The Significance of Kokoda

Nicholas Chan, Belconnen High School, 2011

Nicholas Chan wrote this essay as part of the Year 10 Australian Curriculum unit on the Second World War at Belconnen High School, Semester 2, 2011.

Kokoda was certainly the most significant battle fought by Australians in the Second World War. There are multiple reasons why this is the case. Firstly, the Kokoda campaign saved Australia from possible invasion, or more precisely from being isolated. Port Moresby held a strong tactical position, and preventing the Japanese from reaching it was vital. Secondly, the battle was fought extremely well against the odds. The amazing feats performed by Australian soldiers lead to the growth of the Australian nation. Lastly, Kokoda was the battle that lead to victory in the Second World War, as well as to the improvement of Australia’s post-war practices and military operations. Without the Kokoda victory, Australia would be much worse off than it is today. These key points demonstrate why Kokoda was the most significant battle fought by Australians in the Second World War.

The battle of Kokoda saved Australia from the threat of invasion, or if not, definitely from being isolated and possibly forced into surrender. Although now it is generally accepted that Japan would not have invaded Australia, at the time it was a genuine belief. Australia had been threatened already, in multiple ways; through the bombing of Darwin, plus Broome and Townsville, as well as the Japanese penetration of Sydney Harbour. There is no doubt that at the time, Australian citizens were extremely anxious for their safety, and rightfully so. This is because even if the Japanese had not invaded at that time, Australia would have been in constant danger. Port Moresby was an extremely important tactical position because it had an airfield. It could be used as a base for an amphibious operation (sending of armies across sea to invade land) since it was so close to Australia. Also, Japan had recently launched amphibious operations to other countries, of the same distance from Port Moresby to North Queensland. It is quite clear that Australia’s saving of Port Moresby, due to Kokoda, was of the highest significance in the protecting of the home country. This is why it is said that:"… in relation to the direct security of the nation, no Australians have fought more important battles than those who struggled through the Papua's Owen Stanley Range during August and September 1942" (Warrior of Kokoda). Hence, even if Japan could not invade initially, they could have done so in the near future if they had won Kokoda.

Having said this, the most probable Japanese plan was to detach Australia from the US and in theory bring them under Japanese control. This was because they believed Australia to be a threat, given it was an ally of America. They thought that the US could use Australia and its administered area of New Guinea as bases to launch counter offensives on Japan’s newly expanded territory. Instead of direct invasion, they would attempt to pressure Australia into surrender by isolation. This plan was known as ‘Operation FS’. They most certainly would have held an important strategic position after winning Kokoda, if they did not invade. Either way, the Kokoda triumph prevented Australia from being in a susceptible position to Japan.

Related Article: Did Japan Intend to Invade Australia?
Australians fought tremendously well in the harsh and unforgiving circumstances, without the help of Britain. It considerably boosted their morale, and national identity; this being of the utmost significance. Australians’ were shocked when the British Navy based in Singapore fell to the Japanese. They could no longer rely on Britain to protect them. They had to fight for themselves; and once the Japanese had landed at Gona, they immediately sent the Australian Militia to New Guinea. The Militia was not their first choice, however they could not send the AIF, because they were busy fighting in the European War. This seemed like an ineffectual response at the time, but proved later to be a successful one. The Militia were spectacularly unprepared for the ‘soul-destroying harshness of New Guinea’s tropical wilderness’ (The Kokoda Track: Ghost to coast) and were vastly outnumbered by the Japanese. So much so, that until the Japanese reached Ioribaiwa almost overlooking Port Moresby, Australian troops were always outnumbered by at least five to one. These Japanese soldiers were described as the ‘most formidable and best equipped jungle troops in the world’ (What was the battle for Australia?).

Furthermore, the priority of weapons and equipment were given to the AIF over the Militia. This meant that the Militia could not use the best tools available. Adding to amazing odds against the Militia was the fact that some 70% of the division got tropical disease during the campaign. It is extraordinary that these inexperienced soldiers were able to hold off the Japanese until the AIF reached Port Moresby from the Middle East. The grit and determination to maintain our security throughout the Kokoda campaign, was a distinct demonstration of nationalism. It built our national pride, and made the people of Australia realise that they were a single unit that could stand by themselves. Even though the war details were somewhat censored to the Australian public, it was only a matter of time before the people discovered how well their army had actually performed. The courage and valour displayed in Kokoda, was of supreme significance to the making of the Australian nation.

The battle of Kokoda was the most important Australian-fought victory, in terms of winning the War. Also, the campaign shaped Australia’s post-war training practices and military operations. Kokoda, although not the first victory against Japan, ‘marked the first major turning of Japanese ground forces during the Pacific War’ (Taylor et al p. 176-7, 181, 182). It allowed the allies to make thrusts forward through ‘island hopping’, and ultimately win the War. Other battles that may be considered the most significant fought by Australians in WW2 are the battles of Milne Bay and Coral Sea. These battles however, only temporarily halted Japan. Kokoda on the other hand, was the battle that ended Japan’s dominance, and permitted the Allies to go on the offence."The territory seized [in the last battles of Kokoda] became the springboard for MacArthur to continue the offensive he had planned over six months earlier" (Horner). As can be seen, Kokoda gave the Americans necessary land to launch their attack, whereas the battles of Milne Bay and Coral Sea did not. Battles in the Owen Stanley Range also benefited Australia’s post-war military operations and army forces. Australia greatly learned from their Kokoda experience, and subsequently improved their strategic thinking. They learned to not purely rely on naval defences, and realised that they cannot just let other countries do the fighting. They also bettered their solutions to the problems of cooperating with a large ally, which were highlighted during the campaign (Horner). Australian forces have enhanced so much that, it is understood that "... the modern Australian professional army was born and developed in the jungles of New Guinea’ (Haynes p. 234). These improvements and the realisation that we have to fight for ourselves, have later led to the commitment of forces during the Malayan Emergency, Vietnam and to Borneo during Confrontation. To reiterate, Kokoda was far more significant than other battles in the Second World War, in the sense of winning the War; as well as being essential in developing our modern military procedures.

