Physically, the pathetically young warriors of the 39th were in poor shape. Worn out by strenuous fighting and exhausting movement, and weakened by lack of food and sleep and shelter, many of them had literally come to a standstill. Practically every day torrential rains fell all through the afternoon and night, cascading into their cheerless weapon pits and soaking the clothes they wore – the only ones they had. In these they shivered through the long chill vigil of the lonely nights when they were required to stand awake and alert, but still silent.
Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner. Read more about his experience.
The retreat from Kokoda to Deniki on 29 July left the young soldiers feeling weary and discouraged. While the casualties had been minimal, men were still missing. The young troops, barely men themselves, felt overwhelmed and isolated in the jungle.
Waiting for reinforcements gave the Japanese and the Australian troops a few days of rest.
Command finally established a much-needed telephone line between Deniki and Port Moresby.
Within days, the 53rd battalion bolstered the existing force. Major Alan Cameron was appointed the new commanding officer. He had a bold plan to move against the Japanese.
Cameron launched his counterattack on 8 August. He was intent on recapturing the Kokoda airfield. He sent three companies to block all possible paths between Kokoda and Deniki, but the Japanese advanced at the same time.
The attack by Australian forces surprised the Japanese at Pirivi, located just north of Deniki. On the main track, Cameron's men engaged in violent skirmishes. Captain Symington, led by Sergeant Sanopa of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB), took an unknown route back to Kokoda.
Flanked from almost every angle in dense bushland, visibility was poor. The steep winding tracks, afternoon rain, and constant clashes made it difficult to hold their positions. Over the next day, Cameron withdrew back to Deniki, leaving Symington and his men holding Kokoda. This was the place where Lieutenant Colonel Owen was killed just nine days earlier.
Cut off from communication with Deniki, Symington sent Sanopa back to request supplies and ammunition. But delays and bad weather meant they didn’t receive them in time.
After beating back the enemy all day, Symington made the decision to retreat at 7 pm on 10 August.
Unfortunately, the Allied forces dropped the much-needed supplies into Japanese hands. Aircraft returned within hours to bomb the Japanese in an attempt to stop them using the supplies.
While the Australian attack was unsuccessful, it forced the Japanese to reconsider the size of the Australian force. This may have prompted a move to delay their advance to Port Moresby.