The Path of Infinite Sorrow: The Japanese on the Kokoda Track
Craig Collie & Hajime Mautani

A long overdue account of the Japanese experience of the Kokoda Campaign of 1942/43.Collie relies on interviews with six Japanese veterans of the MO Operation,further filling out the picture with translations of diaries picked up from the Japanese dead and still in the possession of the AWM.The “other side of the hill” is finally covered,closing the gap in our understanding of the experiences of those involved in the campaign.

After a brief introduction Collie ventures into the raising of the 144th Infantry regiment in 1940,the core of the later Nankai Shitai (the army South Seas Detachment) that sailed south in late 1941 to assist the Imperial Navy in the conquest of the South Pacific.After its capture of Guam,and then Rabaul,the Nankai Shitai deployed to Papua New Guinea with the aim of seizing Port Moresby by an overland route.This was the Kokoda Track.The 41st Infantry regiment(veterans from the Malaya/Singapore campaign)and the 15th Independent Engineer Regiment were additions to the force in the battles.Repulsed in September 1942,it appears more through disease,sickness and logistical breakdowns than attrition,the unit was later decimated in the Buna/Gona beachhead battles of early 1943.Only remnants managed to escape to Rabaul,the unit itself then being disbanded and the survivors sent to its parent division in Burma.

So near yet so far....within forty or so kilometres of Port Moresby the Japanese advance grounded to a halt at Ioribaiwa Ridge in September 1942.Port Moresby could be seen at night.Like the glimpse of the Dardenelles at Gallipoli in 1915,victory never followed.Overreach,arrogance? At the same time German expansion hit a wall at Stalingrad and Alamein.Soon a sense of futility seized the Japanese ranks with the attached Japanese war correspondents taking flight back to Rabual.One later interviewing Lt Colonel Tsuji there (who ‘authorised’ the overland mission) was told by Tsuji that its was “a blunder”.

Collie brings up the good and the bad.The effectiveness of Japanese encircling tactics and night fighting techniques are mentioned.However a common Japanese complaint from the ranks was that leadership was not as good as it was in China,too many officers preferring to stay behind the action.The drunken Japanese Colonel who had his own sake supplies brought forward over the Track should also be mentioned.The subject of cannibalism is also detailed with Collie also mentioning the allegation in print elsewhere that some Australians might have resorted to this low act themselves.

Good to see the Axis History Forum mentioned as one of the sources in the book!Overall an excellent and informative presentation of the Japanese view on Kokoda,and well researched with the added interesting inputs of surviving Japanese veterans.Collie had the assistance of Hajime Marutani of the AJRP of the Australian War Memorial in the conducting of these interviews.Collie is a television producer (“Beyond Kokoda” etc) but a fine effort in branching into the print side of history.

(Reviewed by Peter H)

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