‘We are at war with Japan’.

Prime Minister John Curtin, Sydney Morning Herald, 1941

In 1933 Colonel Vernon Sturdee, director of military operations and intelligence at Army Headquarters, warned that Japan would pose the major threat to Australian security.

He predicted:

‘the Japanese would act quickly, they would all be regulars, fully trained and equipped for the operations, and fanatics who like dying in battle, whilst our troops would consist mainly of civilians, hastily thrown together on mobilisation, with very little training, short of artillery and possibly of gun ammunition.’

Our most eminent military historian, Professor David Horner, wrote a damning indictment of our political leadership in his book ‘Crisis of Command’.  According to Horner:

‘It is now generally agreed that the Australian defence policy between the wars and until the fall of Singapore was, at the best, naively optimistic, and at the worst, some might say, close to treason.’

The Japanese military were well prepared for their mission.  For generations their national psyche had been conditioned by the State religion, Shinto, which inculcated respect for the Emperor, the Head of the Japanese family, and respect for one’s ancestors.  All Japanese authorities – religious, educational, entertainment and the media – ceaselessly indoctrinated the population with the divinity of the Emperor and the divine nature of Japan’s expansionist role.  To die for the Emperor on the field of battle was the most noble of all sacrifices.

Fanatical Kamikaze suicide pilots were an outcome of this extreme indoctrination.

The Japanese were thus a brutal occupier of foreign lands. Their invasion and occupation of China in 1937 was an omen of things to come. Civilian massacres, beheadings, public hangings and mass rape were committed against the Chinese population in the name of the Emperor.  They did not subscribe to any conventions of war in their quest to expand their empire.

Despite this aggression Colonel Sturdee’s warning continued to go unheeded by Australia’s political leaders.

Our awakening came on the 7th December 1941 with Japan’s brazen attempt to sink the powerful United States Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu.

Australia’s political chooks had come home to roost.

Our gallant Australian Imperial Forces were engaged in Britain’s war against Nazi Germany in Europe, Africa and the Middle East and our Militia forces were stretched to the limit in meeting the demands of rapid mobilisation.  Our only hope for stemming the Japanese advance lay with the British fortress in Singapore and small outposts in the South West Pacific.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was quickly followed by invasions of the Philippines, Thailand, Burma and the Malayan Peninsula.  Their strategy was to create an Asia-Pacific Co-Prosperity Sphere which aimed to eliminate Australia by either capturing its industrial centres or isolating it as an effective base for United States forces. 

Only the Australian 8th Division, with two brigades in Malaya and one split between Ambon, Timor and Rabaul, stood as our frontline defence against any advance towards Australia.  History records they were soon overwhelmed by Japanese forces who quickly dispelled the myth surrounding the impregnability of the Singapore fortress.

The fall of Singapore which resulted in the capture of 20,000 of our troops sent shockwaves through the Australian community.  For the first time Australians experienced the fear of imminent invasion.  We faced the loss of our homes and our country and many turned to prayer as a last resort for their safety.  Prime Minister Curtin declared the ‘Battle for Australia’ had begun.

Four days later Darwin was bombed.  This was followed up with bombing raids across our northern cities from Port Headland and Broome to Townsville.  The Japanese navy sank ships off the East and West Coast.  Curtin paced the floor of his office every night wondering where the main attack would come from – via our northern cities, the West coast or the East coast.

A Japanese victory in the Battle of the Java Sea and Sunda Strait prepared the way for a successful invasion of the Dutch East Indies and landings on the north coast of New Guinea.

Although the South West Pacific was not the highest priority for America due to a secret agreement between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt to help Britain first, the forces allocated were sufficient to stall the Japanese offensive.

A Japanese invasion force steaming towards Port Moresby was thwarted in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 and defeated in the Battle of Midway the following month.  Japanese military planners were then forced to reconsider their plans of expansion and to concentrate their forces on consolidating the territory they had already captured.

These plans included an expansion of their positions in New Guinea with an advance across the Owen Stanley Ranges from the northern beach-heads at Buna and Gona.

The scene was set for a bitter campaign in some of the most formidable jungle terrain on the planet.  Heroic young Australians fighting with rifle, bayonet, grenade and fist slipped and slithered, panted, plodded, sweated, bled, sickened, dropped and died in a sodden and crinkled hell of mountain and jungle and swamp before they turned the tide and forced the Japanese to retreat from the last line of defence at Ioribaiwa Ridge before recapturing Kokoda on 2nd November 1942.

British Field Marshall and former Australian Governor General, Sir William Slim of Burma, later remarked that we should never forget that it was the Australians who finally broke the spell of invincibility of the Japanese with their victory at Milne Bay and on the Kokoda Trail.

