BATTLE FOR AUSTRALIA 1942
This website provides an illustrated history of the Japanese military attack on Australia in 1942.
and website by James Kenneth Bowen (concise CV)
Pacific War historian BA; LLB (University of Queensland)
"The fall of Singapore can only be described as Australias Dunkirk The fall of Dunkirk initiated the Battle for Britain. The fall of Singapore opens the Battle for Australia."
The Honourable John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia, (press release dated 16 February 1942).
This online history was initiated on 9 May 2001; and was last updated May 2022
ABOUT THE AUTHOR JAMES KENNETH BOWEN
LEFT: James Kenneth Bowen has attended a 50th anniversary commemoration of Australia's commitment to the Vietnam War (1962-1975); MIDDLE: MajorJames Bowen is standing outside his tent at the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat, South Vietnam, during the massive Communist Tet Offensive in 1968; James Kenneth Bowen of Counsel seen as Prosecutor for the Queen in the State of Victoria (1978-1993).
James Kenneth Bowen graduated BA; LLB (politics, history, German language, and law) from the University of Queensland in 1959, and spent twenty-nine years in legal practice and seven years as an army officer in the Australian Army. He held the offices of Senior Crown Prosecutor and Assistant Secretary for Law in the Territories of Papua and New Guinea (1961-1967). At this time Papua was still part of the Commonwealth of Australia, and New Guinea was administered by Australia as a United Nations Trust Territory. James Bowen served as a major in the Australian Army from 1967 to 1973 (two years Regular Army and five years as Assistant Provost Marshal in the Australian Citizen MIlitary Force). That military service included service at Nui Dat and Vung Tau in Vietnam in 1968 during the Vietnam War. He held the appointment of Crown Prosecutor in Canberra from 1969 to 1978. He was appointed by the Victorian Governor-in-Council to the statutory office of Prosecutor for the Queen in 1978 and retired from that office in 1993.
WHAT WAS THE BATTLE FOR AUSTRALIA 1942-43?
Returning from the Battle of Isurava, soldiers of the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion trudge through deep mud on the hellish Kokoda Track. They were lightly armed, exhausted, and starving. In heavy fighting under appalling conditions against a powereful Japanese army that outnumbered them, these militia heroes have played a vital role at Kokoda, Deniki, and Isurava in blunting the momentum of the Japanese invasion of Australian soil in 1942.
As matter of unchallengeable historical fact, Australian soil was invaded by Japanese troops on 21 July and 25 August 1942.
The term “Battle for Australia” describes the clash of Japanese and American strategic war aims with Australia as their focus that produced a series of great battles in 1942 across the northern approaches to Australia, including the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Kokoda Campaign, and the Guadalcanal Campaign. In this context, the Battle for Australia is to be viewed as a lengthy and bloody struggle to prevent Imperial Japan achieving its strategic Pacific War aims of controlling Australia, preventing the United States aiding Australia, and using Australia as a base for launching a counter-offensivm against the Japanese military advance. For their part, the Americans were determined to protect their access to Australia and its New Guinea territories in 1942, even at the risk of their six precious fleet carriers that had survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the event, three of those powerful American fleet carriers were sunk defending Australia from the Japanese advance in 1942.
The capital of Papua in 1942 was Port Moresby, and its capture by Imperial Japan (Operation MO) was a strategic priority that was intended to anchor the total isolation of Australia from the United States and American help in 1942 by capturing and fortifying a string of islands stretching from Port Moresby to Fiji and Samoa (Japan’s Operation FS). The Guadalcanal Campaign was intended to prevent Japan isolating Australia from the United States and denying Australia American help against Japan. MORE on the Battle for Australia.
OPERATIONAL AND TACTICAL FOCUSES
The Battle of the Coral Sea and the Kokoda Campaign in 1942 were both produced by Imperial Japan’s strategic aim to capture the Australian external territory Papua which had been transferred by Britain to Australia in 1902 and became part of the Commonwealth of Australia with the passing of the Papua Act 1905 (C’wealth). Papua remained a part of the Commonwealth of Australia until it received independence in 1975.
Within the broad strategic context, it is important to make the point that Japanese invasion troops who came ashore on the beaches of northern Papua on 21 July 1942 and at the Milne Bay RAAF base in eastern Papua on 25 August 1942 were landing on soil that was still part of Australia in 1942. These troop landings were both part of Japan’s Kokoda Campaign, and the primary objective of that campaign was to capture Australia’s Port Moresby. The landings on the beaches of northern Papua were intended to prepare the way for a powerful Japanese army to follow the initial landings, cross the Kokoda Track, and capture Port Moresby. The purpose of capturing the RAAF base at Milne Bay was to enable Japanese aircraft to support the Japanese army when it emerged from the Kokoda Track above Port Moresby.
