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Stories of the defence of Australia - 1942

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Media Release The Hon Danna Vale MP   Minister for Veterans' Affairs Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence Federal Member for Hughes

VA081 Friday 28 June 2002


In 1942 the people of Australia were called upon, for the first time, to defend their own shores. Throughout that year, supported by their allies, Australians fought to turn the initial defeats of 1942 into the beginnings of victory in the Pacific. This series, issued by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Danna Vale, to mark the 60th anniversary of the defence of Australia, highlights some of the key events of those 12 momentous months.

THE KOKODA TRACK - July-November 1942

On 21 July 1942 a Japanese invasion force landed at Gona on the north coast of Papua. Its objective was the capture of Port Moresby, the main Australian base in New Guinea, by an overland strike across the Owen Stanley Range. These mountains, as described by Australia's official historian Dudley McCarthy, were among the most rugged on earth: They rose turbulently into the clouds. Forests covered them densely with seas of green. Winds moaned through them. Rains poured down upon them from clouds which swirled round the peaks ... torrents raged through their giant rifts and foamed among grey stones.

The only way across the Owen Stanleys was by a jungle pathway known as the Kokoda Track. From 22 July until 16 November 1942 Australian soldiers fought with grim determination first to keep the advancing Japanese from reaching Port Moresby, then to push the retreating enemy troops back over the range to their north coast strongholds at Buna, Gona and Sanananda.

In late July, as the Japanese advanced towards Kokoda village, they were engaged by forward elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the Australian 39th Battalion. Despite stubborn resistance, Kokoda fell and by 27 August Australian units had withdrawn over the mountains to Isurava. Here the Japanese were temporarily held during an intense five day action involving the 2/14th and 39th Battalions, with support from the 2/16th and 53rd Battalions. At Isurava on 29 August, Private Bruce Kingsbury, 2/14th Battalion, was killed as he rushed forward with his Bren gun, driving back the enemy in a determined counter-attack. Kingsbury was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, the first VC awarded during the New Guinea campaigns.

Through September, as Australian units withdrew down the Kokoda Track, further stands against the Japanese were made at Eora Creek, Templeton's Crossing, Efogi, Mission Ridge and Ioribaiwa. During those gruelling days, great fortitude and personal endurance was shown by the walking wounded and by Papua New Guinean stretcher bearers and supply carriers.

On 16 September, as his men dug in on a defensive position at Imita Ridge, within sight of Port Moresby, Major General A S Allen, the commanding officer of the 7th Division, AIF, informed his senior commanders that 'any further withdrawal is out of the question'. By this time, however, the Japanese were exhausted and, following setbacks on other battlefields, they were ordered to withdraw. As Australian patrols pushed forward of Imita Ridge on 28 September, they found that the enemy had slipped away.

For the next six weeks the Japanese moved back over the mountains, closely pushed by men of the 6th and 7th Divisions and the 3rd Militia Battalion. Significant actions were fought at Templeton's Crossing and Eora

Creek. On 2 November Kokoda was retaken and by 18 November the Japanese had withdrawn across the Kumusi River. The Kokoda Track campaign, in which 625 Australians had been killed and 1,680 wounded, was over.

Media Contact: Rachael Thompson (02) 6277 7820 or 0417 265 289


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