Seventy-nine years ago on the 2nd of November, 1942, the village and aerodrome of Kokoda in the Owen Stanley mountains of Papua, was re-entered by Australian soldiers.
What follows is not a campaign narrative – there are plenty of those already in existence – but a small collection of related and lesser-known facts. All have been sourced from primary documents, and references for specific pieces of information can be provided on request.
The first substantial information of Japanese interest in a land route to Port Moresby after their attempt to occupy the latter was temporarily thwarted in the Battle of the Coral Sea, came from signals intercepts. On the 18th of May, 1942 Japanese Naval Intelligence Division in Tokyo sent the following to their 8th Naval Base Force at Rabaul:
“Enemy air strength in the Australia area at present will make it impossible to keep Moresby supplied by the sea route between Rabaul and Moresby after the latter is occupied… although all preparations for the occupation are complete we consider it necessary to begin the construction of a land route to Moresby from Lae [in the Huon Gulf, New Guinea, which the Japanese had occupied on the 8th of March, along with its southern neighbour, Salamaua]. Request we be informed immediately as to the feasibility of this based on your investigations, and what you will require in the way of labour.”
8th Base Force, Rabaul, replied on the 27th of May: “Following obtained with the aid of 106th Air. For information on the Mambore-Yoruda road see our [message] No 79 which was based on conversations with natives. This road begins in Mambore and – river valley and Tama (Loma), Yodda, and Kokoda, skirting Mount Service to the south and passing over a range of mountains about 2300 metres in height (this section is now being studied) then passes through Laloki River area (which is an extension of Brown River) and thence to Moresby. 40 years ago road was built in order to haul out ore from the mines at Yodda – – – – 8 to 10 days. There is no other road running across the island. Although this would be a difficult route for a campaign we are studying the possibility.”
General Douglas MacArthur’s GHQ messaged the following to the Senior Air Staff Officer [then still General Brett] on the 7th July, 1942: “Recent reports indicate renewed interest of the Japanese in the Mambare River route: i.e. Ioma-Kokoda, New Guinea …It is requested that aerial reconnaissance be made of the Kokoda area, particularly routes therefrom to the northeastward. Information is requested as to the practicability of landing aircraft on the Kokoda field. Can a trial landing be made?”
Little more than one week later, an operation code named ‘Providence’ by the Allies was planned to send a small force both overland and shore-to-shore to the Buna area on the northern coast of Papua – chiefly to develop a forward airfield. The advanced party for Providence, however, consisted only of one Australian infantry battalion – the 39th, then in Port Moresby – and a small party of U.S. engineers. Greater resources were then being husbanded for another operation code-named ‘Fall River,’ which was the building and defence of airstrips on the western shores of Milne Bay. For reasons unknown, on the 17th of July, the launching date for ‘Providence,’ which was to have been between the 3rd and 5th of August, was postponed for seven days. Four days after the initial Japanese beachheads were established on the 22nd of July, Operation Providence was cancelled.
Major Toyofuku, Tetsuo, Intelligence Officer, Nankai Shitai Headquarters: “At a conference of senior officers held at Nankai Shitai Headquarters prior to the landings in New Guinea, Staff Officer Tanaka had stated that commanders holding appointments above that of company commander would be authorised to dispose of prisoners, other than those classed as important who would be sent to Nankai Shitai Headquarters and ultimately sent to Japan. From Tanaka’s remarks I believe the unit commanders [later, during the campaign] considered they had authority to execute prisoners and acted accordingly. Major-General Horii was present at this conference but made no utterance following Tanaka’s remarks. He only laughed.”
It is possible that the earliest Allied casualty of the Japanese occupation of the Papuan Beachheads was a Constable Tembora, of the New Guinea Police Force, who died on the 22nd of July at the Basera Rest House near Buna. While no details surrounding Tembora’s death are available, the Japanese were certainly present at Buna on that day from the early hours.”
Similarly, Constable Osovi-Nagasu of the Royal Papuan Constabulary, is recorded as having died on the 25th of July in or near Sanananda Village, Buna area.
The Japanese vanguard lost no time in pushing towards Kokoda. While the PIB (Papuan Infantry Battalion) were the first to exchange fire with the Japanese, the most forward AMF unit was “B” Company of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion, under the command of Captain Sam Templeton. Templeton “became missing in the afternoon of 26 Jul 42 near Oivi Village, Papua [east of Kokoda].” Later, an extract from a captured Japanese diary, the owner possibly a 2nd Lieutenant Onagawa, stated that Capt. Templeton was one of two Australians taken prisoner at that time.” No trace of him was ever found, despite extensive post-war interrogations.
