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  2. 75 YEARS ON NO. 2 INDEPENDENT COMPANY DEPARTS TIMOR December 15 1942 Introduction Following the first tragic failed attempt to evacuate the No. 2 Independent Company (2/2) involving the ships Armidale, Castlemaine and Kuru’ recounted in the previous post in this series, another mission was rapidly organised, this time using the Dutch destroyer ‘Tjerk Hides’. The 2/2 men had an anxious time moving from their frontline positions to the new evacuation site at the mouth of the Quelan River, in contact with advancing enemy troops; one man was killed in action during a Japanese ambush. Additional Portuguese civilians were also escorted to the evacuation site. Cyril Ayris continued his account of the, this time, successful evacuation in Chapter 40 ‘Emotional Farewells’ including the moving goodbyes of the 2/2 men to their creados on the beach. Most of the locations mentioned in this story (including Same, Betano, Alas and the mouth of the Quelan River) will be visited during the forthcoming ‘Timor 1942 Commando Campaign Tour’ (April 23 – 2 May 2018). There has been strong interest from the 2/2 fraternity and it’s not too late to register your interest and book for the tour. Contact Ed Willis if you would like more information about the tour (0438907480, [email protected]). Another Attempted Evacuation Timor Callinan belatedly received news from Darwin of the attacks on the ships and of the loss of his Dutch reinforcements. Because he now had to reorganise his defences, he requested a delay of twenty-four hours before another attempted evacuation. Darwin agreed. Callinan was told that the ship which would take them off would be the Dutch destroyer Tjerk Hides. All platoons were notified of the change of plan and were ordered to remain in their areas pending further instructions. Same, Portuguese Timor, December 1945 D Platoon Ambushed Preparations for the second evacuation had been progressing fairly well considering the circumstances, when Doig’s D platoon struck trouble. The platoon, along with the sick, wounded and the remaining Dutch and Portuguese, was to have been taken off in the first stage. It was in Same when, on the morning of 10 December, its rearguard withdrew from the saddle above the town in readiness for the long march to the Quelan River. Also in the town was a pack train loaded with weapons and supplies for a small group of 2/4th men which was training and arming the Timorese. Same, Timor-Leste, May 2014 The pack train’s escort had just finished breakfast with the 2/2nd rearguard and was about to move off when Japanese troops opened fire on them from concealed positions, killing Spr L.C. Moule. The horses bolted with the weapons and supplies on their backs, leaving the rest of the rear party and the escorts to fight their way out of the town. Spr D. A. Sagar was wounded in the withdrawal. This surprise attack was a tragedy for the Australians who had now lost a man the day before he was to be evacuated, not to mention an entire pack train of valuable weapons and supplies. Code books had also gone, forcing the Australians to adopt an emergency code. Map showing Betano and the Quelan River mouth Evacuation Point Moved to the Mouth of the Quelan River Realising the enemy was now dangerously close to Betano, Callinan moved his evacuation point five kilometres east, to the mouth of the Quelan River. C Platoon meanwhile had O-pipped Maubisse and reported few Japanese there. However, No. 9 Section was attacked by about forty Timorese, some of whom were killed. The Travails of Sgt Hopper in Same Later in the day the Japanese occupied Same. They had not been there long when Sgt Hopper (2/4th Signals) lived up to his name – and proved in the process that the reputation established by the 2/2nd was in good hands. Hopper and his new creado had ridden into Same on a pony, quite unaware that the town had new tenants. When he was confronted by a Japanese soldier he yanked his pony around and was at full stretch when the soldier opened fire on him from less than ten metres. Hopper leaped from his alarmed steed and ran for his life, his creado at his heels and bullets whistling past his head. Signaller and creado made it to some scrub where they remained in hiding for the rest of the day. The Night of 11 December 1942 On the night of 11 December 1942, at the mouth of the Quelan River, the darkness was briefly punctuated by two winking pinpoints of light, the first from the beach, the second from the sea. A ripple of suppressed excitement passed through those on the beach. Among them were Doig’s D Platoon, the sick, the wounded and some Dutch and Portuguese women and children, all deep in their own thoughts. For some there was the promise of medical attention, for others there was the fear that even at this late stage the evacuation would be called off, or that the Japanese would arrive. For the Australians, there was the knowledge that they had survived and that they were going home. They could almost smell the wattle. Almost. They were not out of the woods yet – every man on the beach knew that. The Japanese were only a few kilometres away and even if the evacuees reached the ship, there was still the voyage across the Timor sea where enemy planes and submarines could send them to the bottom. Doig later described the evacuation: The signal fires were lit and when the ship was in sight and acknowledged the flares, the operation began. The first sign the waiting troops had was the sound of the vessel’s motorboats chugging towards them, towing flat-bottom boats manned by one sailor. These came ashore after being set adrift from the motorboats. Personnel immediately scrambled aboard them. When fully loaded they were picked up by the motorboats and taken rapidly to the destroyer which had scrambling nets over the side. We climbed the nets and were assisted aboard by the crew. Several trips were required to pick up the intending passengers. Within seconds the anchor came up and we were on our way. There was no music we would more gladly have heard than the grinding of those anchor chains as they found their way onboard. Phase Two of the Evacuation Back on Timor preparations for phase two of the evacuation were being hampered by the enemy’s occupation of Same, which was uncomfortably close to the Quelan River. The remaining platoons took up positions around the town from where they could keep an eye on Japanese movements and, if possible, lead them away from the river mouth. As expected the Japanese moved east to Alas, arriving on the morning of 15 December 1942. The second evacuation was planned for that night. There now began a game of cat and mouse, though who filled which role is arguable. The Bull’s platoon at Fatu-Cuac, only ten kilometres from Alas, was warned of the Japanese move as was Nisbet’s platoon between Fatu-Berliu and Alas. The 2/2nd had no idea where the enemy would go from Alas and, as they were supposed to be pulling out that night, there was little they could do anyway. With the rest of the 2/2nd (apart from Turton’s platoon) centred around Betano and Fatu-Cuac it was decided to draw the enemy towards Betano until it was dark, then make a headlong dash for the Quelan River five kilometres to the east. With a bit of luck, they would be on their ship and away before the Japanese caught up with them. Laidlaw’s headquarters opened fire on the Japanese as they approached Fatu-Cuac inflicting some casualties. The Australians withdrew the moment the enemy deployed for action. Callinan said later: The Japanese were not very happy about their position; they seemed to sense the continuous observation and presence of our troops. They pushed into Fatu-Cuac then hurried northwards again to Same. Dexter, on a reconnaissance along the Same – Fatu-Cuac track, heard approaching footsteps and concealed himself in a clump of bamboo alongside the track. From there he counted two hundred Japanese march past. He could have reached out and touched some of them. The danger had passed but it was a narrow escape. Doc Wheatley Recalls Doc Wheatley recalled his evacuation: “I remember when word came through that we were to go home and that we were to make our way to Betano as unobtrusively as possible. We tried to keep it secret but the Japs came out in force to stop us. “It took a couple of days to move in close to the beach then we heard that the Japs were already there. We were told to circle around them and come out on the beach about three miles further on. There were a couple of skirmishes behind us but we didn’t get involved. We hadn’t eaten that day. Somebody arrived with a pot of rice and put a spoonful in our hands; it was gratefully received. Doc Wheatley “When we arrived at the river we could hear the Sigs talking to the ship. We were told to pile our weapons on the beach. I was reluctant to do that as I had developed a real affection for my sniper’s rifle. Then the boats arrived to take us off. “Saying goodbye to Montelo (his creado) was awful, I couldn’t find any words to say to him. In the end, I just gave him a hug and ruffled his hair and said, ‘Thanks, kid.’ When the boats pulled away I felt like crying. He was just standing there, watching us going out of his life. We had told all our creados that the 2/4th troops would be glad to have them. I hope that was what happened to them.” Harry Sproxton Remembers Harry Sproxton said that his No. 9 Section had set out for the beach after dark on 14 December. Light rain was falling making the track slippery and dangerous. “We walked until just after daylight then had a spell, knowing we still had more than half way to go,” he said. “We stopped for a bite to eat at Alas, still with six hours’ walking ahead of us.” At one stage the platoon had to cross a raging river which threatened death to anybody venturing into its rock-strewn course. The platoon halted, totally dismayed at the seemingly impossible crossing. Some struggled across but others knew it was beyond them. Even Ron Dook, a top-grade swimmer, declared the river almost impassable. It seemed that the remainder of the platoon was doomed to miss the ship. The day was saved by Pte Tom Crouch who waded out as far as possible, grabbed a protruding rock and, bracing his feet, held out his rifle to the first in line. He pulled him towards the rock then pushed him to the other side. In that way, he got the rest of the men safely to the other side. Sproxton: “It was dark when we finally reached the beach. Everyone was in a state of complete exhaustion. I’m sure it was only the thought of going home that had kept us going. “I can still see Munlalo’s (his creado) sad eyes as I gave him all my belongings except my Tommy gun. “When we reached the ship, burly sailors reached over and dragged us onto the deck, then others ushered us below. There was standing room only. We were seeing faces we hadn’t seen for months, it was an emotional time we will all remember.” Ray Parry’s No. 5 Section Ray Parry’s No. 5 Section was fortunate to have made the river mouth rendezvous. About a week earlier Parry had led a two-man reconnaissance patrol to a village near the north coastal town of Manatuto, to check out forty armed pro-Japanese Chinese who were said to be in the area. They reached the village after a long trek across mountains and through steep-sided gorges, only to find it ominously quiet. The Australians were creeping up on an administration building when they were confronted by about forty Chinese-Japanese, all carrying weapons. It was a tense moment which was relieved only when the two Australians turned about and returned to their section. A few days later the eighteen-man No. 5 Section led by Ted Loud had returned to the village, this time as a fighting patrol equipped to do business. They were carrying Tommy guns, rifles, bayonets and hand grenades. The section positioned itself along a ridge behind the administration building and settled in for the night. Loud’s plan was to hit the village just before dawn. At 11.30 p.m. the section came to alert – somebody was moving towards their position. The No. 5 men silently merged into the shadows as the footsteps drew cautiously closer. It was not until the figure was almost on them that they recognised it to be that of a soldier from their