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Posted: 1/21/2006 9:30:01 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 1/22/2006 2:12:26 PM EDT by Stlkid]
After numerous things ive seen about last stands recently what do you guys think are some of the most famous and why?

Personally these are what i think are.

Black Hawk Down - Gordon and Shughart-Becase they didnt do it for some politican or a order but to save the men downed in the chopper and seriously out numbered.

The Spartans at Thermopolaye-300 against 200000 how is it not one of the geatest?Kill 20000 Plus they fought for a similar goverment structure we have today.

The Alamo-They were fighting for what they believed in and gave the mexicans one hell of a time in trying to take it.

The German Reichstag- Maybe these guys wernt fighting for what was right but they still put up one hell of a fight for what they blieved in.

Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:32:52 PM EDT
custer.


russians at stalingrad.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:33:40 PM EDT

Originally Posted By fossil_fuel:
custer.


russians at stalingrad.



Custer was a fucking idiot.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:34:16 PM EDT
no arguement there.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:34:52 PM EDT
Zulus. Thousands of them.


Last stands? How about next-to-last stands too?

Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:35:02 PM EDT
The last 5 minutes of SCARFACE, hands down
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:35:31 PM EDT

Originally Posted By fossil_fuel:
custer.

russians at stalingrad.



? he said greatest. That was a cluster fuck that got all the men killed. He split his forces, he was over confident. He had poor intelligence, was over matched with repeaters while his men had single shots.

It was one of the greatest American fuckups and not a greatest last stand.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:36:21 PM EDT
oh and also: bastogne
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:36:23 PM EDT

Originally Posted By ARDOC:

Originally Posted By fossil_fuel:
custer.

russians at stalingrad.



? he said greatest. That was a cluster fuck that got all the men killed. He split his forces, he was over confident. He had poor intelligence, was over matched with repeaters while his men had single shots.

It was one of the greatest American fuckups and not a greatest last stand.



See above.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:37:32 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 1/21/2006 9:37:51 PM EDT by fossil_fuel]

Originally Posted By ARDOC:

Originally Posted By fossil_fuel:
custer.

russians at stalingrad.



? he said greatest. That was a cluster fuck that got all the men killed. He split his forces, he was over confident. He had poor intelligence, was over matched with repeaters while his men had single shots.

It was one of the greatest American fuckups and not a greatest last stand.



depends on what he meant by "greatest". it is certainly the most famous in american contemporary culture aside from the alamo.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:39:38 PM EDT
Well technically last stand means almost everone defending is killed but i guess we can allow a few great defenses where the defenders actually pull out of it and win.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:40:49 PM EDT

Originally Posted By ARDOC:

Originally Posted By fossil_fuel:
custer.

russians at stalingrad.



? he said greatest. That was a cluster fuck that got all the men killed. He split his forces, he was over confident. He had poor intelligence, was over matched with repeaters while his men had single shots.

It was one of the greatest American fuckups and not a greatest last stand.



Custer did f*** it up, but there's a couple books that have recently come out (authored by pretty respected historians) who have a ton of evidence that suggests the 7th ran out of ammo before they were overrun. So Custer may have screwed it up, but they still put up a hell of a fight.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:41:20 PM EDT
Masada

Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:42:41 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Stlkid:
Well technically last stand means almost everone defending is killed but i guess we can allow a few great defenses where the defenders actually pull out of it and win.



i disagree. i agree with wikipedia's definition:


A last stand is a loose military term used to describe a body of troops holding a defensive position in the face of overwhelming odds. The defensive force usually takes very heavy casualties and on occasion is completely destroyed.




more from wikipedia:

