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Edward Willis

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The Documentary Evidence from the Australian War Crimes Section Investigations and Related Files


In September 1946 No. 1 Australian War Crimes Section (1AWCS) began investigating which Japanese armed services personnel were responsible for the execution of 15 Australians in two or more incidents that occurred in Dili between 20-22 February 1942 usually referred to collectively as the Ration Truck Massacre. [1] This process involved interrogation of Japanese Army and Navy personnel who were involved in the initial sea-borne assault on Dili on those dates.

The investigation was taken over by 2AWCS and its Commanding Officer submitted his final report on the investigation in May 1949 and referred to difficulties in completing their work because of the duplicity of a primary witness, Naval Warrant Officer Kasai Tomojiro and collusion between officers of the Army’s 228 Regiment - their further interrogation clearly established the fact that they had conspired at Rabaul to give false information to the Australian investigators there and that since repatriation to Japan they had maintained a liaison with one another.  Whilst admitting the conspiracy, the officers maintained that their object had been to hasten their own repatriation to Japan not to conceal evidence of the executions.

Six weeks of extensive investigation that were made following Kasai’s allegations failed to establish the probability that any of the Army officers named by him had participated in the executions, other than 228 Regiment Captain Maeda (deceased) concerning whom there was a doubt.

Former Naval Warrant Officer Okamura Toshio, who unsuccessfully attempted suicide in February 1949, was also recalled.  On 18 May, after several days of interrogation, he completed a sworn statement in Japanese and then tellingly early the following morning hanged himself. [2]

Though the report concludes by stating that ‘The investigation is proceeding’, at the time Australia was under pressure from the US and UK to wind down its war crimes proceedings, and all efforts to pursue justice in this case were abandoned in 1951. [3]



Ron Kirkwood enquired to the Adjutant-General, Army Headquarters in Melbourne about the status of the war crimes investigation into the Ration Truck Massacre on behalf of the Ex 2/2 Commando Association on 20 July 1950:


Ron Kirkwood’s enquiry elicited the following reply:



The Adjutant-General’s succinct reply was based on the following report on the investigation prepared on 24 May 1949 by Lieutenant Colonel D. Beresford Goslett, Officer Commanding No. 2 Aust War Crimes Section (2 AWCS), Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP):

