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ISURAVA

STATION 14
The vital delaying battle

After the fighting withdrawal from Deniki on 13 August 1942, the 39th Battalion consolidated its position at Isurava located higher up in the mountains on a ridge with the deep Eora Creek to the east and dense jungle slopes to the west.

 

Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner took command on 16 August and for several days there were only minor patrol skirmishes, while the Japanese gathered their strength for a major offensive. On 19 August Brigadier Selwyn Porter arrived in the forward area to command Maroubra Force, which included the 53rd Battalion holding the rear position at Alola.On 23 August Brigadier Arnold Potts, the Commander of the 21st Brigade, assumed command from Porter. Brigadier Potts decided that his 2/14th Battalion would relieve the exhausted 39th Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Key and Lieutenant Colonel Honner realising the seriousness of the situation suggested to Brigadier Potts, the commanding officer of the 2/14th Battalion, that the 39th Battalion should remain, to which he agreed. On 26 August the Japanese began their offensive which was engaged and held up by the patrols forward of Isurava and across Eora Creek to the right. The leading elements of the 2/14th Battalion began to arrive at Isurava on the evening of 26 August.

 

The next day the Japanese mounted major and sustained attacks against the Isurava position which continued throughout the next day. By this time Lieutenant Colonel Key had taken command of the position as his battalion took the brunt of the Japanese attacks. On 29 August the position became even more desperate and Japanese advances were thrown back by determined counter-attacks. In one of these attacks, Corporal Lindsay Bear killed 15 of the enemy until he was wounded, then handing his Bren gun to Private Kingsbury who carried the attack forward, restoring the position; he was killed and his award of the Victoria Cross was posthumous. Corporal Bear was also recommended for the Victoria Cross but was awarded the Military Medal.

 

Corporal Charles McCallum accounted for 40 Japanese, using both Bren and Tommy guns, and was also recommended for the Victoria Cross but received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

 

During the afternoon two exhausted platoons of the 39th Battalion which had been on patrol, moved forward from Alola to reinforce the position. They were joined on their own initiative, by a group of unfit volunteers who had previously withdrawn because of wounds or illness. Casualties had been heavy. On 30 August alone the 2/14th Battalion lost 10 killed, 18 wounded and 172 missing in action. Included in the latter group was Lieutenant Colonel Key. Fifty of the missing troops were later reported killed but Lieutenant Colonel Key was killed in Japanese hands. Earlier the Commanding Officer of the 53rd Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Ward had also been killed. The 2/16th Battalion had relieved the 53rd Battalion at Alola and held the right flank across Eora Creek at Abuari and Missima until the 2/14th could withdraw.

 

The battle at Isurava was one of the hardest fought by Australians during the war delaying the enemy for some four days and inflicting heavy losses. Lieutenant Colonel Key claimed that his battalion had killed 550 of the enemy on 29 August alone. If the Japanese had broken through at Isurava, they would have been able to move swiftly towards Port Moresby. The battle, therefore, was one of the most crucial actions of the whole campaign. Isurava did not figure prominently during the counter-offensive as the leading elements of the 25th Brigade passed through without incident on 1 November before entering Kokoda the following day.



Men from the 39th Battalion returning to base camp after their gallant fighting withdrawal from Isurava.(AWM 13288)
Men from the 39th Battalion returning to base camp after their gallant fighting withdrawal from Isurava.(AWM 13288)

Isurava: Close up shot of the men's feet. (AWM 13290)
Isurava: Close up shot of the men's feet. (AWM 13290)

2/14th Battalion on the way to Isurava and immortality, many of these young officers and their men died in the savage fighting few days later.(AWM PO525/11/106)
2/14th Battalion on the way to Isurava and immortality, many of these young officers and their men died in the savage fighting few days later.(AWM PO525/11/106)

 

Kingsbury, Private Bruce Steel

2/14th Australian Infantry Battalion, A.I.F

29th August 1942, Isurava, Papua (Posthumous Award)

 

CITATION: In New Guinea, the Battalion to which Private Kingsbury belonged had been holding a position in the Isurava area for two days against continuous and fierce enemy attacks. On 29th August, 1942, the enemy attacked in such force that they succeeded in breaking through the Battalion's right flank, creating serious threats both to the rest of the Battalion and to its Headquarters.

To avoid the situation becoming more desperate it was essential to regain immediately lost ground on the right flank. Private Kingsbury, who was one of the few survivors of a Platoon which had been overrun and severely cut about by the enemy, immediately volunteered to join a different platoon which had been ordered to counter- attack. He rushed forward firing the Bren gun from his hip through terrific machine-gun fire and succeeded in clearing a path through the enemy. Continuing to sweep enemy positions with his fire and inflicting an extremely high number of casualties on them, Private Kingsbury was then seen to fall to the ground shot dead by the bullet from a sniper hiding in the wood.

Private Kingsbury displayed a complete disregard for his own safety. His initiative and superb courage made possible the recapture of a position which undoubtedly saved Battalion Headquarters, as well as causing heavy casualties amongst the enemy. His coolness, determination and devotion to duty in the face of great odds was an inspiration to his comrades.
(London Gazette: 9th February 1943.)

Kingsbury, Private Bruce Steel
Kingsbury, Private Bruce Steel