The Japanese retreat has a profound impact on the troops’ morale. One commander later wrote that the order to withdraw had “crushed the spirit of the troops”. “We gathered our weakening strength and quickened our pace of retreat.”
Just over two months since the Japanese South Seas Force landed at Gona, the Kokoda campaign begins in reverse as the Australians begin to push them back towards their beachheads and small groups of Japanese defenders fight desperate rearguard actions against the advancing Australians.
Back at base, troops of 2/14th delighted to hear reports that Capt ‘Ben’ Buckler had reached the American lines at Dorobasolo with his party of 37 men but that he had to leave eight wounded behind and wanted to send a party to find them.
Buckler’s mob has been adrift in the jungle fighting to avoid Jap patrols and to reach their own lines since being separated after the battle for Isurava.
Two battalions from the 2/25th Brigade, the 2/31st and 2/33rd Battalions reoccupy Ioribaiwa, followed the next morning by the young Diggers of the 3rd Militia Battalion. They see no sign of the Japanese.
The fresh Australian troops on the Kokoda Track, Diggers from 25th Brigade, begin their advance from Imita Ridge and are surprised to find the Japanese have abandoned Ioribaiwa.
Patrols from the 2/31st Battalion begin recconnoitreing a path as preparation so the battalion can attack the enemy’s right flank at Ioribaiwa the following day, anticipating stern resistance from the Japanese.
Australian patrols from Imita Ridge fail to find any enemy around the flanks of Ioribaiwa but hear sporadic mortar and automatic weapon fire in the vicinity.
The Australians begin aggressive patrolling from Imita Ridge, clashing with the 3rd Battalion of the Japanese 144th Regiment, who, unknown to the Diggers, are protecting the Japanese withdrawal.
Maroubra Force, the Australian troops now opposing the Japanese, comprises the fresh 25th Brigade, wearing ‘jungle green’ shirts and pants and US-style gaiters. The Diggers are now stronger in numbers and better equipped than any time during the campaign.
The Japanese position throughout the Pacific begins to turn against them: the fighting at Guadalcanal is taking a deadly toll; the Australian defeat of their amphibious landing at Milne Bay ends their plans for an overland advance on Moresby; and the beachheads are under increasing attack from Allied bombers.