DBG/HSW/bej                            2 Aust War Crimes Sec SCAP
In reply quote                            TOKYO
WC 533                            24 MAY 49
Refs 2 AWCS memo WC 329 dated 24 Mar 49.
Army Headquarters,
1.    In the abovementioned memorandum it was advised that:
(a)    Naval Lt HONDO Mitsuyoshi mid WO OKAMURA Toshio had ordered the killing of 4 Australian PW during the morning of 20 Feb 42;
(b)    Naval WO KASAI Tomojiro had named 7 Naval officers and 5 Army officers as having killed the remaining Australian PW on the night of 20 February 1942.
2. Because of the information furnished by KASAI it was confidently expected that the investigation of this case would be concluded within about 4 weeks from that date.  All the Japanese named by KASAI were called for interrogation.  Some of the Army officers had already been interrogated at RABAUL in 1946 prior to repatriation to Japan, and they had subsequently been interrogated in TOKYO several times.  Their further interrogation clearly established the facts that they had conspired at RABAUL to give false information to the Australian investigators there and that since repatriation to Japan they had maintained a liaison with one another.  Whilst admitting the conspiracy, the officers maintain that their object was to hasten their own repatriation to Japan.
3. Six weeks of extensive investigation that were made following KASAI’s allegations failed to establish the probability that any of the Army officers named by KASAI had participated in the execution, other than Captain MAEDA (dead) concerning whom there is a doubt.  KASAI was therefore recalled.  From the attached translation of his latest sworn statement it will be noted that he has withdrawn his former sworn statement, which he now admits was false.  However, KASAI has proved such a ready liar that little credence is now attached to anything that he says.
4. Former Naval WO OKAMURA Toshio, whom it will be recalled unsuccessfully attempted suicide in February last, was also recalled.  On 18 May, after several days of interrogation, he completed a sworn statement in Japanese (translation enclosed) and then early the following morning hanged himself.
5. The results of the investigations made to date are summarised hereunder:
(a)    16 Australian soldiers, comprising a ration party, were captured on the morning of 20 February 1942.  4 were shot shortly afterwards.  An hour or so later one was handed over to the Army, and about the same time an additional Australian soldier who was riding a motorcycle was captured.  The 12 prisoners who were then alive were taken to DILI town nearby.  According to KASAI they were killed the same night.  OKAMURA claimed that they were killed on the night of 21 or 22 February.
(b) Suspects - Execution of 4 Australian PW on morning of 20 Feb 42.
(i)    Naval Lt HONDO Mitsuyoshi - ordered the execution.  An order for the apprehension of HONDO was issued, but his arrest has been deferred because he is at present hospitalised with TB. [Died 14 June 49]
(ii)    Naval WO OKAMURA Toshio - implemented order for execution.  Committed suicide on 19 May 49.
(iii)    Maintenance WO (SEIBI HEISOCHO).  KASAI states that this man was WO KUBO (KIA IWOJIMA, 17 Mar 45), whereas OKAMURA denied that KUBO was present.
(iv)    1st Cl Seaman SASAKI (FNU) - believed to be identical with SASAKI Tadashi - not yet located.
(v)    3 other Naval ratings of 3 Air Force (not yet identified).
(c) Suspects - Execution of 12 Australian PW on night of 20, 21 or 22 Feb 42.
(i)    Naval Lt HONDO Mitsuyoshi - ordered execution (vide sub-para (b) (i) above).
(ii)    WO KUBO Takaichi. (KIA 17 Mar 45).
6. The undermentioned Japanese have been interrogated since our memo WC 329 of 24 Mar 1949 was forwarded:
OZEKI    Wasaburo    (No connection with case)
UNIGUOHI    Tadamitsu    Lt-Comd, 3 Naval Air Force.
SEINO    Isao    (No connection with case)
NAKAMURA    Tetsuzo    (No connection with case)
IMAI    Miyoshi    (No connection with case)
NAGATA    Kiyoshi    (No connection with case)
ISHIWATA    Asakichi    Lt, 3 Naval Air Force,
OZAWA    Kunio    2nd Lt, 228 Inf Regt.
MAEDA    Eichiro    (No connection with case)
NAWATA    Hisakazu    Civilian guide attached 228 Inf Regt.
ONUKI    Shigenobu    2nd Lt, 228 Inf Regt.
ONUKI    Zenzo    (No connection with case)
ONOGI    Isamu    Capt, 228 Inf Regt.
GOTO    Takezu    Seaman, 3 Naval Air Force.
IWATA    Seiichi    Capt, 228 Inf Regt.
MORO    Hajime    Surgeon Lt, 3 Naval Air Force.
KIMURA    Eijiro    Major, 228 Inf Regt.
YOSHIYASU    Tatsuo    Lt, 228 Inf Regt.
YAMADA    Nobuyoshi    Lt, 228 Inf Regt.
ARAKAWA    Kuwakichi    2nd Lt, 228 Inf Regt.
NAKAJIMA    Yasushi    2nd Lt, 228 Inf Regt.
OKAMURA    Toshio    W0, 3 Naval Air Force.
YOKOUCHI    Keisuke    Surgeon 2nd Lt. 228 Regt.
Copies of interrogation reports, notes and sworn statements in connection with the above interrogations are forwarded herewith for information.
7. The following Japanese who are referred to in some of the interrogation reports and sworn statements are reported to be dead:
Paymaster Lt    TODA     Shigeo    3 Naval Air Force.
Naval WO    KUBO    Takaichi    3 Naval Air Force.
Army Capt    MAEDA    Eichiro    228 Inf Regt.
8. The investigation is proceeding.  A further report will be submitted as early as possible.

Lt Col D Beresford GOSLETT
OC 2 Aust War Crimes Sec SCAP


A landing force consisting of elements of the Imperial Japanese Army’s 228th Regiment (DOI Butai) and Imperial Japanese Navy’s 3rd Naval Air Force arrived off Dili early in the morning of 20 February 1942 in two transports escorted by two destroyers.  The Army made a landing west of the airfield, with the object of capturing the airfield and then advancing on Dili town.  The non-combatant 3rd Naval Air Force landing party of about 80 men comprising airfield construction workers and signals personnel, landed further west on the other side of the Comoro River and followed in the rear of the Army.


Sketch map showing landing place and route taken by the 3rd Naval Air Force landing force into Dili via the airfield

The landing party were charged with occupying the airfield after it had been captured by the Army, establishing radio communication with 3rd Naval Air Force headquarters in Kendari, assessing the condition of the airfield and then organising and conducting the work required to bring into operational use by the unit’s Zero fighters as soon as possible.  It was not a combat unit – the officers carried swords and revolvers while only some of the seamen carried rifles and others just bayonets.

