Photographs courtesy of the Australian Defence Force
Excitement builds in the lead up to Kokoda
Training in full swing in preparation for Kokoda
Operation Legacy Australia Kokoda Challenge 2017 (OP LAKC 17) reached a significant milestone recently, by bringing together Legacy youth from across Australia and their Australian Defence Force (ADF) Mentors for the first time on Exercise POPONDETTA PRELUDE.
The history of Kokoda
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Kokoda – one of the bloodiest and most significant campaigns for Australian forces in World War II.
More Australians died in the seven months of fighting in Papua New Guinea than in any other campaign.
In July 1942, Japanese forces landed on the northern coast of Papua, with the objective to make their way along the Kokoda Track and capture Port Moresby on the southern coast - giving them control of Papua, and a base from which to attack the Australian mainland and shipping in the Pacific.
The Kokoda Track cuts through 96 kilometres of dense jungle and over mountains. Much of it can only be travelled on foot, which meant that all supplies and heavy equipment had to be carried.
The Kokoda action lasted until November 1942 and is remembered as one of the most difficult operations by Australian troops in World War II.
Conditions were appalling - it rained most of the time and the trail was almost impenetrable in parts with dense rainforest, muddy ground, agonising steep ascents and descents.
Despite winning some hard-fought battles, Australian troops were forced to retreat towards Port Moresby. Supplies ran short and tropical diseases such as malaria reduced the fighting ability of the men. There were few stretchers to carry the wounded, and even badly wounded men were forced to walk.
The indigenous Papuan population had suffered badly at the hands of the Japanese, and many were fiercely loyal to the Australian forces: they cared for the retreating wounded Australian soldiers, who nicknamed them ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angels’.
By early September 1942, the Japanese were within 48 kilometres of Port Moresby, but they were now far from their own supply base on the northern coast, and faced the difficulties of moving supplies and weapons along the narrow, mountainous track.
At the same time, American forces had occupied the island of Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, east of Papua. They could use the island as a base to attack Japanese shipping. In response, the Japanese command decided to concentrate on Guadalcanal and withdrew their forces from Papua, even though they were within sight of their objective in Port Moresby.
Australian and American troops followed the retreating Japanese along the track, and fought them when they reached their coastal base at Buna-Gona. They defeated the Japanese, but Allied casualties were extremely high.
More than 600 Australian troops died in fighting throughout the Kokoda operation, and more than 1600 were wounded. Over 4,000 soldiers suffered from tropical diseases. Estimates of the Japanese dead are uncertain, but are probably even higher than the Allied casualties, because of the Japanese military tradition of committing suicide rather than surrendering.
You can support OP LAKC 17
If you or your organisation would like to make a tax-deductable donation in support of Operation Legacy Australia Kokoda Challenge 2017, visit:
Official launch of Operation Legacy Australia Kokoda Challenge 2017
“Our support of Operation Legacy Australia Kokoda Challenge 2017 (OP LAKC 17) symbolises our commitment to caring for the dependants of those that have died or become incapacitated following their military service. Defence veterans mentoring Legacy youths reflects the true spirit of Legacy. The 75th anniversary of the Second World War Battle of Kokoda, where so many Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen distinguished themselves, will provide a wonderful inspiration.”