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Kokoda Trail Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 6/19/2014

Australian isolation at the hands of the Japanese was thwarted through the Kokoda Track Campaign of World War 2.

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The Japanese had not been blind to an American response following its attack on Pearl Harbor and quickly moved to establish defensive positions all across the Pacific. This would force the Allies to retake each stronghold individually with repeated (and costly) amphibious landings that would have to be supported by air and off-shore naval firepower. The "Kokoda Trail" (also known as the "Kokoda Track") on the island making up New Guinea and Papua represented a critical supply line running across the island's southern peninsula, through the Owen Stanley Range of mountains (itself jagged terrain with thick jungle overgrowth), and led directly to the strategically important capital city of Port Moresby.


The Japanese Army landed elements on New Guinea in March of 1942 with these landings (consisting of two battalions) occurring between the villages of Lae and Salamaua. From there, the plan was to land more forces and ultimately capture Port Moresby proper, this located to the southwest across the Owen Stanley Range. However, the Japanese Navy defeat at the Battle of Coral Sea to the American Navy ended the prospect of a direct Port Moresby amphibious assault. Nevertheless, the main plan to capture the capital city was still intact and the operation would now fall to the forces of the Imperial Japanese Army.


The Allies would not wait around for such an operation and additional forces soon arrived in the region. The fighting elements were to make their way from Port Moresby through the Owen Stanley Range and reach Buna on the opposite coast by way of the Kokoda Trail. Once there, a makeshift airfield could be constructed and used against any invading Japanese forces within reach.


Additional Japanese forces - these the 18th Army under the command of Major General Horii - landed at Buna near the Kokoda Trail. Their subsequent march took them in the direction of Port Moresby, across the Owen Stanley Range, taking the village of Kokoda in the process.


The Allies (primarily Australian forces) began their own march towards Buna from Port Moresby and soon ran into the Japanese response - just 60 miles from their start. Subsequent fighting resulted in the Allies being driven back though this result seemingly played well into their hands for Japanese supply lines were becoming perilously thin while, conversely, the Allied lines were expectedly shortening and, therefore, strengthened to an extent. Shortage of supplies ultimately halted the Japanese march.


A second front on the peninsula soon opened when the Japanese Army landed troops at Milne Bay in the southeast. Due to poor intelligence, the Japanese expected to find lesser numbers but were greeted with a large combat contingent of Australian forces. On the other hand, superior Allied intelligence helped to beef up the forces in the area and prepare for such an attack. The Japanese established a beachhead but little else - they would be contained by the Australians for the duration of the assault. After nearly a weak of fighting against a determined Australian foe, losses proved too great (1,000 casualties) for the fanatical Japanese and a retreat was ordered for the remaining personnel.


On the Port Moresby side of the Owen Stanley Range (west), the Allies slowly pushed the Japanese attackers back towards the mountains. The Japanese, now much starved and battle-weary, gave up enough ground for the Allied forces to reach Templeton's Crossing near the center of the peninsula. The Allies eventually claimed the airfield at Kokoda and utilized it to fly in more supplies and personnel as well as attack Japanese ground forces from the air. A combined American (from the south) and Australian (from the west) force ultimately took the final pockets of Japanese resistance at Gona and Buna by the end of December and January, respectively, and brought an end to the Kokoda Trail Campaign.


In all, the victory marked a major marker for the joint Allied effort in the Pacific Theater, further removing another stronghold advantage that the Japanese Empire thought it might hold heading into 1943. Japanese casualties totaled some 12,000 personnel to the Allies 8,800 (approximately 6,000 Australian and 2,800 American). However, many more were lost to conditions brought on by the unforgiving nature of jungle warfare.


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There are a total of 25 the Kokoda Track Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1942
Sunday
March 8th

Japanese forces, numbering two battalions strong, land at Lae and Salamaua in New Guinea.

1942
Tuesday
July 21st

Japanese Major General Horii and his 18th Army land near Buna.

1942
Wednesday
July 22nd

Major General Horii and his 18th Army march towards Port Moresby.

1942
Wednesday
July 22nd

The Japanese Army gain ground on the US, Australian and Papuan Infantry Regiment defenders.

1942
Friday
August 14th

The Japanese Army gains vital territory leading up and into the Owen Stanley Range.

1942
Friday
August 14th

The Japanese Army takes control of the village of Kokoda.

1942
Friday
August 14th

The Japanese Army reaches Isurava just outside of Port Moresby.

1942
Tuesday
August 25th

The Japanese Navy completes an amphibious landing at Milne Bay to establish a beachhead and open a second front on New Guinea.

1942
Wednesday
August 26th

The 18th Australian Brigade, utilizing valuable intelligence reports, meet the arriving Japanese amphibious forces head-on and hold the Japanese beachhead at Milne Bay.

1942
Saturday
August 29th

A further 600 Japanese Army soldiers are landed at Milne Bay to help strengthen the beachhead.

1942
Sunday
August 30th

American General Douglas MacArthur employs his superiors for additional firepower and troop strength to help hold Papua.

1942
Friday
September 4th

With the Allied resistance holding off further advance, the Japanese Army begins a formal withdrawal of the island.

1942
Friday
September 4th

Japanese casualties at Milne Bay amount to 1,000 killed amidst the fighting.

1942
Saturday
September 26th

Despite gains along the Kokoda Trail, the Japanese supply line begins to run thin and halt any further advance.

1942
Saturday
September 26th

Australian Army forces hold fast to territory near Toribaiwa.

1942
Saturday
September 26th

The Japanese Army slowly begins to retreat back through the Kokoda Trail, finally realizing its perilous stuation.

1942
Thursday
October 15th

American soldiers of the 32nd US Division complete an amphibious assault near Pongani and Wanigela on Papua.

1942
Sunday
November 1st

Japanese Army troops have taken to reinforcing their existing defenses at Buna, Gona and Sanananda.

1942
Sunday
November 15th

US forces continue their march from the south against Japanese-held areas.

1942
Sunday
November 15th

Australian forces continue their march from the west against Japanese-held areas.

1942
Wednesday
December 9th

The Australian Army liberates the village of Gona from the hold of the Japanese Amry.

1942
Monday
December 14th

Allied Australian and US forces continued their maches against the Japanese, taking territory through fierce firefights.

1943
Sunday
January 3rd

American forces lay claim to Buna.

1943
Sunday
January 31st

Sananada is officially in Allied hands.

1943
Sunday
January 31st

The Kokoda Trail is firmly in Allied hands by this date.