Black ANZAC: decolonising war history through street art
Air war over Papua New Guinea was like a fireworks display

When World War II came to PNG: The 10 key battles of 1942

Anzac - Rabaul
Australian soldiers retreating from Rabaul cross the Warangoi-Adler River in the Bainings Mountains

CONTRIBUTORS | Military Wikia and Wikipedia

Battle of Rabaul (23 January – February 1942) Japanese victory

The Battle of Rabaul, known by the Japanese as Operation R, was fought on New Britain in January and February 1942. It was a strategically significant defeat of Allied forces by Japan in the Pacific campaign of World War II.

Following the capture of Rabaul, Japanese forces turned it into a major base and proceeded to invade mainland New Guinea, advancing toward Port Moresby. Hostilities on the neighbouring island of New Ireland are also usually considered to be part of the same battle.

Rabaul was important because of its proximity to the Japanese territory of the Caroline Islands, site of a major Imperial Japanese Navy base on Truk.

Battle of Port Moresby (3 February 1942 – 17 August 1943) Allied victory

The Battle of Port Moresby was an aerial battle fought between aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy over Port Moresby.

At the start, the defenders consisted only of Australian Army anti-aircraft batteries and machine-guns but by late March had been strengthened by the arrival of Kittyhawk fighters from No 75 Squadron RAAF. However, in just nine days they lost 11 aircraft and only the arrival of replacements enabled the unit to maintain 10 serviceable machines.

Anzac - Moresby
Bombs explode in Port Moresby harbour during one of the first Japanese air raids

According to the Australian government: "On 31 March, the Australians were joined by the American 8th Bombardment Squadron with A-24 bombers and for two weeks in May by six P-39 Airacobras of the American 36th Pursuit Squadron.

“Despite the American assistance, the daily air battles over and around Port Moresby by 1 May had reduced No 75 Squadron RAAF to just three airworthy machines. The American 35th, and the full 36th, Pursuit Squadrons arrived to relieve the Australian squadron. During their time in Port Moresby 75 Squadron had lost 21 aircraft and 12 pilots.

“The Battle of the Coral Sea, which was fought mostly in the waters south-east of Papua in early May, diverted a Japanese naval attack against Port Moresby and removed the immediate threat. However, by May 1942 the Japanese had established themselves in the arc of islands north and east of the island of New Guinea as well as in the region around Lae and Madang on the north coast of the mainland.”

Anzac - Coral
Battle of the Coral Sea - American aircraft carrier USS Lexington explodes on 8 May 1942

Battle of the Coral Sea (4–8 May 1942) Allied victory (although at a high cost)

The Battle of the Coral Sea was a major naval battle between the Imperial Japanese Navy and naval and air forces from the United States and Australia.

The battle is historically significant as the first action in which aircraft carriers engaged each other, as well as the first in which the opposing ships neither sighted nor fired directly upon one another.

In an attempt to strengthen their defensive position in the South Pacific, the Japanese decided to invade and occupy Port Moresby and Tulagi (south-eastern Solomon Islands).

The plan to accomplish this was called Operation MO, and involved several major units of Japan's Combined Fleet. These included two fleet carriers and a light carrier to provide air cover for the invasion forces. It was under the overall command of Japanese Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue.

The US learned of the Japanese plan through signals intelligence, and sent two United States Navy carrier task forces and a joint Australian-U.S. cruiser force to oppose the offensive. These were under the overall command of US Admiral Frank J Fletcher.

On 3–4 May, Japanese forces successfully invaded and occupied Tulagi, although several of their supporting warships were sunk or damaged in surprise attacks by aircraft from the U.S. fleet carrier Yorktown. Now aware of the presence of US carriers in the area, the Japanese fleet carriers advanced towards the Coral Sea with the intention of locating and destroying the Allied naval forces.

On the evening of 6 May, the direction chosen for air searches by the opposing commanders brought the two carrier forces to within 130 km of each other, unbeknownst to both sides. Beginning on 7 May, the carrier forces from the two sides engaged in airstrikes over two consecutive days.

On the first day, both forces mistakenly believed they were attacking their opponent's fleet carriers, but were actually attacking other units, with the US sinking the Japanese light carrier Shōhō while the Japanese sank a U.S. destroyer and heavily damaged a fleet oiler (which was later scuttled).

