A SUPERB NEW KOKODA CAMPAIGN DOCUDRAMA DEALS WITH THE BLOODY CAMPAIGN TO EXPEL JAPANESE INVADERS FROM AUSTRALIAN SOIL IN 1942
Japan's second attempt to capture Port Moresby, isolate Australia from the United States, and blockade Australia into surrender.
On 21 July 1942, an advance force of 2,000 Japanese troops landed on Australian soil at Gona in the Australian Territory of Papua. Their purpose was to prepare the way for a much larger invasion force comprising Japan's elite Nankai Shitai (5,586 troops of the 144th Regiment) supported by 3,845 veteran troops of the 41st Regiment. Drawing extensively on high quality archival cinematic footage that has been skilfully blended with dramatised re-enactments of important aspects, including numerous battle scenes, this splendid new docudrama provides a truly riveting account of the bloody Kokoda Campaign. At times, I found myself so absorbed in the story that I forgot that I was watching a docudrama.
The acting, script, and production values of "Kokoda" are of a very high order and far superior to most docudramas available to television viewers in Australia. The historical value of "Kokoda" is greatly enhanced by the carefully placed comments from veterans of the Kokoda Campaign and Australia's distinguished Pacific War historian Professor David Horner.
The defeat of Japanese plans to isolate Australia from its powerful American ally and compel Australia's surrender by blockade and other pressures in 1942 is now recognised as the Battle for Australia, and the Battle for Australia is formally commemorated nationally on the first Wednesday of September which is now designated "Battle for Australia Day". The Kokoda Campaign was not only a very important part of the Battle for Australia but also fought entirely on Australian soil to expel Japanese invaders. I can think of no better way to acquaint Australian children with the defeat of the first invasion of Australian soil since Federation, and the sacrifices that were required to produce that result, than providing every high school with access to a copy of this enthralling "Kokoda" DVD. Hopefully, school councils can be persuaded to spend the small price that will enable schoolchildren of appropriate age to be acquainted with a very important aspect of their country's history.
Much as I wanted to give "Kokoda" a five out of five rating for a superb historical docudrama, I felt obliged to impose a penalty for several significant historical "clangers" that should have been detected in the script before filming comenced.
The narrator, William McInnes, when speaking of the year 1942, says in "Kokoda":
"Papua New Guinea was then a Mandated Australian Territory".
This statement is wrong. In 1942, the Territory of New Guinea was a Mandate of the League of Nations. The Territory of Papua was then sovereign Australian territory that had been ceded by Britain to Australia in 1906. The distinction is historically important, and relevant to the question whether or not Australia was invaded by Japan in 1942. When 5,000 Japanese Nankai Shitai troops stormed ashore at Rabaul on 23 January 1942 and overran the numerically much smaller Australian garrison, they were not invading Australian soil but a League of Nations Mandate administered by Australia. When the Japanese advance force landed at Gona on the northern coast of Papua on 21 July 1942, they were invading sovereign Australian territory, and the whole of the Kokoda Campaign was fought on Australian soil. The separate Territories of Papua and New Guinea were combined to become the independent nation of Papua New Guinea in 1975. Am I qualified to express this view? Apart from being a history graduate, with a special focus on Far Eastern history, I was Assistant Secretary for Law in Papua and New Guinea in 1967 and one of my responsibilities was to administer the separate legal systems of the two territories.
McInnes incorrectly declares the date of the Battle of the Coral Sea to have been 4 May 1942. It was in fact 7-8 May 1942. McInnes goes on to say:
"After the battle (Coral Sea) the Japanese Navy asked the Japanese Army to land on the north coast of Papua New Guinea and capture Port Moresby".
This statement is also wrong . Operational responsibility for the capture of Port Moresby was not transferred to the Japanese Imperial Army immediately after the Battle of the Coral Sea but after the massive defeat of the Japanese Imperial Navy at the Battle of Midway on 4-6 June 1942. After losing its four best fleet aircraft carriers at Midway, the Japanese Imperial Navy felt that it was no longer capable of protecting a seaborne Japanese asault on Port Moresby.
Speaking of the Japanese landing at Gona, McInnes says:
"On 21 July 1942, two thousand Japanese soldiers of the elite Nankai Shitai Battalion landed on the north coast of Papua..".
The Nankai Shitai was not a battalion, but a regiment numbering about 5,586 troops. The Nankai Shitai was also known as the South Seas Detachment or Horii Detachment. The Horii Detachment was a reference to its commander Major General Tomitaro Horii.
As narrator, William McInnes cannot be blamed for these significant historical errors but any competent Pacific War historian should have picked them up before filming commenced. Paul Ham appears to have missed them but after reading his book "Kokoda", I was surprised to find in the bibliography no mention of two leading authorities on Japan's strategic plans for Australia in 1942. Those authorities are the 102 volume official Japanese war history Senshi Sosho* and "Japan's Southward advance and Australia" by a distinguished Japan scholar and historian, the late Professor Henry Frei. If Paul Ham had read the history of Japan's attack on Australia on this web-site, these historical errors would have been obvious.
* An English translation of Japan's strategic plans for Australia is available.
I felt obliged to draw attention to these historical errors because this story of the Kokoda Campaign is put forward as a docudrama rather than straight drama. However, I need to make clear that they did not spoil my own enjoyment of an otherwise superb production. I rated the "Kokoda" docudrama at:
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