The Kokoda Track
In February 1942, Singapore fell to the Imperial Japanese Army with British, Australian and other allied forces suffering heavy losses. The Japanese then continued their southward thrust, seizing Rabaul and the island of New Britain.
Then in July 1942, the Japanese made a surprise landing at Buna on the northern coast of the Papua New Guinea mainland. The time for Allied forces to react was limited.
The under-prepared and inexperienced Australian troops of the 39th Battalion and the Papuan Infantry Battalion, grouped as Maroubra Force, advanced north from Port Moresby along a very steep and muddy walking track across the Owen Stanley mountain range to secure the village of Kokoda and block the Japanese thrust south.
However, the superior Japanese force advance from Buna proved difficult to stop, and the meagre Australian units were, at first, reduced to conducting a fighting withdrawal along the narrow, Kokoda Track back towards Port Moresby.
These operations were characterised by the extensive use of ambushes and numerous acts of heroism in extremely difficult terrain and very wet conditions. Many local Papuans provided valuable assistance to the Australian forces. Over a period of two months, the 39th Battalion, joined by the 53rd and 2/14th battalions, forced heavy losses on the Japanese. At the turning point, Japanese troops could see both Port Moresby and the ocean beyond. However, by that stage they had been fought to an exhausted halt.
Then the Australians counter-attacked and the tide turned. The resistance offered by the severely weakened and over-stretched Japanese force prolonged the advance back to Kokoda and beyond. The campaign was fought bitterly and with heavy losses on both sides. Ultimately, however, the Australian forces prevailed. This campaign, together with that on the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea at Milne Bay, resulted in the first defeats of Japanese land forces in the Second World War.
For Australia, this campaign produced a new generation of heroes cast in the Anzac tradition, and bestowed upon the nation a battle honour that still evokes powerful emotions: victory along the Kokoda Track (officially named as the Kokoda Trail in 1972, but still known as the Kokoda Track).
The Kokoda campaign was one of the most critical and most difficult of the Pacific War. Hence, when the initiative was mooted to launch a not-for-profit research corporation that would focus on the most important and demanding security challenges facing Australia, it was considered appropriate to call the new entity, the Kokoda Foundation.
Special thanks to the Kokoda Track Foundation and others for the use of Kokoda photographs and associated images.