View Full Version : Kanga Force / Bulldog Track

Rising Sun*
11-17-2007, 05:19 AM

Losing track of heroism

Peter Ryan

October 27, 2007

THE Kokoda Track is symbolic shorthand for Australia's deliverance from danger during the Papua New Guinea campaigns of World War II.

It was on November 2, 1942, that we recaptured the Kokoda government station from the Japanese enemy. The devoted courage and resourcefulness of our young soldiers along that sad pathway amply justifies the choice of Kokoda as an emblem, though there was much other heroic fighting in New Guinea, and other tracks of crucial importance.
Who has heard of the Bulldog Track? Yet it was one of the most extraordinary lines of communication in modern military history. The official war historian tells us that the Australian Army never undertook a more ambitious project, "through one of the most difficult and unpleasant areas ever to confront troops".

As one of the few people who have trudged the full length of both tracks, I remember Bulldog as longer, higher, steeper, wetter, colder and rougher than Kokoda, though it did not involve the savage hand-to-hand fighting of the latter.

For the fit and intrepid, both tracks in 1942 offered a route from the south coast of New Guinea, over the towering central mountain ranges and down to the sea on the northern side. Kokoda began at Port Moresby and ended at the Solomon Sea. Bulldog, 240km west of Moresby, began at the mouth of the great Lakekamu River and led north to the beaches of the Bismarck Sea, with its islands of Manus, New Britain and New Ireland.

The purpose of Bulldog Track was to supply and sustain a tiny Australian guerilla force operating in the jungles and mountains behind the formidable enemy bases and airfields at Lae and Salamaua. These had been established after massive Japanese landings in March 1942. Enemy fighter and bomber aircraft ranged easily to our main base at Port Moresby, which suffered more than 100 air raids.

On the ground Australia had only the ridiculous little "army" of Kanga Force: 400 men at most, and often fewer than half that, as malaria, malnutrition and wounds ground them down. And yet, perhaps less ridiculous than its mere numbers might suggest: for example, by moonlight on June 28-29, 1942, they stealthily entered Japanese-occupied Salamaua town and virtually wrecked it, leaving 100 enemy dead, at a cost of three men lightly wounded. For six months on end, Australia's Kanga Force were the only Allied troops conducting offensive operations against the Japanese in General Douglas MacArthur's vast Southwest Pacific Area.
No flight of enemy aircraft took off to raid Port Moresby from Lae or Salamaua unobserved by scouts, with warnings flashed to Moresby. Kanga Force also monitored Japanese movements along the Markham River Valley and barge supply traffic around the coast from Madang.

Based in hinterland posts around the peacetime goldfields of Wau and the Bulolo Valley - perpetually threatened but never dislodged - Kanga Force remained a thorn in the enemy's side, a pebble in his shoe, a menacing and mysterious distraction whose shadowy presence held down many thousands of his troops.

The nucleus of Kanga Force was a remnant of old New Guinea hands from the peacetime militia New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. Sometimes identifiable by gorgeous bird of paradise plumes stuck jauntily in their decrepit felt hats, they included bush-wise gold prospectors, government officers, miners, lawyers and clerks. They were indeed a mixed bunch of comrades, from Leo Chui-Kitt, who ran a roadside store, to lawyer Col O'Loghlen who (as Sir Colman) was shortly to succeed to an Irish baronetcy. But the majority of Kanga Force troops were commandos, drawn from Australian independent companies. They were tough, well trained and apt at learning the special skills of New Guinea jungle fighting.

Thus, despite its puny size, Kanga Force was a military asset of great value, but only if it could be maintained and reinforced. And how could this be managed from Port Moresby, hundreds of kilometres away on the other side of New Guinea, across mountains, swamps and sea?

At first sight, the obvious answer was by air. Flying time was under two hours. The pre-war gold-mining companies had used air transport as a matter of course. The airstrip at Wau (despite the fearsome slope of its surface, a mountain bang-up against one end and a reputation for being suddenly blocked out by cloud) could readily handle the universal air workhorse of those days, the DC3 (or Dakota). But for long periods in New Guinea there simply were no transport aircraft. Major General Basil Morris, commanding in Port Moresby, complained to Australia that the inevitable fate of his Kanga Force would be death by slow starvation.

Sometimes a transport squadron of the US Fifth Army Air Force would roost briefly in Port Moresby and work frantically on what were deemed the most desperate tasks. The chance of their visiting Wau was always slim: it would have been suicidal to have flown lumbering and unarmed DC3s so close to Lae and Salamaua without strong fighter escort, but fighters, too, were perilously few.

In May 1942, transports and escorts became simultaneously available for a few days. Twenty sorties between May 23 and 26 landed virtually the whole of the 5th Independent Company (about 300 men, with gear) on the grass strip at Wau. Some of these flights were made by civilian aircraft from Australian commercial airlines.

It was a highly successful experiment, the first in the Pacific, of landing battle-ready troops almost directly into action and was developed into a war-winning Allied technique for casualty-saving advances. But although it was a brilliant shaft of light for Kanga Force, it was short-lived: air supply ceased under the greater urgencies of Kokoda and Milne Bay. Kanga Force retightened its belt and fell back once more on the meagre deliveries that could be sent overland.