platoon. He had been sent to find them and to suggest that they call off the attack as the company was to be evacuated. “I can’t remember who brought the message but he did a magnificent job in finding us,” said Parry. “Ted Loud addressed the section telling them they were to vote on whether they wanted to continue with the planned attack. The vote was unanimous – WE GO HOME. “When we got back to Alas we moved to a deserted village several hundred metres above the trail linking Same, Alas and Viqueque. We had not been there long when a big party of Japanese arrived. We took cover while they had a good look around and settled in for a rest and a cigarette. They eventually headed out towards Same. They were doubtless heading for Betano where they believed we would be carrying out the evacuation. We made no attempt to engage them; we didn’t want to draw attention to the Alas area.” The Civilian Refugees When the civilian refugees eventually reached the south, they were “accommodated” in a make-shift camp near Fatu Cuac which had been organised by Eric Smyth. “Accommodated” is something of an over-statement given that there were no oomahs or facilities, just low scrub to protect them from the sun and observation from the air. “They came in from everywhere,” said Smyth. “We took only the women and children, escorting them to the beach with their little bundles of possessions.” Parry said the trek from the main track to Viqueque and along the coast was a nightmare journey across crocodile-infested waterways. “There were no villages – nobody lived there,” he said. The platoon rendezvoused with two elderly Portuguese nuns from a mission in the interior who were to be evacuated with their unit. Teams of mission boys had carried them along the coast in beautifully woven chairs fitted with bamboo poles through the arms. There were four boys to each chair with several more in reserve. With them were another eight nuns, twelve sisters, eleven priests and a small group of Timorese teachers. Sgt Tomasetti, who had been responsible for the party, said: “Some of the Order members were riding ponies. Most wore white hats and habits which they stubbornly, though politely, refused to discard or conceal. This strange party formed a long and cumbersome line as it moved on foot or on pony and palanquin, to the embarkation point. “Shortly after moving off a Japanese plane flew low over the line but the pilot failed to see us, despite all the white clothing.” It was only then that the nuns and priests agreed to “dirty-up” their garments with some Timorese soil. In the resulting confusion several palanquin bearers, deciding that there were more rewarding ways of spending their time than carrying nuns across Timor, took to the bush and were not seen again. Two Timorese teachers were asked to take their place but haughtily declined, saying that such duty was beneath their calling. The by-now short-tempered Australians convinced them otherwise, but as the teachers reluctantly bent to their task the nuns climbed from their chairs, declaring that they would rather walk than be the cause of disharmony. The Australians again turned threatening. The nuns resumed their seats ...... the teachers took their positions on the poles ...... and the party wobbled away to its promised salvation. The cavalcade picked its way between the rocks and crocodiles arriving in plenty of time for the evacuation, though Parry said he was never able to discover how the ship’s crew managed to haul the nuns up the vessel’s side from the assault craft. “They were large ladies,” he said. Saying Goodbye to the Creados Parry spoke fondly of Berracauly, his creado whom he had to leave behind. “Saying goodbye to Berracauly was one of the hardest moments of my life,” he said. “My nine-year-old friend and teacher of his language and customs – I have always remembered his friendship and courage.” All the Australians found this abandonment of their creados on the beach at Quelan, nothing short of gut wrenching. Fred Growns said: “As we prepared to leave, I told Berimou what we were doing. I wrote out an ownership receipt for the horse I had been using, a surat for his help and I gave him everything I had – gear, money, everything except a small haversack with personal papers. I said goodbye to him and swam out in the darkness to the waiting boats.” Eric Smyth, who was still responsible for the nuns and refugees, had to carry one of the nuns to a waiting boat. “It was very dicey,” he said. “A stiff on-shore breeze was whipping up what was quite a heavy sea for that part of the world. I don’t know how we managed to get her into the boat. We had to hurry. The ship was leaving at a certain time and anybody who was not onboard was to be left behind.” (When Smyth returned to Timor with his wife twenty-five years later they accidentally met up with the nun he had carried to the boat; she could remember every minute of it.) The Evacuation Ship Tjerk Hides The evacuation ship Tjerk Hides, which was based at Fremantle, was practically a new ship with a Dutch crew and a British liaison officer on board. The Australians would remember the crew’s hospitality long after the war, mainly it appears because of the bread and jam which the sailors placed before them. It was the first time they had tasted bread since leaving Australia. The destroyer arrived off the Quelan River on time and after another exchange of signals, the last of the 2/2nd were ferried out to climb the scramble nets to the deck. They were on their way back to Australia within two hours of the ship’s arrival. One of the last to board the ship was Ken Monk who stood outpost duty with a Bren gun until everybody had left the beach. Stan Sadler said: “It was a wonderful feeling to know we were going home after so many months of strain and anxiety. Many of us had thought we would not see home again.” Fremantle, WA 1942. Port Side Aerial View of the Dutch Destroyer ‘Tjerk Hides’ A naval officer who was in charge of a landing party, whose name has been lost in the passage of time, wrote a wonderful descriptive account of the evacuation: The engines stop. There is an eerie silence save for the sound of the surf. Spicy scents drift out from the shore. Then all is bustle as the big assault boat is slid into the water over the stern, and weapons, ammunition, food, medicines, and kerosene tins full of two shilling pieces are hurriedly loaded into it. We climb down the scrambling net over the side and into the boat. Four sailors are at the oars and there is a long sweep oar for steering. We grab it and give the order to shove off. The sailors are mostly bearded. They are armed with knives or revolvers and wear heavy boots in case they have to take to the hills. They look like extras for The Pirates of Penzance, but none is singing. The small ship looks large as we pull away from her in the darkness. The first surge lifts the boat, carries her forward, slips from under her bow and breaks inshore. The surf is low, but it still needs care to keep the boat running straight. In a few minutes, there is broken water all around and about a dozen large, wild-looking figures, some naked, rush into the water, grab the sides of the boat and haul her up onto the sand. There are handshakes and low-voiced greetings. The cargo is quickly unloaded and then there is an astonishing sight. Men with knives and bayonets are hacking open some of the tins of meat and wolfing it down like half-starved dogs. Ponies appear on the beach and are loaded. Figures emerge from the dark and crowd into the boat. These are the Portuguese men, women and children we have come to rescue. Some are weak and ill and have to be half carried. They push around the boat – there are too many for safety – and more keep climbing in, despite our efforts to control them. The boat is low in the water, not room for another body. At last she is off, pushed into the deep by the commandos. It is hard to row out to the ship, where the human cargo climbs the scrambling nets or is lifted onboard. The turn-around of the boats seems to take ages. At last the anchor is in and after midnight, with the engines roaring at full power and consuming ninety gallons every hour, we fly along at seventeen knots (31 km/h), the heavy assault boat bouncing on a bar-taut line in our wake. Daylight reveals a sad sight on deck. Some of the Portuguese lying around the guns are in a very bad way. Having left all that they held dear on the island, it seems that some are soon to leave life itself. They are violently seasick and are lying in their filth. We wipe their faces and give them tea in our chipped mugs. A Tall, Old Man in a White Suit and a White Panama Hat The writer described a meeting with a Portuguese which has haunted him over the years: Things were tense on the beach that night and the Japanese believed to be close by. I was standing up to my waist in the low surf beside the boat, trying to control it and keep its head into the waves. We were about to push off when I glanced back at the beach. There, standing alone in the shallows, was a tall, old man in a white suit and a white panama hat. I cannot forget him; after all these years, I can still see him standing there motionless, dignified, authoritative. He was not calling out to me, or beckoning, or making any effort to save himself and come to me. He was just standing there, looking at the boat and his departing people – just watching us go. I could not leave him. I waded quickly back and grabbed him. He was very frail and thin; his hair was white. He just looked at me. Neither of us spoke, there was nothing to say. Hampered by my weapons and our soaking, clinging clothes, I dragged him through the surf to the boat, pushed him over the side into the stern sheets by my sweep oar, jumped in and ordered the sailors to pull hard as the commandos shoved us forward. Once we were safely through the surf I saw the old man turn and look back for a long time at the island in the starlight. Then he took something from his hand, gave it to me and spoke for the first time – in elegant English. “If you go to Portugal, show this,” he said. It was a handsome silver ring with a rampant golden lion on a field of jade green, perhaps the armorial bearings of some ancient Portuguese family with centuries of services in the East. Nothing now for him but memories. Everything he had owned on the island he had lost, except for that ring and he gave that to me. I did not ask his name and I have never been to Portugal, but I still treasure that memory and his ring. Heading to Darwin When morning broke some of the men went on deck. The Tjerk Hides was powering through a flat calm sea with every ounce of speed her engines were capable of delivering. White water curled majestically from her raked bows, a creamy wake briefly marked her passage. Later in the morning two Beaufighters began circling the ship in case enemy bombers and fighters launched a last desperate attack from Dili. They did not appear – in fact the only excitement was when the ship’s gunners opened fire on a mine towards the end of the voyage. They failed to detonate it. The men watched in silence when later in the day, a thin brown line appeared on the horizon, indistinct in the tropical haze. Slowly it took shape. Low hills could be seen. The soldiers could smell the land of their birth. “I cannot describe our feelings,” said Ray Parry. “After what we had endured it was a beautiful and welcome sight.” Arrival in Darwin A crewman from HMAS Arunta watched their arrival. He said: “They looked like figures in an atrocity propaganda film – starved, gaunt and as overgrown as a brushwood patch. Haggard and emaciated they stood there, clad in anything the sailors had been able to give them. “An order cracked out. As one man, the lines snapped to attention, heads held erect. In their eyes was a light that brought a lump to your throat. “Their officer stepped aft and saluted the captain. “‘Carry on, Sir?’ “‘Yes please.’ “Only when the officer came back, was his limp evident. “The lines turned and filed over the gangway. One grizzled old sergeant spoke to the coxswain: ‘If only we could have saved our gear and marched ashore as a company, instead of like a crowd of bloody scarecrows.’” Ray Parry said: “Men and women of the three services were present when our destroyer entered the harbour and tied up at the wharf. Exhausted, bearded men with the mud of Timor still on their bodies, moved off the ship in single file, watched from the rails by Dutch crewmen. I think the people waiting to meet us were in a state of awe or shock at seeing Australian troops in such a state, wearing tattered uniforms, many without hats or steel helmets. There was not a sound from them. It was so quiet.” Perhaps the sight of Darwin’s half-destroyed wharf and bomb-shattered buildings had sobered their elation. Conclusion In another time, there would have been a groundswell of remorse over the twenty-six young men who had not come back. But this was wartime – the 2/2nd had killed hundreds of Japanese. As a result, national remorse gave way to a sense of profound pride for what they had achieved. In November 1942, a month before the withdrawal of the 2/2nd, Sparrow Force was renamed Lancer Force and given the task of continuing to tie down the Japanese, denying them a base for any operations in the Pacific. However, the relief 2/4th Independent Coy was evacuated from Portuguese Timor only three weeks after the 2/2nd. Callinan explained that twenty thousand Japanese had squeezed him to the point where he had only thirty-five kilometres of south coastal country open to him. He said the air was becoming a little stuffy.