Sgt. R.S. Rosengreen of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion, later recalled his last memory of VX68190 Pte. C.R. Winch, of the same unit: “At the end of July or the beginning of August our Platoon was in position in the village of Deniki. The Japs attacked us and mortared us very heavily. Winch had big holes blown in both his legs and also small holes in his back. We carried him back about 200 yards and dressed his wounds. He was then carried back to the R.A.P. [Regimental Aid Post] but the Japs cut us off behind with machine guns and we were forced to leave him behind. He was in a very bad way when I last saw him and I think it was unlikely he would live without medical aid. I doubt if he would have been taken prisoner.”
In the absence of a quantity of accurate information from the field, the Allied high command remained cautious, as an extract from the Advanced Headquarters, Allied Land Forces Weekly Intelligence Summary No.1, of the 7th of August, 1942, reveals: “… it would appear that the enemy intends establishing a series of outposts, forming a protective screen, around the North Eastern Section of Papua thus covering their bases in Buna-Gona areas against Allied land attacks … Yodda, as well as Kokoda, is now being used as a landing ground by the enemy for N.G. operations. (These could serve as useful A.O.B.’s [Advanced Operational [Air] Bases] for operations against Port Moresby.”
Corporal. R.C. Baxter, of the 39th Aust Inf Bn, later told of one of his experiences during this early period: “We held the bridge until ordered to withdraw to Kokoda plateau where the balance of A Coy were in position. We reached them about 1630 hrs … On 9 Aug 42 about 1100 hrs the Japs attacked and we held them until about 1830 hrs on 10 Aug. I was in a shallow trench with Norm. Watkins. I was operating the Bren Gun when Norm asked for it as he could see some Japs firing discharger cups [grenades] or something similar approximately 20 to 30 yards away. He fired on them and almost immediately fell backwards in the trench. As only his head was visible, I am practically certain he was hit in the head, probably by small arms fire …By this time it was very dark, and I didn’t have time to examine Norm before the Japs closed in on the Pit. I did not see him again after that.” Watkins’ body was never recovered.
Yanagiba, Yutaka: “Following the retreat of the Australian forces [from Kokoda itself], supplies of food and ammunition were dropped from Allied aircraft with the aid of parachutes. The Japanese soldiers were at first frightened because of their fear of a parachute landing. I heard that one of the [Australian] prisoners was told “how foolish for these airmen to be dropping supplies to the Japanese forces.” The prisoner replied that it was a good will gesture to the Japanese forces for dropping at Port Moresby some letters from Australian prisoners at Rabaul.”
According to Major Toyofuku, Tetsuo, mentioned above: “… about 20 Aug 42 – near Isurava, an Australian Captain who had been injured in the thigh by a fall, was captured in front of a large wood house – possibly a church – and was interrogated by Lt-Col Tsukamoto [a battalion commander] and himself (Toyofuku). After a simple interrogation the prisoner was executed by rifle fire and buried in a nearby trench.
About four days later, on the 24th of August, 1942, an unnamed Australian soldier, thought to have been a private, was captured “about a mile east of Kokoda,” was interrogated by Toyofuku and Staff Officer Tanaka, and then executed immediately.
Major Toyofuku was wounded near Isurava on the 30th of August, 1942 “and evacuated to the Nankai Shitai Field Hospital at Kokoda, and later, on 3 Nov, embarked as a stretcher case for evacuation to Rabaul.” Toyofuku survived the war.
VX23480 Pte. Herbert Frederick Paxford, 35 years of age, born in Shropshire, England, was wounded in at least one arm at or near Isurava. Like other ‘walking’ wounded, he made his way back along the track, reaching the second ridge south of Efogi, where he built himself a small shelter just off the track, and died there. Though buried sometime later by a Padre – identified only by a name written on his shorts – his grave was never relocated.
Gradually, several experienced A.I.F. infantry battalions came forward to assist the beleaguered 39th. One of them was the 2/14th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel A. E. Key. Key, however, along with six of his men, “became missing from a position about 800 yards south of Isurava, Papua during the late afternoon of 30 Aug 42.”
Private George Joseph Cudmore, of the 39th Bn. described his last memory of a fellow soldier, V44440 Private A.A. Daniels: “When the battalion was withdrawing in August, 1942, during an attack about halfway between Isuavi [Isurava?] and Euri [Eora?] Creek, we took up a position near the main track in thick growth where we came under severe rifle and machine gun fire. I was between 10 and 15 yds. from Daniels when he was wounded. I saw him last lying face downward, with both hands to his face, and his knees drawn up under his body. He showed no movement and gave no sound.” Daniels’ body was never recovered.
