I didn’t find it extremely difficult except that little bit where…to a place called Ioribaiwa, it is not far out of Moresby. It was a very steep climb, about 45 degrees, and it is where they built the Golden Stairs later. That was extremely difficult because of the mud and it rained every day. You just couldn't get a footing to keep on walking. You were up and then you’d slide back one, up and then slide back one. To get up required tremendous amount of effort, grabbing onto to trees and grass on either side of the track, trying to keep your footing, and almost crawling up. Despite all that the whole of this company – a company is round about 60 men were in this second company – I don’t know of anyone who dropped out. Everyone made it.
Kenneth Phellan, 39th Battalion, 2/2nd Battalion AIF. Listen to his story.
Ioribaiwa is a village on the Kokoda Track, just 40 km from Port Moresby. The Australians dug into a ridge near the village to hold their position against the Japanese.
From Uberi, close to the beginning of the Kokoda Track nearest to Port Moresby, the trek to Ioribaiwa wound its way up the long mountainside.
The track was slippery and dangerous. Troops had to climb up by gripping branches and trees to avoid tumbling down again.
Reaching a crest, the track dove then down the other side to Imita Ridge. When they reached the stream, it was a welcome relief.
From here the track climbed again, to a clearing of sunlit kunai grass. The soldiers continued upwards until they reached the crest at Ioribaiwa Ridge. The crest was 1,220 m above sea level.
The track continued to Nauro, up and down until Ioribaiwa could be seen from the Nauro side of the pass.
The situation for Australians was becoming dire. With the prospect of the Japanese advancing to Port Moresby, Brigadier Ken Eather who was in command of all the Australian force on the Kokoda Track, assembled the largest force so far to hold the enemy back.
Again, they attempted to use the landscape to their advantage. They positioned battalions along Ioribaiwa Ridge. The fighting continued there for days without either side making any ground.
To regain the advantage, the Australians withdrew and regrouped, even though this was the first time in the Kokoda campaign that they had successfully held the Japanese back.
Approval was given for the Australians to withdraw to Imita Ridge, with a warning that no further retreats were authorised. The Japanese were at their absolute limit. And after small, probing skirmishes in the area, they began their retreat back along the Kokoda Track.
There were a number of reasons for this. US and Australian aircraft had continuously interrupted the Japanese supply line. This left the exhausted Japanese starving and sick. Japanese engagements at Milne Bay and Guadalcanal had also been unsuccessful. Imperial Headquarters resolved to retake Guadalcanal before advancing again on Port Moresby, leaving those in Papua without any chance of being reinforced.
Perceptions of the enemy
By this stage, many of the Australian troops had been engaging the Japanese in fights along the Kokoda Track for weeks. They were seen as ruthless, dogged fighters, who accepted great sacrifice as part of their military strategy.
Australian troops were weary and some thought it was impossible to overcome the Japanese soldiers' ruthless determination.
Australian casualties were 49 killed and 121 wounded, or 5% of the force on Ioribaiwa Ridge. Japanese casulaties were 40 killed and 120 wounded.
A battle honour was awarded to Australian units for their involvement in the fighting around Ioribaiwa. This was awarded to the 3rd (Militia) Battalion and 2/14th, 2/16th, 2/25th, 2/31st and 2/33rd.
Find out what happened at the Battle of Ioribaiwa.