The next day, the fleet carriers found and engaged each other, with the Japanese fleet carrier Shōkaku heavily damaged, the US fleet carrier Lexington critically damaged (and later scuttled), and Yorktown damaged. With both sides having suffered heavy losses in aircraft and carriers damaged or sunk, the two forces disengaged and retired from the battle area. Because of the loss of carrier air cover, Inoue recalled the Port Moresby invasion fleet, intending to try again later.

Although a tactical victory for the Japanese in terms of ships sunk, the battle would prove to be a strategic victory for the Allies for several reasons. The battle marked the first time since the start of the war that a major Japanese advance had been checked by the Allies.

More importantly, the Japanese fleet carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku—the former damaged and the latter with a depleted aircraft complement—were unable to participate in the Battle of Midway the following month, while Yorktown did participate, ensuring a rough parity in aircraft between the two adversaries and contributing significantly to the US victory in that battle.

The severe losses in carriers at Midway prevented the Japanese from reattempting to invade Port Moresby from the ocean and helped prompt their ill-fated land offensive over the Kokoda Track.

Two months later, the Allies took advantage of Japan's resulting strategic vulnerability in the South Pacific and launched the Guadalcanal Campaign; this, along with the New Guinea Campaign, eventually broke Japanese defences in the South Pacific and was a significant contributing factor to Japan's ultimate surrender in World War II.

Anzac - Kokoda
The war cemetery at Kokoda in April 1944

Battle of Kokoda (July – August 1942) Japanese victory

Forming part of the Kokoda Track campaign, the battle involved military forces from Australia, supported by the United States, fighting against Japanese troops from Major General Tomitaro Horii's South Seas Detachment who had landed around Buna and Gona in mid-July 1942, with the intent of capturing Port Moresby to the south via the overland route.

The first engagement took place on 28–29 July 1942, and saw a company-sized element of Australians attempt to hold the village from the advanced elements of the Japanese landing force, which were advancing towards the entrance to the Owen Stanleys. In a short firefight, the Australian company was almost encircled before withdrawing.

The second engagement took place just over a week later between 8 and 10 August, during which a weakened Australian battalion launched an attack from Deniki, aimed at re-taking Kokoda. At the same time, the main Japanese force also launched an attack and the two sides clashed head on along the track.

Meanwhile, flanking attacks caught the Japanese force, which had also grown to around battalion strength, by surprise, and the Australians briefly took Kokoda and nearby Pirivi before being forced to withdraw to Deniki, which was the scene of further fighting prior to the Battle of Isurava.

As the Kokoda Track campaign continued, the Japanese pushed the Australians back towards Port Moresby, penetrating as far as Imita Ridge, until early October when the situation reversed and the Australians went on the offensive. As the Japanese withdrew north to assume defensive operations to consolidate their beachheads on the northern coast, the Australians subsequently re-took Kokoda in early November 1942.

Anzac -  Eora 1
Eora Creek valley in 1944

First Battle of Eora Creek (31 August 1942 – 5 September 1942) Japanese advance

The First Battle of Eora Creek – Templeton's Crossing involved military forces from Australia, supported by the United States fighting against Japanese troops from Major General Tomitaro Horii's South Seas Detachment who had landed in Papua in mid-1942, with the intent of capturing Port Moresby.

The battle was one of three defensive actions fought by the Australians along the Kokoda Track. The fighting resulted in the delay of the Japanese advance south, which allowed the Australians to withdraw to Efogi. Eora Creek village and Templeton's Crossing was subsequently the site of a battle in late October 1942 as the Australian forces pursued the Japanese forces retiring back toward the north coast of Papua.

Battle of Ioribaiwa (14–16 September 1942) Allied withdrawal

Anzac - Ioribaiwa
View towards Imita Ridge and Ioribaiwa

The Battle of Ioribaiwa involved forces from Australia, the United States and Japan, the fighting centred on a high feature known as Ioribaiwa Ridge south of Ofi Creek on the Kokoda Track. It was the last of three defensive battles fought by the Australians along the Kokoda Track to halt the Japanese advance from the north coast of Papua towards Port Moresby.

Although the Japanese were successful in pushing the Australian defenders back in the centre of their position on the track, heavy fighting on the flanks of the position blunted the Japanese attack, bringing it to a standstill.

In the aftermath, the Australian commander, Brigadier Kenneth Eather, perceiving that the attack could not be held any further and that Ioribaiwa Ridge was unsuited to launching a counter-attack, withdrew his force back to Imita Ridge.