According to a Japanese 1st Lieutenant veterinarian with the Nankai Shitai Headquarters, there were 980 horses transported from Rabaul to Basabua (between Gona and Sanananda) “but they were of no use beyond Kokoda and through lack of suitable fodder most died but many were killed for food. Fodder for 20 days only was taken for the landing.”
Okada, Seizo, was with the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. He and a team of 9 members arrived at Buna on the 13th of Aug ’42, and embarked for Rabaul again sometime in the last ten days of Oct ’42. The voyage took 3 days. Years later, Okada recalled: “On a peak, probably near Kagi, we saw a young Australian soldier lying on the ground with his knees covered by a blanket as he was probably wounded in the legs. He was looking up at us with cool and calm eyes as we hurriedly moved along the track. This was the first Australian soldier we had seen in New Guinea. About two days later I heard from an orderly attached to Nankai Shitai Headquarters that this young Australian soldier had been executed by shooting. According to the rumours widely circulated among the Japanese soldiers at this time, he was told to stand on the edge of a cliff and when a Japanese soldier was going to blindfold him he shouted, “It’s unnecessary” and kept his eyes open even at the moment of shooting. This was an unforgettably tragic story.”
WX11085 Lt. Donald Andrew Paterson, 2/16th Aust Inf Bn was Killed in Action on the 2nd of Sept ’42: “KIA just north of Eora Creek village. Body was seen to fall into Eora Creek from cliff. It was not recovered.”
WX12332 Pte. Albert George Thomas Osborn, 2/16th Aust Inf Bn, was last seen alive on the 9th of September, 1942, walking through the village of Menari with a head wound. His body was never found. He was 27 years old, from Victoria Park in Western Australia.
Lt. Col. Key and three other unidentified Australians were captured on the 10th of Sept ’42.
The diary of a 2nd Lt. Hirano of Tsukamoto Regiment, recorded that the party was captured by Superior Private “Doi and five others captured Lt. Col. K and four others. Though questioned, the prisoners stubbornly refused to speak. Tied them securely for the night and decided to send them to the Battalion Commander tomorrow morning.”
Superior Private Doi later died in Rabaul.
One Japanese Kempei Corporal, Inazawa, later described Lt. Col. Key as “very weary, due to malaria, malnutrition and loose bowels.” Lt. Col. Key allegedly gave one of his identification discs to the corporal, to be forwarded to his wife in Australia. (The disc was given to another Japanese, Pte. Yoshimine, who is thought to have later been killed).
Major Toyofuku, who we have already met, stated in a post-war interrogation that Key – though he was then unaware of his name, was “subsequently severely dealt with during interrogation by Staff Officer Tanaka,” though it is uncertain if Toyofuku witnessed the beating personally.”
Other Japanese, including Medical Warrant Officer with the Nankai Shitai, Okada, Shigeaki, recalled seeing Lt. Col. Key with two other Australians between Menari and Ioribaiwa.
The fate of those captured with Key is unknown, though it is likely they were murdered soon after capture. Key himself was escorted back to the beachhead, and on one of the first few days of November, evacuated to Rabaul on the last of two Japanese Army transports.
Newspaperman Okada, Seizo again: “On the morning of our arrival at Rabaul I unexpectedly happened to meet up on deck the Lieutenant-Colonel [Key] whom I had seen previously in the mountains of New Guinea. He was very weak and emaciated at this time and was in a half lying position with blankets on his knees. … He recognized me too, and I spoke to him only for a few minutes. Viewing the harbour from the deck he asked me “Where am I now?” When I told him it was Rabaul, he said “Oh, Rabaul,” and nodded faintly. Mentioning a silver cross which was handing [sic; hanging] from his neck, he said “This is the memory of my wife” and showed me the back of the cross on which his wife’s name was engraved. It made me think of my own wife and children and I was moved by a heavy feeling mingled with heartfelt sympathy for the Lieutenant-Colonel at this time. The bearing of the Lieutenant-Colonel was to me extremely splendid, he maintained the dignity of and calmness of a cultured Briton both up in the mountains and aboard the ship.”
