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Edward Willis

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Same Saddle

Same Saddle ambush site: 8°55’20”S, 125°37’00”E

Same Saddle: 8°55’51”S, 125°36’20”E


Same Saddle action site showing the track followed by the Japanese forces between Maubisse and Same [1]

The ‘Area Study of Portuguese Timor’ (1943) describes the track between Same and Maubisse used by the advancing Japanese forces in the reverse south to north direction:


Leaving Same and travelling northeast, the river Abaca is crossed by a wooden bridge, just before reaching the main Maubisse-Alas track.  At the junction the road swings north on flat country for a distance of two miles (3 km.).  Here a well-constructed village is passed on the western side of the road.  To this point the road would be passable for jeeps.  It then commences to climb the Cablac Range and, as far as the Same Saddle, is an excellent partly- constructed pony track, with good air cover.

West of the track for 11/2 miles (21/2  km.) is a precipitous stretch of the range with large boulders 8 feet to 20 feet (21/2 m. to 6 m.) in diameter, abutting the road.  On the northern side of the saddle the country is fairly open, and the track becomes narrow, but still fit for ponies.  It then drops down into a tributary of the Be-Lulic River and immediately afterwards climbs for 11/2  miles (21/2  km.) to the village of Aituto, at the junction of the old Ainaro-Maubisse road.  This road is unsuitable for M.T. because of landslides but is used by pack ponies without difficulty.  There is no air cover whatsoever along this section. [2]


Same, Portuguese timor 1945-12-18.  Through this valley runs the Same to Mobisi [Maubisse] road.  The valley was the scene of many skirmishes between men of the 2/2nd and 2/4th Independent Companies and the Japanese during 1942. [3]

Robinson narrates one of the larger scale actions of the campaign that took place two days after the Nunamogue ambush:

Two Section of Four and One section of Two Company were at this stage at Ainaro while One Section of Four was at Hatu-Udo and [illegible] Section of two was distributed between these two towns.  Two Section of Two Company was being held in reserve at Fatu-Cuac.  While these sections were in these positions a native rumour began to spread [that] there were 2000 Japanese in Aileu and that these troops would be moving out to Maubisse on the night of 27th September.  The Australian forces were in position to meet this move.  Shortly after the rumour was received at Company Headquarters, the Portuguese reported that 2000 Japanese troops had been moved from Dilli to Aileu on the 27th and the report also confirmed the rumour that they would be moving on the same night.

It was anticipated that this move south was the move down to Betano which the Australians had expected. Orders were radioed to all platoons that this southward move was to be hindered, and in any way delayed as long as possible, to allow the troops down at Betano time to clear the stores and equipment from the beach head.  C Platoon was instructed to watch the track running from Maubisse to Same, and to ambush there, B Platoon to OP the road between Maubisse and Aileu, D Platoon to again move to a position where they could harass the enemy flank and A platoon to be ready to move to a position from where they could present a second obstacle to C Platoon’s series of ambushes on the Maubisse-Same track.

On the morning of the 29th [September], a Japanese force of 500 moved out of Maubisse, on the track leading to Same.  It was now obvious that Maj Callinan's observations had been correct and that the enemy was going down to Betano to have a look at the ship which was wrecked there.


Same, Portuguese Timor 1945-12-18.  This mountainous pass was a feature well known to members of the 2/2nd and 2/4th Independent Companies during their operations against the Japanese in 1942 [4]

Ambushes had been set by C Platoon with Nine Section forward and Platoon Headquarters on the track at the Same Saddle, and Seven and Eight sections in position behind the saddle.  At 1030 that morning the first of the Japanese approached these positions and the Nine Section men, allowing the enemy to approach to close range, opened up with automatic weapons and rifles, halting the advance.  The enemy did not break contact however, and were most determined, fighting back against the Australians, forcing Nine Section to drop eventually back from their position.  It seemed that the Japanese were most determined to push down the valley and the Australians were undecided as to whether they should attempt to hold their positions on the saddle, or disperse and take to the hillsides, from where they could move along with, and harass, the Japanese party.  At first it was decided that the troops would stay in the positions on the saddle, but after a pitched battle it was found that the Japanese force was outflanking them, and that their forward position was almost surrounded.  This necessitated a very hurried withdrawal and quick positional set up on a nearby spur.  From this new position an OP was sent forward and at twelve o’clock this man reported that the Japanese were beginning to move forward again down the valley.