The Japanese, however, had reached the limit of their supply line and after the fighting around Ioribaiwa. Regardless, strategic factors and reverses elsewhere forced the Japanese commander, Major General Tomitaro Horii, to pursue a more defensive approach in Papua and New Guinea. As a result, in October the Japanese began to withdraw towards their beachheads Buna–Gona, with the Australians in pursuit.

Anzac - Eora 2
Eora village on 27 August 1942 just before the battle

Second Battle of Eora Creek (11–28 October 1942) Allied advance

The Second Battle of Eora Creek – Templeton's Crossing involved military forces from Australia, supported by the United States, fighting against Japanese troops from Major General Tomitaro Horii's South Seas Detachment who had landed in Papua in mid-1942 with the intent of capturing Port Moresby.

It formed part of the Australian pursuit of the Japanese towards the beachheads around Buna and Gona, following the abandonment of plans to capture Port Moresby. The Australians took heavy casualties as part of efforts to advance north to re-take Kokoda and then push on towards Oivi and Gorari in November.

Battle of Goodenough Island (22–27 October 1942) Australian victory

The Battle of Goodenough Island, also known as Operation Drake, saw the Allies attack the Kaigun Rikusentai (Special Naval Landing Force) stranded on Goodenough Island during the Battle of Milne Bay so as to deny the Japanese the ability to use the island prior to the Buna campaign.

Drake Force, consisting of the Australian 2/12th Battalion and attachments, landed on the southern tip of Goodenough at Mud Bay and Taleba Bay on 22 October and, following a short but heavy fight, the Japanese forces withdrew to Fergusson Island on 27 October. After the battle, Goodenough was developed by the Allies and became a major base which they used for further operations later in the war.

Anzac - Oivi
Australian wounded return to a dressing station near Oivi, November 1942

Battle of Oivi–Gorari (4–11 November 1942) Japanese withdrawal

The Battle of Oivi–Gorari was the final major battle of the Kokoda Track campaign before the Battle of Buna–Gona. Following the capture of Kokoda by Australian forces on 2 November, the Allies began flying in fresh supplies of ammunition and food to ease the supply problems that had slowed their advance north after the climactic battle around Ioribaiwa, coupled with reverses elsewhere, had stopped the Japanese advance on Port Moresby.

On 4 November, the Australians resumed their advance, pushing towards Oivi along the Kokoda–Sanananda Track. Around the high ground at Oivi, the lead Australian element, the 16th Brigade, came up against well entrenched Japanese defenders from the South Seas Detachment who were intent on stalling the Australian advance towards the sea.

Over the course of several days, determined resistance held off a number of frontal assaults, forcing the commander of the 7th Division, Major General George Vasey, to attempt a flanking move to the south.

A second brigade, the 25th Brigade, subsequently bypassed Oivi via a parallel track before turning north and attacking the depth position around Gorari. Heavy hand-to-hand fighting resulted in heavy casualties on both sides before the Japanese withdrew east and crossed the flood-swollen Kumusi River, where many drowned and a large quantity of artillery had to be abandoned.

Anzac - Australian soldier Private George Whittington aided by Papuan orderly Raphael Oimbari  near Buna  25 December 1942 George Silk)
Australian soldier Private George 'Dick' Whittington aided by Papuan orderly Raphael Oimbari near Buna on 25 December 1942. Whittington died in February 1943 from the effects of bush typhus

Battle of Buna–Gona (16 November 1942 – 22 January 1943) Allied victory

On 16 November 1942, Australian and United States forces attacked the main Japanese beachheads in New Guinea at Buna, Sanananda and Gona. When the Japanese forces were within sight of Port Moresby, the Japanese leadership decided holding Guadalcanal was a higher priority, and they ordered their New Guinea forces to withdraw north-east to the coast.

Since arriving on the north coast in June, the Japanese had built hundreds of well-camouflaged, reinforced bunkers in mutually supporting positions blocking all available approaches. Combined with the forces who had returned from the Kokoda Track, the Japanese initially had nearly 5,500 seasoned troops on the northern coast. This rose to about 6,500 later in the battle.

Both the Japanese and Allied forces were riddled by disease and lacked the most basic supplies, including medicine and food. Some U.S. troops were reduced to a small portion of a C ration each day.

Allied Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur and his staff received poor intelligence and vastly underestimated the number of defenders and the superior quality of the Japanese defensive system. MacArthur’s chief of staff Lt Gen Richard K Sutherland glibly referred to the Japanese fortifications as "hasty field entrenchments."