Bulldog Track really began wharfside in Port Moresby. Men, stores, equipment and ammunition, all were crammed into diminutive wooden schooners or tiny coastwise trading steamers for the day-and-a-night voyage west around the Gulf of Papua to the Lakekamu River mouth. The gulf was visited by Japanese submarines that sometimes surfaced to dispatch a victim by shellfire; we were not considered worth the dignity or the expense of a torpedo. I made my 1942 journey in Matafele, a 600-tonne rust-bucket that, not long afterwards, disappeared at sea with all hands. My bold http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,22653320-31477,00.html?from=public_rss


Rising Sun*
11-17-2007, 05:27 AM
A sandbar lies across the Lakekamu mouth, so the Matafele stood off in the rolling seas of the gulf, blew its siren and awaited pinnaces, whaleboats and flimsy outrigger canoes. All humans and cargo precariously transferred, they were rowed several kilometres up river to the Catholic mission station at Terapo.

Here, everything was once again transferred, this time into traditional single-hulled canoes, dug out with axe and adze from giant hardwood trees. Each could carry several tonnes. A powerful outboard had been ingeniously attached, with a spare motor lying inboard for emergencies, which were frequent. These monsters covered the stretch from Terapo to Bulldog. This might take from two to four days, depending on the mood of the great stream, with its strong and changeable currents and thickets of snags. By day, rounding the bends, one saw crocodiles sliding by squadrons into the water, disturbed in their basking by the noise of the outboard: it was not a good place to capsize or fall overboard. Just before sunset we tied up to the bank and sheltered under rough thatched hutches. When it rained, which it usually did, it was not easy to start a fire to cook a meal.

Bulldog was an abandoned peacetime mining camp. It lay on the flat, a prelude to the steep rises of the Owen Stanley Mountains. A few fever-gaunt Australians supervised the depot and the rough sheds that housed the lines of native carriers. All cargo was put ashore here and repacked into individual carrier-loads of about 23kg, each to be carried on bare feet and human shoulders all the way to Wau: a week to 10 days on the track.

The carriers were Papuans from the surrounding districts. Many wore their hair in wide frizzy haloes but they wore little else. Some had an exiguous loincloth, others a mere G-string. In the mountains, night temperatures often dropped close to freezing but they had no sweaters, only a cheap cotton "trade" blanket apiece, usually sodden from rain along the track. Their food was rice, which they had to cook for themselves when they arrived each night at the sodden hovels of the unmanned intermediate staging camps. There was sometimes the supplement of a tin of bully beef or a packet of army biscuits. Malaria ravaged them: a sick rate of 14 per cent was regarded as acceptable but sometimes it rose to 25 per cent. Their wages were between five and ten shillings a month.

For the first five to seven days north the track was wholly enveloped in the deep-green, wet gloom of tropical mountain forest. No ray of sunshine reached the earth, the roar of unseen torrents below made each dizzy climb a terror: "What if I should fall down there?" The ridges rose into the clouds at 2100-2400m and plunged correspondingly into the valleys. Many climbs were almost vertical, a challenge to a carrier with a heavy case of ammunition on his shoulder.

The forest was home to the Kukukuku, nomadic cannibal pygmies, deadly with bow and arrow or stone-headed clubs. The carriers, without firearms, went in terror of being plucked singly from the passing line, killed and eaten, so there were few stragglers.

Some of the wayside shelter camps bore fittingly lugubrious names. There was "Dead Chinaman" after a civilian who had died on an evacuation march from the north coast and was discreetly interred beside the track. Another was "Dead Kukukuku", who remained very much in view. Perched cross-legged in the approved funerary posture on a rough platform, he long remained a ghastly host, welcoming exhausted travellers at the end of their hard day.

At Kudjeru, just over the Papuan border and into the Mandated Territory, the forest ceased abruptly and with startling effect. Emergence into the sunlight of rolling grassland lifted in an instant the appalling oppression of confinement in the green gloom. The Papuan carriers handed over to their counterparts from New Guinea and returned to Bulldog for their reward and the certainty of another load to carry forward soon.

Incredulous heads were shaken over maps at Kudjeru: "So! We have struggled along the track for nearly a week but, as the crow flies, we have progressed only 35 miles (56km)." The next two or three downhill days into Wau seemed like a saunter. All this, in practical terms, meant that when a man way out in the forward area bit into a biscuit, it had probably been on the road for a month and had not improved with travelling.

Military planners, those eternal optimists, calculated that the Bulldog Track could deliver 2724kg a day into Wau. It probably never achieved a tenth of that. But it enabled the men of Kanga Force, sick and hungry as they were, to hang on until the tide of war changed so dramatically in our favour in 1943. The significance of their achievement and their influence on the war was praised by Lieutenant-General Sydney Rowell, later chief of the general staff, when he mentioned their ceaseless flow of vital intelligence and their pinning down of thousands of enemy troops.

The Bulldog Track was reported at the time by ace war correspondent Osmar White and by our famous photographer Damien Parer, both of whom slogged manfully across it. The story can be read in the spare but accurate language of Australia's Official Histories - Second World War (Volume V, Southwest Pacific Area, First Year: Kokoda to Wau). But the singular achievement seems to have sunk into strange obscurity. In 2001, Lieutenant-General H.J. Coates published his splendid An Atlas of Australia's Wars (Oxford University Press). I deplored the absence of any reference to Bulldog so I was delighted when a further edition, publicised as fully updated, was issued recently. Alas for Bulldog, it remains unnoticed: not a mark nor a mention.

The Bulldog story - including the almost incredible later development of a vehicular road - is a tribute to Australian doggedness and resource. But the soul of the story belongs to the thousands of carriers. To forget the sweat and suffering entailed in their mighty contribution to Japan's defeat is not gracious, nor acceptable history.

Peter Ryan is the author of Fear Drive My Feet. He won the Military Medal and was mentioned in dispatches in New Guinea.

Rising Sun*
11-17-2007, 05:37 AM
It's a long time since I read Peter Ryan's Fear Drive My Feet. It's an understated account of a long period alone behind the lines when the Japanese were on the offensive.

Here's what Google threw up for a bit of a summary.

I first became a fan of Fear Drive My Feet – a minor classic of World War 11 - way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when it became a hit radio play on NBC.

Fear Drive My Feet, written by Peter Ryan and first published in 1959 by Angus & Robertson in Sydney, describes the factual adventures of one man in the struggles of 1942 and 1943 in the savage country of the Huon Peninsula area of Morobe province (then district).

As an Australian soldier of 18, Ryan was sent out alone and untrained, to conduct intelligence patrols for months on end, deep in the jungles of Japanese-occupied New Guinea.

Without heroics, his book describes the hardships and dangers of such a life, though they did not blind him to the stupendous beauty of the country and the nobility of its native peoples.

Fear Drive My Feet, rarely out of print over the last forty years, is a classic story of the darkest days of WW11, when Australia itself stood in deadly danger.

It slipped into the back of my mind until just recently when James Kari, who is the son of Sergeant Major Kari – one of the heroes of Fear Drive My Feet – gave me a copy to read.

James Kari is campaigning for a new cover design for the book, and for this he wants the photograph of his father – who died of cancer at home in Wamandrah village over in Manus in 1992 - accepting the book when it was launched in Melbourne in 1960.

He also wants an expedition undertaken to recreate that done by his father and Ryan over 60 years ago.

Fear Drive My Feet is a captivating factual narrative of the author’s and Kari’s experiences between Wau, the vast Markham Valley and the towering Saruwaged Ranges during the dark days of WW11.

Other places like Lae, Salamaua, Port Moresby and the infamous Black Cat, Bulldog and Kokoda Trails come into mention in this book that all ardent students of PNG history must read.

Ryan was only 18, Kari 20, when they were part of the 2/5th Australian Commando Company in patrol and observation work behind Japanese lines in 1942.

The Manusian was a giant of a man – standing over six feet tall – and his exploits are well documented in the annals of Australian military history, including the killing of several Japanese.

As Ryan describes him: “He was as black as coal, six feet tall and so broad that he filled the whole entrance…his skin was smooth, glossy and hairless, and you could see the magnificent muscles that rippled underneath it.”

It will take a whole book to record the life story of Kari, and I hope to collaborate with his son James, to collate more information about this remarkable man.

Apart from Kari, many other Papua New Guineans are mentioned in the book, and it is my fervent hope that the younger generation of those mentioned have read or will take time to read this book to understand the misery of war.

They include Watute and Dinkila, who made an excellent deduction from the way the Japanese were moving, that they were preparing to evacuate Lae.

Another notable character is Buka, whose real name was Ure but because he came from somewhere in Bouganville he was called Buka, and who went stampeding, stark naked, around a village threatening to shoot all the men in a case of temporary memory loss.

Dinkila comes into the story after Kari as a cook, but eventually takes over Ryan’s life, as he decided what his boss should wear and eat.

One day, the Japanese made an air raid and before he could jump into the safety of the trenches, Dinkila fell into a toilet pit.

His body stank terribly that Ryan asked if he had soiled himself, however, Dinkila replied: “Master, me hearim bomb ‘e come, now we fall down long haus pekpek.”

There is constant mention of Singin, tultul of Wampangan village, who constantly helped Ryan’s group.

Singin is the father of tourism personality Erigere Singin, Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG secretary Fua Singin, and Prime Minister’s advisor Sumasi Singin.

Legendary patrol officers Leigh Vial and Ian Downs, who made significant contributions during peacetime and war, are well mentioned.

Fear Drive My Feet fords you across the Markham River, sweeps you across the Markham Valley, and lifts you on to the mountains of Boana and the mysterious Saruwaged Ranges beyond.

It is a work of non – fiction but will captivate you just like any of the best novels.

The narrative is captivatingly built up and it culminates with the dramatic escape in the final chapters.

A riveting read! http://www.pngbd.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-9905

Rising Sun*
11-17-2007, 05:58 AM
The rag tag army, some too old and some medically unfit for service, that supplied part of Kanga Force.