By the middle of 1942 Japan’s empire extended in depth across vast tracts of China, the Pacific and Southeast Asia. During the six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong had fallen, rapidly followed by Malaya and Singapore, then the Philippines and finally, the Dutch East Indies.
Now the Japanese stood poised to attack Australia’s territory in New Guinea, just one hundred miles north of the great southern continent.
With New Guinea as a forward base Japan’s navy and airforce could attack Australia, threaten its link to America and also act as a ‘shield’ to protect its newly-acquired Dutch East Indies.
Beginning in March 1942 the Japanese had already landed at various points on the north coast of New Guinea and started to advance towards the key objective, Port Moresby, the territory’s capital and main port.
In May 1942 however, the Battle of the Coral Sea thwarted an additional Japanese plan to launch an amphibious assault directly on the port.
The main effort now would be an overland thrust south westwards along the Kokoda Trail (or track) running across the rugged Owen Stanley Mountains via the native village of Kokoda.
At this time, the island’s Australian commander mistakenly believed the Trail was impassable for large-scale troop movements and the Japanese only encountered minimal resistance from a small force of New Guinea volunteers.
By the end of July 1942 the Japanese had captured Kokoda and brought almost 14,000 battle-hardened troops into action.
As the military situation deteriorated more experienced Australian units began arriving at Port Moresby and were immediately rushed northwards to the front-line towards the rapidly advancing Japanese.
Following the first clash of arms on August 26 the Australian reinforcements were pushed back once more to a ridge overlooking Port Moresby.
Once there fresh Australian reinforcements arrived to bolster the Aussie line and the fighting moved elsewhere.
Soon however the Japanese realized they had seriously over-extended their supply lines resulting in severe shortages of food and ammunition.
Even in retreat however the Japanese could still prove a deadly foe and many more battles were to take place before, in November 1942, the Aussies managed to retake Kokoda itself and a nearby airfield.
AUSSIE GRIT & GUTS
The struggle for the Kokoda Trail was marked by great courage and endurance in the most appalling conditions by the soldiers of both sides.
Those who took part would never forget the harsh physical and mental demands of fighting in a steep mountainous terrain with the constant damp of the tropical jungle and the ever-present dangers of disease and discomfort.
For Australians in particular the Kokoda Trail Campaign is a testament to their amazing endurance and tenacity that equals even the Legend of Gallipoli.
This new King & Country series of figures once more pays tribute to the honour, memory and sacrifice of all the Australian fighting men who fought and died on that long bloody trail in a place called ‘KOKODA’.