Commanded by Lieutenant Hondo Mitsuyoshi, the group was weighed down by heavy signals gear and construction tools.  The party had only just crossed the Comoro River west of Dili when they heard a truck coming along the road.  The armed Navy personnel fired on the truck as it approached, puncturing one of the tyres and bringing it to a halt.  When the Australians alighted from the truck, they were surrounded by the sailors who bound the hands of all the men before loading their heavy equipment onto the back of the truck.  This meant there was no longer enough room for all 16 Australians, so four men were forced to march behind.

The truck had only gone a short distance when the remnants of the Dutch force opened fire on the Japanese with a machine gun.  Warrant Officer Okamura Toshio saw the bullets hitting the dust about 50 metres beyond the utility, though one of the marines, Leading Seaman Goto Takeza, was wounded just above the knee and an Australian soldier suffered a flesh wound in the arm.

The Dutch broke off the engagement, but Lieutenant Hondo is alleged to have then ordered that the four Australian POWs be killed because the situation was deemed dangerous.  Warrant Officer Okamura, acting on instructions sent to him from Lieutenant Hondo, ordered that the four prisoners at the back of the truck be executed.  He decided to shoot the Australians in a field just off the road.  As the rest of the Australians looked on, Sergeant Gordon Chiswell, and privates Harvey Marriott, Frank Alford, and Keith Hayes, were rounded up for execution.

Okamura asked some of his men to step forward to form the firing squad.  The men who were being pressed into service looked puzzled as discussions proceeded about how to conduct the execution.  Okamura thought it was ‘too cruel’ to shoot them without blindfolds, so some had to be found.  Then there was a discussion about what part of the body to shoot at, the head or the chest.  After some minutes they decided that they would shoot the prisoners in the head.  As this was happening, an English-speaking Japanese officer approached and spoke in an agitated way to the officer in charge.  He wanted one man to go into Dili to search for the Japanese consul and his family.  For this task Private Peter Alexander was chosen.


Sketch map showing the disposition of the Japanese personnel and the Australian prisoners for the first executions

With the execution party assembled by the side of the road, the four Australians were told to turn their backs.  The Japanese sailors were reluctant to follow Okamura’s orders; only two had agreed to form the execution squad, so the four soldiers would have to be shot two at a time.  Private Keith Hayes was standing alongside Chiswell and Alford when the bullets struck them in the head, killing them instantly.  Moments later, the sailors fired on Marriott and Hayes.  Okamura watched the four prisoners fall down, and then he ordered that they be bayoneted ‘to kill them completely’.  The executioners took what valuables they could find on the Australians; one untied the hands of Keith Hayes so that he could take his watch.

Shortly afterwards, the Japanese heard the sound of a motorcycle, and captured Private Reg Alexander, who joined the remaining prisoners.  Alexander, had been sent from the Railaco headquarters, located above the Three Spurs camp, to travel to Dili with a message for Callinan.  The main Company HQ was also oblivious to the dramatic events earlier in the morning.

Members of the Navy landing party brought the 12 remaining prisoners to Dili in the early afternoon and kept them under guard.  The Japanese Army had allowed medical treatment to be given to the wounded Private Merv Ryan, but Lieutenant Hondo refused the Army’s request to hand over the prisoners for interrogation.

Surgeon 2nd Lieutenant Yokouchi Keisuke attached to DOI Butai observed the POWs in Dili:

On 20 February I participated in the landing that was made at DILI, Timor.  I was then a Surgeon 2nd Lieutenant attached to DOI Butai.  The first time when I saw a prisoner of war was during the morning when I saw a young Australian soldier.  He seemed so young that I asked him his age.  He replied 16.  He did not seem to me much older ….

Later that day, the 12 were taken to a shed adjacent to a church near the airfield, while Lieutenant Hondo was heard discussing plans to execute them.  Hondo told Warrant Officer Kubo Takaichi to arrange for the execution of the prisoners.

Kubo collected shovels to bury the prisoners, and later that evening some of the senior officers and warrant officers — Okamura, Toda, Moro, Hondo, and ensign Sasaki — boasted that they had ‘tested their swords’.  Some days after the executions, Portuguese resident Sebastião Graça saw the bodies of as many as seven Australians, still with their hands tied, half buried in a ditch by the side of the road near the airfield.  They were only partly covered, with legs and feet still protruding out of the ground.  Francisco Tilman de Ataídealso witnessed this gruesome sight and saw another three Australian bodies on the airfield.

