29 August 1942

Intense fighting at Isurava. Japs crack Aust defences & threaten battalion HQ. Diggers hastily mount a counter-attack.

As Japs are poised to drive through the defensive gap to capture Aust HQ, Private Bruce Kingsbury charges at them, firing his Bren machine gun from the hip, and sends them fleeing back in the jungle.

Bruce Kingsbury is killed by a sniper immediately after as he reloads. He will later be awarded the only VC awarded in the Kokoda Campaign.

28 August 1942

Fierce fighting at Isurava continues as CO 2/14th Battalion Lt Col Arthur Key takes command. Although 39th Battalion should be relieved and withdrawn to Moresby, its CO Ralph Honner realises his men are needed to hold the position against the overwhelming enemy numbers and both COs persuade Brig Arnold Potts to keep them there.

B Company of 2/14th Battalion, holding the crucial high ground at Isurava, survives many human-wave attacks by an enemy determined to wear them down and break into their defences.

The 53rd Battalion's lack of training shows on the other side of Eora Creek near Abuari where 2/16th Battalion is forced to take over the militia unit's positions.

Regimental Medical Officer of 2/16th Battalion Capt ‘Blue’ Steward later reflected on problems of 53rd Battalion, many of whom were just 18. “They had been dragooned into service, given a hurried medical examination and pushed through their embarkation procedure in 24 hours. They had no chance to arrange their affairs nor even farewell their families …”

“Many of them resented the harsh manner of their conscription, their patent lack of training, their inferior weapons and the uncertain quality of some of their officers.”

27 August 1942

As the battle of Isurava rages, Moresby is threatened from another direction as a large Jap force lands at Milne Bay, about 2000 marines with tank support.

At Isurava the main body of the 2/14th Battalion reaches the embattled 39th Battalion as the fighting there intensifies.

Brigadier Arnold Potts realizes his 53rd Battalion cannot hold the eastern side of the Eora Creek at Abuari and commits his 2/16th Battalion to assist them.

He advises General ‘Tubby’ Allen in Moresby that 53rd’s “training and discipline below standard required for action” and asks that he send him his 2/27th Battalion as a fighting reserve. Allen tells Potts of Milne Bay landing and says he must retain 2/27th until situation at Milne Bay clear.

CO and adjutant of 53rd Battalion both killed in ambush near Abuari. Another blow to the already low morale of the ill-prepared battalion.

26 August 1942

The Battle of Isurava erupts. Lt Col Ralph Honner, CO of 39th later writes: “(the Japanese) were met with Bren-gun and Tommy-gun, with bayonet and grenade; but still they came, to close with the buffet of fist and boot and rifle butt, the steel of crashing helmets and of straining, strangling fingers. (It was) vicious fighting man to man and hand to hand.”

Against odds of up to 10, the 39th holds firm until relieved, late on 26 Aug, by 2/14th AIF Bn. 

25 August 1942

General Horii orders 11th Bn, 144th Regiment: “To advance along the eastern side of the valley, deploy to the south of Isurava, cut off the Australians’ withdrawal and annihilate them.”

It would be first met by the Australian 53rd Bn and then by the 2/16th AIF Bn and would fail to achieve its aim.

At Isurava the 39th Bn is stretched to the limit as the Japanese increase their attacks trying to breach the Australian defences.

24 August 1942

The recce party from 2/14th Battalion, led by CO Lt Col Arthur Key, arrives at Alola, one village away from Isurava, where the young Diggers of 39the Battalion are holding on grimly.

B Company 39th is holding the high ground at Isurava against attacks growing in size and frequency.

Persistent supply problems mean that troops from 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions, rushing to reinforce the 39th at Isurava and the 49th at Abuari, can only be sent forward company by company.

23 August 1942

The Japanese increase their probing attacks at Isurava but they are thrown back each time by desperate defence from the young Diggers, using rifle, Bren, grenades and even fists and boots.

Back down the Track Osmar White, war correspondent with Daily Tele describes the men of 2/14 & 2/16 Bns, heading up Track to reinforce 39th:

“These troops were tested and selected by war. They were scrawny muscled and burned to the colour of leather by desert winds. There were no weeds among them. They betrayed no enthusiasm. They did not cheer and catcall. They knew what fighting meant and they were going to fight.”

2/27th Bn now in Moresby from Australia waiting for orders to move up Track, conducting route marches, hill climbs and small arms practice.

22 August 1942

Japanese increase their patrolling around Isurava, probing to find the Australian defences and their limitations.

Unable to address his troops in one place, Ralph Honner moves around his young Diggers building their confidence by his presence and by helping them to define their areas of responsibility.

War is largely a matter of confidence. If the troops have confidence in their mates, their weapons, their leadership, and sufficient confidence in their numbers – in that they’ve got a fair chance and they’re not hopelessly outnumbered – they’ll fight well.  When that confidence goes, then something snaps and the force can be dissipated.”

21 August 1942

Brigadier Arnold Potts arrives at Myola, holds 2/14th there until HQ can resolve their supply problems. 

At Isurava, Ralph Honner first hears that 2/14th will arrive imminently, “all the news seemed good news and courage feeds on hope”. But then he learns that Japs are building up their force to his north. And then he hears that of “grave supply difficulties behind us”. The 2/14th may be delayed.

“I knew that relief could not come for many days and I was determined never to ask for it. I was equally determined that there should be no more precipitate retreats – that we should ‘stand and fight’ – orders I had heard myself at more than one pass in Greece, including famed Thermopylae.”

20 August 1942

After major supply problems, 2/14th troops struggle up Track, most carrying loads of more than 30kg, along with their weapons, hoping to reinforce the 39th Bn Diggers in time make a stand at Isurava.

But the 2/14th's supply chain has not kept pace with them and Brigadier Arnold Potts is reluctant to send them past Myola until the problem is solved.

At Isurava, the 39th's contact with forward elements of Jap forces begins to increase. It's a race against time to see whether they can hold on long enough for the 2/14th to reach them before the the massive Jap invasion force, consolidating at Gona, readies itself for what it believes will be a 10-day march across the Kokoda Track to capture Moresby. 

The only troops between the invaders and Moresby are the 39th, untried, untested Militia troops, outnumbered at least 10 to one on the ground.