The Allies had only a few mortar pieces and ammunition was so limited it was rationed. The Allies lacked tank support, the navy ignored their requests for assistance, they initially had only a single artillery piece, and air support was only partially effective. When the Allies attacked on three fronts, they were immediately stymied by the excellent Japanese defensive position. The Allies suffered heavy casualties and gained virtually no ground.

MacArthur repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction with the US 32nd Infantry Division's inability to defeat the Japanese. On 29 November, after 13 days of poor results and high casualties, Lt Gen Eichelberger relieved Harding of command. Eichelberger assumed command and only then fully appreciated the difficulty faced by the Allies in overcoming the Japanese forces.

He learned that the majority of his troops had fevers and were sick with a variety of illnesses including malaria, dengue fever, bush typhus, and tropical dysentery. The Japanese received limited reinforcements and additional supplies until mid-December, when they were cut off. Although they had very limited food and no way to evacuate their sick and wounded, the Japanese resolutely continued the fight to the very end.

Anzac - Goodenough
Australian soldiers with Japanese flag captured during the fighting at Goodenough Island

The Allied forces only made significant progress when they were finally given the tanks and artillery they had long sought. The first large supply ship, the Karsik, arrived at Oro Bay 11 December 1942 preceding the regular supply convoys of Operation Lilliput.

On 2 January, the Allies captured Buna, and on 22 January 1943, after prolonged intense fighting in extraordinarily difficult conditions, the Allied forces killed or captured almost the entire defending Japanese forces. Only a few hundred escaped to the north.

Casualties on both sides were extremely high. General Eichelberger later compared the casualty ratio to the American Civil War. As a percentage of casualties, killed or wounded in action at Buna exceeded the better known Battle of Guadalcanal by a margin of three to one.


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John Brooks

My father was a member of A company of the 2/14 Battalion and his friends were Avery, Teddy Bear and Kingsbury.

I was a conscript during the Vietnam war and before I went to the army depot in Marrickville in February 1968 I asked my father why Kingsbury did what he did.

He said they had held back the Japanese when they attacked the battalion headquarters. Some of A Company, including Avery and Kingsbury, moved down the slope to help C Company where there had been a breakthrough.

My father said that Kingsbury held the Bren Gun and simply charged because of the breakthrough. The troops all new it had to be done and Bruce happened to be holding the Bren Gun.

It was a spontaneous act and there was no order due to the intensity of the situation. The sniper shot Kingsbury in the head when he was walking back with Avery (Avery and Kingsbury had been schoolmates in Melbourne).

My father was cut off as the action progressed but did make it back to Butchers Hill. He served in the 2/14 battalion until 1946.

He suffered all his life from subsequent actions but little help was forthcoming. It was the way things were back then.

And for veterans and their families in need of assistance, especially for psychological injury, things don't seem to be much changed, John - KJ

Rashmii Bell

Thank you for this article.

I learnt about the Battles of Eora Creek - Templeton's Crossing whilst on the Kokoda Trail with Adventure Kokoda in August 2018. That learning was via mini wartime history lectures presented by Trek Leader Major Charlie Lynn OAM OL.

There is but a small dirt encrusted plaques to commemorate and educate tourists trekkers as they pass on pilgrimage through Eora.

Sleeping in my comfortable tent, it was pretty emotional trying to imagine what it must have been like for the young men with far less than what I had in wartime conditions.

Osmar White's 'Green Armour' provides an important account and is necessary reading.

Eora Creek remains special to me as a significant site along the wartime Trail.

Paul Oates

Put succinctly, there at least two major lessons that should be learnt in both world wars.

One, Australia or Australasian troops must be commanded by their own generals and leaders.

Two, Australasian commanders must be prepared to stand up for their troops and not be brow beaten by egocentric foreign commanders and that the Australian government must be prepared to back up their own commanders.

The Australian government had at least learnt from the disasters of Gallipoli and the Western Front in WW1 but then capitulated to the US and egocentric MacArthur. Blamey should have stood up for his own people and by not doing so, lost the respect of his men.

Curtin's determination to bring our troops home from the Middle East to fight on our doorstep is another classic example. Churchill was prepared to sacrifice Australia while he thought only in terms of the European theatre.

Churchill's decision to send two battleships to defend Singapore without air cover was a classic example of 19th Century thinking be used in the 20th Century. Both ships were sunk by Japanese aircraft and Singapore lost with Australia's 8th Division being captured and thrown into POW camps.

Chris Overland

As an addendum to Ross's comments, it is not commonly understood that the Allied high command in Brisbane initially regarded the Kokoda Campaign as a serious defeat.

