A village in the Yodda or Mambare valley on the northern side of the Owen Stanley Ranges, Kokoda gave its name to the foot pad – ‘the track’ which wound up the hills and across the mountains towards Port Moresby.
The small Kokoda plateau, with an altitude of 1,200 feet, protruded into the valley from the main mountain range.
Station 16 –The only airfield between Port Moresby and the north coast
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A village in the Yodda or Mambare valley on the northern side of the Owen Stanley Ranges, Kokoda gave its name to the foot pad – ‘the track’ which wound up the hills and across the mountains towards Port Moresby. The small Kokoda plateau, with an altitude of 1,200 feet, protruded into the valley from the main mountain range. At Kokoda there was a Papuan administration post, a rubber plantation and the only airfield between Port Moresby and the north coast. It was also the scene of a number of small scale, but intensely fought battles, in the early stages of the campaign. Lieutenant Colonel W. T. Owen, the Commanding Officer of the 39th Battalion, with his B Company in action north of Kokoda arranged for an additional platoon to be flown into the airstrip in late July, but at that stage no other planes were available to bring in further reinforcements.
Before more air landings could be arranged, Lieutenant Colonel Owen gave up Kokoda without a fight when, on hearing news on 27 July that his company at Oivi had been overrun, he decided to withdraw his tiny force to Deniki, some 8 km southwards along the track. At Deniki he gathered the company that had been at Oivi and, on learning the Japanese had not yet occupied Kokoda, returned there on 28 July with his force of about 80 men. The Japanese attacked in the early hours of 29 July and Owen, in the front line while throwing grenades, was fatally wounded. Major Watson took command and although the force had sustained only light casualties it was hard pressed and forced to withdraw again to Deniki.
There the remaining companies joined the battalion until by 6 August, with elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion, the force numbered some 500. On 4 August Major Alan Cameron, the Brigade Major of the 30th Brigade, assumed command of the battalion which he intended to use in an attack to regain Kokoda. Advancing on several approaches, the attack began on the morning of 8 August. The main force then struck the Japanese before it reached Kokoda halting its advance. However, Captain Noel Symington’s company on a more westerly route entered Kokoda unopposed. Later that day the Japanese counter-attacked Captain Symington’s force which was forced to withdraw the following day.
Australian forces did not return for almost three months. During the counter-offensive the troops of the 7th Division fought a number of major battles in the mountains before they reached Kokoda which they found the Japanese had abandoned without a fight. On the morning of 2 November, Lieutenant A. N. Black’s platoon of the 2/31st Battalion entered the village, and Brigadier Eather of the 25th Brigade established his advanced headquarters there in the afternoon. Just after midday on 3 November Major General Vasey hoisted the Australian flag at Kokoda before a small parade of Australian soldiers. Soon small quantities of supplies and ammunition were being flown into the airstrip. On 5 November the Corps commander, Lieutenant General E.F.Herring, flew into Kokoda to give orders for the advance, and the next day, Major General Vasey presented medals to some of the Papuan carriers and thanked them for their assistance during the advance. For a while Kokoda was the main point for supply and evacuation of casualties before further airfields came into operation as the army advanced.
November 1942. The raising of The Australian flag over Kokoda village by Major General Vasey, watched by a group of Australian troops. While the fighting continued for some months (as the Allied troops wrested control from the entrenched Japanese forces at Buna, Gona and Sanananda), this event is viewed by many as the culmination of the Kokoda campaign itself. At the Walkway, Kokoda Day and the raising of the flag is commemorated on 3 November each year. (AWM 013572)
This picture, taken in the Kokoda area, shows a group of AIF men in their temporary camp beside a native ‘lean- to’ amid surroundings that contrasted vividly with those that many knew during their time in the Western Desert and Syria. (AWM 013467)
November 1942: Wounded waiting to be evacuated by plane at Kokoda. The taking of the airstrip at Kokoda allowed evacuation of the wounded and ill back to Port Moresby where medical care in hospitals was provided, in contrast to the basic facilities along the Track where life-saving treatment was provided by Field Ambulance units. (AWM 013611)
The Kokoda village and airstrip photographed in mid-July 1942, shortly before the arrival of the Japanese. Kokoda was the only airstrip between Port Moresby and the north coast, a fact viewed with keen interest by both the Australian and Japanese commanders. (AWM 128400)
Senior Australian officers (centre) greet VX9 Major General George Alan Vasey, Commander of the 7th Division, who has just arrived at Kokoda aboard the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) Douglas C47 aircraft. At Vasey's request, native carriers who had supported the Australian advance along the Track were lined up on parade at the side of the airstrip (right) so that the General could thank them for their invaluable work. All of the carriers received gifts of tobacco and newspapers from which they would make their own cigarettes. (AWM P02423.028)
Kokoda, December 1942. Native carriers played a significant and often critical part in the Allied advance. Here the Commander of the 7th Division, AIF, Major General G. A. Vasey, presents a medal of honour to one of the carriers at Kokoda. (AWM 151018)
Kokoda, December 1942. One of the natives who aided the Allied troops in the fierce battles against the advancing Japanese proudly displays his medal of honour, presented by Major General George Vasey during his visit to Kokoda. (AWM 151040)
November 1942: Australian wounded soldiers, cared for by medics, await evacuation from the Kokoda airfield to a military hospital by transport aircraft. Once Kokoda was re-taken by Australian forces, a greater number of ill and injured could be airlifted back to Port Moresby. (AWM 151021)
November 1942: The view of the Kokoda airstrip as viewed from an Allied aircraft. Although the airstrip was rudimentary, its strategic value was well-known to both Australian and Japanese commanders. (AWM 151047)
Presentation of posthumous American Distinguished Service Crosses (DSC) to (right) Mrs Owen (wife of Lieutenant Colonel William T. Owen), and Mrs Walker (mother of Lieutenant Ian Walker), in the grounds of the 4th American General Hospital, Melbourne in June 1943. Lieutenant Colonel Owen gained the award for extraordinary heroism in an action at Kokoda in July the previous year, while Lieutenant Walker gained his award for extraordinary heroism in an action near Buna in early December 1942. The award to Lieutenant Colonel Owen was the first American award won by an Australian. (AWM 052220)