Trekking History: The Battle of Mount Tambu in the Australian War Campaign in New Guinea
The Kokoda Track, etched into the rugged terrain of Papua New Guinea, bears witness to the valour and sacrifices of Australian forces during World War II. Among the key battlegrounds, the Battle of Mount Tambu holds a pivotal place, marking a significant episode in the broader Kokoda Campaign. In this article, we delve into the events surrounding Mount Tambu, where Australian and Japanese forces clashed in a fierce struggle for control.
Battle Background: Kokoda Campaign and Australia’s Involvement
Australia’s commitment to the Allies in World War II led to the Kokoda Campaign, a series of engagements on the Kokoda Track, aimed at preventing the Japanese advance towards Port Moresby. This strategic location was crucial for maintaining control in the Pacific region. The Battle of Mount Tambu played a crucial role within this campaign, unfolding in the challenging terrain of Papua New Guinea.
The Prelude: Late January and Early February 1943
As the conflict escalated, the Battle for Mount Tambu took shape in late January and early February 1943. Australian forces, particularly the 17th Brigade, found themselves engaged in intense combat as they sought to thwart the Japanese expansion in the region.
Tactical Positioning and Ridge Warfare
The battlefield was dominated by the imposing Mount Tambu, with its razorback ridges and dense jungle, creating a formidable backdrop for the ensuing struggle. The Australian forces, including the 1st Battalion and the 162nd Infantry Regiment, confronted the Japanese with determination and courage.
The Summit Assault: July 16 to August 18, 1943
The battle formed part of the wider Salamaua–Lae Campaign, and from July 16 to August 18, 1943, a series of clashes unfolded around Mount Tambu. The Australians faced steep and treacherous terrain as they undertook the challenging trek to reach the summit.
Australian Offensive and Japanese Resistance
Led by Brigadier Murray, the Australian forces launched a series of offensives to capture Mount Tambu. The Japanese, entrenched in defensive positions, fiercely resisted, forcing the Australians to navigate through heavy jungle and contend with sheer cliffs.
The Climax: 28 July – Australians Reach the Mountain Summit
After weeks of arduous hiking and relentless fighting, the Australian forces managed to reach the summit on July 28. The small group from the 17th Brigade, including the 1st Battalion, achieved a significant victory, gaining control of the highest feature in the area.
Tactics and Challenges
The Australians encountered numerous challenges, from the steep and slippery slopes to Japanese mortar fire. The jungle warfare necessitated a mix of tactics, including several frontal assaults. The tenacity of the Australian forces was evident as they succeeded in eventually forcing the Japanese to retreat.
Legacy and Commemoration
The Battle of Mount Tambu left an indelible mark on the Kokoda Campaign. The Australian War Memorial pays homage to the soldiers who fought valiantly in this significant engagement, with artifacts and information related to the battle forming part of its collection.
Connection to the Kokoda Track
Mount Tambu’s capture played a crucial role in securing the supply route along the Komiatum Track, a vital lifeline for the Australian forces in the wider Kokoda Campaign. The successful offensive showcased the resilience and determination of the Australian soldiers as they navigated the challenging track.
As prospective trekkers prepare to hike the Kokoda Track, understanding the historical significance of battles like Mount Tambu adds a profound layer to the journey. The lush jungles and steep ridges bear witness to the sacrifices made during World War II. The Battle of Mount Tambu, with its strategic importance and fierce combat, stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of the Australian forces during this challenging period in history. Explore the collection at the Australian War Memorial to gain a deeper insight into this chapter of our nation’s past.