Papuan campaign timeline 1942 - 1943

Kokoda, Milne Bay, Buna, Gona, and Sanananda


7 December 1941

Japan enters the Second World War and swiftly captures Singapore, the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies.

December 1941

Brigadier (later Major General) Basil Morris calls up the local militia and raises the Papuan Infantry Battalion.

3 January 1942

The Australian 39th and 53rd Battalions (Militia) disembark at Port Moresby. Along with the 49th Battalion which was already in Port Moresby, the three battalions are formed into the 30th Brigade.

21 January 1942

The Japanese bomb Madang, Lae and Salamaua in preparation for their invasion of New Guinea.

3 February 1942

Japanese begin air raids on Port Moresby.

4-8 May 1942

Intending the take Port Moresby in an amphibious landing, the Japanese are dealt defeats in the battle of the Coral Sea. Japanese focus shifts to capturing Port Moresby by land across the Owen Stanley Range, a distance of 97 kilometres.

8 March 1942

Japanese troops land at Lae and Salamaua.

24 June 1942

B Company from the 39th Battalion is sent to join troops of the Papuan Infantry Battalion at Kokoda, with the rest of the battalion (designated Maroubra Force) to follow soon after. Arriving at Kokoda in mid-July Australian troops were skirmishing with the Japanese a week later.

21 July 1942

Japanese advance troops land at Giruwa and Gona on Papua’s north coast. By nightfall some 1,500 Japanese troops are ashore and the vanguard immediately sets out for Kokoda.

23 July 1942

Japanese troops clash with forward elements of the Papuan Infantry Battalion and B Company, 39th Battalion at Awala.

24 July 1942

Lieutenant Colonel William Owen, the new commanding officer of the 39th Battalion is flown in to Kokoda.

26 July 1942

30 men of the 39th Battalion are flown in to Kokoda and move to Oivi. Captain Sam Templeton is killed. Under sustained attack, Australian and Papuan troops withdraw through Kokoda to Deniki.

27 July 1942

Lieutenant Colonel Owen leads 80 men back to Kokoda, re-occupying defensive positions there.

28 July 1942

Two aircraft carrying troops of the 39th Battalion reach Kokoda but are forced to return to Port Moresby without landing.

29 July 1942

The Japanese launch their first attack on Kokoda. Lieutenant Colonel William Owen is mortally wounded during the fighting. Surviving members of B Company and the PIB are forced to withdraw to Deniki.

30 July 1942

Reinforcements from the 39th Battalion arrive at Deniki.

31 July 1942

Japanese begin probing attacks on the 39th Battalion’s defences at Deniki.

4 August 1942

Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Allan Cameron arrives at Deniki and takes command of Maroubra Force. Two companies of the 53rd Battalion begin moving up the track from Port Moresby.

5 – 7 August 1942

39th Battalion patrols clash with Japanese patrols forward of Deniki.

7 August 1942

In the Solomon Islands, US Marines land at Guadalcanal diverting Japanese focus and resources from Kokoda.

8 August 1942

Australian troops recapture Kokoda, but when Japanese reinforcements arrive four days later the Australians are once again forced to withdraw to Deniki.

11 August 1942

Lieutenant General Syd Rowell arrives at Port Moresby and takes command of all land forces in New Guinea.

13 August 1942

Major General Arthur ‘Tubby’ Allen, commanding the Australian 7th Division, arrives at Port Moresby and is appointed to command Kokoda campaign forces. The same day some 2000 Japanese troops attack Deniki forcing the Australians to withdraw to Isurava where the men dig in using bayonets, bully beef tins and steel helmets.

16 August 1942

Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner arrives to take over the 39th Battalion and assumes temporary command of Maroubra Force.

18 August 1942

The main body of the veteran Japanese South Seas Force, commanded by General Tomitaro Horii, lands at Buna and begins moving towards Kokoda the following day. The Australian 18th Brigade AIF arrives at Milne Bay reinforcing the 7th Militia Brigade.

23 August 1942

Brigadier Arnold Potts takes command of Maroubra Force which now comprises the 39th, 53rd, 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions on the Track and the 2/27th Battalion held in reserve.

25/26 August 1942

Japanese marines land at Milne Bay with the aim to seize Allied airstrips.

26-30 August 1942

A bitter battle takes place at Isurava. The Japanese are determined to annihilate the Australians and launch near-continuous attacks. Vastly outnumbered, the Australians hold for several days.

29 August 1942

When Japanese troops break through the Australian positions at Isurava Private Bruce Steel Kingsbury, 2/14th Battalion AIF, is instrumental in recapturing the lost position. Advancing in the open, firing his Bren gun from the hip he inspired a counter-attack until killed by a Japanese sniper. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

30 August 1942

Brigadier Potts orders a withdrawal to Eora Creek.

30/31 August 1942

At Milne Bay the Japanese advance is defeated by Australian and US troops at No. 3 airstrip, it is the turning point in the Milne Bay battle.

