Within the Yodda Valley lies the tiny village of Kokoda, 365 m above sea level in the northern foothills of the Owen Stanley Ranges. It sits at the other end of the 96-km Kokoda Track that begins at Owers' Corner, 61 km by road north east of Port Moresby.
Geography, terrain and infrastructure
Kokoda featured a Government Station and the only airfield in Papua between Port Moresby and northern coast.
The Kokoda Station sat upon a tongue-shaped plateau, poking northward from the Ranges. From east to west at its widest, the administrative area was 180 m, and not much more north to south.
The track to Oivi ran in from the east of the tip to where the first skirmishes with the Japanese began. South east of the plateau lay the coveted Kokoda airfield, which was visible from Deniki.
At the northern end of the plateau, the ground fell away sharply for about 21 m to the floor of the valley. In the early hours of 29 July, the Japanese scaled this ridge to begin their attack on the Australian positions.
At the base of the slope, was the Mambare River. It flowed roughly east to west in front of the settlement.
At the southern end of the Station, a rubber plantation stretched back over level ground, towards the mountains. During the battles here, troops used the plantation as cover to protect troops retreating to Deniki.
Kokoda was seen as a strategic objective for the Japanese and the Australians because of its airfield. It provided a valuable staging point for resupply of ammunition, food and other supplies between the northern and southern ends of Papua and New Guinea.
Before the war, the Japanese had collected intelligence on the Kokoda Track and had sourced many maps of the area. This gave them some knowledge of the tracks in the region and helped them with their strategy. When the Japanese army entered the jungle, they knew that supplying their troops would be a problem.
The gruelling terrain of the jungle provided its own problems for the troops. The Australian Army was fortunate to have the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) in its ranks, and assistance from local villagers. The PIB was formed in 1940 and led by Australian officers. They played an invaluable part in the defeat of Japan.
The PIB's local knowledge of the people, geography and languages tracks was vital. They often scouted the way for the white men and silently surveilled Japanese positions and movements. The Japanese called them the ‘green shadows’. An entry in a Japanese diary said the PIB "moved silently in the jungle, inflicting casualties on us—and then are gone, like green shadows."
More than once, they led Australians to safety.
Facts about Kokoda and the jungle track
Australian lost seven killed and six wounded in the First Engagement at Kokoda on 28 to 29 July 1942. A further 23 were killed and 17 wounded in the Second Engagement at Kokoda, 10 days later. Over the course of the Kokoda battles, the Australian casualties were 625 killed, 1,600 wounded, and more than 4,000 casualties due to sickness.
The great majority of the 18,000 Papuans who took part in the campaign did so as carriers, taking supplies to the front and casualties back from it.
Of the 300 men from the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the Royal Papuan Constabulary who fought against the Japanese in 1942, 15 were killed and 35 were wounded.