Unhindered by any real understanding of jungle warfare or the situation that had confronted the Australian troops, MacArthur, Blamey and others saw fit to sack Brigadier Arnold Potts who, in fact, had commanded probably the most brilliant fighting withdrawal in the entire Pacific War, and then send Blamey to remonstrate with the troops for what they saw as poor performance.

Quite rightly, these actions were and are regarded as disgraceful and grossly unjust.

When Blamey belatedly realised the scale of his misjudgement, he did try to convey to MacArthur and the American generals the true nature of the problems the Australian troops had confronted.

However, by then the imperious MacArthur had decided that the Australians were inferior troops. His American boys would show the Aussies how it was done!

MacArthur's insufferable hubris suffered a very nasty shock when the American troops first confronted the Japanese at Buna, where they suffered a serious defeat. They were, in truth, over confident, under trained, tactically inept and badly led.

A humiliated MacArthur sent General Robert Eichelberger to retrieve the situation with instructions to defeat the Japanese or not come back.

Eichelberger was one of the few American generals who had realised the importance of what Blamey and other experienced Australian commanders had been saying.

He cultivated a good relationship with them and paid attention to what they told him about the perils and pitfalls of jungle fighting. He then translated what he had learnt into new training and tactics for his thoroughly rattled troops.

The performance of the American troops thus began to improve rapidly and they were able to go on and defeat the Japanese, albeit at considerable cost in lives and materials.

MacArthur greatly disliked commanding an Allied force that he could not utterly dominate in both a political and military sense, and so effectively marginalised Australian troops for the rest of the war.

Thus they took no part in the later campaigns in the central Pacific, being left to clean up the Japanese outposts left untouched in MacArthur's island hopping strategy.

The Kokoda battles and the New Guinea campaign more broadly was, to my way of thinking, a hugely more important series of events for Australia than the ill fated Gallipoli campaign.

Our troops were truly fighting against an existential threat in New Guinea, which was not the case at Gallipoli. Also, they bore the brunt of the fighting, not the Americans, although the latter's logistical support was clearly critical.

Also, it is necessary to pay homage the Papua New Guineans whose brave and stoic support of the Australian troops during the Kokoda battles was critically important.

They were dragged into a war whose antecedents were incomprehensible to them and which involved bloodshed, disruption and destruction on an unimaginable scale.

Overall, they preferred to support the Allies, if for no other reason than they knew them and their ways better than the Japanese and, much more significantly, because the latter proved to be unusually cruel and violent in their treatment of those Papua New Guineans who fell under their control.

Happily, the heroic reputation of the so-called Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels remains untarnished in Australian folklore. Long may it remain so.

Ross Wilkinson

I would also like to add a bit more commentary as this description misses some extremely important and historic points.

After the initial withdrawal from and the subsequent attempt to recapture Kokoda, 39 Battalion withdrew to the Isurava plateau and established a defensive perimeter there. After a short period of probing and minor skirmishing the Japanese launched a major assault against the Australian positions on 26 August, 1942.

During this initial assault the first elements of the AIF reinforcements, the 2/14 Battalion, arrived at Isurava and took up positions whilst under fire. Progressively over the next few days the remainder of the reinforcements arrived at the position comprising the rest of the 2/14 Battalion, the 2/16 Battalion and the 53 Battalion (CMF).

On 29 August the Japanese made a concerted thrust that penetrated the perimeter positions and threatened the 2/14 headquarters. A small group were ordered to counter-attack and Private Bruce Kingsbury charged towards the enemy force firing his Bren light machinegun. Scattering the enemy he paused to change magazines on the gun and was shot dead by a sniper. Kingsbury was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

The remnant force was ordered to withdraw from Isurava on 30 August but became fragmented. Some elements cut off behind the Japanese advance did not regain Australian lines for nearly three weeks.

While this fighting withdrawal was occurring along the Kokoda Track, the Japanese landed an invasion force at Milne Bay to establish a major airfield and to provide another attacking avenue to Port Moresby. However, the Australian Command was able to build a larger more concentrated force than was possible at Kokoda. This consisted of four CMF battalions, three AIF battalions, two RAAF fighter squadrons and Australian and US support forces.

On 4 September, Corporal John French of the 2/9 Battalion was leading a Section attack against enemy positions and encountered three machinegun posts. Single-handedly and armed with a Thompson sub-machinegun and hand grenades he attacked and silenced the three posts. Unfortunately he was mortally wounded attacking the third post. French was also posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Field Marshall Sir William Slim who was commanding British forces in Burma remarked that “of all the Allies, it was Australia who first broke the spell of invincibility of the Japanese.” He also said that the news of the Milne Bay victory gave the British in Burma great heart.