As a matter of unchallengeable historical fact, the whole of the bloody Kokoda Campaign was fought on soil that was still part of the Commonwealth of Australia called Papua in 1942. To suggest, as the Australian War Memorial (AWM) has been doing since 2002, that the Japanese did not invade any part of Australia in 1942, is either a deliberate denial of historical fact or indicative of appalling ignorance of history. See below the reference to the AWM book “Kokoda beyond the Legend”.
AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL DEFILES SACRED GROUND BY PUBLISHING FAKE KOKODA HISTORY
(LEFT) The Australian War Memorial; (RIGHT) The Memorial's 2017 publication "Kokoda beyond the Legend". False claims by historians that Australia's Kokoda heroes did not fight, bleed, and die on Australian soil in 1942 in defence of Australia, and false claims that Australian soldiers were inferior fighters to the Japanese whom they defeated, are contained in the appalling Australian War Memorial publication "Kokoda beyond the Legend". Publication of "Kokoda beyond the Legend" deserves to be a source of continuing shame for the Australian War Memorial.
Kokoda was the first invasion of Australian soil by a foreign power since Federation (1901).
Kokoda should be of great importance to all Australians because the Japanese invasion of Papua on 21 July 1942 was the first invasion of the Commonwealth of Australia by a foreign power since Federation.
Most Australians will surely agree that the men who fought and died in defence of Australia on the Kokoda Track and at Milne Bay in 1942 should be honoured; but this attitude to our Kokoda heroes does not appear to be shared by Australian War Memorial historians, management, Council, Minister for Veterans' Affairs Darren Chester, and even Prime Minister Scott Morrison who all appear to have adopted or accepted the fashionable sceptical neo-Marxist postmodern view of history that began to infect the study of Australian history in the 1980s, and appears to have infected senior military historians employed by the Australian War Memorial since at least 2002.
The Australian War Memorial has published an appalling treatment of Australia's victory over Japanese invaders in three chapters of the book "Kokoda beyond the Legend". See picture above. The book falsely demeans a magnificent achievement in 1942 by Australian soldiers engaged in bloody fighting to repel a more powerful Japanese army on Australian soil known as the Kokoda Track. One chapter by Dr Peter Williams falsely smears Australia's Kokoda heroes by suggesting that they were lesser soldiers than the Japanese whom they defeated on the Kokoda Track. Chapter authors Dr Karl James and Dr David Horner falsely claim that the Japanese did not invade any part of Australia in 1942. This claim is nonsense because the Kokoda Track is situated in Papua which was still part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942. By falsely claiming that Kokoda was not part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942, chapter authors James and Horner are effectively denying our dead Kokoda heroes, including Bruce Kingsbury VC and John French VC, the honour of fighting, bleeding, and dying to defend soil that was still part of Australia in 1942. In addition to contributing the chapter mentioned above, Karl James also edited the appalling publication "Kokoda beyond the Legend" which was drawn from an Australian War Memorial conference bearing the same name in 2012. The appalling false treatments of Kokoda by James, Horner, and Williams caused News Corp dailies, including the Melbourne "Herald Sun", to describe those treatments as an "Insult" to Australia's Kokoda heroes. See below:
The Melbourne "Herald Sun" newspaper response, headed "Kokoda insult", reflected the anger produced by reports of the "Kokoda beyond the Legend" conference in 2012 that falsely diminished the strategic significance of Kokoda, falsely denied that Australia's Kokoda heroes fought and died on Australian soil called the Kokoda Track, and falsely suggested that Australian soldiers were lesser fighters than the Japanese they defeated on the Kokoda Track. The controversial papers from the 2012 conference were reproduced by Karl James in the book "Kokoda beyond the Legend" (2017).
It probably astonished many veterans and descendants of our 1942 Kokoda heroes that this controversial historian Karl James was promoted to head the Australian War Memorial's military history section before Brendan Nelson left the Memorial at the end of 2019. To facilitate international access, the extraordinary promotion of Karl James will receive further mention on its own page.
My repeated public exposures of these appalling false treatments of Kokoda history between 2012 and 2019 have produced no challenges from the director of the Australian War Memorial Brendan Nelson, the Memorial Council, or any of the historians whose demeaning treatments of Kokoda and Australia's Kokoda heroes have been proved by me to be false.
