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Bulldog Track Forgotten in AUS?

 
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Bulldog Track Forgotten in AUS? - 3/6/2018 2:42:30 PM   
el cid again

 

Posts: 16252
Joined: 10/10/2005
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Yaab found this interesting item and comments that the history seems to have been lost. Perhaps AE designers were
also unaware of it.

DEFENCE
Losing track of heroism
PETER RYANTheAustralian12:00AM October 27, 2007
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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.

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.

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