Famous examples of last stands include:
480 BC: The Spartan's defence at Thermopylae.
14 October 1066: The housecarls around the body of King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings.
May, 1453: The fall of Constantinople
August, 1566: Battle of Szigetvár
18 June 1815: Napoleon's Imperial Guard at the Battle of Waterloo "The Guard dies, it does not surrender!"
March, 1836: The Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution
30 April 1863: The French Foreign Legion's stand at Camerone, Mexico.
25 June 1876: Custer's last stand at Battle of the Little Bighorn.
22 January 1879: The last survivors of the British Army's 1st battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot (later the South Wales Borderers), who were defeated at the Battle of Isandlwana by the Zulus.
2 December 1899: The Filipinos' stand at the Battle of Tirad Pass
16 November 1942 – 22 January 1943: Japanese defence of the Papuan beachheads at the Battle of Buna-Gona.
20 November – 23 November 1943: Japanese defence of Tarawa
20 September – 30 September 1944: The Japanese defence of Angaur.
22 April – 25 April 1951: The Gloucestershire Regiment at the Battle of the Imjin River.
22 October 1973: The Barak Armored Brigade defending the southern Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_stand
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:42:55 PM EDT
Even though Custer was a fuck up that battle still falls in the category of last stand because there were no prisoners taken nor was there anyplace to retreat to.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:42:57 PM EDT

Originally Posted By SimonPhoto:
Masada




Beat me to it.

Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:45:50 PM EDT
Germans in Berlin. Particularly the 9th Army which turned away from the US lines and headed back towards the Russians to keep the gap open for German soilders and civilians to break out.

The Young Guard at Waterloo. Gave Napoleon time to get out.

Col. Frost's Paras on the Bridge at Arnheim.

French Forgein Legion at Dien Bien Phu.



Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:46:55 PM EDT

Flight 93

Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:50:47 PM EDT
Endor. A handful of ewoks defeated a stormtrooper regiment and helped to destroy the deathstar.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:52:52 PM EDT

Originally Posted By 1Andy2:
Endor. A handful of ewoks defeated a stormtrooper regiment and helped to destroy the deathstar.



Dont forget that they were only armed with rocks and clever wits too.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 9:56:19 PM EDT
Alamo

Wake Island
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:00:00 PM EDT
I REALLY doubt that the Spartans were fighting for a government system similar to ours.....
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:04:46 PM EDT

Originally Posted By SimonPhoto:
Masada




Granted, it was a last stand, but it wasn't 'great'.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:07:29 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Combat_Jack:
I REALLY doubt that the Spartans were fighting for a government system similar to ours.....



Foundation of what rome became and then we based are system off rome
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:08:02 PM EDT
The final stand of Constantinople when it was sacked by Turks led by Achmed something or other. Mostly it was a group of 500 Italians that led the defense until their leader was killed. Some European governments gave lip service to assisting, but none wanted to risk their trade with the growing Muslim population in the region. They were trying to work both sides. Didn't work then, and it won't work now.

A good book IMO on this is, "To the Last Cartridge." I can't remember who it was by though. It is about last stands throughout history. A good read anyway.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:16:04 PM EDT
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:20:03 PM EDT
Gordon at Khartoum
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:22:52 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Stlkid:

Originally Posted By Combat_Jack:
I REALLY doubt that the Spartans were fighting for a government system similar to ours.....



Foundation of what rome became and then we based are system off rome



The Roman military sure was based on the Spartans, and in their slave based economy and such there are similarities, but the Spartan government was not even close to either Athenian Democracy or Roman Republican governments.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:25:35 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Snafu12:
Alamo

Wake Island



+1 on Wake Island Some called it 'The Alamo of the Pacific."

The reinforcements for Wake were called back. Then the island fell to the Japanese.



Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:30:43 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Combat_Jack:

Originally Posted By Stlkid:

Originally Posted By Combat_Jack:
I REALLY doubt that the Spartans were fighting for a government system similar to ours.....



Foundation of what rome became and then we based are system off rome



The Roman military sure was based on the Spartans, and in their slave based economy and such there are similarities, but the Spartan government was not even close to either Athenian Democracy or Roman Republican governments.



Your probably right, im not a historian on acient goverments i just know that they somehow setup their goverment in a way and we based ours off that.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:35:02 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Stlkid:
After numerous things ive seen about last stands recently what do you guys think are some of the most famous and why?

Personally these are what i think are.

Black Hawk Down - Gordon and Shugart-Becase they didnt do it for some politican or a order but to save the men downed in the chopper and seriously out numbered.

The Spartans at Thermaplae-300 against 200000 how is it not one of the geatest?Kill 20000 Plus they fought for a similar goverment structure we have today.

The Alamo-They were fighting for what they believed in and gave the mexicans one hell of a time in trying to take it.

The German Reichstag- Maybe these guys wernt fighting for what was right but they still put up one hell of a fight for what they blieved in.




