Maroubra Force had fought its last battle. Finally, those ragged, bloody, heroes of 21st Brigade were relieved, and sent back to Koitaki on the 26th of September, 1942 to rest and recuperate. Here they were able to get cleaned up, have hot food, and sleep. Brigadier General Potts, who had led the brigade brilliantly during its fighting withdrawal, having been undersupplied and vastly outnumbered, was met by General Sir Thomas Blamey, Commander in Chief of Australian military forces.
General MacArthur was not happy with the conduct of the campaign, and had wanted action taken. The Prime Minister and the War Cabinet had sent Blamey to Koitaki to address the “failure” of the Kokoda campaign. General Blamey curtly advised Brigadier General Potts of this, and relieved him of his command. He was not given the opportunity to address his troops, and was sent out on the next plane.
The withdrawal by an AIF brigade from Isuruva, especially after being ordered to attack, and retake Kokoda, was a shock to the Australian War Cabinet, and the commanders back at Port Moresby. The loss of Myola as a supply base was a second shock, especially with no fight being put up to protect it, and again when 21st Brigade was ordered to attack. Finally, the fight at Brigade Hill, and the loss of a full battalion from the brigade could not be comprehended. These “defeats” and constant withdrawals constituted a “failure” of leadership. Even at this point, after the fresh 25th Brigade was forced to withdraw, the Australian high command (with MacArthur’s influence) had no grasp on the size of the enemy force, or the difficulty of the terrain the campaign was taking place in.
To add insult to injury, General Blamey then addressed the troops. The troops were expecting congratulations on a great job done under extremely difficult conditions. Instead Blamey tore into them with a derisive speech stating they had been beaten by inferior troops in inferior numbers. He then made a remark of something to the effect of “Remember, it is not the man with the gun that gets shot, it is the rabbit that runs away”. This was taken as a charge of cowardice by the troops, and it took all the discipline the officers could muster to keep the men from starting a riot, as they broke ranks, and voiced their disbelief.
This is how the fighting withdrawal of Maroubra Force was recorded and perceived in Australia until many years later. The heroes that saved Port Moresby were regarded as “failures”.
At Ioribaiwa Ridge the Japanese could see the lights of their objective, Port Moresby. Even though they have lost many men, and are starving, they are jubilant. One more attack, and the city (and its food) will be theirs. It is not to be, though. The Australians were finally bringing up their own artillery, 25 pounders, to join the fight, and an additional brigade, the 16th. The Japanese, were finally ordered back to their beachheads at Buna/Gona/Sanananda. General Horii’s troops were losing their reinforcements and the majority of the supplies to the Guadalcanal campaign. He was to hold the beachhead until that campaign was decided.
As the Australians advanced on Ioribaiwa, they found it abandoned. The Japanese did not put up any resistance withdrawing back across the Owen Stanley’s until they reached Templeton’s Crossing. After being told that they were not pushing hard or fast enough because they weren’t taking many casualties by MacArthur, the Australians of 33rd Battalion made contact with the Japanese just south of Templeton’s Crossing the 12th of October. The 33rd couldn’t break through, and the 25th Battalion also moved up and ran into heavy defenses. This is when the scenario takes place. The 25th Battalion has taken the lead and is attacking the Japanese positions on the 15th of October, as the Australians attempt to reclaim the Kokoda Track.
Captain Samuel Victor Templeton (1900–1942) was an officer in the Australian Army during the Second World War. He is well known for his actions with the 39th Battalion as the commander of ‘B’ Company during the First Battle of Kokoda and went missing in action on the 26 July 1942 near the village of Oivi.
Templeton’s Crossing was named in honour of Sam Templeton. It is the first point where the Kokoda Track, from Port Moresby, crossed Eora Creek.
Wayne Wetherall, a PNG campaign historian and the founder of the Kokoda Spirit trekking company, travelled to Japan in 2009 to meet Kokichi Nishimura, one of the last survivors of the Japanese 144th Regiment to ask him about Templeton. Templeton’s son Reg wanted to know what happened to his father, as there had been various conflicting stories, none confirmed.
Nishimura believed that he had buried Templeton. Nishimura said he had not been present at Templeton’s death, but that he had been captured and when interrogated before Lieutenant Colonel Hatsuo Tsukamoto, commander of the 144th regiment, lied and said “There are 80,000 Australian soldiers waiting for you in Moresby” and laughed at Tsukamoto, who became enraged and killed him with his sword. Nishimura later found the body with a sword or bayonet blade protruding from its side, and buried it because of the smell. Nishimura returned to PNG in 2010 at 90 years of age, and showed Wetherall the place he believed Templeton was buried, but no body was found. Photo: Diggers and fuzzy-wuzzy on the track, 1942.