31 August 1942 – 5 September 1942

Australian troops conduct a fighting withdrawal through Eora Creek and Templeton’s Crossing to Efogi.

3 September 1942

Japanese marines begin evacuating Milne Bay at night.

4 September 1942

At Milne Bay, Corporal John Alexander French, 2/9th Battalion, AIF, is killed in action near Goroni. He single-handedly assaulted two Japanese machine gun positions before being killed attacking a third. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

5 September 1942

The 2/27th Battalion occupies defensive positions on Mission Ridge, south of Efogi.

6 September 1942

Remnants of the 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions dig in on the hill to the rear of Mission Ridge.

7 September 1942

Japanese marines withdraw from Milne Bay. The battle ends in an Allied victory. It is the first major defeat suffered by the Japanese on land during the war.

7 – 9 September 1942

The decisive battle of the Kokoda campaign is fought at Brigade Hill. The 2/14th, 2/16th and 2/27th Battalions and 21 Brigade’s HQ come under intense and sustained Japanese attacks. The 2/14th, 2/16th and Brigade HQ conduct a fighting withdrawal to Menari. Cut off, the 2/27th Battalion ‘goes bush’ and after two harrowing weeks, rejoined their own force at Jawarere on 22 September.

9 September 1942

The 25th Brigade AIF, led by Brigadier Ken Eather and comprising the 2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd Battalions, arrives at Port Moresby. The Brigade moves to Uberi, arriving on 11 September. The 2/1st Pioneer Battalion and 3rd (Militia) Battalion are in reserve.

10 September 1942

Australian troops conduct a fighting withdrawal to Ioribaiwa Ridge. Brigadier Potts is relieved of command by Blamey and is replaced by Brigadier Selwyn Porter.

13 – 15 September 1942

Japanese attack Australian positions on Ioribaiwa Ridge, one of the last defensible positions before Port Moresby.

16 September 1942

Japanese troops capture Ioribaiwa Ridge forcing the Australians to withdraw to Imita Ridge. The Japanese see the lights of Port Moresby in the distance, yet their force is overstretched and near exhaustion. Around 1500 combat troops of the Nankai Shitai’s original 6000 remain.

18 September 1942

Japanese Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo orders Japanese troops to withdraw to Buna-Gona beachhead. The Japanese are focused on defeating the Americans on Guadalcanal.

21 September 1942

Australian offensive to recapture Kokoda begins. Australian artillery fires on Japanese positions on Ioribaiwa Ridge. It is the first time during the campaign Australian troops have artillery support. The 16th Brigade AIF comprising the 2/2nd and 2/3rd Battalions disembarks in Port Moresby.

23 September 1942

General Blamey arrives at Port Moresby to take command of New Guinea Force.

24 September 1942

The Japanese leave a rear guard and begin withdrawing from Ioribaiwa Ridge.

28 September 1942

The 25th Brigade re-occupies Ioriabaiwa Ridge unopposed.

4 October 1942

3rd (Militia) Battalion reaches Brigade Hill to be greeted by the sight of dead Australians, some on stretchers and others still in their fighting positions, their equipment on.

8 – 17 October 1942

Australian attacks on Templeton’s Crossing are hampered by the Japanese defences, a lack of supplies, and unrealistic expectations from senior commanders outside of the theatre of operations. The Japanese withdraw to Eora Creek on 17 October.

22 – 28 October 1942

The Australians attack the Japanese at Eora Creek. After heavy and often confused fighting the Japanese are forced to withdraw. Despite the success, Blamey relieves Major General Allen of his command, replacing him with Major General ‘Bloody’ George Vasey.

2 November 1942

With the Japanese now in full retreat, Australian troops re-occupy Kokoda unopposed. The Australian flag is hoisted over the village the following day.

9 November 1942

General Blamey delivers his infamous ‘rabbits’ speech to survivors of Maroubra Force at Koitaki Plantation.

10 – 11 November 1942

Australian troops engage the Japanese at Oivi and Gorari inflicting a major defeat on the Japanese and forcing them to withdraw to the beachheads of Buna, Gona and Sanananda.

11 November 1942

General Horii drowns while attempting to cross the flooded Kumusi River to escape the advancing Australians.

12 November 1942

The Buna-Gona campaign begins.

12 November 1942

In the Solomon Islands, the Japanese order a withdrawal from Guadalcanal after an attempt to resupply their forces by sea is defeated.

15 November 1942

Australian troops cross the Kumusi River and advance towards the sea. All seven Australian infantry battalions that participated in the advance over the Owen Stanley Range had crossed the Kumusi River two days later. The Kokoda campaign was over, but further fighting to clear the Japanese beachheads awaited.

19 November 1942

Australian troops attack Gona, but are repulsed with heavy casualties.

9 December 1942

Gona is captured by the Australians. Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner of the 39th Battalion sends his famous signal ‘Gona’s gone.’

2 January 1943

Buna falls to the Australians and Americans.

22 January 1943

Japanese garrison at Sanananda annihilated and those who escape make their way north along the coast to Lae.

23 January 1943

Papuan campaign officially ends.

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