Advancing this time the Japanese broke a precedent, for instead of using the tracks they took to the sides of the hills.  The Australians then realised that they had chosen the wrong course in staying in the valley.  The troops in the forward ambush position saw the Japanese as they were approaching along the Conaca Creek, in time to open up from their position, then withdraw.  Eight Section and Platoon HQ were the first troops to move back and they proceeded to a position south of Same.  Seven and Nine Sections and the troops of the No. 4 AIC who had been with them followed the same route back and rendezvoused there that afternoon.

A Platoon did not contact the Japanese force, which continued on down the valley and arrived at a position near Same about two thirty that afternoon.  The long range plan was now coming into operation.  C Platoon were in a position to cover the Same to Fatu-Cuac and Fatu-Cuac to Betano tracks, which was the route the Japanese were likely to take.  A Platoon was moving east from Ainaro  to attack the Japanese right flank and B and D platoons were watching for any further move to the south from Aileu and at the same time waiting for the return of the party which had gone down to Same.

Then everything went wrong.  The following day, September 30, the forward patrols of C Platoon lost the Japanese, who seemed to disappear into the ground itself.  A Platoon patrols were operating in the Same-Fatu-Cuac area and could neither find any sign of the Japanese party.  This loss of contact was mainly caused by the continual presence of enemy aircraft, operating throughout the daylight hours over the Australian[s] … [5]

Paul Cleary provides a fuller and more personalised account of the fire fight.  On this occasion, some men from the newly arrived No. 4 AIC were involved, gained their baptism of fire and suffered the unit suffered its first casualty: [6]

THE NUNAMOGUE ambush marked the beginning of a sustained drive by the newly arrived 47 Regiment.  The grounding of the ‘Voyager’ had triggered a massive reaction by the Japanese army, which now flooded the southern region with its troops and militia.  Against this drive, the Australians developed a three-pronged strategy aimed at stopping the Japanese advance and hitting it from the rear on both flanks.  It was the ‘most ambitious’ plan ever attempted by the Sparrow Force, Callinan said, although its success relied on fighting the enemy at very close quarters and on more conventional terms.

Two days after the Nunamogue ambush, the Australia HQ learned of more Japanese movements towards the south, prompting it to order the No. 2 AIC C Platoon, together with No. 4 AIC troops, to take a position between Maubisse and Samé, while they sent B Platoon to harass the movement along the Aileu–Maubisse road.

Like Ainaro, Samé was a major administrative centre in the southern region, which had taken on great strategic importance for the Portuguese administration after an uprising against colonial rule in 1912.  After marching throughout the night, two sections from the C platoons of both the No. 2 AIC and No. 4 AIC companies, about 30 men in total, moved into a position 10 km north of Samé on a track winding through a valley.  The track followed a series of s-bends down one side of the valley, before winding its way up the other side towards a pass known as the Samé Saddle.


Same Saddle ambush site as identified by Paul Cleary

The men were just moving into position when at around 8 a.m. runners from observation posts reported about 500 troops coming their way.  They were moving in the same fashion that David Dexter had observed near Ainaro - as though they owned the island.  And like the 228 Regiment before them, the new arrivals were afraid of leaving the main road.  Even though they presented easy targets to would-be ambushers, the Japanese somehow felt safer in large numbers on the main thoroughfares.  It might have looked like a scene from medieval times, with officers mounted on horseback on either side of the column, except that a Japanese spotter plane circled overhead.  The enemy employed aerial surveillance for the very first time in a bid to counter the hit-and-run tactics of the Australians, and it certainly spooked the men on the ground - even the seasoned warriors from the No. 2 AIC.

The No. 2 AIC men chose a position just south of the bottom of the valley, giving them a clear and elevated view of the Japanese, who would be coming down the s-bends, reaching a small creek before making their ascent up the other side of the valley.  The position chosen by the No. 2 AIC men seemed like an ‘ideal spot’ to the new arrivals from the No. 4 AIC Company, but it meant that the men would have to cross up to 1 km of open ground when making their retreat.

Commanding the No. 2 AIC men was Lieutenant Ray Cole, but the men who set up the ambush were the privates from 9 Section who were some of the most experienced men in the company, having run observation posts since February in the hills immediately west of Dili.  The No. 2 AIC men were so busy that morning setting up the ambush that they didn’t have time to stop for breakfast.


Same Saddle ambush site – 29 April 2014

The Tommy gunners took positions in scrub next to the track while the powerful Bren guns set up about 200 metres down the track on a rise looking straight at the s-bends.  Assembled this day was even more fire power than at Nunamogue - six Bren guns, 10 Tommy guns and about 20 rifles - but the 30 men faced a formidable enemy force that would be directed from above.  Covering the retreat that day were sections from the remainder of both platoons situated on a saddle south of the ambush position.


