"Go, tell the Spartans, thou who passest by, That here obedient to their laws we lie."

Simonides 556-468 BC

In 480 BC the Persian king Xerxes the Great launched an invasion of Greece with a huge army conservatively estimated at 360,000. To give the Greeks time to mount a defence, Leonidas, king of Sparta and commander of the Greek army, resisted the Persian advance into Greece at the narrow mountain pass called Thermopylae. When the Persians outflanked his small army, Leonidas and his 300 Spartans remained behind to delay the Persians as long as they could. They fought until the Persians had killed them all. The sacrifice of Leonidas and his men at Thermopylae to save Greece has passed into world history. There would be few Greek schoolchildren who are unaware of the small band of Spartans who gallantly sacrificed themselves to save Greece from a Persian invasion.


The official relief of the 39th battalion on 6 September 1942 at Menari is one of the most famous images from the Kokoda Campaign. The exhausted survivors of the 39th Battalion are parading at Menari after the Battle of Isurava before their proud commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner. There were only about 180 members of the battalion left to parade and about a quarter of these were sick or wounded. They came to New Guinea as raw recruits and their average age was eighteen. When they faced Japan’s best jungle troops they were poorly equipped and supplied. At Kokoda, Deniki, and Isurava they blunted the momentum of the Japanese drive towards Australia along the Kokoda Track and paved the way for the ultimate Japanese defeat. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Australia has its equivalent of Thermopylae in the Battle of Isurava, but very few Australian schoolchildren appear to have heard of it or the manner in which several hundred Australian soldiers held their ground on the Kokoda Track against 6,000 of Japan's best combat troops in August 1942. The Australians were heavily outnumbered, inadequately armed, and poorly supplied, but their resolute stand over four days at Isurava inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese and blunted the momentum of the Japanese drive towards Port Moresby. The stubborn resistance of the Australian troops at Isurava wrecked the Japanese timetable for crossing the Kokoda Track, gave time for Australian reinforcements to be brought up, and paved the way for the ultimate defeat of Major General Tomitaro Horii’s army before it could reach Port Moresby.

Every Australian child deserves to know how these gallant Australians saved their country from greatly increased Japanese aerial bombardment and a real threat of invasion of the mainland. Without their sacrifices, it is likely that many Australians would not have been alive to celebrate a centenary of Federation in 2001.


Overview and Preparations for the Battle of Isurava

The Battle of Isurava — 26 August to 30 August 1942