The Principles of War Podcast
Training a battalion for war on the Kokoda Trail

102 – Training a Battalion for War

This episode looks at how a Battalion is trainined for war. It examines at the arrival of the 53rd and 39th Battalions into Port Moresby, the conditions they found themselves in and then the training they received whilst in country, before heading up the Kokoda Track. It looks at the training program at the Battalion level, Company level and with the individual platoons. It is part of our Kokoda series, highlighting the trying conditions of the 53rd Battalion.

We don’t rise to the level of our expectations but we fall to the level of our training. Archilocus

What were the conditions like with Port Moresby when 53rd Battalion arrived? 

We look at the conditions as outlined in the Barry Report. This was the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Circumstances Relating to the Suspension of the Civil Administration of the Territory of Papua in February, 1942 / by J.V. Barry. It looked at the transition to the military Government in Papua, an Australian Territory at the time.

The conditions on arrival will make it more difficult for the Officers and Senior NCOs to implement a training program as the Battalion struggles to provide for itself.

What was the process that LT COL Ward used to train the 53rd Battalion?

We look at the number of Tempory CAPTs and Majors within the Battalion.  Tempory ranks are assigned to officers where there is a service need and there is no officer available who is fully trained and competent in the role. Almost all of the CAPTs and MAJs in the 53rd Battalion held temporary ranks.

The have 219 days – 7 months and 7 days before the troops of the 53rd Battalion would be moving up the Kokoda Track. LT COL Ward has more time than he would have thought of, but he wasn’t to know that, he had more tasks assigned to him than he could complete and the fear of Japanese invasion in Port Moresby was ever present until after the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Training for the Battle of Kokoda

Josephus - Their exercises were bloodless battles and their battles were bloody exercises.
Josephus famous quote about the training of the Roman Army. “Their exercises were bloodless battles and their battles were bloody exercises.”

Marshal Suvorov - Train Hard, Fight Easy.
Marshal Suvorov, one of the greatest Russian Generals was a strong advocate of tough training. “Train hard – fight easy, train easy and you will have hard fighting.”

Training – Training is a planned process to inculcate and modify skills, knowledge and attitudes through learning experience in order to achieve effective performance in an activity or range of activities. Training incorporates the introduction of skills, knowledge and attitudes through instruction, and their development and maintenance of proficiency through practice. Training enables individual soldiers to carry out their assigned roles across the spectrum of military activity, and enables groups of soldiers to work collectively towards a military objective.

Education – In Army’s context education is intellectual, moral and social instruction in the profession of arms. It provides individuals with the intellectual skills, knowledge and attitudes needed to undertake military tasks. Education broadens an individual’s horizons, allowing training to be assimilated more quickly and with greater understanding. Education helps develop and foster military professionals who can think, apply knowledge, solve problems under uncertain or ambiguous conditions, and communicate their decisions. Through education, soldiers can find reasoned and viable solutions to complicated and unanticipated situations; that is, they can adapt to deal with complex problems in unfamiliar contexts, often while under stress or in dangerous situations.

Experience – Experience is knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed, encountered or undergone. An individual gains direct experience by actively participating in an activity. An individual gains indirect experience by observing events while not being a participant. Experience is important in the development of military professionals as it provides context for the skills and knowledge gained through training, and provides time for individual reflection, refinement and adaptation.

Organisational experience is concerned with maximising the benefit that the organisation can gain from individual experience. It ensures that lessons are captured, distributed and reinforced.

The 53rd Battalion was given no exposure to patrolling in the jungle, navigation, very little time at the range.

We look at the average day of a soldier in the Battalion and what their tasks were. 

Related posts

95 – A militia Battalion on the Kokoda Trail


55 – Preparing D Coy / 6 RAR for the Battle of Long Tan with LT COL Harry Smith

James Eling

50 – The Birth of Australian Special Forces

James Eling


PETER SHEEN DOWLING May 12, 2024 at 9:30 pm

Great Podcast . Lt Platter was a Duntroon graduate. Was one of the few with the necessary Education necessary yes. – he went on and had a remarkable career in the 39th Bn at Gona and when transferred to a AIF BN.

admin May 31, 2024 at 9:38 am

Those Duntroon Officers made a great contribution in getting the militia platoons and companies up to speed as quickly as possible. It highlights the need for strong skills and training prior to combat.


Leave a Comment