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  4. 75 YEARS ON THE ARMIDALE TRAGEDY AND HEROIC TEDDY SHEEAN On 1 December commemoration services will be held in several locations around Australia to recognise the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the corvette Armidale by Japanese aircraft and the heroic efforts of Able Seaman Teddy Sheean to defend his shipmates as the ship went down. [1] The sinking of the Armidale, the tragic loss of lives that followed and other dramatic associated events involving the little ship Kuru and the sister corvette Castlemaine were brought about by the first attempt to evacuate the No. 2 Independent Company from Portuguese Timor. Cyril Ayris recounted the story of what happened in his history of the 2/2, All the Bull’s men [2]: 40 EMOTIONAL FAREWELL [During November 1942] it was decided in Australia to evacuate the 2/2nd, Dutch and some Portuguese from Timor, leaving the 2/4th to take over. The 2/2nd had been there more than eleven months and was utterly exhausted. Callinan’s orders were that the evacuation was to be in two phases: First the Dutch and Portuguese, then the Australians. The timing for the departure of the Dutch and Portuguese appears to have been left to his discretion, as was the pick-up point and all other arrangements. … Three ships would take them off – the little Kuru and the corvettes HMAS Castlemaine and HMAS Armidale. The corvettes would also be landing a new Dutch detachment to replace those being evacuated with the Australians. The Australian Navy’s contribution to supplying and later evacuating the men in Timor culminated in one of the great naval dramas of the war in that part of the world. HMAS Armidale at sea. Note the location of the aft Oerlikon gun situated behind the mainmast [3] The story started when the Castlemaine and Armidale left Darwin on 1 December 1942 to start the evacuation. Kuru had left earlier with orders to rendezvous at Betano. Lt-Cdr P.J. Sullivan, who was commanding Castlemaine, was the senior officer. Lt-Cdr D. H. Richards was in command of Armidale. It was hoped that the ships would complete the evacuation without being discovered, though the odds were slim given the enemy’s air and naval superiority. The morning after the two corvettes sailed, nightmare turned to reality when both ships were spotted by an enemy reconnaissance plane when they were still two hundred kilometres from their destination. The aircraft dropped several bombs, all of them missing, before heading back to Dili. Knowing the planes would be back, the corvettes changed course but were soon picked up by two formations of enemy aircraft, which immediately launched bombing and strafing attacks. Sullivan radioed for help and when several Beaufighters arrived from Darwin the enemy planes flew back to Dili. Neither ship had been damaged. These actions delayed the corvettes’ arrival in Betano. Kuru arrived at Betano and was boarded by about seventy Portuguese and Dutch evacuees, mainly women and children. Baffled by the non-appearance of the corvettes, however, Lt J.A. Grant – Kuru’s Commander – notified Darwin and left at 2 a.m. He was ordered to stay in the general area and to complete the evacuation the following night when the corvettes arrived. Kalgoorlie was sent from Darwin to lend support. Armidale sinking reference, Royal Australian Navy memorial globe, HMAS Shropshire Naval Memorial Park, Ulverstone, Tasmania Sullivan sailed into Betano Bay at 3.30 a.m. with Castlemaine and Armidale. When he saw that Kuru had left he turned the two ships about and headed south at full speed. By daybreak they were 120 kilometres off Timor – where they rendezvoused with Kuru. Castlemaine took aboard the refugees and headed for Darwin leaving Kuru and Armidale to return to Timor to pick up the rest of the refugees. The Japanese meanwhile had spent the night preparing their attack against the three ships. Every available aircraft was loaded with bombs and two cruisers were sent racing to the area. Armidale and Kuru split up but by midday both ships had been spotted by searching aircraft. Armidale opened fire with every gun she had as enemy planes dived on her, releasing bombs and torpedoes and strafing her with machine gun fire. Her gunners shot down a bomber and fighter but she received direct hits from two torpedoes. Armidale rolled over and sank with Ordinary Seaman E. Sheean strapped to his Oerlikon gun, still firing at diving planes. Sheean, who had shot down the bomber, was posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches. [4] Left: Ordinary Seaman Edward 'Teddy' Sheean. Right: Painting depicting Teddy Sheean strapped to Armidale's aft Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun firing at Japanese bombers. [5] Among those on board were the crew of eighty-three, three AIF men, two Dutch army officers and sixty-one of their Indonesian soldiers. The engineer officer, nine ratings and thirty-seven Dutch East Indies troops went down with the ship. The ship’s lifeboat was freed but those who reached it were machine gunned by the Japanese aircraft. Only a handful survived; they were left in the water clinging to whatever they could find. In Timor, nobody knew of the attacks on the corvettes. The major concern for the Australians was that the Dutch reinforcements had not arrived, meaning that their front line had some serious gaps. The remaining Dutch and Portuguese who were to be evacuated were still in Betano though this was not seen as a serious problem – they could always be taken off with the 2/2nd in phase two of the evacuation. The various 2/2nd platoons began moving towards the beach head, without their packs, while the 2/4th settled in to the areas they were to defend. Kuru meanwhile had become the centre of attention for other enemy aircraft which were harassing her mercilessly. Grant, the commander, evaded the attacks by lying on his back on the deck from where he could see the diving aircraft, and shouting “hard port” or “hard starboard” to the helmsman. Kuru zigzagged first one way then the other making it impossible for the pilots to get a bead on her. Bombs, torpedoes and bullets boiled the sea but Kuru evaded all of them, twisting, turning and circling like a gazelle with a lion on its tail. Armidale track [6] The attack lasted seven hours, in which time forty-four aircraft dropped two hundred bombs, every one of them missing their mark. When night fell, Kuru was ordered to return to Australia. The little ship metaphorically shook herself, turned about, and majestically headed south. This pocket compass was used by Lieutenant Lloyd Palmer to navigate ‘Armidale's’ whaler toward the Australian coast. [7] The Armidale survivors spent the next twenty-four hours in the water, helping the wounded and cobbling together a raft out of two floats and pieces of wreckage. Nearby was the ship’s submerged whaler. When the raft was finished, some scrambled onto it. Lt-Cdr Richards crammed twenty men into a disabled, five-metre lifeboat and set a course for Darwin, 450 kilometres away. They were picked up four days later by Kalgoorlie. Two men had died on the voyage and another two perished before reaching port. Meanwhile, those who took to the raft soon found themselves being circled by sharks. They kept themselves alive with one sip of water a day and a teaspoon of bully beef. On the third day, they managed to work the raft under the stern of the submerged whaler, lifting it high enough from the water for it to be baled with tin hats. It was then partially repaired by stuffing canvas into holes in the vessel’s sides. With the situation becoming more desperate by the hour, a gunnery officer decided to make an attempt to reach Darwin in the whaler, taking twenty-five ratings and three Australian soldiers. His reasoning was that the closer they could get to the coast, the better the chance of being spotted from the air by an Australian aircraft. The twenty-eight were selected and the overloaded whaler slowly pulled away, leaving twenty-eight of the ship’s company and twenty-one Dutch native troops clinging to the raft under the command of Sub-Lt J.R. Buckland RANVR. Those in the whaler had five dinghy oars, one whaler oar and a boat hook stave. There was no rudder, no sails and their only navigation aid was a pocket compass. They rowed in four watches, half an hour rowing and one- and-a-half hours resting. On their second day, the twenty-nine men shared a 340-gram tin of bully beef. The rainstorms which usually lashed the area at that time of the year did not appear, leaving them without water. Some of the men became delirious. One week after their ship was sunk they ate the last of their bully beef. Later in the day a rain squall appeared enabling them to catch a little water. Hours later they were found by a Catalina that circled low and dropped a note, saying that the raft had been found and that they had dropped them all their food. A ship would be sent to rescue those on the raft and in the whaler. Next day the whaler was found by Kalgoorlie. The men had rowed 230 kilometres in three days. HMAS Vigilant, under Sub-Lt Bennett, was sent out to find the raft party. By this time the area was being patrolled by enemy cruisers, submarines and aircraft. Nevertheless, Vigilant spent five days searching until the ship developed engine trouble and had to return. Neither the raft nor the fifty survivors were seen again. A total of ninety-eight of the 149 men on Armidale had died. A Catalina flying boat was despatched from Cairns to pick up these survivors. She reached the area on the afternoon of 8 December 1942. One of the Catalina aircrew took this picture however, the aircraft was unable to land because of the rough sea state. Despite exhaustive air and sea searches and the rescuing of other survivors, these pictured survivors were never seen again after the Catalina departed from the area. [8] REFERENCES [1] See for example, ‘Last Post Ceremony: 75th anniversary of the sinking of the HMAS Armidale’ | The Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/events/lpc-armidale [2] Cyril Ayris. - All the Bull's men: no. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron). – Perth: 2/2nd Commando Association, c2006: Chapter 40 ‘Emotional farewell’ pp.366-370. [3] HMAS Armidale (I) http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-armidale-i [4] There is an ongoing campaign to get Teddy Sheean awarded a posthumous VC; see, for example, Tom Lewis. - Honour denied Teddy Sheean, a Tasmanian Hero ... and other brave warriors of the Royal Australian Navy. – Kent Town, SA: Avonmore Books, 2016. [5] AWM ART28160 by Dale Marsh https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C172710?image=1 [6] HMAS Armidale (I) http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-armidale-i [7] AWM REL/04501 https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C110553
  5. 2017 Commemoration Ceremony