The Australian War Memorial stands on sacred ground. It belongs to the people of Australia and not to its managing council, its directors, or its staff historians who appear to relish igniting wholly unjustified public controversy over Australia's war history or to lack any concern about that controversy. Memorial staff historian English-born Dr Peter Stanley ignited fierce public controversy from 2002 to 2005 with his wholly unjustified attacks on Prime Minister John Curtin, Australians, and Australia's war history, including the Anzacs. The Memorial was immersed in public controversy until Australia's political leaders at that time, Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, intervened. The management of the Australian War Memorial, including the Memorial Council, appears to be unable to appreciate that the national war memorial is not equivalent to a university campus. It should not be used as a platform from which its staff can express or publish offensive, insulting, and strongly challenged personal views that lack sound historical foundation and diminish the achievements and sacrifices of those who died defending Australia from Japanese military aggression at places that included Sydney, Darwin, Broome, Rabaul, Timor, Ambon, Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay, the Beachheads, Wau, and Guadalcanal.
It can be reasonably argued that the Memorial management has defiled sacred ground by publishing a book that demeans Kokoda by falsely denying that Japan's Kokoda Campaign was an invasion of part of Australia in 1942 and falsely smears Australia's Kokoda heroes as lesser soldiers than the Japanese they defeated on Australian soil. When Kokoda represents the first invasion of Australia by a foreign power since Federation (1901), one could reasonably expect that the management of the Australian War Memorial, including director and council, would have the competence to choose authors with basic knowledge of the Kokoda Campaign. However, this very important aspect appears to have escaped the attention of Memorial management. The wholly unjustified dishonouring of Kokoda and the men who fought, bled, and died on the Kokoda Track by the book "Kokoda beyond the Legend" has been made very clear by me to Memorial director Brendan Nelson, chairman of the Memorial council Kerry Stokes, and the Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester since 2018, but appears to have left them unwilling to defend the honour of the gallant Australians who gave their lives to defend their country against the first invasion of Australian soil since Federation. When they appeared to be unwilling to defend the honour of Australia's Kokoda heroes, I brought this matter to the attention of Prime MInister Scott Morrison in October 2019. His failure to respond, and initial rejection of a posthumous Victoria Cross to recognise the extraordinary bravery and sacrifice of seaman Edward "Teddy" Sheean as HMAS Armidale was sinking in 1942, caused me to feel that my response (below) was wholly justified.
REVIEWS - MILITARY HISTORY BOOKS AND DVDS
"Kokoda beyond the legend" (2017) - edited by Dr Karl James - published by Australian War Memorial
"The Kokoda Campaign 1942 - Myth and reality" (2012) - Dr Peter Williams - Australian Army History series
Historians Peter Stanley, David Horner, and Karl James achieve "fail" scores for their seriously inadequate knowledge of Kokoda
Some historians who profess knowledge of the Japanese attack on Australia, and are associated with the Australian War Memorial, have been claiming since 2002 (Dr Peter Stanley) that the Japanese did not invade any part of Australia in 1942 and had never intended to invade any part of Australia in 1942. These claims are nonsense. They lack any historical foundation and suggest seriously inadequate knowledge of Australian history on the part of these historians, and in particular, seriously inadequate knowledge of the Japanese attack on Australia in 1942. These false claims are pursued in the Memorial’s appalling 2017 publication “Kokoda beyond the Legend” in chapters by Dr David Horner and Dr Karl James and suggest that there has been an enduring collapse of historical scholarship at the Australian War Memorial (see below "Brendan Nelson's Australian War Memorial publishes a false and shameful distortion of Kokoda") that reflects poorly on the Memorial’s governing Council and former director Brendan Nelson.
(LEFT) Dr Peter Stanley; (CENTRE) Dr David Horner; (RIGHT) Dr Karl James. Published refusals by these historians to acknowlege the indisputable fact that Papua was legally part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942 deny Australia's Kokoda heroes, including Bruce Kingsbury VC and John French VC, the honour of dying on Australian soil in defence of Australia.