I hate to be a spelling Nazi, but since it involves someone's name, I'm 99% sure it's Shughart with an "h".
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:37:27 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Red-Bucket-98:

Originally Posted By Snafu12:
Alamo

Wake Island



+1 on Wake Island Some called it 'The Alamo of the Pacific."

The reinforcements for Wake were called back. Then the island fell to the Japanese.

hr


yeah and we wernt even forced to surrender or killed we were winning and the island commander sees a few enemy flags and gives up like the french. IMO they were better off to fight to the death then to surrender, hell we could have possibly won.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:43:11 PM EDT

Originally Posted By stony275:

Originally Posted By Stlkid:
After numerous things ive seen about last stands recently what do you guys think are some of the most famous and why?

Personally these are what i think are.

Black Hawk Down - Gordon and Shugart-Becase they didnt do it for some politican or a order but to save the men downed in the chopper and seriously out numbered.

The Spartans at Thermaplae-300 against 200000 how is it not one of the geatest?Kill 20000 Plus they fought for a similar goverment structure we have today.

The Alamo-They were fighting for what they believed in and gave the mexicans one hell of a time in trying to take it.

The German Reichstag- Maybe these guys wernt fighting for what was right but they still put up one hell of a fight for what they blieved in.




I hate to be a spelling Nazi, but since it involves someone's name, I'm 99% sure it's Shughart with an "h".



You might be right i got hits for both on google and i cant find the book right now
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:48:21 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Combat_Jack:
The Roman military sure was based on the Spartans...



The Roman military was not 'based on the Spartans'. The early Roman hoplite formations were copied from the Etruscans, and by 400BC or so, they started to go to that oh-so-Roman Manipular Legion.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 10:58:24 PM EDT
"Dad, I'm going out with my friends and you can't stop me!"

Then I died.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 11:12:19 PM EDT
The Shootout In Heat
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 11:42:09 PM EDT

Originally Posted By fossil_fuel:
custer.


russians at stalingrad.



Sorry. In my book, fighting for the prerogatives of a homegrown homicidal arbitrary dictatorship over the claims of a foreign homicidal arbitrary dictatorship is indistinguishable from dying in an effort to ensure that an indigenous strain of TB infects people, rather than some exotic foreign strain brought home by overseas vacationers.

There are two categories of adherents to the Russian Soviet system: true believers, and cynical seekers after advantage. Both were ready to sacrifice humanity on the altar of ideology. Every adherent of each avenue deserves to be hounded to the ends of the earth, exposed, humiliated, tortured, and killed. It is one thing to be wrong; it is quite another to be messianic, violent, intolerant, and wrong. Communists - even the most feckless Gauloise-smoking cafe' Communist - should die a terrifying public death. Smirking from a safe distance, under cover of American ICBMs, at the "paranoia" of anticommunists is disgusting.

Death to statists, and piss on their legacies, whatever fine things may be commingled with their grovelings.
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 11:46:26 PM EDT
Link Posted: 1/21/2006 11:55:46 PM EDT
boxer rebellion stand in the embassies compound.
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 12:11:03 AM EDT
the polish horse calvary in WWII against the german panzers
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 12:12:09 AM EDT
Iwo Jima: The Japanese said it would take a million men ten thousand years to defeat them. The U.S. Marines did it in less than two months.

I think this would make an awesome movie if told from both sides, kind of like "Tora Tora Tora". Modern Hollywood with crap CG effects, bullshit over actors and that nasty left wing revisionist history tilt, would totally screw it up, kinda sad.


Wake Island: A few hundred Marines and civilians hands the Japanese their asses. Left to die by the US Navy the fought on, those that were captured suffered terribly. In my mind, deserting the guys on Wake, was the supreme act of cowardice by the naval commanders of the time.
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 12:34:21 AM EDT
There was that blonde waitress in St Louis...

Oh wai....Last stands, not one night stands...
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 12:47:52 AM EDT
MΩΛΩN ΛABE!


Link Posted: 1/22/2006 2:00:10 AM EDT
Kind of a cool question...first things that popped into my mind were Custer and the Germans trapped in Stalingrad.

But thinking more about it,I'd say Hiroshima and Nagisaki were a pretty big time last stand.

