Some members of D Company, 39th Battalion, returning to their base camp after a battle at Isurava. Right to left: Warrant Officer 2 R. Marsh, Private (Pte) G. Palmer, Pte J. Manol, Pte J. Tonkins, Pte Arnold William Forrester and Gallipoli veteran Staff Sergeant J. Long. Their shoes sink deep in the mud on the hilly jungle track.

During this time most of them had been unable even to brew themselves a mug of tea and certainly had not had a hot meal. Now, shelterless, their feet pulpy and shrivelled from the constant wet, they were soaked by continuous rain. They were worn out by fighting in country where movement alone for even unencumbered men was a hardship.

Dudley McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area first year: Kokoda to Wau (1959). Read more of his story.

After the defeat at Isurava, the Australians withdrew south along the Kokoda Track.

On 27 August, the Japanese had attacked Isurava and also the positions held by the inexperienced 53rd Battalion on the Alola-Abuari Track. The 53rd's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Ward, was killed.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Key, commanding officer of the 2/14th Battalion, withdrew to Isurava Rest house, 1 km south along the track.

Maroubra Force commander, Brigadier Potts, received conflicting information. It made it impossible to coordinate further action. Fearing the Japanese would outflank them, Potts ordered the troops to withdraw to Alola. He at least relieved the last of the exhausted 39th Battalion.

Nearby, supplies were being airdropped but often unsuccessfully. The supplies were often lost to the jungle. They needed a better supply camp close to their position. Troops were hungry, wet, sick and cold.

With a lack of supplies and waning troops exhausted and sick, the Australian Forces continued to withdraw. The Japanese 41st Infantry Regiment continued to put pressure on their rear.

Under cover of darkness on 31 August, the Australians were attacked from two sides. This attack cut them off from the track and scattered them into the jungle.

By morning, 172 men were missing, including Lieutenant Colonel Key. Between 25 to 31 August, Australian casualties were 99 killed and 111 wounded. Japanese casualties were 140 killed and 231 wounded.

Papua New Guinea
31 August 1942
Image caption
A view of the rolling mountains from a high point over the Owen Stanley Ranges looking in the direction of Kokoda, 1942.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 027083. Photo by Thomas Fisher.