The absurd refusals by historians associated with the Australian War Memorial to acknowledge the indisputable fact that Papua was still legally part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942 demean the magnificent Australian achievements against invading Japanese troops in the Kokoda Campaign. These absurd and shameful denials of historical fact emanating from the Australian War Memorial also produce the appalling appearance that Australia’s military heroes defending Port Moresby and Milne Bay in 1942 did not fight, bleed, and die defending Australia on Australian soil. It can be fairly argued that historians Stanley, James, and Horner, who refuse to acknowledge the historical fact that Papua was part of the Commonwealth of Australian in 1942, are denying Australia’s military heroes, including Bruce Kingsbury VC and John French VC, the honour of dying on Australian soil in defence of Australian soil. In 2008, Dr Peter Stanley rejected my written offer to debate publicly with him every aspect of the Battle for Australia including the fact that Papua was still part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942. To the best of my knowledge, historians Stanley, James, and Horner, have made no attempt to defend their appalling refusals to acknowledge the indisputable historical fact that Papua was legally part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942. The Australian War Memorial has also shamefully failed to defend the honour of Australia’s war heroes in the bloody Kokoda Campaign.
- BATTLE FOR AUSTRALIA BRIEFINGS -
FORMER SENIOR HISTORIAN AT THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, DR PETER STANLEY, DENIES THE GRAVITY OF THE JAPANESE THREAT TO AUSTRALIA IN 1942
Before his sudden resignation from the Australian War Memorial in 2006, Dr Peter Stanley claimed that the Japanese were not planning to make themselves masters of Australia in 1942 and that any Japanese threat to Australia in 1942 was greatly exaggerated by wartime Prime Minister John Curtin to serve his own political ends. When challenged, Dr Stanley was unable to produce any credible historical evidence to support his controversial claims. Pacific War historian James Bowen argues that Dr Stanley reached incorrect conclusions about the gravity of the Japanese threat to Australia in 1942 and Prime Minister Curtin based upon inadequate knowledge of the Pacific War and flawed research. See chapter "Challenging a denial of the Japanese threat to Australia in 1942 promoted by Dr Peter Stanley" .
BRENDAN NELSON'S AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL PUBLISHES A FALSE AND SHAMEFUL DISTORTION OF KOKODA
Under director Brendan Nelson, the Australian War Memorial published the book "Kokoda beyond the Legend" in 2017. The book contains chapters that without any historical justification falsely diminish the magnificent Kokoda achievement in 1942 and falsely smear Australia's Kokoda heroes as lesser fighters than the Japanese they defeated on the Kokoda Track.
Left: The book "Kokoda beyond the Legend" was published by the Australian War Memorial in 2017 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Kokoda fighting; RIGHT: Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson; BELOW: The Australian War Memorial.
The book "Kokoda beyond the Legend" was published despite my prior warnings that the book would contain a false denial of the strategic importance of Kokoda as a part of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1942 and subject Australia's Kokoda heroes to vile and untrue smears. I believe that deliberate publication by the AWM of a Kokoda “treatment” that falsely demeans the magnificent Kokoda achievement and falsely denigrates our Kokoda heroes has brought shame on our national war memorial and fairly earns this treatment the description fake history. MORE
Kokoda is an iconic part of Australia's military history, and I believe that many Australians will resent Kokoda being tarnished falsely by the Australian War Memorial under Brendan Nelson. A detailed REVIEW AND EXPOSURE of the shameful historical distortions contained in several chapters of this treatment of Kokoda may cause some Australians to feel that there has been a collapse of historical scholarship at the Australian War Memorial under director Brendan Nelson.
ALL DIRECTORS AND COUNCIL MEMBERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL SHOULD BE TOLD VERY BLUNTLY BY THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT THAT IGNITING CONTROVERSY BY PUBLISHING FALSE AND DEEPLY INSULTING TREATMENTS OF AUSTRALIA'S MILITARY HISTORY IS NOT PART OF THEIR ROLE
James Kenneth Bowen, BA; LLB (University of Queensland) *
The Australian War Memorial belongs to the people of Australia and not to its managing council, its directors, or its staff historians, who appear to relish igniting wholly unjustified public controversy over Australia's war history or to lack any concern about that controversy. This happened from 2002 to 2005 until Australia's political leaders at that time intervened publicly. The national war memorial is sacred ground; not a university campus. It should not be used as a platform from which its staff can express or publish offensive, insulting, and strongly challenged personal views that lack sound historical foundation and diminish the achievements and sacrifices of those who died defending Australia from Japanese military aggression at places that included Sydney, Darwin, Broome, Rabaul, Timor, Ambon, Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay, the Beachheads, Wau, and Guadalcanal.
Nothing that I have written here should be viewed as criticism of the new director of the Australian War Memorial Mr Matthew Anderson PSM.
