Between 21 July and 14 September 1942, 2,000 Australian troops defended the Kokoda Track leading to Port Moresby against 10,000 elite, battle-toughened Japanese troops. The Australians were ill-equipped, poorly supplied, and facing an enemy determined to brush them aside and capture Port Moresby. These circumstances forced the Australians to stage a fighting withdrawal lasting four weeks across the ridges and valleys of the Kokoda Track to Imita Ridge on the mountains overlooking Port Moresby. During those four weeks of bloody fighting on the Kokoda Track the Australians suffered very heavy casualties.

This cross-section map of the Owen Stanley Range may assist viewers to gain an appreciation of the rugged terrain over which the Kokoda Campaign was fought in 1942.

This cross-section view of the Kokoda Track is reproduced here with permission of the artist Viki Sizgoric and "The Australian" newspaper.

The appalling conditions on the Kokoda Track

To add to the problems of the Australian troops, conditions on the Kokoda Track were appalling. The narrow dirt track climbed steep heavily timbered mountains, and then descended into deep valleys choked with dense rain forest. The steep gradients and the thick vegetation made movement difficult, exhausting, and at times dangerous. Razor-sharp kunai grass tore at their clothing and slashed their skin. The average annual rainfall over most of the Kokoda Track is about 5 metres (16 feet), and daily rainfalls of 25 centimetres (10 inches) are not uncommon. When these rains fell, dirt tracks quickly dissolved into calf-deep mud which exhausted the soldiers after they had struggled several hundred metres through it. Sluggish streams in mountain ravines quickly became almost impassable torrents when the rains began to fall.

Supply was a nightmare for the soldiers on the Kokoda Track, because every item of food, ammunition and equipment had to be man-handled along the track or dropped by air. Heat, oppressive humidity, mosquitos and leeches added to the discomfort of the rain-drenched Australian soldiers who were often without adeqate food and even a cup of tea.

As the Australians were digging in to make a last stand at Imita Ridge, the Japanese drive towards Port Moresby ran out of steam. In their fierce determination to overcome the Australians, the Japanese had sustained nearly 3,000 battle casualties on the Kokoda Track. Their supply lines were in chaos, their troops were starving and exhausted, and the Japanese Army General Staff acknowledged defeat on the Kokoda Track. On the evening of 25 September 1942, when the Japanese could see the lights of Port Moresby, the Japanese general was ordered to withdraw his battered army to the beachheads at Gona-Buna. Port Moresby had been saved.