    Thanks you so much for a very moving ceremony. I have recently relocated back to Perth after 30+ years away so this was a a wonderful remembrance for my father Colin Hodson and all his mates who I grew up knowing them all as "uncle... ". I held my fathers medals close to my heart today and shed a tear for what a magnificent man he was. My father past away on 9th May 2015 aged 91. (Colin Campbell Hodson was a member of the 2/2 Commando Squadron (formerly the 2nd Independent Company) in New Guinea and New Britain being discharged in 1946). I welcome the opportunity to be present all future ceremonies. sincere thanks Clive Hodson
  6. November 2017 Courier

    Please note that a correction has been made to the November 2017 Courier just published; under the heading ‘Annual General Meeting’ on page 1, Murray Thornton’s name has been added as a continuing member of the Committee. The editor apologises to Murray for the original omission of his name.
  7. November 2017 Courier

    The latest edition of Courier is available for download here. We hope you're able to join us for the commemoration ceremony at 3pm on Sunday 19 November 2017 at the unit's memorial in Lovekin Drive, Kings Park. If you can't join us in person, please join us live online at https://live.doublereds.org.au/.
  8. Hi, I am looking to find out about my Grandfathers War Service, his name was James Maxwell Stewart service number NX164596 from what I have found he was attached to the 2/2 Aust Commando SQN. He never spoke about at all when were kids growing up so I am keen to find out as much as I can about his time in Papa Thank you in advance for any information my email is [email protected] Regards Paul Harmon
  9. Timor Adventure 2018 - any takers?