Back in Papua, on the 14th of September, the fresh 2/31st Australian Infantry Battalion entered the battle. An extract from their war diary of the same date: “We had barely cleared the 2/16 Aust Inf Bn along the track on the ridge running NW from Ioribaiwa when the Jap opened fire on the leading elements of D Coy… At this point it may be mentioned that the ridge was on the average 20 yds wide at the top, and at some points it had bottle-necks five yards wide. So that an extremely narrow field of advance was possible. B and A Coys [of the same battalion, the 2/31st] tried flanking movements, but the steep sides of the ridge and the presence of well camouflaged snipers in the treetops prevented any more advance than the bottom of the ridge. To add to the difficulties of the initial entry [of the battalion] into this campaign, rain began to fall in torrents.”
On the 3rd of October, at or in the vicinity of Ioribaiwa, First Class Private Yamamoto, Taro, born in Tojima, Kitawa Gun, Ehime Ken, on the 1st of December, 1920, was captured. Yamamoto had been a silk work artist prior to the war, and had served 13 months in the army. He survived his captivity in Australia – many of his fellow prisoners perished at Cowra – and was repatriated to Japan in early 1946.
Also captured on the same day, but approximately 1 ½ hours north of Menari, was Private First Class Ikeda, Masuyoshi. Born in 1906, Ikeda died 13 days after capture in the 2/9th Australian General Hospital in Port Moresby, of Malaria M.T., “Subphrenic Abscess, General Peritonitis.”
When companies of the 2/31st Bn entered Kokoda on the 2nd of November, 1942, an emaciated Rabaul native explained that the area had been evacuated several days previously.
This was not the end of the campaign, however, for the Australians pushed hard after the withdrawing Japanese, and in the Oivi-Gorari area between Kokoda and the coast, trapped and killed a great number of them.
Private First Class Igawe, Takiwo, 2 Platoon, 1 Coy, 1 Bn, Kusonose Butai [presumably 144 Regiment], was captured at Papaki on the 13th of November. Born on the 1st of May, 1920, in Ukiana-Mura, Onsen-Gun, Ehime-Ken, Shikoku, Igawe had been a clothing salesman in civilian life. An interesting notation on his record stated: “To be kept in separate cell please.” Diagnosed with malaria after capture, also “Both feet bad – bad boots,” Igawe survived captivity and was repatriated to Japan in 1946.
Some who had survived the torturous fight over the Owen Stanleys, perished in the Gona-Sanananda-Buna Papuan Beachheads campaign that followed.
The 30th Australian Infantry Brigade, for example, sustained 111 men missing “as a result of action early in Dec ’42 along Sanananda Road. Burial parties could not reach the area until five weeks later, when in most cases bodies were unrecognisable.”
NX91222, Private Herbert Edward Miller, of the 2/6th Australian Independent Company, after serving in Papua, disappeared without trace from the transport ship taking his company home to Australia on the 3rd of March, 1943.
Note from author: I have attached a lengthy post about a military history topic which might not interest too many Cats. I have not included the references because I do not want anyone plagiarizing my many hours of research, however they exist and can be produced on request. As stated at the top of the article, all information has been sourced from primary documents. In other words, I have not used anything from in-print secondary sources (recent authors).
The AWM has many photographs, most of which are now out of copyright and could be used with the usual acknowledgement: Advanced Search | Australian War Memorial
57 thoughts on “Guest Post: Muddy – A Village Somewhere, Kokoda”
Thanks Muddy. Great read.
A very interesting read, Muddy. My mother was a WRAAF Sergeant stationed in Brisbane and attached to both US intelligence and RAAF units. She had nothing good to say about the Japanese right to the end of her life. She refused to have anything in the house that had been made in Japan.
This was a result of transcribing and collating the interrogation documents of captured Japanese prisoners and statements from Australian soldiers who witnessed Japanese atrocities. It was beyond brutal.
Read all the way through, good read. My maternal grandfather fought along Kokoda after being rushed back from North Africa with the rest of his division.
Thank you Muddy,
So much actual history that is rarely seen.
Sorry to hear it, Megs. My ol’ man served as a surgeon in a frontline field hospital in PNG from mid ’43 onwards (after he’d done his seven years at Sydney University and various teaching hospitals).
He had a great respect for the japs. We could never understand why. Although I suspected why.
Discipline, attention to detail, not hanging around resting on your (non existent) laurels. Incessant hard work.
Virtues – they held the same ones he did.
Virtues which came into their own after that monstrous conflict had ended.
Walking the Kokada Track under the tutelage of former Australian Army Major Charlie Lynn is one of the most valuable things I have done in my life. It was one of the hardest things I have ever one, but I learned so much about real heroism and the price of the freedom that, until two years ago, we took for granted.
