War For Control of Jungle Tracks
From OSMAR WHITE, at an Allied Base
THE next few weeks will decide one of the most important factors in the defence of New Guinea.
The fate of the Japanese
patrols that now have pene- trated to the little inland settlement of Kokoda from Holnicote Bay will answer these queries — Are the training, organisation, equipment, and direction of the Australian land forces in this area capable of dealing with the Japanese in the jungle? Have the lessons of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies been learned? Having expected land attacks for nearly six months, has the Allied Command made the most of its providential respite?
Country For Defender If we cut off and annihilate enemy patrols, well and good. If they establish themselves and em- barrass Port Moresby's rear, it will be the gravest possible indictment of the Allies' handling of this campaign. New Guinea is country created for a defender. This time it is not enough to plead under-equip- ment or air inferiority if we fail. The Buna landing and inland penetration by the Japanese is a small affair in the picture of this war. It does not even seriously threaten Port Moresby, but it is a significant and highly interesting test of how much we have learnt since the mistakes of Malaya.
I repeat that the plea of under- equipment would not hold water if we failed in this little jungle war now raging over the mountains from Moresby. I know, because I have just seen country typical of that through which the Japanese are reported still to be advancing. I have just lived for five weeks with the men, who, in almost un- endurable conditions, are main- taining control of the country. I
have just seen what machine guns can do in a jungle clearing to a relatively strong force of enemy. There are no details of just what is happening in the Kokoda country. It is only known that our forces are in contact with the enemy. This means a blood-curdling game of hide and seek in jungle belts so thick that even natives cannot travel off the trail. In open valleys, with kunai grass six feet high, in treacher- ously wet, twisting gullies, war is a struggle for control of the exist- ing tracks. Unlike Malaya, travel off existing tracks is utterly im- possible.
The track along which the Jap- anese have advanced to Kokoda is almost a road. The country is relatively low-lying, fertile, and rich in natural foodstuffs. Be- tween Kokoda and Port Moresby is the tremendously formidable Owen Stanley Range, traversed only by a tangle of native pads. If the Japanese succeed in put- ting over a big enough force to worry Port Moresby they will have performed a military miracle. Purpose of their excursion seems to be to consolidate by controlling the hinterland, in addition to the useful foothold they gained by the Gona-Buna occupation. Two Separate Areas
Control of the hinterland also allows establishment by the enemy of such small inland aerodrome facilities as exist. Enemy suc- cess would be an additional thorn in the Allied side, but would not be vital in New Guinea defence. There is no present connection between Japanese activity in the Huon Gulf area and the activity in the Buna area. Between Buna and Huon Gulf is a great area which does not yet know war. Between the two places is a maze of large rivers, great forests, mountains rising to 9000ft., swamps, fertile valleys, barren wastes of kunai. There is considerable native population in clots, particularly up the vallev of the Waria River,
which enters the sea near Morobe Harbour, but communications are again of the most primitive type — mere foot-wide pads wandering between valley and valley, pass and pass. In neither theatre of the land war here can large bodies of troops be used. At the very most, a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand, men, are the most that can be engaged in a battle, and probably few of these actually would clash with the enemy. That is where the initiative and self-dependence of Australian soldiers should count, if they are properly used.