Kokoda Trail

The War in the Pacific

Australasia 1942.0906

Kokoda Trail

Australia, New Zealand and World War II in the South Pacific (6 September 1942)

Historical Map of Australia, New Zealand & the Southwest Pacific

Unable to take Port Moresby by sea, the Japanese attempted to reach it by crossing New Guinea's Owen Stanley Range via the narrow and steep Kokoda Trail. There they were met by the Australians and for months the two sides fought back and forth over some of the most extreme terrain in the world, before American successes on Guadalcanal forced the Japanese to abandon their efforts.

Main Events

Battle of Midway

In an attempt to lure the US Pacific Fleet's few remaining aircraft carriers into a trap, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched an offensive against Midway Atoll. Warned of Japanese plans by its code-breakers, the US was prepared for the attack and successfully ambushed the Japanese force, sinking all four of its major aircraft carriers - Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu - and a heavy cruiser for the loss of just the carrier Yorktown and a destroyer.

Henderson Field

Japanese engineers and construction teams - over 2,500 men in all - began work on an airfield at Lunga Point on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. The project was observed by Coastwatchers - British personnel and Solomon Islanders working behind enemy lines on the islands - and reported, prompting the United States to make plans to land on Guadalcanal and capture the airfield (which they would name 'Henderson Field').

Kokoda Trail campaign

Japanese troops landed near Gona, on the north coast of the island of New Guinea and part of the Australian Territory of Papua, the starting point of their attempt to capture Port Moresby by advancing south over the Owen Stanley Range using the Kokoda Trail. On 23 July they were met by Australian forces at Awala, south of Kokoda, with whom they fought a series of battles before eventually being forced to withdraw. The Australians retook Kokoda on 2 November, reaching the north end of the track by 16 November.

Guadalcanal Landings

At 09:10 on 7 August, 11,000 US Marines under the command of Major General Alexander Vandegrift came ashore on Guadalcanal, in the British Solomon Islands, between Koli and Lunga Points. They encountered little resistance, capturing their main objective - an airfield under construction by the Japanese - by 16:00 on 8 August. Meanwhile Japanese aircraft attacked the invasion fleet from Rabaul, damaging a transport and a destroyer.

Japanese offensives in Guadalcanal

Japan landed forces on Guadalcanal, attacking the US position at Henderson Field on 21 August only to be repulsed. Additional attacks were made in September and October but also failed. On 1 November, US General Vandergrift began expanding the bridgehead on both sides of Henderson Field, defeating a Japanese force unloading at Tetere and dispersing the remaining Japanese into the jungle by 10 November.

Battle of the Eastern Solomons

While moving to support a Japanese counteroffensive on Guadalcanal, Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo's fleet - including two fleet carriers and one light carrier - clashed with Admiral Frank Fletcher's two fleet carriers and their accompanying force to the east of Malaita, Solomon Islands. After Japan lost their light carrier and a destroyer while heavily damaging the US carrier Enterprise, both sides chose to withdraw from the area.

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