The Kokoda Track campaign or Kokoda Trail campaign was part of the Pacific War in World War 2. The campaign consisted of a series of battles fought between July and November 1942 in what was then the Australian territory of Papua. The Japanese objective was to seize Port Moresby by an overland advance from the north coast, following the Kokoda Track over the mountains of the Owen Stanley Range as part of a strategy to isolate Australia from the United States.
Thirty thousand Allied troops, mainly Australians faced about half that number of Japanese although there were twice as many Japanese casualties .
More than 600 Australians lost their lives, in a bitter and bloody war of attrition in the mud and rain of extreme tropical conditions along the trail.
Japanese forces had landed and established beachheads on the north coast of Papua in July , 1942. They quickly advanced and captured Kokoda and its strategically vital airfield on 29 July. Despite reinforcement, the Australian forces were continually pushed back.
The Japanese advanced to within sight of Port Moresby but withdrew after outrunning their supply lines.
The Australian pursuit encountered strong opposition from well-prepared positions along the track and places such as around Templeton’s Crossing and Eora Village. The Japanese forces held out until 22 January 1943.
Australian reinforcement was hampered by the logistical problems of supporting a force in isolated, mountainous, jungle terrain. There were few planes available for aerial resupply, and techniques for it were still primitive. A lot of equipment was too heavy to carry and ineffective in the jungle terrain.
The generalship of commanders, America’s MacArthur and Australia’s Blamey were criticised for unreasonable and unrealistic perceptions of the terrain and conditions under which the campaign was fought—to the detriment of the troops committed to the fighting.
The fighting during the Kokoda campaign represents the first time that Australia’s security was directly threatened.
The 1942 film, Kokoda Front Line documented the Australian fighting during the campaign and brought the war home for many Australians. Filmed by Damien Parer, it won an Oscar for the documentary category – the first time an Australian film/documentary was awarded an Oscar. The iconic newsreel contains some of the most recognised images of Australian troops in the Second World War
Although it has since become accepted that an invasion of Australia was not possible, or even planned by the Japanese, at the time there was a very real belief within Australia that this was possible and as such the Kokoda campaign has come to be viewed by some as the battle that “saved Australia”. As a result, within the collective Australian psyche, the campaign has become a key part of modern notions of the Anzac legend.
Main image: Australian 39th Battalion after the Kokoda Track campaign 1942. Public Domain.