They set up a defensive place at a place called Brigade Hill near Efogi, and they waited for the Japanese to come. They came all right, and they were strong enough to beat this fresh battalion of AIF. Within three days they were in retreat. They got surrounded and came out, not the Kokoda Track, another track, led by their commander, the CO. They found they were surrounded, had no hope of stopping the Japanese and they just went out on a back way, back to Moresby. Didn’t fight any action again. One battalion, only in action for three days. That is the power of the Japanese, and they were fighting in the depths of the mountains.
Kenneth Phelan, 39th Battalion, 2nd/2nd Battalion AIF. Listen to his story.
Geographical importance of Efogi
The Kokoda Track follows Mission Ridge. It goes along the ridge crest in a north-south direction to Brigade Hill. From Efogi village, the precipitous slopes and broken ridges climb through dense jungle.
Efogi village lay to the north of the ridge. Nearby was the Efogi River Signal Station and a temporary hospital. The hospital had been withdrawn to Efogi from Myola.
Between Efogi and Brigade Hill, the protrusion of Mission Ridge formed a boomerang shape. This gave Australian forces a good defensive position. They had high vantage points that overlooked the track, giving them clear views of the advancing Japanese.
The landscape broke out of the trees as it sloped down towards the Fagume River. This gave the Allies the opportunity for airstrikes to help the ground troops. This would have been impossible if they were hidden beneath trees.
The Japanese intended to pin the Australians on Mission Ridge with one battalion. Another battalion would slip around the rear to block the track behind the Australians on Brigade Hill. But the Japanese were unaware Australians held Brigade Hill as well.
The Australians seemed to have the advantage. Even though they had Allied air support, the Japanese artillery was more effective.
With the help of Papuans who knew the area, the Japanese isolated Australian platoons. They forced D Company to retreat to headquarters along the track. The 2nd/27th, 2nd/14th and 2nd/16th battalions were forced to withdraw into the jungle.
The Japanese strategy of advancing from both directions forced the Australian troops to retreat.
US and Australian High Command had underestimated the importance of the Kokoda Track to the Japanese strategy. This caused delays in much-needed supplies and reinforcements.
By the time High Command realised how serious the situation was, Australian troops were withdrawing from Mission Ridge and Brigade Hill to Ioribaiwa.
Brigadier Potts was ordered to recapture Kokoda. But without a full understanding of the conditions and the state of the troops, his strategy was almost certainly doomed to fail. Potts was relieved of his command during the Battle of Brigade Hill.
Find out what happened at the Battle of Mission Ridge.