Kokoda was obviously the most significant battle fought by Australians in the Second World War. The campaign saved Australia from being isolated from the US, and possibly invaded by Japan. Even if the Japanese were not to invade immediately, it prevented the risk of Australia being in a vulnerable position. Also, Kokoda boosted Australian pride. This was due to an outstanding victory against all odds, in appalling conditions and without the help of Britain. When the achievements of the Australian soldiers were later revealed, the Australian public realised how great their nation actually was. On top of this, the territory regained along the Kokoda trail was central to letting the allies drive forward and win the War. Kokoda was far more significant than other battles fought by Australians in the Second World War because of this. It is also of a higher significance because of the way it improved and shaped Australia after the war. For these reasons, there can be no doubt in the fact that Kokoda was the most significant battle fought by Australians in the Second World War.


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Clark, Sylvia 1997, The Kokoda Track, p. 8-13, 17-22, Kangaroo Press, Australia.
This book is useful for a detailed outline of what happened at Kokoda track. It contains no apparent bias, due to being mainly a report. The information is aided by small illustrations, however it is not very useful for the topic. This is because it does not explain why Kokoda was important.

Dugan, Michael 2000, World War II, p. 22-23, Macmillan Education Australia PTY LTD, Australia.
This book is somewhat useful because it gives important information about most battles in World War 2. It also gives a good summary of Kokoda. It is written at an easy reading level, which is helped by frequent detailed pictures. There is no bias because it is an account of history.

Horner, David 2011, Strategy and Command in Australia’s New Guinea Campaigns, accessed 27/10/11, >›.
This website is an extremely useful source, which covers the strategy involved in the pacific war. It relates to the topic well and is written by a reliable author. There is slight bias, yet is does not affect the general information and points being made.

Jaynes, Jim 2010, On all fronts, Australia’s World War II, p. 186 – 187, 234 , Harper Collins Publishers Australia, Sydney.
This book has a lot of information and is very useful. A lot of it does not relate to the topic, yet the parts that do are valuable. The facts stated are a good account of the past, however there contains slight bias due to emotional language.

Jones, Tony 2006, History wars surround Kokoda campaign, accessed 2/11/11, ‹›.
This website provides a report from a debate. It is adequately useful because it provides information from both sides of the argument. Its strong relation to the topic adds on to its usefulness. It contains a lot of bias however, this is because it is solely based on opinions.

Kokoda 2011, Australia's War 1939 - 1945, accessed 20/10/11, ‹›.
This website is informative and relates to the topic well. It is not very useful though, because it only has a brief outline of what happened. It is a historical account that is reliable and contains no clear bias.

Taylor, Tony et al 2009, Oxford big ideas history level 6, p. 176-7, 181, 182, OUP, Victoria.
These worksheets are well written and contain vital information about World War 2. They are slightly useful because there is a small section written on the essay topic. There appears to be no bias because it is a historical account, which has come from a school textbook.

The Japanese planned to compel Australia’s surrender in 1942, 2009 The Pacific War, accessed 23/10/11, ‹›.
This website is tremendously useful because it gives insights to the Japanese plan in World War 2. It definitely relates to the topic, however in some places it goes off track. This is due to the author’s passion in their writing. This also leads to the source having some bias because a lot of it is made based upon the author’s belief.

The Kokoda Track: Ghost to coast, 2008 QANTAS, accessed 27/10/11, ‹›.
This source is an article that has been written on the US experience of the New Guinea campaign. It is not very useful because most of the things mentioned does not relate to the topic. There also appears to be bias present.

Warrior of Kokoda, 2011 Australian Army History Unit, accessed 29/10/11, ‹›.
This source is a review of a book written by a trustworthy author. It is only slightly useful because there are small insights to the books contents. It only partially relates to the topic, nevertheless there seems to be no visible bias.

What is the importance of the Kokoda trail? 2007 Yahoo Answers, accessed 23/10/11, ‹›.
This website is faintly informative and is written by an untrustworthy author. However, there is no noticeable bias present. It relates to the topic but is not very useful because it is not in-depth information.

What was the battle for Australia?, 2011, accessed 2/11/11, ‹›.
This page is moderately useful because it has information relating to the topic. It is a trustworthy source, however there appears to be slight bias due to opinions being stated. This nonetheless, does not affect the overall good worth of the source.

Why was Port Moresby important?, 2011, The Kokoda Track, accessed 23/10/11, ‹›.
This website is very informative and has reliable information. It is not only an account of the past, but also an analysis of the strategic context. It fully relates to the topic and has no significant bias.