The tide of the Pacific War had turned but many battles were to be fought at Salamaua, Lae, Wewak, Nadzab. the Huon Peninsula, the Finisterre Ranges and Guadalcanal before the Japanese finally surrendered at Wewak on 15th August 1945.

Lest We Forget

Recommended Reading:


Higher Command and the Kokoda Campaign
Professor David Horner

Command in New Guinea
Major General Steve Gower

John Curtin as war leader and Defence Minister
Professor David Horner

Another look at Macarthur and Curtin
Peter Edwards

Why the Japanese were in New Guinea
Dr Henry Frei (Tsukuba Women's University)

Japanese Army Operations in the South West Pacific Area
Translated by Steven Bullar

Milne Bay
Dr Peter Londey


The Kokoda Trail – A History
Stuart Hawthorne, Central Queensland University Press, 2003


Crisis of Command: Australian Generalship and the Japanese Threat, 1942-1943
D.M. Horner. Australian National University Press. 1978

High Command: Australian & Allied Strategy 1939-1945
D.M. Horner. Allen & Unwin. 1982

Inside the War Cabinet: Directing Australia’s War Effort 1939-45
David Horner. Allen & Unwin. 1996

Strategic Command
David Horner. Oxford University Press. 2005

The Great Betrayal

Australia’s Secret War’s Secret War: How unionists sabotaged our troops on
World War 11

Hal G.P. Colebatch, Quadrant Books, 2013

Commanders and Leaders

Blamey: The Biography of Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey
John Heatherington. F.W. Cheshire, Melbourne. 1954

The Commanders: Australian Military Leadership in the twentieth century
D.M. Horner. Allen & Unwin. 1984

General Vasey’s War
David Horner, Melbourne University Press, 1992

Blamey: The Commander in Chief
David Horner. Allen & Unwin. 1998

Warrior of Kokoda: A biography of Brigadier Arnold Potts
Bill Edgar. Allen & Unwin. 1999

The Odd Couple: Blamey and MacArthur at War
Jack Gallaway. University of Queensland Press. 2000

Desert Sand, Jungle Lands: A biography of Major-General Ken Eather
Steve Eather. Allen & Unwin. 2003

Kokoda Commander: A life of Major-General ‘Tubby’ Allen
Stuart Braga, Oxford University Press, 2004

Paul Cullen: Citizen and Soldier
Kevin Baker. Rosenberg. 2005

Ralph Honner: Kokoda Hero
Peter Brune. Allen & Unwin. 2007

The Architect of Kokoda: Bert Kienzle – the man who made the Kokoda Trail
Robyn Kienzle, Hachette Australia, 2011

Kokoda Secret: Ian Hutchison – Australian Hero
S.P. Ramage. Eora Press. 2014

The Kokoda Trail Campaign

Retreat from Kokoda: The Australian Campaign in New Guinea 1942
Raymond Paull. William Heinemann Australia. 1958

South-West Pacific Area - First Year: Kokoda to Wau
Dudley McCarthy. The Australian War Memorial. 1959

The South West Pacific 1941-45
Colonel E.G. Keogh M.B.E., E.D., Grayflowew Productions Melbourne, 1965

Blood & Iron: The Battle for Kokoda 1942
Lex McAulay, Hutchinson Australia, 1991

Kokoda to the Sea: A history of the 1942 campaign in Papua
Lt Col Frank Sublet DSO MC, Slouch Hat Publications, 2000

Paul Ham. HarperCollinsPublishers. 2004

To Kokoda
Nicholas Anderson. Army History Unit. 2014

Battalion Histories

2/14th Australian Infantry Batallion
W.B. Russell M.A., B. Ed. Angus and Robertson. 1948

A Thousand Men at War: A History of the 2/16th Australian Infantry Battalion
Malcolm Uren. Australian Military History Publications. 1959

War Dance: The history of the 2/3rd Australian Infantry Battalion
Ken Clift, P.M. Fowler and the 2/3rd Battalion Association. 1980

The 1st at War: The story of the 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion 1939-45 – The City of Sydney Regiment
The Association of First Infantry Battalion. Macarthur Press. 1987

To Kokoda and Beyond: The story of the 39th Battalion 1942-1943
Victor Austin. Melbourne University Press. 1988

Port Moresby to Gona Beach: 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion 1942
Colin Kennedy. The Practical Group, Canberra. 1992

Forever Forward: The History of the 2/31st Australian Battalion, 2nd AIF 1940-45
John Laffin. Australian Military History Publications. 1994

Men of Courage: A History of the 2/25th Australian Infantry Battalion, 1940-1945
Allan W. Draydon. 2/25th Battalion Association. 2000

All the Bull’s Men: No. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron)
Cyril Ayris. PK Print. 2006