A month after the massacre, Callinan tried to investigate the whereabouts of the Australians while on a visit to an observation post in Dili.  He was shown from a distance a spot where the bodies of six soldiers had been burnt, but he was unable to get close to it.  Callinan learned that two Australian soldiers were being held prisoner in the town.  Peter Alexander had escaped execution because his custody had been taken over by the army.  He was joined by Merv Ryan, who had been wounded on the airfield, together with some Dutch soldiers. [4]


‘The Ration Truck Massacre’ Cover illustration for Ken White. - Criado: a story of East Timor. - Briar Hill, Vic.: Indra Publishing, 2002 - an original oil painting by Wolfgang Grasse


Captain R.J. Crilley of the 16th Australian War Graves Unit and Captain A.D. Stephenson of the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) visited Dili in March 1946 and initiated the war crimes investigation of the Ration Truck Massacre.  They submitted the following report:



With further reference to LANDFORCES AG10729 of 251500K.  Capt CRILLEY and Capt A.D. STEPHENSON of SRD have visited DILI, searched the area in which 2 Ind Coy and later 4 Ind Coy operated, and recovered all known bodies.  They were accompanied by TX4141 Sgt MILSOM G of 2 Ind Coy.

During the interrogation of natives in the area, nothing was heard of any massacre of Australian personnel.

On the day of the Japanese landing at DILI, 20 Feb 42, a truck load of Aust personnel were proceeding from THREE SPURS towards DILI, unaware that the landing had taken place.  This vehicle was ambushed, and a number of the occupants killed, though some escaped.  It is suggested that this incident might be the massacre referred to.  A thorough search by 16 Aust War Graves Unit has failed to locate the remains of the above personnel, or the wreckage of the vehicle.


Para 8


e.  SW end of DILLI airstrip: Remains of 6 unidentified Aust soldiers in a trench - probably members of the detachment from 2 Ind Coy, defending the airstrip, on 20 Feb 42. [5]

Major N.F. Quinton, (later with 1AWCS) also visited Dili soon afterwards in June 1946 to conduct further enquiries.  He reported as follows:

Memo by Maj N.F. Quinton, OC 3 Aust PW Contact & Enquiry Unit (SEAC Detachment), 23 July 1946


I have to report that as requested by you in your memo above, I proceeded to Portuguese Timor, leaving Singapore on 1st June 1946 and arriving at Dili, Portuguese Timor on 21st June 1946, after very considerable movement difficulties.  The journey to Dili was taken by Air to Darwin, by sea to Koepang, Dutch Timor, and overland by various means to Portuguese Timor.

On arrival at Dilli I reported to the Australian Consul, Mr. Chas. Eaton, and to the Portuguese Acting Governor.

It was found that Captain Hugo POS of the N.E.I. Army had arrived in Dilli on the same mission with credentials from Captain McCloud of Batavia Aust War Crimes Section and also at the request of the United States Chief Prosecutor, TOKYO, to enquire into acts of violation of Portuguese neutrality by the Japanese and murders of Portuguese civilians and the massacre of natives.  Information regarding these matters is mentioned in para 8 of your number 96 of 31st March 1946 to HQ, A.M.F.

The Portuguese authorities in Dili had not permitted Captain POS to commence his investigations so I arranged a conference with the Acting Governor for Captain Pos and myself.

It was requested by the A/Governor that after communication with his Government in Lisbon that I, Capt. Pos and a Portuguese representative be formed into a Committee of Enquiry to examine witnesses and make full investigations into war crimes committed against Australians, Portuguese and natives and other acts of Japanese against Portuguese neutrality.

I consulted with the Australian Consul regarding this and pointed out that such an inquiry would involve me in a number of matters of a political nature and extraneous to my particular inquiries.  A further conference was held with the A/Governor who stressed that I would not be permitted to make independent inquiries or interview witnesses unless they were brought the proposed Committee of Inquiry.  As it appeared that I could not get my information by any other means I agreed to this course and the Committee of Inquiry was set up.

It became evident however, that the Portuguese authorities were not co-operating to any great extent in obtaining witnesses and Capt. Pos and I were obliged to make independent inquiries amongst the population of Dili in order to obtain the necessary witnesses and bring them before the Committee.  In obtaining these witnesses difficulties regarding the Portuguese and native (Tetum) language were encountered.


During the examination of witnesses, it became apparent that none of the witnesses could give any information as to the particulars of the Japanese units or their Commanders during the relevant period of our inquiry and although the Japanese Headquarters was established at the Governor’s Palace during the occupation, we were informed that the there was no record of the Japanese units or their Commanders.  It appeared that this information was being suppressed from us.

