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Beyond Kokoda (2008)

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25 September 2008 (Australia)  »

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AUD 640,000 (estimated)
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16:9 SD
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Long, Gripping.
28 September 2014 | by See all my reviews

These comments refer to the video available free on YouTube that is 1:46 long and carries the title, "WW2: The Kokoda Trail Campaign." I hope I'm talking about the same film because the YouTube video shows no credits at all, and the titles are different. Yet, the running time is about the same and so are the filming locations -- Australia, Papua, and Japan. If these remarks don't match the film, you are at liberty to contact my attorneys -- Robham, Stiffem, & Cheatham -- and bring suit. Bring tie too.

We don't hear much about the fighting between the Japanese and Australians on the Kokoda Trail. It was hardly glamorous and it was terribly bitter, with no quarter on either side, and evidence of cannibalism. Maybe the slaughter wasn't on a large enough scale to attract much attention.

But, to an extent, the safety of Australia, and in fact the whole Pacific campaign, rested on the outcome of this little-known conflict. Strategically, New Guinea lies just north of Australia, a harsh, mountainous island with a tropical rainforest climate. There is a good port -- Port Moresby -- on the southern coast and several well-constructed airfields. Who controls that port and those airfields controls the flow of maritime traffic and supplies between the United States and Australia. The Japanese wanted it, and it was up to the Australian militia to stop them.

To sketch the battles briefly, the Japanese landed on the northern coast and began to advance southward over the high and rugged Owen Stanley Mountains. The 39th Battalion of newly recruited Australian militia were thrown against them, and later much of the Australian army was withdrawn from North Africa to join them.

The Australians were forced back until the Japanese were within sight of Port Moresby. But, like Hitler before Moscow, the Australians mounted a last ditch defense, and the Japanese supply lines were stretched too thin across the mountains. The Japanese were pushed back to a handful of villages on the northern coast, where they'd first landed, and almost all were exterminated by Allied air, artillery, and frontal attacks by the Australians.

MacArthur was the man in charge. Australian General Blamey was his immediate subordinate, described as MacArthur's "executioner." As MacArthur grew impatient with his Australian generals, it was Blamey's job to fire them, one by one. Both commanders were exceptionally hard on the Aussies and were widely despised. MacArthur complained that the troops weren't advancing aggressively enough because not enough of them were being killed. Seriously. And when Blamey visited the exhausted 39th Battalion after they'd held off ten times their number in the rotting jungle, he called them "rabbits" and said they'd allowed themselves to be defeated.

In the final phase of the battle, on the northern beaches, MacArthur finally sent in some green American troops, who refused to leave cover when ordered to do so by their officers. Some threw away their weapons and left the danger zone, much to MacArthur's humiliation. Both the Australian and the Japanese talking heads agreed that the American soldiers were of little use. As one Aussie observes, without rancor, "They might have been trained for something but it wasn't jungle warfare." I'm not sure any blame can be attached to the hastily trained Yanks from Iowa or someplace, finding themselves thrown into a battle in a place they'd never known existed. In one way or another, war humiliates and punishes everyone, even the victors as the initial jubilation fades and the nightmares begin.


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