The Purple Devils: A History of the 2/6 Australian Commando Squadron
Syd Trigellis-Smith. Australian Military History Publications. 2008

From a Japanese Perspective

The Brave Japanese
Kenneth Harrison. Horwitz Publications. 1966

From a Hostile Shore: Australian and Japan at War in New Guinea
Steven Bullard and Tamura Keiko. Australia-Japan Research Project. 2004

The Pacific War Papers: Japanese Documents of World War 11
Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. Potoma Books, Washington. 2006

Japanese Army Operations in the South Pacific Area: New Britain and Papua Campaigns, 1942-43
Translator, Steven Bullard. Australian War Memorial. 2007

The Path of Infinite Sorrow: Tha Japanese on the Kokoda Track
Craig Collie & Hajime Marutani. Allen and Unwin. 2009

Hirohito’s War: The Pacific War 1941-45
Francis Pike. Bloomsbury. 2015

From an American Perspective

The Riddle of Macarthur
John Gunther. Hamish Hamilton London. 1951

The First South Pacific Campaign: Pacific Fleet Strategy, December 1941-June 1942
John B. Lundstrom.Naval Insititute Press, Annapolis, Maryland. 1976

American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964
William Manchester. Hutchinson Australia. 1978

Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War
William Manchester. Michael Joseph, London. 1981

MacArthur Strikes Back: Decision at Buna: New Guinea 1942-1943
Harry Gailey. Presidio. 2000

Macarthur: A biography
Richard. B Frank. Palgrave, McMillan. 2007

From a Papua New Guinea Perspective

Green Shadows: A War History of the Papuan Infantry Battalion
G.M. Byrnes. Self-Published. 1989

The New Guinea Volunteer Rifles NGVR 1939-1943: A History
Ian Downs. Pacific Press. 1999

ANGAU: One Man’s Law
Clarrie James. Australian Military History Publications.1999

The Third Force: ANGAU’s New Guinea War, 1942-46
Alan Powell, Oxford University Press, 2003

Nameless Warriors: The Ben Moide Story
Lahui Ako.University of Papua New Guinea Press. 2012


War Correspondents

Green Armour
Osmar White. Australian War Classics, Penguin Books. 1945

Damien Parer’s War
Neil McDonald. Lothian Books. 1994

War Cameraman: The story of Damien Parer
Neil McDonald, A Lothian Book, 1994

Chester Wilmot Reports: Broadcasts that shaped World War 11
Neil McDonald,ABC Books, 2004

General Reading

The Coastwatchers
Eric Feldt. Oxford University Press. 1946

The Naked Island
Russell Braddon. Penguin Books. 1951

Hell and High Fever
David Selby. Halstead Press, Sydney. 1956

Fear Drive my Feet
Peter Ryan. Melbourne University Press. 1959

New Guinea 1942-44
Timothy Hall. Methuen Australia. 1981

Recollections of a Regimental Medical Officer
H.D. Steward. Melbourne University Press’ 1983

The Last Bastion
KristinWilliamson. Landsdowne. 1984

The Long Green Shore
John Hepworth. Picador Pan Mcmillan Australia. 1995

The Spell is Broken: Exploding the myth of Japanese invincibility – Milne Bay to Buna-Sanananda 1942-43
Peter Brune. Allen & Unwin. 1997

The Silent Men: Syria to Kokoda and on to Gona
Peter Dornan. Allen & Unwin. 1999

A Bastard of a Place: The Australians in Papua
Peter Brune. Allen & Unwin. 2003

Peter Fitzsimons. Hodder Headline Australia. 2004

Pacific Fury: How Australia and her allies defeated the Japanese Scourge
Peter Thompson. William Heinemann, Australia. 2008

Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific January 1942-April 1943
Bruce Gamble. Zenith Press. 2010

Hell’s Battlefield: The Australians in New Guinea in World War 11
Phillip Bradley. Allen & Unwin. 2012

Australia 1942: In the Shadow of War
Peter Dean. Cambridge University Press. 2013

Kokoda Air Strikes: Allied Air Forces in New Guinea, 1942
Anthony Cooper. NewSouth Publishing. 2014

Australia 1944-45: Victory in the Pacific
Peter Dean. Cambridge University Press. 2016





Why Trek with Adventure Kokoda

Our primary goal is to lead you safely across the Kokoda Trail and ensure you have an unforgettable wartime historical and cultural experience.

Charlie has led 101 expeditions across the Kokoda Trail over the past 32 years.

He previously served in the Australian Army for 21 years. During this time he saw active service in Vietnam; was assigned to the joint Australian, New Zealand and British (ANZUK) Force in Singapore/ Malaysia from 1970-72, and as an exchange instructor in Airborne Logistics with the United States Army from 1977-78. He is a graduate of the Army Command and Staff College.

Why choose Adventure Kokoda?