The assault on our freedoms now underway is an assault by our national enemies on what our fathers fought for in World War II. Only a tiny minority of Australians understand that. Our politicians are the enemy; they’re all in with WWII’s losers.
I knew a number of men that fought on the track . All dead now. I doubt we’ll see their like again.
The fix is in.
Ray! Hadley! and the Guardianistas, eroticising a police state to compensate for their lack point & purpose in life and sickening physical health.
Sorry, wrong thread, yet sadly, kind of relevant.
Very good thoughts Tom. My dad was a signal-man in Morotai. One of his jobs at war’s end was to send messages from surviving POW’s to the families in Australia. I think he was very proud of that. Still knew his Morse Code sixty years after the War.
I found it interesting how the japanese prisoners details were given. It was described as town, area, prefecture.
I’ve been to some of those places.
My home would be written as Arima Onsen, Kobe shi, Kobe Cho, Hyogo
Indeed Rabz, my Dad didn’t hold any grudges either. Thought their car manufacturing was pretty good once they got going. He arrived back in Australia from El Alamein and found himself very quickly fighting in PNG after spending time on the Atherton Tablelands prepping for the rigours of the jungle.
Superb Muddy. It fits in hand-in-glove with what I’ve been reading, which is the Malaya campaign of the 8th Division.
Here’s an excerpt (see p 166-7) I read last night:
The Allies in Malaya and Singapore were shocked at how superbly trained the Japanese were for jungle warfare. The Japs went through three Indian divisions like they weren’t there. It’s a tribute to the Australians that they so rapidly gained the ability to not only do jungle warfare but to counter the honed Japanese tactics well enough to hold them short of Port Moresby. It’s a real tribute to the CMF guys of the 14th Brigade especially. Bless ’em all.
I’m not up to the Kokoda account in the official war history yet. That’s the next volume in my to-read pile.
Little vignettes from a great campaign which was itself tiny yet hugely significant in the broader picture.
And hard men. Hard, hard men.
I really appreciate the details that you provided of the men that served.
I worked on a construction project in PNG in Port Moresby. It’s hard to appreciate the rain, heat and mud of PNG unless you’ve been there and even then it is hard to appreciate what they went through because you get a shower and an air conditioned room at the end of the day.
During the UXO clearance of the site we found rows of pickets, clearly from a row of tents and a couple of bags of .303 ammunition, also lots of old bottles. Just off the edge of the site there was a lot of old asbestos and concrete slab. I did some research at the time and it could have been the location of a watering hole called the “Melbourne Hotel”, despite the proximity to Jackson’s Airport, the UXO team didn’t believe there were any bomb craters on the site.
Dawn Service at Bomana Cemetery is incredibly moving, what makes it particularly special is the huge number of Papua New Guineans that attend, some getting up at 2 or 3 am so the can walk to the service.
Interesting post, Muddy. Thank you.
My one time father in law was a prisoner of war of the Japanese. It was 1984 before he would buy a Japanese made car.
My maternal Grandfather – Basil Morris – was GOC 8MD (PNG) at the time that the 39th was ordered into the Owen Stanley Ranges.
He was very well aware of the nature of the terrain and the difficulty of supplying troops in that area of operations, protesting to the Australian HQ in Melbourne that those troops would be in danger of starvation…. For this, he was criticised as “lacking initiative” by senior officers whose appreciation of the situation was entirely unrealistic.
Bear in mind that some of the troops allocated to that command were rated as the least prepared in the Australian Army, their air transport was close to non-existent and supplying troop by air-drops on a large scale was still very much an undeveloped concept.
If his judgement and actions at the time need validation, they can be found in a personal, hand-written note from Rowell to Morris after Rowell’s appointment to the New Guinea theatre. No-one was better placed to judge Morris’ work than the man who took over from him and Rowell, whose reputation for rigid integrity was well established, thanked him warmly for “a job well done, under difficult circumstances and with inadequate resources”.
Any analysis should keep in mind the current “lessons learned” from experiences in other theatres.
– From Malaya, that the Japanese could not be stopped by defending roads or choke-points (as some in High Command imagined the Kokoda Gap to be.)
– From North Africa, that the forces with the superior supply lines had a very large advantage.
– From Tobruk, that a highly manoeuvrable enemy could be defeated by a solid defence-in-depth.
One of the better reads on the subject may well be the first book written , other than the official histories. It is “Retreat From Kokoda”, by Raymond Paul, and has the advantage (for us) of being written at a time when many of those involved were still alive.