How about the allies in Korea,or the British during the Blitz?
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 2:17:06 AM EDT

Originally Posted By SimonPhoto:
Masada


I didn't realize that everybody killing themselves before the actual fight qualified as a "last stand."
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 2:22:05 AM EDT
Battle of Roarke's Drift

And...

The Battle of Long Tan

The newly arrived 1st Australian Task Force established its Phuoc Tuy operations base in 1966 at Nui Dat, a piece of high ground surrounded by rubber plantations.

The Viet Cong had achieved dominion in the province and decided to inflict a politically unacceptable defeat on the Australians. Their plan was to lure the Australians from their base by firing recoilless rifle and mortar shells into it. They theorised that the Australians would sweep the area around the base in an attempt to stop the attacks, and the Viet Cong would ambush the sweeping forces.

On the night of 16/17 August 1966, the Viet Cong fired a barrage of shells into Nui Dat, wounding 24 Australians. Prior to this event, the Australians had become aware, from radio intercepts and sightings, that a large enemy force was operating close to the base. Australian patrols sent out specifically to find the Viet Cong had not encountered the force.

On 18 August 1966 D Company of 6RAR was patrolling in the area of the Long Tan rubber plantation when, at about 3.15pm, the lead platoon (11 Platoon, commanded by 2Lt Gordon Sharp, a national serviceman) encountered a small group of Viet Cong who fled leaving one of their number killed by the Australians. The aggressive patrolling continued until, at about 4.08pm, the main body of the Viet Cong 275 Regiment was encountered. The Viet Cong attacked vigorously with mortars, rifle and machine gun fire.

In pouring rain, the Australians returned fire with platoon weapons and artillery which was firing from the Nui Dat base, some five kilometres to the west. Close air support was also called for but couldn't be used because the target was unable to be identified accurately in the conditions.

At 5pm D Company's commander, Major Harry Smith, radioed for ammunition resupply. Two RAAF Iroquois helicopters which happened to be at Nui Dat to transport a concert party were tasked and flew at tree top level into the battle area where they successfully delivered the sorely needed boxes of ammunition.

The combination of aggressive fire from D Company soldiers plus devastating artillery fire from Nui Dat had swung the battle in the Australians' favour but the Viet Cong continued to manoeuvre to gain the upper hand. Meanwhile, A Company of 6RAR had been ordered to move to the support of the beleaguered D Company.

They did so mounted in armoured personnel carriers from 1st APC Squadron which forded a flooded stream and then shortly afterward encountered a substantial enemy force. 2 Platoon of A Company dismounted and advanced on the enemy who fled.

Although the Viet Cong could still be seen massing in failing light at 6.55pm as the relief force arrived in the D Company area, the enemy force melted away as darkness descended. The battle of Long Tan was over.

The Australians consolidated their position for the night and then commenced evacuation of their wounded using the lights from APCs to guide in helicopters. During the night the Viet Cong cleared many of their wounded and dead from the battle field. A number of the wounded Australians lay there all through the long terrifying night, as the Viet Cong moved around them.

Morning revealed that the Viet Cong force, estimated at 2,500, had been badly mauled. 245 Viet Cong bodies were found in the battle area. It was apparent that the Viet Cong commanders had failed to appreciate the effectiveness of artillery fire and had paid dearly as a result.

The Australians had lost 18 killed, 17 from D Company (including the young platoon commander of 11 platoon) and one from 1st APC Squadron, and 24 wounded.
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 2:26:42 AM EDT

Originally Posted By FLAL1A:
There are two categories of adherents to the Russian Soviet system: true believers, and cynical seekers after advantage. Every adherent of each avenue deserves to be hounded to the ends of the earth, exposed, humiliated, tortured, and killed. It is one thing to be wrong; it is quite another to be messianic, violent, intolerant, and wrong. Communists - even the most feckless Gauloise-smoking cafe' Communist - should die a terrifying public death. Smirking from a safe distance, under cover of American ICBMs, at the "paranoia" of anticommunists is disgusting.

Death to statists, and piss on their legacies, whatever fine things may be commingled with their grovelings.


Interesting.
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 2:33:15 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 1/22/2006 2:41:19 AM EDT by nightowl7]
The phrench foreigen legion in a battle with mexican forces in vera cruz mexico in eighteen sixty- three.

All were lost in the end via suicide charge.

