In May 1942, Japans intentions of a sea borne invasion of Port Moresby were thwarted in the battle of the Coral Sea. Their focus then fell upon capturing this strategic port by land invasion. To hold Port Moresby was vital to the Australians as a Japanese air base there would threaten northern Australia and further advance Japanese expansion throughout the Pacific region.
When word came back to Australia of the massacre of 150 Australian diggers taken prisoner at the fall of Rabaul, north of Papua New Guinea, it was realised that the looming battle on the Owen Stanley Ranges with the Japanese would be one where no mercy would be shown. General Tomitaro Horii’s South Seas Detachment were Japans best troops, well trained, well equipped, battle hardened and well adapted to jungle warfare. With their Bushido beliefs they were a fanatical adversary, preferring death to defeat. They were a force 10,000 strong.
With the Australian Army speeding back from Africa to meet the Japanese advance the Australian government deployed its militia to Papua New Guinea. The 39th militia battalion from Victorian along with the 53rd battalion from NSW, were ill equipped and without any jungle fighting training or experience. The combined force of these two battalions was 1500 with many soldiers being aged under 20.
The terrain on the track is so dense and rugged, most of the fighting during the campaign was in close quarters and has been reported as some of the most ferocious fighting in all of WW2. It was during one of the bloodiest battles of the Kokoda Campaign, at Isurava, when the men of the 39th, thought all was lost. Their saviours arrived in the form of the men of the 2/14th battalion from the AIF. Stan and Harold ‘Butch’ Bisset were amongst these men. Fit, strong and battle hardened from their time in Africa, they seemed like gods to the men of the 39th. All these young Australian men refused to let their mates down. Out numbered six to one, malaria and dysentery running rampant, poorly equipped, a hierarchy at home who had no idea what they were facing and a fanatical enemy were not enough to break the Aussie spirit.
Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, local tribesmen, who had spent their lives up until this point worrying about nothing more than the welfare of their family and when their next harvest would be ripe for the taking, were thrust into this conflict. They brought many wounded Australian men back from the front line, working tirelessly. This war was none of their business, but still, they saved countless lives because they are beautiful people who during this time of madness loved their fellow man.
Join Kokoda Courage on the track and we will show you where and tell you how this band of young diggers stalled the advances of the Japanese against all odds until relief arrived in the form of the 2nd AIF. Come and see first hand where men like Bruce Kingsbury, Charlie McCallum and Breton Langridge gave up their lives with incredible acts of bravery so that their mates might live.