Japanese land in Papua.

The Japanese landed in the Gona area of Papua on the night of 21/22 July
1942 and had built up a force of 13,500 troops by the end of July. The
first contact occurred on 24 July with a forward platoon of the Papuan
Infantry Battalion at Awala, 40 kilometres inland. The platoon fell back
to Gorari where they linked up the following day with the leading
company of the 39th Battalion, a Victorian militia unit. The Japanese
pressed on and pushed the small Australian force back through Oivi to
Kokoda where the 39th Battalion's commanding officer, Lt Colonel W T
Owen was killed on the night of 28/29 July. The Australian defenders
were again pushed back and consolidated at Deniki. On 8 August, an
attack by three companies of the 39th Battalion reached Kokoda but being
unable to hold the position the battalion was again forced to fall back
to Deniki. The Japanese pressed the Australians and although attacks on
9 and 10 August were beaten off, the Australian position had become
isolated with food and ammunition running low. The Australian position
was strongly pressed on 13 and 14 August and the decision was taken to
withdraw to Isurava where the 39th Battalion was joined by the 53rd
Battalion on 20 August.

Further reinforcements from Australia were already on the way. The
veteran 21st Brigade which had seen service in Syria commenced loading
in Brisbane on 6 August and as soon as it landed at Port Moresby was
rushed into the mountains. The Brigade Commander, Brigadier A W Potts,
on foot like all his men, reached Isurava on 23 August with two of his
battalions strung out along the trail behind him. Although he had been
assured that adequate supplies had been moved forward, Potts found a
completely inadequate reserve of rations and ammunition and although the
cold was severe, only 80 blankets. There were not enough native carriers
to bring up sufficient supplies and air-supply was limited by the lack
of landing grounds and dropping areas, by the problem of developing
efficient dropping methods and most of all by the shortage of aircraft.
Without adequate supplies, the entire Australian operation in the Owen
Stanley was in danger of collapsing. The failure of the supply system
undermined Potts' position even before he met the Japanese and caused
his command to change from an offensive to defensive role.

On 26 August, the 2/14th Battalion of the 21st Brigade moved up to
Isurava to relieve the 39th Battalion whose men were in a weak condition
due to a lack of warm clothing, blankets, shelter and rations. Before
the relief was carried out, the Japanese renewed their attack which they
sustained on the Australian positions on succeeding days. The 53rd
Battalion at Alola attacked towards Missima on 27 August but its leading
companies had came under sharp fire and Lt-Colonel K H Ward, their
commanding officer, was killed. The Japanese broke through the
Australian lines on 29 August and threatened the entire 2/14th Battalion
position which was only saved by a counter attack. For his gallantry
during the counter attack, Private Bruce Kingsbury was posthumously
award the Victoria Cross.

The position of the 2/14th remained serious and on the morning of 30
August both the 2/14th and what was left of the 39th Battalion withdrew
towards Alola. The 2/14th took heavy losses that day including its
commanding officer, Lt Colonel Key, the third battalion commander killed
on the Kokoda Trail in just over a month. The 2/16th Battalion, which
had been held in reserve, took the forward position but by 2 September
the 21st Brigade had become severely depleted and the order was given to
withdraw to Templeton's Crossing. By this stage, the 21st Brigade had
endured nearly a week of constant fighting, during most of which time
they had been unable to even brew themselves a mug of tea and had
certainly received no hot meals. Shelterless, their feet pulpy and
shrivelled from the constant wet, they were soaked by continuous rain.
In addition to their supply problems, the evacuation of the wounded was
a desperate problem with never enough carriers to move stretchers along
a congested trail to the road head.

The Japanese pursued the Australians who were unable to establish strong
defensive positions. Just when the supply problems seemed to have been
solved, Myola, with its facilities for receiving supplies, had to be
abandoned. The 2/27th Battalion took up in front of Efogi on 5 September
taking the automatic weapons and equipment of the 39th Battalions. The
39th Battalion was down to 185 men and moved off for Port Moresby. The
Japanese probed the 2/27th position on 7 September and attacked in
strength before dawn on the 8th. The frontal attack was beaten off but
the Japanese worked around the flanks to threaten Brigade headquarters
and to surround the rearguard unit. On the night of 8 September the
survivors of the three battalions of the 21st Brigade began to extricate
themselves along a side track. By 10 September, the 2/14th and 2/16th
Battalion were in position in front of Ioribaiwa as a composite unit
with only 307 men. In the next few days several large parties of the
2/14th, cut off in the earlier fighting and all the remained of the
2/27th, came in, weary and starving after long marches around the flanks
of the advancing Japanese.

In leaving Myola, Brigadier Potts not only lost his main supply point
but was also disregarding his latest orders. His decision was later
vindicated but on 12 September he was replaced by Brigadier S H Porter
and did not receive another active command until the closing months of
the war. Porter in taking command of the 21st Brigade brought with him
reinforcements, the 3rd Battalion and the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion and
was told that the 25th Brigade would soon arrive to spearhead operations
to stabilise the Owen Stanley front. The 25th Brigade had left Australia
on 1 September, arrived at Port Moresby on 9 September and on 13/14
September began its deployment on the main Ioribaiwa feature to which
Porter had withdrawn. On 14 September, the commander of the 25th
Brigade, Brigadier K W Eather took command of all troops in the forward
area. That day the Japanese renewed their attack using the rugged
country to their advantage. The next day, the pressure continued against
the whole Australian front and the Australians continued to lose men
since they were unable to dislodge the Japanese from the high ground.
With the Japanese feeling the whole front and flanks and with Eather
concerned about committing all his units to defensive tasks and losing
any freedom of movement, he requested permission to withdrew to Imita
Ridge. The decision was left to Eather who withdrew his forces in stages
on 17 September. Eather was then ordered to fight out the battle on
Imita Ridge.