Also a number of battles on the jap side in the U.S. navy's pacific island hopping campains in the central and south pacific theater of operations in WWII[1942-1945].
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 2:59:16 AM EDT

Originally Posted By fossil_fuel:
custer.


russians at stalingrad.



Custer was an incompetent, arrogant fool who got his command killed for nothing. He didn't make a "stand", he was simply overwhelmed.
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 3:11:22 AM EDT

Originally Posted By ALPHAGHOST:
the polish horse calvary in WWII against the german panzers




That was more comical than heroic, IMO.


The Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto put up a much more admirable fight.
Link Posted: 1/22/2006 3:22:07 AM EDT
An article well worth reading
www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/kokoda.aspx
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
In Bello Parvis Momentis Magni Casus Intercedunt
by Larry Parker

Prologue

History is replete with examples of courage under fire; gallant stands by a handful of men against overwhelming odds, small battles that greatly influenced the outcome of major wars.

In 480 B. C. Xerxes led a Persian host estimated at 200,000 against the Greek city-states. The upstart Greeks were fomenting trouble in Ionia with their radical ideas regarding democracy, ideas the all-powerful autocrat despised. Knowing they could not match Persian numbers in open battle the Hellenes abandoned northern Greece, choosing instead to make a stand at Thermopylae. At the middle gate the defile along the coastal plain spans a mere fourteen feet. At this perfect defensive point superior Greek arms, armor and tactics negated Persian numbers. For three days Leonidas, King of the Spartans, with 7000 hoplites mustered from the various Greek city-states, stood firm. Then a Greek traitor revealed to the enemy a little-used mountain track around their position. Outflanked by the ‘Immortals', Xerxes elite infantry, many Greek contingents fled. Spurning surrender, Leonidas and his Spartans fought to the death, buying precious time for their countrymen to prepare. Despite their sacrifice at Thermopylae, Athens was lost. When combined with the subsequent naval victory at Salamis however, Greece was saved.

In 1854 French, British and Turkish forces invested Sevastopol. On 25 October Prince Alexander Sergeievich Menshikov attempted to lift the allied siege. After a three hour preliminary bombardment Russian infantry charged and carried a Turkish redoubt. Russian heavy cavalry poured through the broken line and raced for Balaklava, the British supply base. In a bloody clash the remnants of retreating Turkish forces and the ‘Thin Red Line' of the famous 93rd Highlanders threw the Russian Cuirassiers back.

In the context of valiant struggles against long odds the Battle of the Alamo, Rorke's Drift and the RAF during the Battle of Britain also come to mind. Continuing the theme, "In war great events are the results of small causes" espoused by Julius Caesar in his war commentary, Bellum Gallicum , this paper will address the lesser known but equally deserving Battle of the Kokoda Trail which saved Australia.

Introduction

The editors of Life magazine could not be accused of sensationalism for their 02 March 1942 cover page banner headline, NOW THE U. S. MUST FIGHT FOR ITS LIFE . In the spring of 1942 Allied prospects were indeed grim. Rommel was on the offensive in North Africa. In Europe the Wehrmacht survived the debacle at Moscow, blunted the Russian winter counter attack and would shortly launch a summer campaign that would take them to Stalingrad on the Volga and the mountains of the Caucasus. The Japanese blitzkrieg continued unabated in Burma, China, the Dutch East Indies, French Indo-China, Malaya and the Philippines. Feature articles pondered Japanese invasions of Australia, Hawaii, even the United States. With only 100,000 hastily mustered, poorly trained, ill-equipped and inadequately supplied troops to defend the entire Pacific coast, these stories were not as far-fetched then as they appear now.

If America was unready, then Australia was even less prepared. Her best units were fighting with the British 8th Army or languishing in Japanese POW camps after the fall of Singapore. Protection by the Royal Navy sank with HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. With the remainder of the fleet fighting for England's survival in the Atlantic no additional ships could be spared for the Pacific.

