It was on July 21, 1942, that Japanese troops landed on the northern coast of then New Guinea and unexpectedly began to march over the Owen Stanley Ranges with the intent of capturing Port Moresby.
Had they succeeded, the mainland of Australia would have come under dire threat.
The 1st Battle
A small group of about 80 raw defenders - mainly the remnants of Bravo Company of the 39th Militia Battalion and the Papuan Infantry Battalion, which included 20 Papuans, dug in on the Kokoda plateau. The average ago of one Section of Bravo Company was only 18. The plan was to fly the rest of the battalion in to reinforce them. The first plane circled the airfield but mistook the Australian soldiers for Japanese and returned to Port Moresby. They then faced a gruelling 8-day march to reinforce their mates at Kokoda. They were too late to help the first Japanese attack on the night of the 27 July.
Their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Owen placed his defenders in an arc around the northern end of the plateau. His opponent was Captain Ogawa, commander of No. 1 Company of the first battalion of 144 Regiment. Both Ogawa and Owen were killed in the first battle.
The Australians were quickly overwhelmed and conducted a ragged withdrawal back up the trail to Deniki. Major Alan Cameron, a tough and uncompromising commander, arrived at Deniki, took command of the 39th Battalion and immediately prepared to recapture Kokoda. The Japanese paused to consolidate their gains in the Kokoda-Goiari-Oivi area. The aggressive Cameron decided on a brazen counter-attack to drive them back off the Kokoda plateau. At the same time the Japanese began an attack on Deniki and the two forces became entangled in a fierce battle between their two objectives. Some Australians broke through, recaptured Kokoda on 8th August, and held it for three days before they had to withdraw back to Deniki which they held against the Japanese attacks until August 14th.
Their next stand was to be at Isurava.