I’ve long believed Basil Morris the subject of much ill informed criticism by those with no idea of the actual theater and conditions.
My grandfather was just home from the Middle East when Kokoda happened. He later did a number of landings in Borneo. Dopey remote chance your dad rubbed shoulders with my grandfather at Morotai.
My other Grandfather was also redeployed from the middle east to South Australia then later to Port Moresby at the same time. He stayed in New Guinea till late 1944 where his medical issues came to head and they shipped him home.
The old man, a chocolate box soldier (militia) who had been there and done that, used to spend a few weeks each year with me in the North and I would put him on board the freighter I drove and take him walkabout in the air all over. Took him on a trip to Momote once (Manus) and diverted a bit to allow him to see Kokoda from the air and remarked, “there you go Dad, a clearer view and no mud you blokes endured.” The tears ran down the poor bastards face. He and his mates would have an in depth discussion with mr morrison and that nice Mr. Andrews et al, and so too my great Uncle in the 4tht LH from what they did 104 years ago tomorrow at Beersheba.
Only been to the start of the Kokoda Trail In New Guinea in 70s – B’Tough Territory
But fond memories in the 60s in the Army, firing the Owen SubMachine Gun
Slight climb to the right when firing, and easy to strip and reassemble, even after being submerged in Mud
IIRC, it was a book in the Army Campaign Series, To Kokoda by Nicholas Anderson, that mentioned that more than 100 Australians were captured during the retreat. None survived the experience.
He was also “on the wrong side” of Australian army politics.
You’ll be aware how Blamey played that game and how those who didn’t make him look good, tended to get sidelined. Ditto regarding how B. responded to pressure from MacArthur
Yes… I’m biased, but I’m also convinced that a number of modern “histories” have been written by people more concerned with their favoured narrative and making sales, than historical accuracy.
Old Aussie….Went to national war memorial in Canberra…there was an Owen on display but no signage or acknowledgement of the gun and it’s significance , which seemed quite a shame I thought
How many of the present generation would know anything of the Kokoda campaign?
The cream of Australia’s youth was sacrificed in the meatgrinders of the 20th Century World Wars.
Every city, small town and village in Australia has monuments to our war dead, often multiple members of the same families inscribed on the cenotaphs.
We lost our best and brightest back then, along with our future and our potential and replaced them with carpetbaggers, chancers and the dregs of the Third World.
Poor fella, my country, indeed.
One family in the Wheatbelt – six sons. Five enlisted, one stayed home to care for their parents..Four of them were killed, and the fifth wounded….
Glad to see you back, Botswana. Haven’t seen your ugly mug, around the traps for some time..
Great stories Muddy, thank you very much.
Z K 2 Alpha
Banned from farcebook and other sites mate, Murdoch press drifted too far left and won’t publish an opposing view so that defeats the purpose of having a comments section. The original Catallaxy files, this one, and MM do mostly allow opposing comments and are the last bastions for the conservatives left in this sorry country.
Also a stark reminder about how a,Labor Government treats the troops.
My grandfather was Herbert Kienzle who owned “Mamba” in Yodda Valley/Kokada. He was enlisted to gather as many villagers as he could and build a road from his house to Morseby. When he was told of his mission he replied. “I have heard of Superman but I have yet to see him in action!”
6’3, strong, intelligent and could speak about 12 different dialects. He despised “Pidgin English”.
He guided Templeton and B Company with 140 “angels” on the 8th July 1942 for the first “war crossing”. He would walk it again about another 20 times during the war.
I walked a couple of Km’s with him through the rubber plantation as a child and I can still recall the tone of his voice as he reminisced. Anguish and anger sprinkled with some dark humor.
My great-uncle was in a signals tent when he was hit and killed by a mortar outside of Buna just after the Japs landed.
Thanks Muddy, history is always more interesting when viewed from a different perspective.
October 30, 2021 at 9:12 pm
My maternal Grandfather – Basil Morris – was GOC 8MD (PNG) at the time that the 39th was ordered into the Owen Stanley Ranges.
Thanks for that, PeterW. I’ve done a lot of reading over several decades, mostly primary documents, and not just about the ‘headline’ events, and I concur in your opinion that Gen. Morris (and later, Rowell and others) was unjustly criticised. Morris did a solid and now largely unheralded job in commanding ANGAU for the remainder of the war. (The story of ANGAU, by the way, while slightly ‘dry’ compared to the cacophony of battle, is a fascinating one).