The location of existing and potential airfields dominated strategic decisions in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. Land-based air power projected sea control / sea denial capabilities out 300 miles or more. If Imperial Forces captured the airstrips around Port Moresby, New Guinea, isolation of Australia was probable; invasion of Queensland quite possible. In either case damage to the Allied cause might be irrevocable. The naval battle of Coral Sea (3 – 8 May) ended the sea-borne threat to Port Moresby. Well aware of New Guinea's strategic significance, on 21 July 1942 the Japanese countered by landing 11,000 troops at Buna and Gona on New Guinea's northern coast. With 6000 troops, Major General Tomitaro Horii immediately pushed inland along the Kokoda Trail toward Port Moresby 130 miles south. It was now a race against time for both the Australians and the Japanese. Thousands would fight and die in some of the worst terrain imaginable along the Kokoda Trail, the narrow track that crosses the Owen Stanley Range linking Gona and Port Moresby.

New Guinea

The world's second largest island, New Guinea is geologically young, with volcanic peaks reaching 16,000 feet. The Owen Stanley Range divides the island North and South. Numerous streams and rivers further split the island East and West. Located just eleven degrees below the equator, constantly inundated with heavy rainfall, and covered with dense vegetation, most of New Guinea is a hot, humid, equatorial jungle. Violent rains dump up to an inch of water in five minutes. Rivers rise as much as nine inches per hour. Yet at altitude trekkers suffer from hypothermia brought about by sudden hailstorms. To call New Guinea inhospitable is an egregious understatement. It is a primordial world, like something penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Jules Verne. Not even the discovery of gold in the 1930's could tame New Guinea. As James Bradley writes in The Boys That Saved Australia , "a road just seventy miles long was deemed impossible to build and planes had to ferry supplies in and ore out."

To reach their objective, the Japanese first had to traverse the formidable Owen Stanley Range via the Kokoda Trail. Trail implies a peaceful, winding path. The Kokoda Trail is nothing of the sort. A dangerous, narrow track hacked out of the jungle and carved out of the mountains, it crosses the Owen Stanley Range at 7000 feet via a series of twisting switchbacks and rough-hewn steps cut into steep slopes. Prior to the war it was considered passable only by natives and provincial officers. The optimistic figure of 130 air miles from Gona to Port Moresby held a far different reality on the ground where exhausted soldiers struggled first through dense jungle followed by a backbreaking climb. As if thick rain forests, rugged mountains, swift, treacherous streams and muddy, precipitous drops were not daunting enough obstacles in themselves, a plethora of poisonous insects, dangerous wildlife, tropical diseases and cannibalistic headhunters awaited those who strayed too far from the beaten path.

Australian versus Japanese Forces

To counter the Japanese threat, Australia rushed a militia unit, the AMF 39th Battalion, up the Kokoda Trail. Clad in Khaki uniforms appropriate for desert conditions but completely unsuited for jungle warfare, shod in leather boots which soon rotted away, equipped with World War I vintage Enfield rifles, the Aussies were supported by nothing heavier than light mortars and Bren and Lewis machine guns. Further, the 39th had just completed basic training, had no combat and certainly no jungle experience.

In contrast Major General Horii's command, designated the South Seas Detachment (Nankai Shitai), was comprised of elite troops, veterans of earlier campaigns. Clothed in green camouflage uniforms and shod in functional jungle boots, they carried little food (hoping to live off the land and captured supplies) but large quantities of ammunition. They also carried heavy mortars, heavy machine guns and even mountain artillery for support.

For the Japanese, success depended upon speed. They must cross the Owen Stanley Range, capturing Port Moresby before Allied reinforcements arrived in substantial numbers. Once in Japanese hands, the airfields would allow Japan to ferry in the troops, supplies and equipment necessary for further operations. Foregoing provisions for mobility, Horii counted on Yamato Damashii (Japanese Spirit) and overwhelming firepower to carry the day. Pushing forward relentlessly, scouts sprinted ahead of the main body, sacrificing their lives to flush out and target enemy positions.

For their part, the 39th pushed across the Kokoda Trail, first halting the Japanese at Wasida 23 – 27 July. Outnumbered and outgunned, for sixty days the Aussies conducted a heroic fighting withdrawal, turning to face their determined opponents at Kokoda (28 July), Deniki (29 July – 11 August), Seregina (2 – 5 September), Efogi (8 September), and Menari (16 September). The final confrontation took place at Ioribaiwa (17 – 26 September). At that point the depleted South Seas Detachment held positions within thirty miles of Port Moresby. At night its lights beckoned the weary Japanese. Scourged with malaria, racked with dysentery and weakened by hunger, the Japanese could advance no further. On 23 September, two months after the Japanese landings at Buna and Gona, the 7th Australian Division counterattacked. Now it was the Japanese who conducted a bitter fighting withdrawal over the Owen Stanley Range. By November the remnants of Horii's force were entrenched in the Buna – Gona area. Reinforced by the American 32nd Division Gona fell to Allied forces on 9 December. Buna finally capitulated in January 1943.