    I'm touring Timor-Leste again in April-May 2018 and seeking expressions of interest from others who may wish to join me. The focus of the 9-day tour is locations where the No. 2 Independent Company (2/2) campaigned against the Japanese in 1942. Many locations to be visited are off the beaten track of such tours. Participants will also participate in the dawn Anzac Day ceremony in Dili on April 25. The tour will be conducted by Timor Adventures (http://www.timoradventures.com.au) and will be in 4-wheel drive vehicles with a driver and guide/interpreter. The linked flyer gives more details and the cost of the tour. Contact me (Ed Willis, Committee member) if you are interested in joining the tour: Mob 0438907480 e-mail [email protected]
  10. Spr-Les-Isenhood-displays-a-trophy-of-war-in-New-Britian.jpg

    A photo of my Uncle Les Isenhood .....amazing to see this photo so brave.....but very sad days.
  11. 2017 Commemoration Ceremony

    The 68th annual ceremony to commemorate the men of the 2/2 will be held at 3pm on Sunday 19 November 2017 at the unit's memorial in Lovekin Drive, Kings Park. This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the Timor Campaign. We hope you can join us. If you can't join us, we're pleased to announce that this year's ceremony will be live-streamed online. You can view the stream below, and it will be available for playback after the ceremony. Streaming issues? Try watching on YouTube. We'll also be streaming live on our Facebook page.
  12. Containers for Timor Project - Update

    At its meeting on 25 October 2016, the Committee decided to grant $4,000 to the Containers for Timor Project in support of their ongoing work. Members of the Project team attended the Commemoration Ceremony last November and issued a Certificate of Appreciation to the Association for the grant. The container (C34) that 2/2 funds were used to purchase was fully loaded by the Containers for Timor Project team with donated school desks and chairs, tables, stationery, office equipment, computing equipment, educational toys and books, household goods, electrical appliances, linen, bicycles and spare parts, sporting goods, hand/electrical tools, gardening equipment and medical supplies and equipment. Unfortunately, the container was delayed being transported for several months while a Customs procedural issue was resolved with the Dili port authorities. Thankfully, that issue was resolved and the container received in Dili. Peter Snell, the Containers for Timor Project representative in Dili has advised that the container is being unloaded and the contents being transported to recipients in Hatolia. The Association thanks Peter and his fellow workers in Dili and the members of the Containers for Timor Project team for their contributions to this endeavour. Peter will provide a fuller report on the transport and distribution of the goods from the container in another week or so.
  13. Latest developments in negotiations: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/10/15/australia-timor-leste-draw-maritime-borders-draft-treaty-bring-end-oil-and-gas
  14. Unknown native boy.jpg

    Native boy name, location & date unknown

    © Smith Family Collection

  15. Unknown native group.jpg

    Native group, location & date unknown

    © Smith Family Collection

  16. unknown.jpg

    Names, location & date unknown

    © Smith Family Collection

  17. Unknown group.jpg

    Group, location & date unknown

    © Smith Family Collection

  18. Unknown..jpg

    Name, location & date unknown.

    © Smith Family Collection

  19. James Robert Smith (Bob) on right .jpg

    James Robert Smith (Bob) on right, location, date & names unknown.

