That was a real, real battle, at Isurava... One of the worst, one of the worst. A lot of men killed. And we by this time we were nearly all starving scarecrows, because we had been there for weeks and weeks. All wet, some sick, terrible.

Joseph Dawson, 39th Battalion. Learn more about his experience.


Heading south from Kokoda is Isurava. It's also just south of Deniki and north of Alola on a north-south ridgeline.

Isurava is nestled in a clearing on the slopes of the first main peak along the gruelling jungle track. It winds its way towards the highest point of the track at Mount Victoria.


To the front and rear of Isurava, tributary creeks flow eastwards down into Eora Valley from Isurava. These waterways provided narrow obstacles, bordered by thick scrub with views over them.

In a flat clearing was Isurava village, beyond which the steep track descended towards the Eora Creek.

Strategic situation

For the Allies, Isurava provided a good delaying position on the main Kokoda Track. They could hold a strong line on the main track to prevent the enemy from advancing that way.

If the Japanese proposed to outflank them on their right, they would be faced with a steep uphill climb from Eora Valley. To their left, they faced a gruelling path through the thick jungle.

Assuming the Japanese would prefer the easier path, the Australians would be waiting and ready to open fire. But if the Japanese artillery was positioned on the northern ridge, they would have an advantage. They would be able to oversee all Australian defensive positions.

Horii, the Japanese commander, wanted to surround the Australians and destroy Maroubra Force. But the dense jungle made it difficult to navigate and by that stage, his troops were exhausted and sick.

The battalion he sent east to march around the rear of the Australians got lost. On the western side of the gorge, the Japanese troops also found themselves lost, and ran into the Australian line on the left.

Eventually, they stumbled onto the Australians at their new position at the rest house, 1 km south of the clearing.

The fighting was starting to take its toll on the Australian force, too. Supplies were scant, exhaustion and illness were already causing low morale among the troops.

By the end of their hold on Isurava, a dysentery outbreak had reached the front line. For the next two months, 30 to 80 Australian troops were evacuated from the front line each day, mostly suffering from dysentery and scrub typhus.


Australian units (39th, 2/14th and 2/16th Infantry Battalions) were awarded battle honours for their involvement in the fighting around Isurava during late August.

It was one of the fiercest fights during the entire Kokoda campaign.

26 to 31 August 1942
Image caption
Members of D Company, 39th Battalion trekking through the thick mud back to their base after the battle at Isurava. c September 1942.
Right to left: Warrant Officer 2 R. Marsh, Private G. Palmer, Private J. Manol, Private J. Tonkins, Private Arnold William Forrester and Gallipoli veteran Staff Sergeant J. Long.
Image attribution
Australian War Memorial. AWM 013288. Photographer Damien Peter Parer.