DR KARL JAMES - A CONTROVERSIAL APPOINTMENT AS SENIOR HISTORIAN AT THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL
Australian War Memorial historian Dr Karl James played a major role in publishing the controversial and untrue treatments of important aspects of Kokoda in three chapters of the book "Kokoda beyond the Legend". It probably astonished many veterans and descendants of our 1942 Kokoda heroes that this controversial historian was promoted to head the Memorial's military history section before Brendan Nelson left the Memorial at the end of 2019. This appointment may be viewed by some as the Memorial's council and director thumbing their collective noses at those who challenged publicly the crass decision to publish three poorly researched chapters of the book "Kokoda beyond the Legend". The seriously inadequate knowledge exhibited by Karl James when he writes about Kokoda is developed in my published Amazon review of that book, and I believe that I have demonstrated in my Amazon review that Karl James is not qualified to write Kokoda history and that his appointment to head the Memorial's military history section is likely to reflect poorly on the public image of the Australian War Memorial.
A SUPERB 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. Continue
MIDWAY - THE BATTLE IN 1942 THAT SAVED AUSTRALIA FROM JAPANESE OCCUPATION
THE FAMOUS FOUR MINUTES by R.G. SmithThis superb painting by a master of aviation painting, the late R.G. SMITH, depicts one of the defining moments of the Pacific War when the tide turned against the Japanese aggressors at America's Midway Islands. Lieutenant Richard Best and his two wingmen in their Douglas Dauntless SBD dive-bombers have just launched a successful attack on the Japanese flagship aircraft carrier Akagi. The crushing defeat inflicted on the Imperial Japanese Navy by the very much smaller United States Pacific Fleet at Midway put an end to Japan's ambition to dominate the central Pacific region, and deprived Japan of the capability to mount a full-scale invasion of the Australian mainland and bombard Australian cities from the sea. How the Battle of Midway saved Australia from Japanese invasion and occupation is explained at the MIDWAY section of this web-site.
On 7 December 1941, the Japanese launched a devastating surprise attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at its Pearl Harbor base in Hawaii. The attack was not preceded by a declaration of war, and took place while Japanese diplomats were in Washington discussing American concerns about continuing Japanese military aggression in East Asia. These diplomatic discussions were intended by the Japanese to distract the attention of Americans while Japan secretly positioned a powerful aircraft carrier striking force off the Hawaiian islands. While the Japanese Imperial Navy was striking at Pearl Harbor, Japanese troops were invading British Malaya and being resisted by British, Australian and Indian forces. On 23 January 1942, Japanese troops landed at Rabaul in the Australian Territory of New Guinea and overwhelmed the heavily outnumbered Australian garrison. When Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, the British government was not prepared to assist Australia to resist a Japanese invasion, preferring instead to allocate all available British and Australian military resources to the defence of India. Having been abandoned by Britain to a likely Japanese invasion, Australia turned to the United States for help, and it was generously given. Thereafter, the Americans, the Australians, and the Dutch fought together as allies to stem, and ultimately repel the Japanese military onslaught in the South-West Pacific.
This web-site is one of two linked web-sites that trace the history of Japanese military aggression in the Pacific War. At the Battle for Australia and Pacific War web-sites, the viewer is taken from Pearl Harbor to the great naval Battle of Midway in the central Pacific which destroyed Japan's naval supremacy over the United States Pacific Fleet and put an end to Japan's capacity to invade Australia. The viewer will then be taken to the Kokoda and Guadalcanal Campaigns that brought Japanese military aggression to a halt in the South-West Pacific, and forced Japan on the defensive.
This internet web-site is dedicated to the courageous Australians who resisted, and ultimately repulsed the Japanese military attack on their country in 1942-43. It is also intended to honour the Americans and the Dutch who gave their lives and their service in the defence of Australia in 1942-43.
PEARL HARBOR----AUSTRALIA FACES A THREAT OF JAPANESE INVASION----JAPAN'S LEADERS DEBATE AUSTRALIA'S FATE----JAPAN INVADES AUSTRALIAN TERRITORY----THE JAPANESE ATTACK DARWIN----THE JAPANESE ATTACK EASTERN AUSTRALIA---BOLD AMERICAN COUNTER-ATTACKS----BATTLE OF THE CORAL SEA---THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY----THE KOKODA CAMPAIGN ---GUADALCANAL ---JAPANESE WAR CRIMES---IMPERIAL JAPAN'S PATH TO WWII---HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS OF JAPAN'S MILITARY AGGRESSION---WAS THE ATOMIC BOMBING OF JAPAN JUSTIFIABLE?
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MORE WEB-SITES FOR THE HISTORY ENTHUSIAST
THE HISTORY RING
BATTLE FOR AUSTRALIA - KOKODA - BRENDAN NELSON - AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL