75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Templeton’s Crossing

Templeton’s Crossing area, Papua, 1942-11. A team of native stretcher-bearers, affectionately known as ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’, carries a wounded Australian soldier through difficult jungle terrain along the Kokoda Trail. The stretcher-bearers, who operated in teams of eight under the direction of a native ‘boss boy’, were employed by the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU).

Templeton’s Crossing was essentially a log crossing over Eora Creek located in one of the highest sections on the Kokoda Track. The crossing was named in remembrance of Captain Sam Templeton of the 39th Battalion, who was killed near Oivi on 26 July 1942.

In this area of thick jungle, rushing streams, fog and chilling rain, rough hillsides and slippery descents, two battles were fought – one from 31 August to 5 September 1942 and a second between 11 and 28 October 1942.

These battles involved military forces from Australia, supported by the United States, fighting against Japanese troops from Major General Tomitaro Horii’s South Seas Detachment who had landed in Papua in mid 1942 with the intent of capturing Port Moresby.

It has been described as the ‘least-examined engagement of the campaign’, occurring so soon after and overshadowed to some extent by the fighting around Isurava, which although seen as a notable Japanese victory, had not achieved the main aim of destroying the Australian force.

During their withdrawal along the trail, the Japanese conducted a determined defence of the Templeton’s Crossing area. The 2nd/33rd Battalion first made contact with Japanese positions forward of Templeton’s Crossing around midday on 12 October 1942 and for the following two and a half days, the battalion sought to attack but without making any progress.  The 2nd/25th Battalion, advancing along a subsidiary track along the Templeton’s Crossing area, had also encountered Japanese positions and was also unable to force its way through. On the morning of 15 October, the 3rd Battalion made a strategic move to attack the Japanese from their flank but found their positions abandoned. The three Australian battalions then converged on Templeton’s Crossing but found that the Japanese had withdrawn.

The Australians sought to consolidate their hold but in doing so encountered another Japanese rear-guard position. What followed was a series of attacks and counter-attacks throughout the next night and day made increasingly difficult by the jungle conditions.

The trail above Templeton’s Crossing was eventually cleared on 20 October by an attack mounted by the 2nd/2nd Battalion. In what was, by then, typically small groups of Australians tackling Japanese machine-guns with small arms and grenades, the four companies managed to ‘sandwich’ the Japanese. The plan was then to renew the attack on the morning of 21 October but patrols at first light discovered the Japanese troops had escaped through the jungle and fallen back on Eora Creek. The Japanese had delayed the Australian advance by about ten days but the casualties in terms of deaths, injuries and illness on both sides were high.

This was arguably one of the main clashes fought by Australians along the Kokoda Track and the last time during the campaign that the Japanese outnumbered the Australians. Templeton’s Crossing represented the first major battle during the advance of the Australians that would eventually end at Gona, Sanananda and Buna on the north coast of Papua.