    © Smith Family Collection

  20. James Robert Smith (Bob) kneeling in centre, location, date & other names unknown.

    © Smith Family Collection

  21. Timor Leste Vision is holding a Quiz Night, raising money for the installation of a water and sanitation system in the village of Rialeco which is in urgent need. There are 60 families in Rialeco which has 420 community members (310 adults and 110 children) and Timor Leste Vision, together with their volunteer team in Timor, will be installing water and sanitation to public sites selected by the community. The quiz night is on Friday 3 November 2017 and is being held at the South Perth Community Hall, cnr Sandgate Street and South Terrace, South Perth. Tickets are $20.00 each and can be purchased at www.trybooking.com/RLEE. For more information, contact Joanne at [email protected]
  22. 75 YEARS ON 2/40 – THE ‘DOOMED BATTALION’ – MEN FROM THE 2/40 WHO FOUGHT ON WITH THE DOUBLEREDS IN PORTUGUESE TIMOR As recounted in an earlier post ‘SPARROW FORCE DEPARTS FROM DARWIN FOR KOEPANG, DUTCH TIMOR – 10 DECEMBER 1941’, the No. 2 Independent Company accompanied the 2/40 Battalion on this voyage. 2/40 Battalion colour patch The two units parted company in mid-December 1941 when the No. 2 Independent Company was despatched to occupy Dili in Portuguese Timor (see post ‘THE AUSTRALIAN AND DUTCH LANDINGS AT DILI - 17-20 DECEMBER 1941’). Fate of the 2/40 Battalion The men of the No. 2 Independent Company were re-united with some of their 2/40 compatriots and men from other Sparrow Force units a few months later when they made their way from Dutch Timor to Portuguese Timor following the surrender of the rest of the Battalion contingent to the Japanese on 23 February 1942 after a heroic defensive battle against the invaders. With an authorised strength of around 900 personnel, mostly drawn from the state of Tasmania. The men who were taken as prisoners in Dutch Timor spent the rest of the war in captivity in camps throughout Southeast Asia including Java, Burma, Thailand, Japan, Singapore and Sumatra and did not return to Australia until September 1945. The battalion had 271 men killed in action or died while prisoners of war, while a further 79 were wounded. Peter Henning, the historian of the 2/40, coined the term ‘doomed battalion’ to encapsulate the overwhelming difficulties the unit faced in attempting to effectively defend Dutch Timor and the trials and tribulations of those men who became prisoners of war. [1] Escape to Portuguese Timor About 200 Sparrow Force men escaped to Portuguese Timor. Most of these men were trades and specialist staff such as cooks and clerks and unsuited for a combat role and were later evacuated to Australia; a few 2/40 men, however, were taken on as No. 2 Independent Company members, retrained and formed into a new platoon (D Platoon) under the command of Lt Don Turton, and served with distinction throughout the remainder of the Timor campaign before being evacuated back to Australia in December 1942. These personnel were then dispersed to other units, with some being transferred eventually to the 2/12th Battalion; the 2/40th Battalion was never reformed. [2] Battle honours The battalion was awarded two battle honours for its service: "South-West Pacific 1942" and "Koepang". Koepang is unique to the 2/40th, with no other unit in the Australian Army holding this battle honour. In 1961–62, these honours were entrusted to the Royal Tasmania Regiment, and they are maintained by the 12th/40th Battalion, Royal Tasmania Regiment that is based at Derwent Barracks, Kissing Point near Hobart. [3] Reminiscences of 2/40 Battalion Men Who Joined the No.2 Independent Company The Doublereds archives includes the reminiscences of three men from the 2/40 Battalion who escaped from Dutch Timor and became members of No. 2 Independent Company; these are TX4174 Sergeant Berwin Francis (Denny) Dennis (1918-1997), TX2781 Private Herbert William (Bert) Price (1920-2010) and NX41795 Corporal Reginald Clarence (Reg) Griffiths (1907-2000). Reading their stories reveals that they were no ‘shrinking violets’ and were well and truly integrated with the Independent Company men and participated in patrols, the manning of observation posts and ambushes. Denny Dennis Denny was a Payroll Sergeant with the 2/40 Battalion and because of his background assumed a Quarter Mastering role at Beco and Mape once in Portuguese Timor. This anecdote is included in his recollections: ‘On 24 May 42 it was organised for a Catalina to take our wounded back to Australia. I guess you could say they stayed at Denny's Guest House at Beco for a night, quite a party. CAPT Dunkley looking after the wounded Gerry Maley, Alan Hollow, PTE Craghill, old Jack Sansom. I think Alan Luby was part of the party, and of course stretcher bearers. I was part of the organising party, organising rations - rice, pumpkins, coffee. I recall that a river to be crossed was in flood and impassable for some hours. I was on the Betano side of the river, I think Fred Bryant was with me. We had clay pots with rice, pumpkins and coffee ready when Dr Dunkley and party were able to cross. I thought the Doctor was going to kiss me for the provisions supplied. … BRIG Veale and a Dutch officer also took off on this Catalina’. Bert Price Bert was a Private with 11 Platoon of the 2/40 Battalion. Following the Japanese assault on Osepa Bazar, he recalled: ‘Off to East Timor - Portuguese Timor and caught up with some 2/2nd I.C. I think at Tilomar and then went on to Mape or Memo - where we were assessed by 2/2 officers’. Bert also remembered: ‘We were soon sent out to Platoons - think I was awhile at Maliana with Col Doig. But then went to Atsabe under Don Turton and sent to a place think Roti between Atsabe and Lete Foho - under Jerry Green - and at one stage was with a small sub section under Alby Martin at a small village with a name that sounded like Nun Berry Nun - we did extensive patrolling from this area and at night one of our Sigs would report to Atsabe from Roti by Adis lamp don't know his name but he was a great bloke and sig - a good signaler. On one patrol, myself with Roy Hefferman to Lete Foho we arrived soon after the Hudson Bombers had been over and bombed the town and almost sealed the Chefe De Posto in his air raid shelter, he was amazed that the bombers were after him - we were always on the go. Don Turton was not one to sit idle - he wanted action. One vivid memory is being able to write home on 12th June to my parents and small notes to my mates who were prisoners of war to their parents - these notes are still in existence and one was recently printed in our local paper …’. Reg Griffiths Reg enlisted in the Army in 1941 as a baker with the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) and was assigned to Sparrow Force and went with it to Koepang. He recalled ‘When the Japanese landed, the bakery was closed and I baked no more bread from then on’. He was not captured following the Japanese attack and made his way with other AASC members to Portuguese Timor and joined the No. 2 Independent Company. Though a baker, he was soon recognised as having fighting capabilities: ‘I had grown up in the bush, had used guns and rifles for many years, and knew how to survive in primitive conditions. On one occasion, I was asked when I was with my section in D Platoon where I had learned jungle fighting. My response "Going around my rabbit traps, Mate, I think it was very good training!"’ After his commando training he became a member of Lt Cam Rodd’s Section and served with him for the remainder of the campaign. Memorials Tasmanians are justifiably proud of the achievements of their ‘doomed battalion’ that is commemorated in a number of dedicated memorials around the state, including Hobart, Launceston and Green’s Beach. 2/40 Battalion Memorial, Green's Beach, Tasmania Hobart Safari 2000 The men of No.2 Independent Company’s long-standing camaraderie with the Tasmanian 2/40th men who served with them was demonstrated during the 2/2 Commando Association of Australia Hobart Safari of 2000. Bert Price was an active participant in the organised activities of this Safari. [4] Bert Price (centre) at Commemorative Service, Koepang Wall, Derwent Barracks, Hobart, 10 March 2000 REFERENCES [1] Peter Henning. - Doomed battalion: mateship and leadership in war and captivity: the Australian 2/40 Battalion 1940-45. - Revised and enlarged edition. - [Exeter, Tasmania] Peter Henning, 2014. [2] A list of ‘2/2nd men who joined from Dutch Timor’ can be found in Cyril Ayris. – All the Bull’s men: no. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron). - [Perth, W.A.] : 2/2nd Commando Association, c2006: 498-500. Copies of this book can be purchased from the Doublereds Store. [3] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/U56077 [4] ‘Tasmanian Safari March 2000’ 2/2 Commando Courier No. 134, June 2000: 6-10. https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/2000/Courier June 2000.pdf Enlistment photo.tiff
  23. Herbert William PRICE

    Bert left school at 14 going to work at the Lune River sawmill and continued there until enlisting in the AIF on 1st July, 1940 at the age of 20. He was posted to the 2/40th, the Tasmanian Battalion. The 2/40th did their training at Brighton and were in Darwin when Japan entered the War on 7thDecember, 1941. Sent to West Timor the battalion with attached units known as Sparrow Force distinguished itself by putting up a brave fight for four days when the Japanese invaded Timor on 19th February, 1941. Overwhelmed by the sheer weight of numbers the 2/40th had no option but to surrender. Somehow Bert managed to avoid being a POW and with a number of others went on to join the 2/2nd Independent Company who were in Portuguese East Timor. He was a good soldier and served his new company well until they made it back to Australia in mid December 1942. After a brief leave Bert joined the 2/12th Battalion and saw action in New Guinea and Borneo. He received his discharge on 14th December, 1945. An extensive interview with Bert Price about his wartime experiences can be found at Bert Price Timor reminiscences.pdf Bert Price vale - Courier June 2010.pdf PRICE_HERBERT_WILLIAM_:_Service_Number_-_TX2781.pdf
  24. The 2/2 Commando Association of Australia welcomes the announcement issued on 1 September 2017 by the Timor Sea Conciliation Commission giving the first indication that Australia and Timor-Leste are making progress towards resolving their maritime boundary dispute. If this process reaches a successful outcome, a permanent maritime boundary will have been drawn in the Timor Sea between Australia and Timor-Leste for the first time. However, the conciliation still has some steps to complete. A formal treaty will need to be negotiated, signed and ratified before a new legal framework exists. The veterans who formed the 2/2 Commando Association felt they and the Australian nation owed a ‘debt of honour’ to the Timorese people for the support they received from them during their campaign against the Japanese in 1942. Over the years they lobbied successive Australian governments to reach an agreement with the newly independent Timor-Leste that would assist its economic viability by ensuring a fairly apportioned revenue stream from the exploitation of the oil resources of the Timor Gap. The current committee of the association is still supportive of such an outcome from these ongoing negotiations.
  25. Crossing the line

