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The Rock-itt : March 2012
With the 70th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin behind us now, and a much overlooked event that was in Australian history, it links us nicely to the Japanese Pacific campaign of 1942 and 1943. Whether or not you believe that the Japanese were eyeing our northern territories with real intent or that they were simply attempting to cut of the Americans using the Australian ports and aerodromes to mount an attack against the Japanese Pacific fleets and forces, the facts were that Australia had been drawn into a battle to protect it’s own borders. With two Divisions tied up overseas in Tobruk and most of the other forces captured at the fall of Singapore, Australia was pretty much on its own. Churchill had pulled back the Pacific fleet to concentrate on the Convoys in the North Atlantic and Britain appeared to have turned its back on its former colony. The Americans were fortunately on hand and up for a fight. General MacArthur was posted to Australia to coordinate the counter attacks against the Japanese Pacific Forces and whilst the first real stoushes were on the sea, at the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the land elements were no less important. Meanwhile a much-maligned group of Australian solders, unfairly called “Chocolate soldiers” were stationed in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. These men were mostly “Militia”, volunteer soldiers more commonly associated with Defence of Australia, or often known as “Hom e Guard”. These men were not intended to be front line soldiers. Inevitably, in War, nothing happens the way the High Command plans it. With Australia awakened to the possibility of invasion thanks to the bombing in Darwin in February 1942 the High Command realised that its territorial dependency, Papua, was only defended by an indigenous force (Papua Infantry Battalion – PIB) of around 3 under strength companies. Soon General Thomas Blamey, of Gallipoli fame, and who was in command of all Land forces reporting to MacArthur, sent the 39 th Battalion (part of the 30 th Brigade) up the track to defend the airfield at Kokoda. By July 1942 there were about 30,000 Allied troops in Port Moresby and the Japanese had missed their chance. However, only B Company of the 39 th Battalion was between the Japanese South Seas Force and the Kokoda airstrip at the outset. On the 21st and 22nd July Japanese troops landed at Buna and Gona on the north coast of Papua. In all during the campaign about 14,000 Japanese troops were landed at Buna and Gona, and to oppose them there was never more than one infantry Brigade (about 3,500 troops) in the front line. Inevitably the Kokoda airstrip was captured in the early hours of the 29th July 1942. B Company was forced to fall back on Deniki. Australian High Command took the loss of this airstrip seriously and the remaining elements of the 30 th Brigade (49th & 53 rd Battalions) were forced to reinforce By Simon Lyon Generals MacArthur and Blamey and Major Gen G Allen