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Battle of Isurava – August 26 - 31 1942
6 Mar 2012

The village of Isurava was the site of one of several desperate battles fought by Australian troops along the Kokoda Track.


Since the loss of the Kokoda airstrip the Australian objective had been to drive back the Japanese and recover it (ensuring a regular supply of food and ammunition). However by the last week of August 1942, it was realised that the Japanese were now too strong so Australian orders were changed. Australians were told to adopt a defensive stance and prevent the Japanese penetrating the Owen Stanley Range towards Port Moresby.  Had the Japanese done this, mainland Australia would have come under dire threat.


The Australians were heavily outnumbered (several hundred soldiers versus Japanese 6,000 strong combat troops), inadequately armed, and poorly supplied, but their resolute stand over four days at Isurava inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese and blunted the momentum of the Japanese drive towards Port Moresby.


The stubborn resistance of the Australian troops at Isurava wrecked the Japanese timetable for crossing the Kokoda Track, gave time for Australian reinforcements to be brought up, and paved the way for the ultimate defeat of Major General Tomitaro Horiis army before it could reach Port Moresby.


The 39th infantry – “ragged bloody heroes” of that battle


The 39th infantry battalion (average age 18) is one of the most famous memorable stories from the Battle of Isurava.


This battalion was raised in Melbourne in 1921 and called the ‘Hawthorn-Kew regiment’.  They arrived in Moresby at the start of January 1942 with little military training and they were initially used for garrison duties and working parties.


In June 1942, they were ordered to proceed up the Kokoda Track to block any possible Japanese overland advance.  Being young, inexperienced, and poorly equipped they had to dig-in with bayonets, bully beef tins and helmets.


By the 26th August, the survivors of the 39th battalion were desperately awaiting promised relief, yet were again attacked by the Japanese.  When the relief arrived in the form of the 2/14th battalion, the 39th battalion were well aware of the onslaught their replacements would face, and so ended up remaining in place and providing them back-up.


While the exhausted members of the 39th battalion were in awe of the fit and well equipped members of the 2/14th who had just arrived, the 2/14th in turn were surprised that the ragged remains of the 39th were still able to stand in their condition, let alone fight.


The heroic battles fought by this ill clad group of troops earned them the title ‘those ragged bloody heroes from the Thirty Nine’.

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