And it was the 39th Militia Battalion that made the breakthrough at Gona under the astute leadership of Lt. Cnl. Ralph Honner.
Honner's tactic in finally taking Gona was quite brilliant.
He knew that an artillery barrage always indicated an infantry assault, and that by the time that assault began the Japanese had time to get back from their shelters into their prepared M.G. posts, etc.
So Honner marched his brigade through
their own artillery barrage - and fell upon the Japanese before they had a chance to resume their defensive positions.
He deemed this tactic less dangerous than charging across open ground against the almost invisible M.G. posts - which had cost so many unnecessary lives - and he was proven right.
Most AIF criticisms at that time centred around the wharfies in Australia refusing to help with the war effort.The crowds at the Melbourne Cup in November 1942 also suggests that some civilian Australians lived in denial of the fighting further north.
This was not really the fault of the Australian public - they were simply not informed of the seriousness of the situation in New Guinea in August/September 1942.
This was because the only information the press was allowed to print came from "Doug's Communiques", which continued to describe the battles such as Isurava and Brigade (Butcher's) Hill as "patrol skirmishes". Correspondents such as Chester Willmott were justifiably irate that their accurate reports on the real situation were not made public.
The facts were even withheld from the government!
It was not until the Japanese reached Ioribaiwa Ridge, from where they could see the lights of Port Moresby (no blackout!) and the Coral Sea that MacArthur finally acknowledged that the Japanese actually were
making an overland advance on Port Moresby - and not simply conducting a "reconnaissance in force" or "securing the flanks" of their new airfield at Buna.
MacArthur did not even go to Port Moresby until October 1942 - by which time the Australians had advanced almost to Kokoda. Even then, he saw no more of the territory in which the Australians were fighting than what could be viewed from Ower's Corner.
And, of course, when Kokoda was retaken, MacArthur's communique said that it had been secured by "Allied" troops.
But at the same time of the war, the 41st Battalion was near useless, fit only for garrison duty. The 58th got the nickname the "greyhounds" as they ran so fast from the battlefield they trampled some of their own wounded.
The 39th and 61st Battalions fought well, the 58th and 41st didn't.
It was not the 58th Battalion - it was the 53rd. Losing their commander soon after their arrival at Isurava did not help their situation much.
They were subsequently merged with the 55th Battalion to form the 55th/53rd, which later fought at Sanananda and on Bougainville.
There was no 41st Battalion on the Kokoda Track - in fact, there was no 41st Bn at all.
The third battalion to be deployed on the Kokoda Track was the 3rd, which came under the 25th Brigade for the advance up the track. They made some initial mistakes, but eventually played their part effectively.
Isurava was the turning point in AIF/Militia relations. When the first troops of the 21st Brigade arrived, they had nothing but the utmost admiration for what the 39th Battalion had done - and how they continued to fight.
From early 1943 onwards the Militia battalions fought effectively and well: the 29th Brigade (15th, 42nd and 47th Bns) from Wau to Salamaua, the 15th Brigade (24th, 57th/60th, 58th/59th Bns) from Nadzab to Madang, the 4th Brigade (22nd, 20th/46th, 37th/52nd Bns) from Gusika to Fortification Point, the 8th Brigade (4th, 30th and 35th Bns) on the Rai Coast, the 7th Brigade (9th, 25th, 61st Bns), 11th Brigade (26th, 31st/51st, 55th/53rd Bns), 15th Brigade (24th, 57th/60th, 58th/59th Bns), 23rd Brigade (7th, 8th and 27th Bns - commanded by Brigadier Potts, who had led the 21st Brigade's heroic strategic withdrawal down the Kokoda Track and was then "banished" to Darwin by Blamey) and the 29th Brigade (15th, 42nd, 47th Battalions) on Bougainville and the 4th Brigade (37th/52nd Bn), 6th Brigade (14th/32nd, 19th, 36th Bns) and 13th Brigade (11th, 16th, 28th Bns) in southern New Britain.
In fact, quite a few Militia battalions became AIF battalions because of the number of volunteers (as opposed to conscripts) in their ranks, and many Militia volunteers who were offered postings to AIF units refused because of the pride they felt in their parent battalions.
I do remember that 6 experienced AIF junior officers were given to the 39th and the 58th during the battle. The 39th put them into the rifle companies to bring experience and the 58th put them in to Battalion HQ to bring "brains". The 58th ran, the 39th fought and fought and fought.
The 39th Bn received more ex-AIF officers than the other two battalions of the 30th Brigade, and they in fact joined the battalion prior to its deployment on the Track. Among these were:
Captain Symington (ex-2/16th Bn), who took command of "A" Coy;
Captain Dean (ex-2/27th Bn), who took command of "C" Coy;
Captain Jacob (ex-2/10th Bn), who took command of "C" Coy after Dean was killed, and was himself accidentally killed on 30 August; and
Captain Bidstrup (ex-2/10th Bn), who took command of "D" Coy".
Only Captain Merritt of "E" Coy had had no combat experience, yet he proved himself a worthy commander.
....and either the 8th Divvy reconstituted....
The 8th Division could not be "reconstituted" because, technically and adminstratively, it still existed - despite most of its troops being POWs.
Both Lt-Col Owen and Maj Cameron were ex-8th Div officers, who escaped from Rabaul.
Fortunately, Cameron was in command of the 39th Bn for only a very short period - between the death of Lt-Col Owen and the arrival of Lt-Col Honner - otherwise the battalion might well have been wiped out. It was his ill-conceived 4-company attack on Kokoda (to which all his company commanders were opposed) that led to the battalion sustaining further casualties, including Captain Dean.
It was also he who branded "B" Coy as cowards after 11 and 12 Platoons had withdrawn from Oivi (after being almost completely surrounded by the Japanese, and losing Capt Templeton) and 10, 11 and half of 12 platoons had abandoned Kokoda to the some 900 Japanese attackers. It was during this escape from Kokoda that many of the "B" Coy men simply became lost in the darkness and the jungle; Cameron accused these men of "going bush", although all eventually rejoined the battalion.
Subsequently, Cameron wanted "B" Coy sent to the rear, but the more astute Honner gave the Coy the "position of honour" at Isurava - guarding against an assault from the high ground on the left flank.
Had "B" been sent out of action, the 39th might well have been over-run at Isurava before the 21st Brigade companies arrived.
It was tragic that Honner's career came to an end when he was severely wounded while leading the 2/14th Bn between Nadzab and Madang on 4 October 1943, otherwise he might well have reached the rank of Major-General - at least Brigadier - by the end of the war.