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The Rock-itt : March 2012
the defences by trudging over the track from Port Moresby which cut the Owen Stanley Range. The Japanese were also planning a separate attack at Milne Bay on the south-eastern tip of PNG. However their planning and intelligence was poor and they underestimated the strength of the defenders and were repulsed in a series of skirmishes that lasted nearly two weeks and resulted in them withdrawing their forces. This was the first tim e the Japanese Imperial forces had withdrawn and was probably the high tide mark of their Pacific campaign. Meanwhile their campaign to capture Port Moresby lasted until Novem ber 1942. A series of battles, known as Isurava, Brigade Hill and Mission Ridge succeeded in holding up the attackers. But the crucial fighting retreat that the Australians managed, all the way along the track held up the Japanese forces long enough to stretch their lines of communication and fitness, so that in mid September, under stress from setbacks against the American forces on Guadalcanal, which was in the Japanese High Command’s view a more strategic jumping off point for this part of the Pacific, the South Seas forces withdrew back along the track. Ravaged by hunger, disease and poorly supplied, this withdrawal was all the more painful for a fierce used to dominating its enemy, especially so as they were in sight of (and had seen the lights of) Port Moresby at night. Force to dig in at Ioribaiwa (48 kms short of their objective), and faced with a reinforced defensive position at Imita Ridge, General Horii was ordered to walk back to Buna and Gona on the north coast. By mid September it was clear the Japanese had pulled back but a series of brutal skirmishes back along the track, held up the Allied forces, mostly against strongly fortified trenches and pits manned with machine gunners and mortars. By the time the Japanese had withdrawn to the north coast, their positions at the Buna and Gona beachheads were significantly strengthened. The attacking Allied troops, mostly American GI’s by this stage were subjected to heavy casualties attacking well defended machine gun nests covered with logs of palms. It took the arrival of American Stuart tanks to finally clear the defences but at terrible loss of life on both sides. With the Battle for Port Moresby over and the Japanese momentum stopped, this campaign effectively shattered the Japanese ambitions for further expansion in the Pacific and the United States continued its costly but effective mopping up of the various islands. The Aussies had played their part and despite General Blamey accusing the 39 th of “running away like rabbits” these soldiers now earned the right to be known as heroes. Without them who knows what might have become of us? Remnants of the 39 th before being relieved