    In the context of the recent welcome announcement by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, this new book by Kim McGrath is an important evidence based contribution to the discussions on Maritime Boundaries between Australia and Timor Leste. Kim McGrath has trawled the national archives to produce the smoking gun on Australia’s callous betrayal of the people who supported our commandos in World War II, and on the immoral and unlawful appropriation of their oil.’ —Paul Cleary A great read see: https://www.blackincbooks.com.au/books/crossing-line
  26. 75 YEARS ON THE ARRIVAL OF THE NO. 4 INDEPENDENT COMPANY AND THE WRECK OF THE VOYAGER 23 September 1942 In early September 1942, it had been decided in Australia to reinforce the 2nd Independent Company with the No. 4 Independent Company, a new unit which had also trained at Wilsons Promontory and in the Northern Territory. The decision would trigger some of the most dramatic episodes in the Timor campaign. This account of what happened is provided by Cyril Ayris in All the Bull’s men with additional photos and images from other sources. [1] CHAOS ON THE BEACH It had been decided in Australia to reinforce the 2nd Independent Company with the No. 4 Independent Company, a new unit which had also trained at Wilsons Promontory and in the Northern Territory. The decision would trigger some of the most dramatic episodes in the Timor campaign. No. 4 Independent Company Advance Party A No. 4 Independent Company advance party had arrived in Timor on HMAS Kalgoorlie on 16 September 1942 under the command of Major Walker and accompanied by the commander, one other officer and some NCOs from each of the company’s platoons. [2] It was planned to merge the companies platoon by platoon according to their letters so that A Platoon of the 2nd would be joined by A Platoon of No. 4 and so on. Major Mac Walker and Captain Geoff Laidlaw (2nd Ind Coy) at Force Headquarters, with Timorese supporters [3] The men of the 2nd Independent Company presented a strange sight to the new arrivals. Cpl Ken Piesse, who was among them, wrote in Commando – From Tidal River to Tarakan: 'As we hit the beach we were soon surrounded by gaunt, bearded Australians from the 2nd Company and literally hundreds of natives who seemed very excited about the new arrivals. The 2nd Company lads were eager for news – and the bread and butter we had brought with us off the Kalgoorlie. It was strange to see how they ate the bread. How they wolfed it!' [4] The newly-arrived officers were guided to their respective platoon areas to familiarise themselves with the terrain and its problems. Extra food supplies were collected in each area with more being brought in by the advance parties. Baldwin Organises the Logistics of the Landing Baldwin was given the vital, near-impossible job of rounding up hundreds of carriers and ponies from the platoon areas, and leading them to the beachhead in time for the main 4th landing at Betano, without being seen by the enemy. [5] He would then be responsible for loading the stores and supplies onto the backs of the carriers and ponies and getting them away from the beach to the respective platoon areas. While all this was happening, the 250 men of the No. 4 Independent Company would disembark and melt away into the Timorese interior. It was, by any stretch of the imagination, an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous operation, particularly as it had been decided to risk using the destroyer HMAS Voyager to bring in the reinforcements. [6] Nautical chart showing Timor Sea between Darwin and Betano [7] The time for the landing was set for late afternoon on 22 September 1942. It was imperative that the troops, supplies and equipment were unloaded in time for Voyager to be well clear of Betano and on her way back to Darwin before the enemy’s first aerial patrol flew over at dawn. Incredibly, in plenty of time, the hundreds of carriers and ponies were safely hidden along the Betano beach to await Voyager’s arrival. Unbelievably, the Voyager was delayed – she would be arriving the following day, the 2nd Independent Company was told. No. 4 Independent Company in transit from Darwin [8] The Voyager Arrives at Betano Bay The destroyer finally left Darwin in the early hours of 22 September 1942 under the command of Lt Commander R. C. Robison. She was carrying fifteen tonnes of stores, eight barges, a five-metre motorboat, £3500 ($7000) in silver coins and two hundred and fifty men. She arrived off Betano late in the afternoon of 23 September. Timor bound – HMAS Voyager, September 1942 [9] Betano Bay is wide, open and shallow and offers little or no protection for ships at anchor. The only possible anchorage is in a channel between two reefs in the middle of the bay. There were no reliable charts of the area – Robison had only a rough sketch and the advice of his pilot Sub- Lt Bennett, who had previously commanded Kuru and Vigilant. [10] The ship entered the bay on an ebb tide giving the new troops their first sight of Timor. Robison approached cautiously only too well aware of the danger of running aground. The anchor was lowering when the vessel was no more than three hundred metres off the shore, her port side parallel to the beach. Voyager Runs Aground Soldiers jumped into landing craft at the ship’s stern, close to the port propeller. At the same time Voyager began drifting towards the shore. Diagrammatic representation of the grounding of the Voyager [11] The ship was still afloat and could have been saved if the Captain had ordered 'astern' on the port propeller and 'ahead' on the starboard one, with the wheel hard-a-port. The stern would then have swung away from the beach and the ship could have been moved stern-first into deep water. Betano Anchorage, Timor [12] But if he had done that, the landing craft would have been sucked into the propeller and up to fifty soldiers would almost certainly have been killed. Robison’s second, less attractive option, was to go astern on the starboard engine, drawing the stern in towards the beach. Once the bow was clear of the reefs he might be able to steer into deep water. This would save the lives of the men in the landing craft, but there would be much greater risk of running aground. Robison had just seconds to make up his mind. Would he risk losing his ship or would he play safe and suck fifty soldiers into the destroyer’s screws? He barely hesitated. He ordered astern on the starboard engine – and watched helplessly from the bridge as Voyager ran aground. It is difficult to imagine a more chaotic situation. The beachhead was crammed with soldiers, Timorese, packing cases and ponies. More troops and supplies were pouring ashore, ponies were being loaded, it was getting dark, the Voyager was stuck fast – and the first enemy air patrol was due overhead in twelve hours. Voyager to be Scuttled Every effort was made to free the ship. Torpedoes were fired and depth charges and anything heavy was jettisoned. Attempts were made to pull the ship free, using ropes around an anchor. But everything conspired against them. The tide ebbed, the ship’s propellers became embedded in the sand. When a south-east wind sprang up forcing her further towards the beach, Voyager’s fate was sealed. Sept. 24, 1942 HMAS Voyager - dawn reveals a sad scene in Betano Bay, Timor [13] The reinforcement of Sparrow Force now took a new turn. Voyager would certainly be found by the Japanese in the morning which meant that the ship’s gunners had to be ready to greet them with anti-aircraft fire. All other personnel on board had to be taken ashore to wait for another ship to take them back to Darwin. Voyager had to be scuttled and anything of value to the enemy, destroyed. Unloading had to continue and all the soldiers, carriers, ponies, stores and ammunition had to be carried away from the fateful beach before strong Japanese patrols arrived overland. Metal cans brimming with two shilling pieces were loaded onto horses [Timor ponies] which almost collapsed under the weight. Timor ponies – their ancestors provided the transport for the Australians from the Betano beachhead Robison offered Callinan anything on the ship he wanted, including an anti-aircraft gun. The offer was declined – the piece weighed two tonnes. However, he did accept some Vickers heavy machine guns. The Beachhead Work on the beach continued at a frantic pace. Alan Downer, who was one of the new No. 4 Independent Company arrivals and who would later become a journalist, wrote: 'Major Walker was a very concerned man and urged everyone to clear the beach as quickly as possible, return to the scrub and wait the order to move. When we set out at 0200 hours all men were carrying haversacks, weapons, 150 rounds of .303 or 200 of .45 ammunition, two grenades and rations. Others of us carried in addition, binoculars, pistols, and map satchels. We had not progressed far before realising that we were overburdened in such mountainous country'. Those ponies and Timorese who had not got away during the night were hidden under trees where, with luck, they would not be seen from the air. A skeleton force of 2nd Independent Company men was left to guard the beach, while the stranded sailors were allocated