The problem of supply

There is a natural tendency in writing about war to concentrate on the fighting soldier who risks his life and, if he survives, has exciting stories to tell...

It is a fact though that half of the Australians who served in New Guinea never fired a shot in anger, for their jobs were to deliver all the things the fighting soldier needs. Each bean or bullet had to be unloaded from a ship in Port Moresby and stored in a warehouse. When required it had to be transported to the end of the Kokoda track where thousands of Papuan carriers shuttled back and forth, or to the airfield so the supplies could be air dropped. Without constant re-supply the fighting soldier would have quickly run out of ammunition, fallen ill, or gone without food.

Myola 2 - The Australians air dropped supplies at Myola 2

[Text: Myola 2.
Aerial footage moves over a the thick jungle covering a long mountain ridge. Beyond the ridge, rolling slopes descend to a vast green plain nestled among tree-clad mountains. The plain is mottled with shades of green and brown. A long strip of pale grass flanks a creek winding through the centre of the plain.]

VOICEOVER: Over this ridge is a sight that seems out of place 2,000m above sea level, in the midst of the rugged Owen Stanley Range. It is Myola 2, a huge expanse of marsh with streams running north, the source of Eora Creek. The Australians realised Myola's suitability for the airdropping of supplies, which otherwise had to be carried all the way from Port Moresby. Transport aircraft swooped low and slow across Myola while packages of food and ammunition were pushed out the door.

Text: The Kokoda Track.
Exploring the site of the battle fought by Australians in World War II.
© Department of Veterans' Affairs, Australia 2010.
Music © Mark Douglas Williams 2010.]

The Australians in 1942 found that their supply system was unsuitable for operations in the Owen Stanley Range. The recent experience of the AIF in two years fighting in North Africa, Greece, Crete and Syria had accustomed the army to a road bound supply system. By trucking all supplies to the front line, the 19 tons of supplies required for each 1000 Australian fighting men each day, could be delivered.

In the Owen Stanley Range there was no road. Initially everything had to be carried on the back of man or beast and Maroubra Force was able only to get about one quarter of what was desirable. When air drops commenced this improved but a shortage of aircraft was a problem for most of the campaign. The Australians eventually settled on a reduced requirement of 12 tons per thousand men per day. A single aircraft could air drop almost two tons of supplies - so six aircraft per day, in addition to what was carried up the track, could keep each thousand men of Maroubra Force tolerably well supplied.

The Japanese, whose main experience of war had been in China where the road system was poor, were more used to getting by on a bare minimum of six tons of supplies per thousand men per day. On occasion, as on the Kokoda track, when they knew supply would be especially difficult, they survived for short periods on four tons per day. They expected to make up the balance by foraging locally and capturing enemy supplies. The Japanese were interested in anything that would reduce their requirements. Their food ration in Papua, for instance, contained five different items against 21 items for the Australian ration. Lt General Rowell, commander of New Guinea Force, noted that the simple, sparse and efficient Japanese supply system gave them a great advantage on the Kokoda track.


Last updated: 12 February 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), The problem of supply, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 11 May 2021, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/kokoda-track-1942-1943/events/jungle-warfare/problem-supply
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