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 ...

Milne Bay

Overview

Milne Bay is on the eastern tail of New Guinea...

September 1942. Milne Bay. Crew from a Royal Australian Air Force Kittyhawk Squadron at Milne Bay. The Curtiss P-40 E model Kittyhawk fighter aircraft is visible on the left hand side of the painting. Mr Wally Spencer at an 81 Wing reunion dinner in October 2001 claimed that in this painting,  by William Dargie, he is the figure on the wing of the Kittyhawk. Dargie consulted with men from 75 and 76 Squadrons to achieve the most accurate results. In regard to the models he stated in a letter to the then Director W. Lancaster 20/6/1969: ‘The standing figure in the foreground is generally taken by aircrew members who have seen the picture, to be Squadron Leader Jackson, even though I felt it best slightly to generalise his features to avoid intruding an actual portrait into the picture. The seated figure alongside him was never meant by me to be anyone in particular, and in fact is purely a creation of my own imagination, but the same aircrew members are quite certain it is a likeness of an Intelligence Corporal who was well known to them in 75 Squadron. I don’t think this matters, because it is pure fantasy.’ The artist makes no mention of Mr Wally Spencer seated on the wing but it is possible that Spencer was a model for the painting. [AWM ART27628]
Show Caption

In 1942 aircraft based there could project air power towards a number of vital strategic locations: Port Moresby, Sanananda, Lae, far north Queensland and across the Coral Sea to the Solomon Islands.

Video: Veteran Interview

Arthur Gould

Kokoda veteran Arthur Gould flew with 75 Squadron at Milne Bay. He tells of the capture of a Japanese pilot...

Watch the Interview with Arthur Gould in The Australian Veterans' accounts on this site...

Both sides were well aware of the advantages conferred by controlling Milne Bay. The Allies made the first move. They began construction of an air base at the western end of the bay in June 1942. The Japanese intended to build an airfield at nearby Samarai Island but when they discovered the Allied airfield at Milne Bay they decided to attack and take that instead. The moment seemed auspicious as it could be timed to coincide with the Japanese attack on Isurava. More importantly, two weeks earlier the Imperial Japanese Navy sank an Allied cruiser group, including the HMAS Canberra, near Guadalcanal. Admiral Mikawa deduced, correctly, that the American carriers would be unlikely to intervene in a Japanese naval operation to take Milne Bay, now that the carrier's cruiser escort had been sunk.

The Japanese landed on the beaches of Milne Bay on 26 August 1942 to seize the Allied airfield. They were comprehensively defeated by the Australians who thus became the first to obtain a victory over the Japanese since the Pacific war began.

Teaching Aid Thumbnail

Teaching and Learning Activities for the Classroom

Empathy Exercises/Class Talk

Imagine that you are a veteran of the Battle of Milne Bay. You are now 90 years old. You have been asked to come to the class to tell them of your experiences. You decide to bring some of your mementos of the battle. You will show them to the students and tell them something about each one.

Use your imagination. Think about what things an old soldier would keep in his box of souvenirs from the war. Which ones would he think the students would be interested in? He might bring his medals, the diary he kept in 1942, an old photograph of his best mate, a mud stained map, a letter from his mother, a bullet, or a button from his uniform.

You can make the mementos, at least five of them, with cardboard, paper, coloured pencils, glue and whatever else you can think of.

You should talk to the class for three to five minutes. Think about how a 90 year old veteran might talk. Start by telling the students who you are and where you come from, and what is your strongest memory of the battle of Milne Bay. Then show the class your mementos one at a time. Make up a very short story about each one. After you have finished ask if the students have any questions and try to answer them as a veteran might.