The Human Cost

Fighting in New Guinea was especially gruesome. With so much at stake, the rugged terrain, foul climate, tenuous supply lines and the desperation of both combatants magnified the always-brutal nature of close-quarters combat.

Provisions were limited to what the soldiers carried and what could be packed in. Ammunition got top priority, with food second and hospital supplies third. Consequently medicine was always in short supply, often non-existent. Lacking any other medical care, Jim Moir and many other soldiers allowed blowflies to lay eggs in their wounds. The resultant maggots ate their rotten flesh keeping the wound clean and preventing gangrene.

Out of necessity, stretcher-bearers were limited to only the most severely wounded. When Japanese machinegun fire shattered his lower leg medics fabricated a splint out of banana leaves. Refusing a litter, Charles Metson wrapped his hands and knees in rags and crawled down the trail he had so laboriously climbed just days before. Such was the spirit and the fortitude of the 39th Battalion.

Aftermath

The Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, Southwest Pacific, never visited the front, ignored reports on conditions and dismissed intelligence estimates on Japanese strength. Far removed from the desperate fighting, comfortably housed and safely ensconced at their Brisbane Headquarters, the "Bataan Bunch" (as the Aussies derisively labeled MacArthur and his staff) railed against the Australians, first over their continuous retreat, then for the time-consuming counter-offensive. In a dispatch to Washington MacArthur cabled, "The Australians lack fighting spirit." MacArthur further damaged relations when he signaled, "Operation reports show that progress on the trail is not repeat not satisfactory." Given an undeservedly deficient reputation by the refugees from the Philippines, Australian units were relegated to secondary fronts for the remainder of the war.

MacArthur's questionable opinion does not bear close scrutiny. Fighting horrendous conditions as well as the Japanese, the Australians gave Japan its first defeat on land. The significance of that achievement cannot be overstated.

Japanese victory in New Guinea changes the entire strategic picture. Japanese planes based in Port Moresby could have interdicted Allied supply lines, further isolating Australia. To ensure she remained in the war, troops earmarked for the Solomons would have been diverted, postponing Guadalcanal for six months or a year. Given additional time to dig in the inevitable Allied counterattack would have become even more costly.

The battles described in the prologue were not chosen randomly. The naval victory at Salamis overshadowed the deadly confrontation at Thermopylae, just as the naval engagement at Midway eclipsed the battle of the Kokoda Trail. Even though they fought courageously in the Crimean War the Turks were vilified by Lord Raglan (covering his own desultory performance and deadly tactical mistakes) and used as human pack animals for the remainder of the conflict. So too MacArthur used the Australians badly, maligning them publicly and giving them subordinate roles in inconsequential areas for the balance of World War II.

Nevertheless, if Midway was the turning point for the United States, then New Guinea was the defining moment for Australia. Although comparatively few troops were engaged, their spirit was unmatched and the battle of the Kokoda Trail greatly influenced the outcome of the Pacific War. On 29 August of each year Australians rightfully observe ‘Kokoda Day' to honor the young men who endured so much.

Postscript

"My mother says that violence never settles anything."

"The city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Anyone who clings to the historically untrue – and thoroughly immoral – doctrine that ‘violence never settles anything' I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms." - Robert A. Heinlein "Starship Troopers"


Those who have already forgotten 11 September 2001, those who second-guess and rail against the War in Iraq would do well to heed those words. Even now a precious few men and women in distant lands confront the forces of terror, preserving the freedoms others take for granted. By their service they preserve and carry forward the legacy of Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda.

- - -

Copyright © 2005 Larry Parker

Written by Larry Parker. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Larry Parker at: lparker@gulf.k12.fl.us.

About the Author:
Larry Parker is a retired Naval Officer (Surface Warfare). Larry now teaches Naval Junior ROTC and is formally pursuing a lifelong interest in Military History through the Masters Program at American Military University.

Published online: 01/21/2005.
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