3 January 1942
Port Moresby is garrisoned by raw Militia troops of the 30th Infantry Brigade. Troops from Major General Tomitaro Horii’s Nankai Shitai (South Seas Detached Force) embarked on Operation North Australia and landed on Rabaul on 23 January 1942.
8 March 1942
The Nankai Shitai landed at Lae and Salamaua.
7 July 1942
B Company, 39th Battalion leaves Ilolo/Owers Corner to cross the Owen Stanley Range to provide a protective force for American Engineers building an airstrip at Dobodura. The Japanese advance Force, 15th Independent Engineer Regiment, leaves Rabaul on 20 July 1942 and lands at Basabua approximately 1 mile east of Gona Mission.
22 July 1942
The Japanese encounter their first resistance, about 1km east of Awala. 11 Platoon, 39th Battalion faces a Japanese force far superior in numbers. Out numbered and out gunned, the 39th begins a tenacious fighting withdrawal to Kokoda. The Japanese attacked Kokoda on 28 July 1942. The 39th Battalion, Commanding Officer, LtCol Owen, is mortally wounded and the 39th Battalion is driven out of Kokoda and falls back to Deniki.
8 August 1942
A Company, 39th Battalion retakes Kokoda from a handful of Japanese troops and holds Kokoda Plateau for 2 days.
12 August 1942
The 21st Infantry Brigade (AIF) arrives in Port Moresby from Australia. The 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions are sent up the Kokoda Track.
14 August 1942
The 39th Battalion digs in at Isurava.
18 August 1942
Major General Hori lands at the Buna-Gona beachhead with the main force of the Shitai numbering approximately 7,000 troops including the 144th Regiment from Kochi, SHIKOKU.
25–26 August 1942
The Japanese land at Milne Bay.
26 August 1942
The Japanese attack Isurava at first light with 3 Battalions. The leading elements of the 2/14th Battalion arrive that afternoon. The 39th Battalion refuses to be relieved because the Australians are hugely outnumbered. On 29 August, Private Bruce Kingsbury of the 2/14th Battalion, armed with a Bren gun, cleared a path of more than 100m through the enemy. Kingsbury was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Read more about the Battle for Isurava here.
30 August 1942
Major General Horii, frustrated at the delay, throws his huge reserve into the attack, and the Australians begin the fiercely fought withdrawal from Isurava.
31 August–15 September 1942
The Australians, against vastly superior numbers, fight an adroitly executed series of tactical withdrawals. Company by company, platoon by platoon, they defend until their comrades pass through their lines, break off contact sometimes only 20m to 30m from the enemy and repeat the process again and again down the Track. The commander of the 21st Brigade, Brigadier Arnold Potts, digs in with 1000 troops at Mission Ridge on 5 September 1942. The ridge, rising south of Efogi is later called Brigade or Butcher’s Hill. At 4.30am on 8 September 1942 Major General Horii, outnumbering the Australians by more than six to one, launches a three-pronged attack on the Australian’s front, rear and flank. The forward position repels eight attacks that morning, but Potts’ Headquarters is cut off. Potts is unable to dislodge the Japanese, and in fading light, the Australians withdraw. Although Potts suffers heavy casualties, he succeeds in delaying the Japanese by a crucial 3 days.
6 September 1942
The Japanese are defeated at Milne Bay.
11 September 1942
The Australians have withdrawn to Ioribaiwa. The Commander of the 25th Brigade General Ken Eather plans to launch a twin flanking movement against the Japanese. But the 2/31st Battalion is disorientated and briefly lost in its left flank thrust and the 3rd Battalion on the right flank is routed by a strong Japanese patrol, which is able to occupy the high ground between the 3rd and 2/31st Battalions. The Australians withdraw to Imita Ridge, a natural defensive position and last ridge line of the Owen Stanley Ranges before Port Moresby. From this very strong position and with the support of heavy artillery for the first time and with supplies streaming to our front line forces from nearby Port Moresby, Brigadier Eather’s forces are able to strike out effectively against the Japanese. Starting with strong patrols, the Australians commence a real concentrated offensive which will eventually end with the total destruction of the Japanese forces on the beach heads at Buna and Gona in January 1943.
21 September 1942
Brigadier Eather’s patrols are dominating no-man’s land between Imita Ridge and Ioribaiwa.
28 September 1942
Having no word for “withdraw”, the Japanese receive the orders to “advance to the rear” and begin a fighting withdrawal along the Owen Stanley Ranges.
2 November 1942
The village of Kokoda is reoccupied by the allied forces. By the time the Japanese are driven back into the sea at Sananada on 22 January 1943 more than 13,000 Japanese and 2,000 Australians are killed.
4-11 November 1942
Rather than defending Kokoda, the Japanese forces (approximately 2,800 men) withdrew to a heavily fortified area at Ovi and Gorari near Kokoda on the path to the Buna and Gona beachheads. The battle to dislodge the Japanese from this fortress was ruthless. The Australians lost 121 men with 225 wounded. The Japanese lost 430 men with 400 wounded.
16 November 1942 – 22 January 1943
The Japanese now retreated to the beachheads where they had landed in July 1942. They had prepared their defences methodically, skilfully and with a precise understanding of what was required to defend these locations.
The battle to dislodge the Japanese from this foothold on the southern shores of PNG was one of the bloodiest campaigns in the Pacific war. Nearly 2,000 Australian soldiers died with another 12,300 wounded or fallen ill.
The Japanese lost 4,000 killed in battle, with a further 3,000 dying from disease. 1,200 were wounded and 250 captured.