I have some strong opinions about several of the big personalities, but I won’t express them here and digress the main focus of the post, which comes down to the individuals who didn’t survive.
October 31, 2021 at 10:43 am
My grandfather was Herbert Kienzle who owned “Mamba” in Yodda Valley/Kokada.
Thanks, backburn. I have certainly read about your grandfather. He, Doc Vernon, and a handful of others were instrumental in supporting the campaign over the Owen Stanleys.
My great-uncle was in a signals tent when he was hit and killed by a mortar outside of Buna just after the Japs landed.
Are we talking about the beginning of the fourth week of July ’42? Can you tell us your great-Uncle’s name please?
My specific area of interest is the 51st Japanese Infantry Division which was raised in the Utsunomiya (14th) District of the Eastern Army Administrative District. The Utsunomiya Divisional District joined the northern boundary of the Tokyo Divisional District. The three regimental districts within the Utsunomiya District were Mito, Utsunomiya, and Maebashi. The three infantry regiments raised therein were the 66th, 102nd, and 115th. They did NOT serve at or near Kokoda, but at Salamaua, New Guinea, in 1943.
If you ever stumble across mention of the 51st Div in Japan, Carpe, I would VERY keen to hear of it. Given the time that has passed, it is unlikely any veterans would remain, but I thought I would plant the seed in your mind, just in case.
Appreciated….. and yes, I understand.
Geez small world. Also have an Uncle who was rushed back from the Midde East to PNG.
Poor bugger was killed near a village named Bum Bum.
Family history has it he deliberately triggered an ambush and was very severely wounded. Asked his own blokes to finish him off.
Reburied about 5 times before he was finally laid to rest.
Thanks Muddy. Fabulous post. Worked in PNG for a few years. Just before I left in 2019 the locals found a Japanese field gun dug in to the side of a hill near Kokoda with a stock of ammunition. How they got it up there I’ll never know. It’s the worst country in the world bar none, for fighting a military campaign. The tunnels around Rabaul/Kokopo and Yamamoto’s HQ are well worth a visit if you get a chance.
For those that may be interested in a Japanese perspective, The Path of Infinite Sorrow is not a bad book and the The Bone Man of Kokoda is really interesting. (Still a couple of copies left on Amazon). It’s the story of Kokichi Nishimura. He was the only man from his company to survive the campaign. After the war, he did pretty well, then in 1979 he gave the keys to his business to his wife and returned to New Guinea to search for the remains of Japanese soldiers. For the next 25 years on his own, Nishimura found hundreds of them – some he was able to identify and return their bones to their families; others were unknown, and their remains were sent to Japan’s official shrine for its war dead in Tokyo. In 2005 he was in his mid-eighties and seriously ill, and went back to Japan.
Not Butibum, Mole?
Was he killed in Sept ’43?
Any idea of his unit?
Yes, I’ve read both of those, GoTiges. Nishimura personifies the word ‘dedication.’ What a humbling story.
Sadly those two words will be ejected from the dictionary soon.
Reading back through the post, it seems as though I managed during the editing process to accidentally leave out the fate of Lt. Col. Key, C.O. of the 2/14th Aust. Inf. Bn.
Within a day or two of disembarking in Rabaul (the most important Japanese base in the region), Key died, presumably from a combination of illness (untreated malaria at least) and malnutrition. His body has never been found.
John Arthur Metson, who crawled for three weeks on hands and knees through the jungle.
That, my friends, is a photo of a MAN.
2/16th, early October 43.
After speaking with my parents and family, I realized I have got the dates (a year after) and places wrong (Lae not Buna). Sorry.
My great-uncle was Geoffrey John Moloney – 2/3rd Pinoeer Battlion (NX56778)
2/16 Aust Inf Bn war diary, 3 Oct, ’43, Gusap River (Ramu Valley area):
2000 [hours]. Lieut Bremmer returned on stretcher. Reports that on nearing NAMAPUT patrol saw one native who ran back towards the village. Patrol then deployed with 1 sec on each side of ck. and moved fwd. They were fired on and Pte Hunter was killed. Two Bren guns gave supporting fire from right while 2 other secs attacked. Attack was successful. Tps involved remarked that the show went off like a training exercise. Tps firing rifles and Brens from the hip. Enemy casualties 2 offrs, 12 O.R.s killed. Own casualties 1 KIA, 1 DOW (L/Cpl Kelly) Lieut Bremner and Cpl Harris wounded.