The Kokoda Track fighting continued with a Japanese encircling movement seriously threatening Brigadier Potts and his HQ at Brigade Hill near Efogi and Menari. A relieving counter-attack on 8 September saw heavy losses to the 2/14 and 2/16 Battalions and continuing withdrawal to Iorabaiwa and the Imita Ridge.

So, the important points from this time are:

Supply – as supply movement forward was a huge problem for the Australians on the Kokoda Track, so it became a problem for the Japanese as they advanced.

Time – the invasion force commenced its advance to Kokoda and Port Moresby with only twelve days rations per soldier so capture of Port Moresby in as short a time as possible was critical given the Supply problem.

Weapons – the AIF reinforcements fresh from the Middle-East and Australia decided that the carriage of heavy machine-guns, mortars and artillery into the Owen Stanley mountains was an impossible task so left them behind in Port Moresby. On the other hand, the Japanese carried these weapons into the mountains and seriously outgunned the Australians during the early fighting.

Isurava – because of the time and supply factors explained above, the fighting withdrawal caused serious disruption to the Japanese timetable to the point that the Battle of Isurava is often referred to as “the battle that saved Port Moresby.” It has become the focal point for commemoration along the track with the impressive memorial jointly constructed by the PNG and Australian Governments

Victoria Cross – as the Territory of Papua was Australian territory at this time, of the 100 VCs awarded to Australians since its inception, Kingsbury’s and French’s VCs are the only ones awarded for acts of bravery on Australian soil.

Chris Overland

I wish to endorse Arthur Smedley's comments on the significance of the Battle of Milne Bay.

This battle came as a major shock to the Japanese, who for the first time were confronted by well supported, well led and very determined troops.

Their favoured tactical ploy, being the flanking manoeuvre, failed in the face of the Australian troops, who proved very adept at the required counter manoeuvring.

The availability of close air support was also very important as the Japanese freedom of manoeuvre was seriously curtailed during daylight hours, as was their ability to resupply their troops.

When, in desperation, the Japanese resorted to direct full frontal attacks, they were savagely mauled and repulsed with severe losses.

Milne Bay revealed that the Japanese had a limited tactical repertoire and were not the invincible jungle fighters that they cracked up to be by far too many people who should have known better.

It also should have alerted the over confident Japanese commanders that the comparatively easy victories of the past would not be forthcoming in future.

This small scale battle proved to be an ominous harbinger of things to come for the Japanese and deserves much more attention than it receives.

My suspicion is that it did not suit McArthur and the other American commanders to give much praise to the Australians for their success in what was undoubtedly a small battle.

Being utterly ignorant of the true nature of jungle fighting (at least, at that time), the senior American commanders, as well as Australia's Army Chief, General Thomas Blamey, then held a quite erroneous view that the Australians had not fought well at Kokoda.

While they belatedly realised their error, it may have led them to under estimate the achievement at Milne Bay at the time.

Lest we forget.

Arthur Smedley

One battle that has been missed is the Battle of Milne Bay, in August and September 1942, which I understand was the first defeat of the Japanese forces on land.

The Australian troops were mainly 18 to 22 year old Militia or reservists who had received only a couple of months training. They were generally discounted by more seasoned troops but their actions in Milne Bay demonstrated the Militia were a competent fighting force.

Rowan Callick wrote that the Battle of Milne Bay is “…far less celebrated [than Kokoda], but an equally momentous fight in Papua New Guinea. If it had been lost, it might well have undermined the eventual Kokoda victory.

“It was the historic turning point in the Pacific War, the Battle of Milne Bay — the first major victory by any Allied force over Japanese land forces. And it was won primarily by Australians, with American support.

“It was then that the tide started slowly to turn against the inexorable advance of the imperial army, which had seemed unbeatable.

The two crucial engagements — Kokoda and Milne Bay — took place during the same period, though the latter was shorter and sharper.”

According to the Australian War Memorial’s account, Milne Bay was “…a key stepping stone for the Japanese in their drive towards Port Moresby” as a potential base for Zero fighters to attack the capital.

The atrocities committed against villagers in the Milne Bay area including torture, rape and killing is documented in the War Crimes Trials and Investigations conducted by the former Chief Justice of Queensland, William Webb.

Thanks for this important addition, Arthur - KJ

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