positions from where they would be able to give a good account of themselves, should they come under attack from Japanese soldiers. Sept. 24, 1942 - HMAS Voyager aground in Betano Bay, Timor [14] Dawn Attack Seldom has the arrival of dawn been so poorly appreciated as on Betano beach on 24 September 1942. Amazingly most of the men and Baldwin’s caravans of Timorese ponies had reached the interior, the ponies and carriers to distribute the tonnes of stores, the soldiers to meet the enemy who would surely come swarming from the north when they heard about the stranded Voyager. The new day dawned pink over the mountains, throwing the peaks in sharp, purple silhouette. The birds had barely begun to chatter when there was the familiar drone of approaching aircraft. A Zero over-flew the beach; some of the Australians reckoned they could see the pilot’s double-take when he spotted the grounded ship. The aeroplane banked away and headed towards Dili. The cat was out of the bag. In the next few hours the Japanese launched successive bombing attacks on the stricken ship, dropping high explosive, incendiary and anti-personnel bombs. Voyager’s gunners shot down one aircraft with Ack-Ack. Ironically, Robison also set about destroying Voyager – charges were exploded in the engine room, breaking the ship’s back and blowing holes in her hull. Sept. 24, 1942 - Removing stores from the grounded HMAS VOYAGER , Betano Bay, Timor [15] And so, Voyager, a veteran of two years’ service in the Mediterranean and eleven runs into Tobruk, met her Waterloo on a little-known beach in Portuguese Timor. Her hulk is there to this day. [16] Recent photo of the remaining Voyager wreckage Warrnambool and Kalgoorlie to the Rescue When news of the disaster reached Darwin two corvettes, HMAS Warrnambool and Kalgoorlie, were ordered to Betano to take off the officers and crew of Voyager and the 2nd Independent Company sick and wounded, including Wadey, the airman who had been rescued earlier. The two ships arrived about midnight on 25 September 1942, anchoring well out in the bay in seventeen fathoms of water. Their motorboats slipped ashore to meet the Voyager’s barges filled with seamen and soldiers, and towed them back to the ships. In little more than an hour the transfers were complete and the two corvettes were heading back to Darwin. Betano, Portuguese Timor. 1942-09. The wreck of HMAS Voyager [17] The Timorese Retell the Story The Australians on Timor were concerned that the Betano debacle would be interpreted by the many Timorese who were there as a major defeat for the Australians. Scores of carriers from all over Portuguese Timor had been involved, ensuring that news of the disaster would spread throughout the colony in next to no time. But they had underestimated the loyalty of the Timorese who, having seen the soldiers and sailors hold steady, assumed that everything had gone to plan. The way they saw it, Voyager had been deliberately grounded – the ship had done its job and it had been abandoned on the beach. This casual disregard for a vessel of such undoubted value was told and re-told in oomahs everywhere. Captain Rolf Baldwin (left), Lieut. E. Hayward and Major Bernie Callinan Dec. 1942 [18] Inevitably, some of the lines of ponies heading towards the interior were seen from the air and came under strafing and bombing attack. Each time the Timorese carriers and two Australian escorts urged the animals off the tracks into whatever cover was available. A few ponies were killed yet, astonishingly, every line of carriers and animals reached its destination. Baldwin’s Memories of the Beachhead Operation Baldwin’s memories of the beachhead operation he organised are worth recording. He wrote: 'My job of commanding the beach landing operations was extremely complicated. The troops coming ashore would have no transport for their stores and they would have no idea how to find their way to the positions they were to occupy. Recent aerial view of Betano Bay showing the location of the Voyager wreck I therefore arranged for every section of the 2nd Independent Company to provide two guides and a number of ponies which were to be on the beach at a designated time. This was not easy as it involved moving something like four hundred ponies from several directions, without arousing the enemy’s suspicions. When they arrived at the beach, the animals had to be fed and watered. The beach assembly area was a large tract of flat ground about two-thirds of which supported scrub, not unlike tea-tree, which provided good cover from the air. The rest of the area was scattered with kunai grass. Voyager crew members await rescue in the jungle, keeping hidden from the Japanese [19] The all-important factor was that a Japanese reconnaissance plane came along regularly every morning soon after sunrise. The Voyager would arrive in the evening and be away before first light. When the ship was delayed twenty-four hours we had to find feed and water for the ponies, which wasn’t easy but we managed. Voyager arrived punctually the next day and the disembarkation went smoothly from my point of view. As each 4th section came ashore it was met by 2nd Independent Company representatives. The two groups carried their stores to their respective ponies and went on their way. I was well occupied keeping my eye on all this activity but I noticed that the ship was coming pretty close inshore. Then, when the last of the troops were ashore, I went aboard to speak to the commander. That was when I received the devastating news that the ship was aground and unable to be moved. On our feet, we concocted the plan to leave enough men on board to man the Ack-Ack guns against the certain air attack in the morning. The rest of the sailors, who were unarmed, would occupy the hiding places that had been used by the horses. We hoped against hope that there would be no land attack. I think it was daylight by the time the sailors were hidden. Not long afterwards the 'chaffcutter' as we used to call the plane, flew over and headed straight back to Dili. The stranded ship was an easy target for the bombers which arrived later, yet they scored only a couple of direct hits. In the afternoon, the ship’s commander had the vessel’s engines destroyed and the poor old ship was fired. The red-hot rivets flying from her plates were a sight to remember. When the sailors left on the corvettes a couple of days later I had the eerie task of returning to the ship to look for a signals book which it was thought might have been left behind'. Conclusion And so, the transfer was completed. It must rate as one of the most remarkable of the war. An entire company of men had been landed on an enemy-occupied island, under the very noses of the Japanese, and spirited away with tonnes of ammunition and supplies without losing a man. Voyager insignia, Scrap Iron Flotilla Memorial, H.M.A.S. Shropshire Memorial Park, Ulverstone, Tasmania REFERENCES [1] Cyril Ayris. – All the Bull’s men: no. 2 Australian Independent Company (2/2nd Commando Squadron). - [Perth, W.A.] : 2/2nd Commando Association, c2006: 336-341. Copies of this book can be purchased from the Doublereds Store - see link at the bottom of the post. [2] Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) Edward McDonald ‘Mac’ Walker VX53941; see Commando – from Tidal River to Tarakan: the story of No. 4 Independent Company, AIF … / compiled by G.E. Lambert. - Melbourne: 2nd/4th Commando Association, 1994, p. xxiv. [3] Commando – from Tidal River to Tarakan: the story of No. 4 Independent Company, AIF … , p.93. [4] Commando – from Tidal River to Tarakan: the story of No. 4 Independent Company, AIF … , p.90-91. [5] Captain (later Major) Rolf Redmond Baldwin VX50054; see Lana Capon ‘Rolf’s war service’ Investigator (Geelong Historical Society) No. 201, December 2015: 163-165. [6] See ‘HMAS Voyager (I)’ http://www.navy.gov.au/HMAS_Voyager_(I). [7] Henry Burrell ‘The loss of the first Voyager’ Journal of the Australian Naval Institute Vol. 7, No. 2 May 1981, p.10. [8] Ralph Dymond. - The History of H.M.A.S. Voyager 1. - Lucaston, Tas.: Southern Holdings, 1992, p.181. [9] Commando – from Tidal River to Tarakan: the story of No. 4 Independent Company, AIF … , p.94. [10] See previous post ‘The Timor ferry service’ https://doublereds.org.au/forums/topic/109-75-years-on-the-timor-ferry-service/ [11] Henry Burrell ‘The loss of the first Voyager’ … , p.11. [12] Commando – from Tidal River to Tarakan: the story of No. 4 Independent Company, AIF … , p.86. [13] Ralph Dymond. - The History of H.M.A.S. Voyager 1 … , p.185. [14] Ralph Dymond. - The History of H.M.A.S. Voyager 1 …, p.187. [15] Ralph Dymond. - The History of H.M.A.S. Voyager 1 … p.187. [16] J. W. Ellis ‘Betano Bay today’ United Service Vol. 65 No. 1 March 2014: 26-27. A team of Australian Navy divers cleared the last live ammunition from the wreck in 2000; see ‘The deep end – Navy divers in Dili’. Sydney: XYZ Networks, 2000. Video, 50 mins. [17] Australian War Memorial collection, ID number 157242. [18] Commando – from Tidal River to Tarakan: the story of No. 4 Independent Company, AIF … , p.172. [19] Ralph Dymond. - The History of H.M.A.S. Voyager 1 … , p.187.
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