a Japanese built bridge. [P02423.026] ... Enlarge

The Japanese, whose main experience of war had been in China where the road system was poor, were more used to getting by on a bare minimum of six tons of supplies per thousand men per day. On occasion, as on the Kokoda track, when they knew supply would be especially difficult, they survived for short periods on four tons per day. They expected to make up the balance by foraging locally and capturing enemy supplies. The Japanese were interested in anything that would reduce their requirements. Their food ration in Papua, for instance, contained five different items against 21 items for the Australian ration. Lt General Rowell, commander of New Guinea Force, noted that the simple, sparse and efficient Japanese supply system gave them a great advantage on the Kokoda track.