On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States navy at Pearl Harbor. On December 8, the United States declared war on Japan. But Japan didn’t stop at Pearl Harbor, she launched a series of daring assaults across the Pacific theater of war. On the tenth of December, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and Guam fell. On December 23, General Macarthur began his long withdrawal from Manila to Bataan. On February 22, General Douglas Macarthur is ordered to leave the Philippines. 25,000 Americans are taken prisoner. About 500 would survive the horrors of Japanese internment. The Dutch East Indies, Singapore, Hong Kong – all fall to the Japanese.
But this whole time, the Japanese know America is massing forces for a counterattack. At the same time, Australia is at war with Japan. If Australia can be isolated, the whole of the Southern Pacific Ocean would lay secure in Japanese hands. The Japanese forces could concentrate on the westward thrust of the Americans, freeing valuable resources and manpower to blunt the American counterattack that was already forming in January 1942.
Australia in the way
All that stood in the way of the Japanese advance south were a few isolated Australian platoons on Papua New Guinea. The Japanese easily landed on the north coast of New Guinea at Buna and made their way south, on the Kokoda Trail. The Kokoda Trail is a mountainous track through dense, equatorial jungle. It’s literally only a man wide and vehicles cannot penetrate it. The vegetation blots out the sun and gives the entire place a somnambulant, ghostly quality. Artillery, grenades, and hand to hand combat would decide the outcome here, not machines. It’s men against men. It’s blood. It’s mud. It’s guts and it’s all for free on Battlecast – the world’s foremost podcast on military history and its socio-political impact.
Beer this week: Cooper’s Original Pale Ale, 4.5 bullets out of 5.
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Australia in the War of 1939–1945: Volume 6 by David Dexter
A Bastard of a Place: The Australians in Papua by Peter Brune
Reaping the Whirlwind: The German and Japanese Experience of World War II by Nigel Cawthorne
The Path of Infinite Sorrow: The Japanese on the Kokoda Track by Hajime Marutani
The Turn of the Tide, July 1942-February 1943: Shifting Strategic Initiative in the Pacific in World War II (doctoral dissertation) by Sean Judge, Ohio State University
From Port Moresby to Guadalcanal: Roots of Japanese Failure (masters thesis) by Michael Foster, University of Nebraska
Maps and Illustrations: