y the end of July, 1942, the Japanese had built up a force of some 13,500 men in the Gona area of Papua with the intention of attacking Port Moresby via the overland track across the Owen Stanley Ranges.
The seldom used track started in the small village of Buna on the north coast of Papua and easily led up the slopes through Gorari and Oivi to Kokoda, standing on a small plateau some 400 metres above sea level and surrounded by mountains rising above 2,000 metres. The track left Kokoda over very steep ridges and deep valleys through Deniki, Isurava, Kagi, Ioribaiwa, Ilolo and at Owens' Corner linked with a road proper through the plantations above Port Moresby down to the town on the coast.
The track was so steep between Kokoda and Ilolo it was strength sapping for a kit and equipment laden man to climb even a few hundred yards. Much of the track was a narrow passage through walls of thick rainforest bush and higher up this bush was replaced by mist covered moss and stunted trees.
This was the setting for a bitter 4 month struggle to prevent the fall of Port Moresby to the Imperial forces of Japan.
The 39th Battalion, a Victorian militia unit, had moved back to Isurava to regroup for an offensive on the advancing Jap forces but found the supplies amassed for them to be inadequate and forcing them in to a defensive role. They were relieved on 26th August by 2/14th Battalion of the 21st Brigade. On the 29th August the Japanese broke through the Australian lines but the position was saved by a counter attack after which Private Bruce Kingsbury was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Next day the remnants of both Battalions withdrew towards Alola, the 2/14th losing its commanding officer, Lt Colonel Key, the third such commander to be killed on the Kokoda Track in just over a month. With the soldiers soaked to the skin, not having had hot food and having endured a week of solid fighting, the order was given to withdraw to Templeton's Crossing. This was followed by further withdrawal from the advancing Japanese to the major supply point of Myola and on September 17th Brigadier K W Eather withdrew the forward forces to Imita Ridge.
Eather had 5 battalions of some 2,600 officers and men against a force of 5,000 Nips but now had the advantage of a shorter supply line as against the extended line of communications of the Japanese. The enemy positions were also now being attacked by Allied air power. On 28th September the Australians advanced to find little opposition from the Jap forces who had retreated, leaving behind much equipment. The conditions which had adversely affected the Australians early in the campaign had had a greater effect on the Japanese and brought about their downfall. By the end of September, the overland threat to Port Moresby was considered over.
It was decided to clear the Japanese from the north coast of Papua and a force of Americans set out from Jaure to Buna to clear the Kokoda track whilst the Australians carried on down the track to meet heavy resistance at Templeton's crossing where 50 men were killed and 133 wounded before the crossing was recaptured on October 16th. Brigadier Lloyd of the 16th Brigade then commenced attacking the rearguard beyond Templeton's crossing.
The Kokoda airstrip was re-taken on November 2nd solving the ever present supply problem. The Japanese were on the run with the fleeing forces being constantly strafed by Beaufighters. The 25th Brigade pursued the Japs from the foothills of the Owen Stanleys and on 13th November, the 2/31st Battalion crossed the Kumusi river, some 60 kilometres to the coast, Four days later all seven Australian infantry battalions, from four brigades, were over the river and the campaign of the Kokoda Track and Owen Stanley Ranges was over.
In the 4 month campaign 605 Australians were killed and 1,015 were wounded. However, for every battle casualty between 2 to 3 men were hospitalised with sickness.
Bruce Kingsbury won the Victoria Cross for bravery on the Kokoda Trail.
The ground campaign had been exclusively Australian and showed physical courage and endurance of the highest degree, that which had obviously been handed down from the pioneering spirit of the early settlers - in fact, they were all Dinkum Aussies on the Kokoda Track.