Issue 5 - June 1, 2009 enews home

Researcher challenges Australia’s Kokoda story

Section of the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea
Photographer: Colin Freeman

By Richmond Hodgson

A considerable revision in the Australian version of the Kokoda campaign is warranted, according to research from Charles Darwin University.

Dr Peter Williams, who has just been awarded a PhD from CDU, said Japanese sources pointed to a number of important errors in the traditional Australian account of the most significant battle fought by Australians in World War II.

“In the Japanese advance towards Port Moresby they did not, as is commonly believed, outnumber the Australians and Papuans,” Dr Williams said.

Traditional accounts of the Kokoda campaign portray the Australians and Papuans as under-resourced, outnumbered and outgunned.

According to captured documents from the first battle of Kokoda, the resistance from the Australian troops was such that the Japanese believed they had defeated a force more than 1200 strong, when in fact, they were facing just 77 Australian troops.

“Often it was the Australians who enjoyed a significant numerical superiority,” Dr Williams said.

“It follows that the initial Allied defeats cannot be explained away by superior enemy numbers.

“In the later Australian advance it was they, not the Japanese, who enjoyed a very large numerical superiority.”

Dr Williams said other common misunderstandings in the Australian post-war account of the fighting in the Owen Stanley Range in Papua concerned Japanese strategy, military intelligence and the importance of artillery.

“The effect of malaria, weather and air interdiction have similarly either been misinterpreted or have not been seriously examined,” he said.

“This thesis argues that, in the light of these errors, a revision in the Australian version of the Kokoda campaign for correctness of information is needed.”