Nightmare of the Papuan Jungle
This week marks 80 years since the start of the hell that was the Kokoda Campaign.
On the night of 21 July 1942, Japanese forces of the South Seas Detachment landed on the northern beaches of Papua at Gona and moved to cross the Kokoda Trail overland to reach Port Moresby. The first fighting occurred between the Japanese and elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion at Awala on 23 July.
This soon became a desperate and bloody fighting retreat– including several instances of bitter hand-to-hand combat– along the Trail that would stretch into mid-November is one of the most forgotten ground campaigns of WWII.
As noted by the Australian War Memorial:
The Kokoda Trail fighting was some of the most desperate and vicious encountered by Australian troops in the Second World War. Although the successful capture of Port Moresby was never going to be a precursor to an invasion of Australia, victory on the Kokoda Trail did ensure that Allied bases in northern Australia, were vital in the coming counter-offensive against the Japanese, would not be seriously threatened by air attack. Approximately 641 Australians were killed along the Kokoda Trail and over 1,600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4,000.
“The Kokoda Trail is one of the most iconic Australian campaigns of the Second World War,” Dr. Karl James, Head of Military History at the Australian War Memorial, said. “Eighty years on, it is important to continue to honor those veterans.”
These days, the Australian Army still takes jungle warfare seriously, conducting regular Butterworth training rotations in Malaysia to keep their skills sharp.