Regarding the alleged murder of twelve Australians by Japanese near Dilli in February 1942, the evidence of one eyewitness, namely SEBASTIAO GRACA, of the murder of seven Australians was obtained.  A number of other statements of hearsay witnesses regarding the murder of these seven Australians was also obtained.  No names of the Japanese responsible for these murders could be obtained.

From previous statements obtained by Flt/Lt McDonald it appears that there were no members of the Kempei-Tai in Dili until October 1942 and the Kempei-Tai do not appear to be concerned in the murder of these seven Australians.


Lieutenant Colonel R.C. Smith, Officer Commanding 1AWCS, subsequently provided the following progress report of the investigation in September 1946:

Memo by Lt Col R.C. Smith, OC 1 Aust War Crimes Sec SEAC, 4 September 1946:


On 20 Feb 42, a party of japs wearing caps bearing a Gold anchor on front, captured near DILI, a ration party of 16 Aust soldiers.  Four of these men were ordered to stand at the side of the road and were then shot from the rear.  Three of these men died, but one, WX12317 Cpl HAYES KH survived his wounds and later provided the above information.  The twelve remaining were placed in a truck which was driven towards DILI aerodrome.  Out of this party, WY,12344 Pte ALEXANDER P was detained, survived, and later provided corroboration of HAYES’ story.

A Portuguese eyewitness saw 7 Australians bayonetted to death on or near DILLI aerodrome about this time.  The fate of the four others is not determined but, in absence of advice of their survival, are presumed dead.



Northern Territory Memorial to the Missing located in the Adelaide River War Cemetery


Further research needs to be done regarding the work done 16 Australian War Graves Unit to locate the remains of the 2AIC men executed and killed in action during the Ration Truck Massacre and defence of the airfield.  No detailed information has been located thus far. [6]

The dearth of information is highlighted by the fact that the remains of one massacre victim were located – those of Private Harry Cotsworth.  His remains were interred at the Ambon War Cemetery.  Interestingly, map coordinates in Dili given for where his remains were found show a location 2.3 kilometres south of where the executions of the men are believed to have taken place. [7]

All the other men are commemorated on Panel 3 of the Northern Territory Memorial to the Missing located in the Adelaide River War Cemetery.

‘The Northern Territory Memorial to the Missing is one of several erected around the world for those who have no known grave. This Memorial was erected specially to commemorate those of the Australian Army, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Australian Merchant Navy who lost their lives in the South West Pacific region during the Second World War’. [8]

The men are also commemorated with individual plaques in the Lovekin Drive Honour Avenue, Kings Park located in association with No 2 Australian Independent Company - 2/2 Australian Commando Squadron memorial. [9]



[1] https://doublereds.org.au/news/the-ration-truck-massacre-75-years-ago-r20/

[2] All the war crimes investigation documents referred to in this post were contained in three key files held at Australian Archives – Melbourne Office, Victorian Archives Centre, North Melbourne: War crimes Timor - Murder of members 2 Independent Company near Dilli - Porto – Timor.  Execution of Australian Prisoners of War and natives - Dilli Timor - February 1942 - MP742/1, 336/1/2073 Parts 1-3.

[3] See Tim McCormack and Narrelle Morris ‘The Australian War Crimes Trials, 1945–51’ in Georgina Fitzpatrick, Tim McCormack [and] Narrelle Morris [editors]. - Australia’s War Crimes Trials 1945-51. - Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Nijhoff, 2016: 5-26.

[4] Callinan report, AWM52 25/3/2.

[5] Re-occupation of Portuguese Timor - NAA: A816, 101/302/9.  All of the following findings related to the efforts to locate the remains of the men were extracted from this file.

[6] [Unit War Diaries, 1939-45 War] 16 Australian Graves Registration and Enquiry Unit, October 1942 - May 1945 - AWM52, 21/2/17.

[7] Commonwealth War Graves Commission burial record for Private Henry James Cotsworth, Service Number: NX23164 - https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/4007094/henry-james-cotsworth/

[8] Adelaide River War Cemetery brochure https://www.dva.gov.au/documents-and-publications/adelaide-river-war-cemetery

[9] Images of the individual plaques can be searched for and viewed through Honour Avenues Group website: https://honouravenueskingspark.com.au

Prepared by Ed Willis

Revised: 17February 2022






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Edited by Edward Willis
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