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...
Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner. Read more of his story.
Location, geography and terrain
Situated at the lower end of the valley, Deniki at 1,650 m elevation is a hard 6 km, 3-hour trek south into the mountains from Kokoda.
Cut into the side of the Yodda Valley overlooking Kokoda airfield, Deniki was an ideal vantage point for the Australian troops. The settlement sits at a junction of other tracks that lead north-east towards Oivi on the far side of Kokoda between the airfield and the coast. To its south, it guards the entrance to Eora Gorge towards Isurava.
As the first stop through the winding mountainous track, Deniki was the site of the first Australian supply and medical dump. But the going was tough. The troops' clothes were soaked through. They endured a bone-deep cold from constant rain, incessant mosquitoes and treacherous terrain. The going was slow.
The vantage point at Deniki meant it was the perfect place for the Australians to set up a defensive position along the Kokoda Track.
The converging tracks at Deniki played into Japanese strategy. Japanese troops attacked from all directions. They were intent on wearing the Australians down and ensuring the Australian defensive line had been broken.
Defending Deniki were the combined forces of the Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) and remaining elements of the 39th Battalion. It was known as Maroubra Force. They were already exhausted after two failed attempts to capture Kokoda.
The loss of Captain Templeton at Oivi and Captain Owen at Kokoda, and the withdrawal back into the jungle caused low morale among the young troops.
Unprepared to endure the long stints in the jungle, the troops dug into their cheerless weapon pits. Their lack of experience, and air and artillery support early in the campaign was taking its toll. They lacked the firepower of the Japanese. Maroubra Force only had small arms, grenades and when needed, were prepared for hand-to-hand combat.
Communication with headquarters at Port Moresby was sparse. Their only support was from the Papuan carriers and some army medical support.