[Lone Sentry: Fighting on the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea, WWII Tactical and Technical Trends]
  [Lone Sentry: Photographs, Documents and Research on World War II]
Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Intel Articles by Subject

"Fighting on the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following report on Japanese tactics during the fighting on the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea appeared in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 23, April 22, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


Direct reports from the front are always worth reading. Even if there is some repetition of detail, the repetition itself drives home important lessons. The notes that follow were sent in by a U.S. Army Colonel.

*          *          *

In the fighting on the Kokoda Trail, (between Port Moresby and Buna) our troops found that on making contact along a road or trail in the jungle, the Japanese usually followed this procedure:

An especially trained advance guard pushed ahead of their column, took up a position astride the trail, and tried to pin down our defense with machine-gun and mortar fire. Next, if various feints and demonstrations did not induce us to give away our position by opening a premature fire, the Japs would try to infiltrate around the flanks. Their groups moved swiftly under cover; targets were poor and fleeting. If our troops held their fire till a good target presented itself, these forward groups could usually be stopped. There were many cases where, when the advance elements were allowed to sneak by, the supports which followed them could be ripped up by machine-gun and rifle fire. However, if the defense disclosed its position by too early or too powerful a fire, the Japanese brought up machine guns and mortars and blasted our lines.

To test the possibility of further advance, the Japanese used many tricks based on two natural human traits - fear of the unseen and unknown, and curiosity. They appeared to place much confidence in the effect of noise, and for this reason did considerable firing, both to bolster their own courage and to lower our morale. Captured weapons were shot off to give the impression that our men were firing them; they fired machine guns out on the flank to give the impression that our position was being turned; or they talked loudly and shook bushes to draw nervous shots or cause movement. In order to distract attention and cause confusion, they exploded fire-crackers.

There must be depth to positions in order to prevent effective encirclement, and bold handling of combat patrols to meet their flanking tactics. The counterattack cannot be overstressed. All-around defense, at night, or in thick country, is necessary.

In their attack on prepared positions, the Japanese used a more or less standard procedure. By reconnaissance and ruses, they made every effort to determine our strength and location. After they had discovered what they thought was a soft spot, they persisted in attacking there. Should the first attack fail, it was shifted to some other place, but the Japanese usually returned again to the original point of attack. Consequently, it was dangerous to weaken that point to reinforce some other.

Often, in this phase of the fighting, the Japanese used no preparatory fire. After contact was made, their skirmish line hit the ground while overhead fire by machine guns and mortars fell on our positions. Under cover of the barrage, supports would try to crawl close enough to put down a hand-grenade barrage to protect the advance. It was not uncommon during such attacks for the enemy to replace tired forward troops with fresh reserves. This change-over was accomplished efficiently, and without confusion.* Incidentally, the Japanese will advance under a white flag and shoot at anyone coming out, disguise himself as a native or a civilian, and in retreat, litter the trail with cast-off garments and equipment to give the impression of a disorderly flight, and then ambush the pursuit.

*The description of these skirmish line tactics corresponds closely with accounts of Indian fighting in Kentucky and Ohio in Daniel Boone's day.


[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

Web LoneSentry.com