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The Battle for Isurava: 26 – 30 August, 1942

While valour is remembered, Isurava will not be forgotten.’

– Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner DSO MC


Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Honner, a decorated veteran from the Middle East campaign was appointed to take command of the 39th after Owen's death. His orders were to stop the Japanese advance at Isurava until the battle-hardened troops from the 21st Brigade arrived to drive the Japanese back into the sea.


In the build-up to the main battle, Australian and Japanese patrols clashed continuously as they probed each other's positions. It was a confusing baptism to jungle warfare which resulted in units from the 39th being cut-off in the jungle for days on end without food, communications or any chance of reinforcements.


The Japanese launched their offensive on the 26th of August, a co-ordinated attack on the 39th Battalion at Isurava and a seaborne invasion against the Australian brigade at Milne Bay. Their strategic objective was Port Moresby but the impact of their advance reverberated throughout the Australian mainland.


The Japanese grew frustrated by the stubborn defence of the Australians and increased the intensity of their attacks. During the next 48 hours, there were countless examples of individual gallantry, self-sacrifice, courage, endurance, mateship and instinctive leadership. Private Bruce Kingsbury joined the immortals after driving a force of Japanese back into the jungle and saving the battalion from certain defeat. He was posthumously awarded the first Victoria Cross on Australian Territory.


It was now 30th of August. The Japanese advance had been halted for four vital days. They had sustained heavy casualties, used up large amounts of ammunition and scarce food supplies. As the Australians prepared to fight their way back to Alola the Japanese put in a final attack that forced Lieutenant Colonel Key and his Headquarters staff off the trail into Eora Valley.


The Australians lost 99 killed and 111 wounded at the battle for Isurava.


The words:

  • Courage

  • Mateship

  • Sacrifice

  • Endurance;

engraved in granite at the Isurava Memorial will forever Commemorate the gallant band of brothers from the 39th & 2/14th Battalions.

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