The Principles of War Podcast
KokodaNew Guinea CampaignPodcast

95 – A militia Battalion on the Kokoda Trail

This is the second episode in our Kokoda Track series looking at the performance of the 53rd Battalion.  The 53rd, a militia Battalion, had some incredibly brave men.  Virtually untrained, poorly equipped, with inexperienced leaders, they fought a battle-hardened enemy in some of the worst terrain in the world. 

Battle map of the Kokoda Trail
This map shows the reinforcements that were pushed into the Kokoda Trail Campaign.

This episode looks at just 4 weeks in the history of the Battalion, from when they started up the track, during their contact with the Japanese and until they were ordered to leave the battlefield.  There is much to learn from their experience.  The 53rd Battalion receives it’s orders to start moving up the Kokoda Trail on the 10th of August 1942.

We have an extract from the UNSW Film Archive interview with LT Ron Plater.  He was a recent RMC graduate and discusses the conditions on the track.  ‘Breakfast was a cigarette and a pee’.  

Kokoda Track elevation map
An elevation map of the Kokoda Track. Note the steep ascents and descents. Courtesy of Charlie Lynn’s Kokoda Adventure Trek

Within the 53rd Battalion, there was a fundamental lack of skills in infantry minor tactics as well as operations in jungle terrain.  Freddy Spencer Chapman wrote that ‘The Jungle is Neutral’.  It is – it hates everyone equally.  The Japanese are highly skilled in jungle warfare.  The militia nor the 2nd AIF had little if any experience in the jungle.  The Jungle Training Centre at Canungra commenced in November 1942, two months after the Battle of Isurava – a major improvement in the Force Generation process, but it was too late for the 53rd Battalion, the other Militia Battalions as well the 2nd AIF 21st Brigade on the Kokoda Trail.  

By the 19th of August, Brigadier Selwyn Porter moves to Isuruva after meeting the CO of the 53rd at Alola. BRIG Porter has orders to take command of Maroubra Force and to deny ‘The Gap’ on the Kokoda Trail.

Brigadier Porter
Brig Porter in 1945 as the Brigade Commander of 24th Brigade.

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