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In 1942 Popondetta was a small agricultural station near Girua airstrip, 18 kilometres to the north at Buna, Sanananda and Gona allied forces encountered the most determined Japanese defences in the Papuan campaign.

In heavily fortified positions the outnumbered Japanese troops resisted allied land and air attacks for 65 days. Australian infantry captured Gona, they then assisted the Americans, who were fighting their first major battle in Papua at Buna. Finally Sanananda fell ending the campaign.

Ahead lay fighting in New Guinea that would not end until August 1944. In 1951 on 21 January, nearby Mt. Lamington (1679 metres) erupted killing 3000 people and destroying the government headquarters and the mission situated 20 kilometres from here.

By early 1952 government offices were relocated at Popondetta, the town has flourished since becoming the provincial centre it is today.
Kokoda Trail Plaques - Master Text.

The Japanese attack on Port Moresby in May 1942 was repulsed at the battle of the Coral Sea, a month later their navy was severely damaged at the Battle of Midway. These events prompted another approach to Moresby and on 22 July, 2,000 Japanese were landed near Gona with the aim of crossing the Owen Stanley Range via the tortuous Kokoda Trail (track).

During the next week 80 Australians and Papuans fought delaying actions, culminating in a battle at Kokoda Village. The Japanese force rose to 10,000 whilst advancing along the Kokoda Trail. They were constantly delayed by defensive action particularly at Isurava and Brigade Hill. However, by mid- September the Australians (reduced from 3,000 to 300 men) were forced back to Imita Ridge, 42 km from Moresby,

The Japanese were then ordered to withdraw as their 5,000 remaining men and supplies were totally exhausted, and their army at Guadacanal (Solomon Islands) was on the defensive against the Americans.

On 23 September the Australians, now 2,600 strong, moved northwards to recover the trail, encountering major opposition only at Templeton's and Era creek. Kokoda was entered unopposed on 2 November. The Japanese rearguard was destroyed near Gorari.

5,000 Japanese survived and joined 4,000 fresh troops around Gona and Buna, Australian and American forces captured these strongholds by January 1943 incurring heavy casualties on both sides.

The Papuan carriers played an important role in the defense of the Kokoda Trail, they transported Australian casualties and supplies. Their loyalty will be remembered forever.


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