Explanatory Note (apologies if you already know this):
For much of 1943, the Japanese had been trying to develop an alternative supply route for their most forward Lae-Salamaua bases from Madang on the far north coast. The coastal barge route was being hammered by Allied aircraft and (U.S.) P.T. Boats, so they began construction of an interior land route south from Bogadjim, via the Ramu Valley, connecting with the Markham Valley route, and thence into Lae from the west. It was an ambitious task beyond their resources, but had they succeeded, the course of the battle for the Huon Peninsula could have changed. At the time of the two-divisional Australian assault on Lae (4 & 5 Sept ’43), the Japanese had in fact sent a regimental-sized advance guard from their 20th Infantry Division (from Korea) along the route, with the intention of reinforcing Lae. The Australian 2/6th Australian Independent Company smashed into and knocked back this vanguard at Kaiapit, and elements of the 7th Aust Div. (and later the 5th Aust Div), pursued this vanguard to the west and then north, occupying Bogadjim and Madang on the north coast and thus cutting the land route of withdrawal for other Japanese who had opposed the Australian 9th Div on the Huon Peninsula.
I don’t intend to sound precocious, but many would be unaware that the war continued on mainland New Guinea after the fall of Lae and right until the deathknock. The men who died in those mountains and jungles deserve to be acknowledged, even though their campaigns did not stimulate as much interest as the so-called ‘turning point’ events.
November 1, 2021 at 11:24 am
Thanks backburn. Unfortunately, the war diaries of the pioneer battalions have not yet been digitised, so it’s difficult to provide the context.
Met a few of the men from 2/4 Inf that earned our honours, Wewak, Wirui Mission, Mount Shiburangu–Mount Tazaki in the Atapi Wewak campaign at an association event. While the unit history told some of the story, even deeper respect for them after we (some of the subalterns) got enough booze in them to reminisce.
The only information I can access from home is that your great-Uncle’s battalion was attached to the 20th Aust Inf Bde of the 9th Aust Div. as a mobile reserve on the 5th of Sept ’43. His personnel record initially states that he was KIA on the 6th, later adjusted to DoW. I cannot read in the 20th Bde war diary where an element of the 2/3rd Pioneers were in contact with the Japanese on that date. Given that your great-Uncle was first buried in a “Native Garden approx 400 yds from Buso” (Buso the village, and nearby river, was the location for Red Beach, the initial 9th Div. landing beach east of Lae), it may be that he was wounded in an enemy air raid on the beachhead while working there unloading or organising stores. He was a Trade Group II Signalman. There were bombs dropped on the beachhead the previous afternoon and evening, so it is possible he was wounded late on the 5th and perished from his wounds early the following morning before his wounds could be noted on paper in a casualty return. Of course, that’s just a guess on my part.
Here is a possibility I previously missed:
The Headquarters 9th Aust. Div. war diary for the 6th of Sept ’43 records the following:
If I can change my ‘guess’ from that previously stated, I’d edge toward the latter entry above as being a sound probability. Bombs were dropped in the same area later in the day, but the war diary records no damage or casualties incurred as a result.
Likewise – met a few of the old soldiers from 2/16 that earned that battalion’s battle honours.
November 1, 2021 at 11:35 am
Thanks, didnt have the details on the operation he was killed in.
Has the war museum changed their access to digital records lately?
Last time I looked they had his service record and a lot of digitized stuff including the mud map his crew made showing where hed been buried shortly after the battle.
Didnt seem to find it today.
If you click on the link in my 11.35 am response above, and download (PDF format) the 2/16th Bn war diary file for that month, in the last dozen or so pages of the file are the appendices, including maps of the area. One of the maps (p.80 I think) shows Namaput (and Bum Bum).
The closest photos you may see are of the Gusap River.
Thank you so much Muddy.
I have been searching and contacting relatives. The consensus so far seems to be he was wounded by aircraft fire near Red Beach.
He departed Cairns in August for Milne Bay.
There he is below the number “2”
I am quite disappointed in myself for not knowing more. That is going to change.
“Lest we forgot”
My pleasure, backburn. This is what I’m passionate about.
The importance of military history is not so much in the weapons, statistics and events, but the individuals who wielded, were a part of, and created, those secondary elements. Conflict shines a light on the best and worst of humanity, as a result of which we develop technologically, and either grow or decay in a social and moral sense. I would go so far as to claim that armed conflict highlights the value of what we possess, prompting us to defend it. Absent the fear of physical threats and violence, we metaphorically let our posture and external awareness slump; take for granted that nothing will ever change, therefore nothing needs defending. And here we are. Slumped.