3 September 1942

Diggers fight a rearguard back to Templeton's Crossing. With his men desperately tired after weeks of continuous combat, Brig Arnold Potts signals HQ that he plans to withdraw to a position on the high ground south of Efogi Village. It will soon become known as Brigade Hill.

HQ asks Potts to hold Myola, a large dry lake between Templeton's Crossing and Efogi - one of the few open areas suitable as a supply drop zone on the Track. Showing a complete lack of understanding on the situation on the Track, Gen 'Tubby' Allen asks Potts: "Is it possible to revert to offensive action now?"

Potts suggests HQ come forward to see situation and replies: "country utterly unsuitable for defended localities. Regret neccessity abandon Myola ... Men full of fight but utterly weary. 2/16 back through 2/14. Plan withdrawal Efogi - take position high ground south of village. Remaining companies of 2/27th Battalion too late to assist. Will keep you informed."{C}

2 September 1942

The 39th Battalion reaches Kagi village in the early hours, while, back at Eroa Creek, the 2/14th and 2/16th Battalion have held off attacks, including mortar bombardment, all through the night. They are harassed by Japanese snipers from tree tops.

Around dawn, having successfully formed a rearguard to allow their mates to withdraw back to Templeton's Crossing, D Company 2/16th move back down the Track and prepare another ambush.

Stragglers begin wandering in to join the main body of the Australians after days separated in the jungle, while wounded are being stretchered back towards Moresby by the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels through the terrible terrain.

Both sides are now very wary of each other after the heavy casualties. At one stage an Australian patrol and a Japanese patrol moved parallel to each other for a couple of kilometres on each side of a ridge line with neither prepared to show themselves against the skyline for fear of making an easy target.

The Australians can now only muster a total of around 500 fighting troops to defend the Track. The 2/27th Battalion advance elements arrive at Manari village and camp there overnight.

1 September 1942

During early morning the 2/16th moves back through Eora Creek crossing. For the first time, a militia company of the 39th Battalion, covers the withdrawal of an AIF unit. It would be the last action of the 39th on the Track.

The desperate fighting and growing cases of illness have taken a terrible toll on the Australians fighting along the Track. The 39th Battalion now has less than 200 men (of around 500 at start), the 2/14th down to about 140, the 2/16th around 400 and the 53rd has been withdrawn.

In mid morning Brigadier Arnold Potts orders 39th to move back to Kagi village and hold it until relieved by 2/27th AIF Battalion, then moving up the Track from Moresby.

31 August 1942

More than 150 Diggers cut off after a last-minute Jap surge during the withdrawal from Isurava, including the 2/14th's CO, Lt Col Arthur Key, the Adjutant and the Intelligence Officer, Stan Bisset.

Bn 2IC, Major Phil Rhoden, aged 27, takes temporary command of troops, who are now occupying a ridge south of Alola village

The 2/16th covers the withdrawal and all strtcher cases are being moved back through the Australian lines towards Moresby. By evening the 39th Battalion were in defensive position at Eora Creek village, with 2/14th forward of it and 2/16th on a salient overlooking the village.

Off to the east, Capt 'Ben' Buckler begins a terrifying six week odyssey through the jungle leading a group of 50 isolated Diggers cut off after Isurava. One of the party, Cpl John Metson, shot in both ankles, will crawl for three weeks, refusing to let his overburdened mates carry him.

Troops of BCoy 2/27Bn reach Ioribaiwa ridge, with ACoy about 4 hours behind them.

30 August 1942

During the raging battle of Isurava Lt Harold ‘Butch’ Bisset, much-loved leader of 10 Platoon 2/14th Battalion, is hit by a burst of machine-gun fire across his abdomen as he distributes grenades to his men.

His platoon is holding the high ground and has withstood 30-40 separate massed enemy attacks.

Butch’s men make a bush stretcher and carry him as they fight their way down to the main Track where Butch’s brother Stan, the Battalion’s Intelligence Officer comforts him as the battle rages around them and the Australians begin to withdraw.

After lingering for six hours, while Stan holds his hand and they chat about their boyhood memories, Butch dies in Stan’s arms.

As 2/14Bn begin a fighting withdrawal, Corporal Charlie McCallum, single-handedly holds off charging Japs with Bren gun in one hand and Tommy gun in the other, chaging magazines in turn as they empty.

When his mates signal they’re clear, Charlie fires a final burst and calmly walks back to join them. He will later be recommended for a VC but will be awarded the Distinguished Conduct medal.

Back in Moresby first elements of 2/27Bn move off up Track

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.