Japan's second Attempt to Capture Port Moresby and isolate Australia from the United States

Text and Web-site by James Bowen. Updated 9 June 2010



The book "Kokoda beyond the Legend" contains chapters that deliberately, and without any historical justification, falsely diminish the magnificent Kokoda achievement in 1942 and falsely smear Australia's Kokoda heroes as lesser fighters than the Japanese they defeated on the Kokoda Track. The book was published despite timely warnings from Pacific War historian James Kenneth Bowen that the book would contain a false denial of the strategic importance of Kokoda and subject Australia's Kokoda heroes to vile and untrue smears.


Left: The book "Kokoda beyond the Legend" was published by the Australian War Memorial in 2017 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda fighting; RIGHT: Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson.

Kokoda is an iconic part of Australia's military history, and I believe that many Australians will resent Kokoda being tarnished falsely by the Australian War Memorial under Brendan Nelson. A detailed REVIEW AND EXPOSURE of the shameful historical distortions contained in several chapters of this treatment of Kokoda may cause some Australians to feel that there has been a collapse of historical scholarship at the Australian War Memorial under director Brendan Nelson. Nelson has totally ignored written invitations from Pacific War historian James Kenneth Bowen to defend false and insulting claims in his book's treatment of Kokoda. He has also ignored a written suggestion that an apology is owed by him to Australians for publishing a false and insulting history of Kokoda in "Kokoda beyond the Legend". Some may view this dismissive attitude to arguably reasonable requests as possibly explaining Brendan Nelson's removal from leadership of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party in 2009. Rumours were circulating in 2018 that Brendan Nelson might be considered for appointment as Governor General after Sir Peter Cosgrove, but after his very controversial attitude to Kokoda received public airing in 2017 and 2018, I suspect that those Australians who view Kokoda as a magnificent and heroic achievement that blocked an invasion of a part of Australia by Japanese troops in 1942 would have been relieved to hear that the prestigious appointment would go to New South Wales governor General David Hurley.


The former senior historian at the Australian War Memorial, Dr Peter Stanley, has claimed that the Japanese were not planning to make themselves masters of Australia in 1942 and that any Japanese threat to Australia in 1942 was greatly exaggerated by wartime Prime Minister John Curtin for his own political ends. See the chapter "Confronting 1942 revisionism by Dr Peter Stanley". Pacific War historian James Bowen argues that the Dr Stanley has reached incorrect conclusions about 1942 and Prime Minister Curtin based upon ignorance of Japan's hostile plans for Australia in 1942 and flawed research.

* Author's Note: Dr Stanley's sudden resignation from the Australian War Memorial in December 2006 surprised many. He resigned at the height of the furore over his controversial 1942 revisionism and public challenges to his scholarship in relation to that revisionism. In an interview with Lucinda Schmidt on 17 December 2008, Dr Stanley conceded that he had not handled the 1942 issue sensitively and had "learned from that". In an apparent attempt to explain his lack of understanding of the strategy and dynamics that shaped the course of the Pacific War in 1942, Dr Stanley claimed that he was "not the type of military historian who enjoys 'arid technical analysis' of battle strategy. Rather, he (claimed to be) fascinated by military social history - the human element of how people respond under great duress". In 2008, Dr Stanley declined an invitation to debate publicly with Pacific War historian James Bowen his controversial denial of the gravity of the Japanese threat to Australia in 1942.

Returning from the Battle of Isurava, soldiers of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion trudge through deep mud on the hellish Kokoda Track. In heavy fighting under appalling conditions, these heroes have played a vital role at Kokoda, Deniki, and Isurava in blunting the momentum of the Japanese advance towards Australia. From right to left: Warrant Officer 2 R. Marsh, Privates G. Palmer, J. Manol, J. Tonkins, A. Forrester, and Gallipoli veteran Staff Sergeant J. Long.....AWM 013288


If Port Moresby had been captured in 1942, the Japanese would have secured the anchor for their plan (Operation FS) to cut Australia off completely from American support. Much of northern Australia would have been brought within range of Japanese bombers operating from Port Moresby. The course of the Pacific War would almost certainly have been greatly changed. The heroic Australian Diggers who repulsed a much larger, and better equipped Japanese army under conditions of extraordinary hardship on the bloody Kokoda Track in 1942 deserve to be called "the men who saved Australia".

The capture of Port Moresby was of vital importance to Japan's military leaders in 1942. Port Moresby was situated on the southern coast of the Australian Territory of Papua and separated from the Australian mainland by a 500 kilometre stretch of the Coral Sea. Its capture would deny the Allies a forward base from which to launch air attacks on Japan's newly acquired military bases in the Australian Territory of New Guinea. With the whole of the island of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands under Japanese control, Japan could establish forward naval and air bases on these territories from which it could strike deeply into the Australian mainland and intercept military support for Australia from the United States. Port Moresby would also provide Japan with a springboard for an invasion of the Australian mainland when that became feasible. The first attempt by Japan to capture Port Moresby by means of a powerful seaborne invasion force occurred in the first week of May 1942. This attempt was frustrated by a joint United States and Australian naval task force at the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Despite Japan's massive defeat at the Battle of Midway, and the resulting loss of naval superiority over the United States Pacific Fleet, Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo was determined to press on with the plan to isolate Australia from the United States. The Imperial Japanese Navy had operational responsibility for Japanese military operations in the South-West Pacific area, including the plan to isolate Australia from the United States, but with four of its six best aircraft carriers lost at Midway, and Shokaku badly damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese Navy was no longer capable of mounting a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby. Faced with this dilemma, Japan's admirals decided to pass the task of capturing Port Moresby to the Japanese Army.


In this treatment of the Kokoda Campaign, reference will be made to the "Kokoda Track". This was the name by which it was known to Australian soldiers who fought on it in 1942 and to the civilians who were living in Australia's Territory of Papua before the Japanese invaded it on 21 July 1942. Dissemination of war news in the South-West Pacific was controlled in 1942 by the American Supreme Commander, General Douglas MacArthur, and his personal American staff. "Trail" is not Australian usage. "Track" is not American usage. Americans speak of the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. There is a very real possibility that the term "Kokoda Trail" was coined by an American member of General MacArthur's public relations staff writing in terms that would be understood by Americans. The Australian War Memorial has opted since 1992 to use the American term "Kokoda Trail" to describe the location of the most important battle fought by Australians on their own soil in World War II. However, the Memorial concedes that both "Track" and "Trail" have now become acceptable usages. Continued at...



Kokoda - Forging an Australian Tradition

Overview of the Campaign

Cross-section view of the Kokoda Track

Map of the Kokoda Track

"Into the Mouth of Hell" - the 39th Battalion crosses the Mountains

The Battles for Kokoda

The recapture and second defence of Kokoda

The Battle of Isurava - Australia's Thermopylae

Poem - "The 'Chocolate Soldiers' of New Guinea" by A. E. Lockrey

Historical Source Material

In Preparation

= The Australian fighting Withdrawal to Imita Ridge

= The Japanese Retreat

= The Battle of Milne Bay

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