Same Saddle behind the ambush site – 29 April 2014

Spotters from the No. 4 AIC Company raced back to the ambush position and told their officers what they had seen.  Corporal Finch returned and found the platoon lined up in its firing positions.  He told his commander, Captain Charles Thompson, 26, about the officers and the plane.  Thompson in turn told one of his snipers, James Taylor, 25, and one of his Bren gunners, to shoot first at the officers on horseback.  Taylor was one man in the No. 4 AIC Company who had previously seen action.  He was believed to have fought in the Spanish Civil War.

As they waited, the No. 4 AIC men’s immediate thoughts turned to how they would be able to withdraw when the inevitable order to retreat was called.  One of the No. 4 AIC sections was well positioned for the retreat, but two others were on a bend in the road that meant a more difficult exit.  At about 10.30 a.m., the first two Japanese platoons ambled down the hill with no forward scouts.  As they came within 50–70 metres of the forward Tommy gunners Cole blew a whistle, triggering an eruption of fire that stirred up a huge cloud of dust around the falling Japanese.  The Tommy gunners concentrated their fire on the troops at the front, while the Bren gunners and riflemen fired at those in the rear.  The leading Japanese officer on horseback went down immediately, although the horse was unharmed.


Another view of the ambush site – 29 April 2014

Within minutes the Australians had wiped out the first two platoons but the troops in the rear quickly put their trademark flanking action into operation.  Private Harry Sproxton saw the Japanese at the rear moving into action from his position alongside the track.  They were running at the Australians, prompting Sproxton to turn his Tommy gun towards them and fire.  As Sproxton fired, he heard a loud scream from the soldier next to him, Private Roy Wilkerson, 28, a miner from Kalgoorlie.  Sproxton thought that Wilkerson had been hit, but in fact the hot shells from Sproxton’s Tommy gun had gone down his shirt.  Sproxton continually fired at the flanking enemy troops but still they kept coming.  The No. 4 AIC’s Tommy gunners could see the Japanese closing in, but no order to retreat came.  Sproxton was using the 50-round drum magazine that day, and after it had been emptied he realised it was time to move.  The Bren gunners had each poured five or six 28-round magazines into the column. One had fired eight magazines. In those furious minutes, the Australians had fired more than 1,500 rounds at the force, but still they kept coming.

No-one remembers an order to retreat coming from Cole or Thompson - nothing could have been heard above their furious fire.  But as the Japanese came perilously close, someone began to move, and instantly men jumped to their feet and began racing across the exposed valley, a creek to their right, and a rise to their left, as they surged towards the saddle.  All of the Australians had so far got out of the ambush without suffering a scratch, but now they had to pass through scrub and then some open country before they reached the saddle, where Lieutenant Campbell was coordinating cover fire.  As they ran, the Japanese spotter plane buzzed the Australians and directed the enemy troops to take the high ground to their left.  All of the Australians were still heavily loaded, with six of them carrying the Bren guns that weighed at least 10 kg, although one of the first men to make it to the saddle that day was one of the Bren gunners, Ron Trengove.

Some of the Japanese had taken to the higher ground and were now firing at the Australians as they approached the saddle.  Campbell’s men began engaging the Japanese as the Australians retreated up the hill.  Luckily none of the Australians was hit by friendly fire, but it was a close thing as Campbell’s group fired Bren guns over their heads at the Japanese behind and above them.  As the retreating men raced over the saddle, they broke up into small groups all heading in a south-east direction towards the coast.  The Australians were buzzed by the Japanese spotter plane, making it impossible to set up ambushes.  After all the Australians had made it over the saddle, Campbell’s party joined the rush down the track.

In the mad exodus, one Australian was left behind, Private Edward ‘Snowy’ Hourigan, 28, from Kilmore, Victoria, who was last seen crossing over the saddle and going down the south side.  The men kept heading south until they reached the Su River, where they met by chance the men from H Force who had just returned from almost two months in the eastern end of the island.  The C Platoon men had orders to hold the river ‘at all cost’, but the officers and men realised there was no way they could follow those orders, so they continued heading south-east until they reached Fatu-Cuac, where they found the criados, who had carried their gear.  They had covered a distance of more than 20 km that day, most of it running.  As it turned out, the Japanese did not pursue them. Instead they headed directly south to Betano where the wreck of the Voyager lay. [7]

In the haphazard escape from the ambush, some of the No. 4 AIC Company men became separated and lost.  With no knowledge of the language or the country, one party found themselves wandering through the wild hills for days.  Private Frank Killorn, 21, of Cambooya, Queensland, was a member of a lost group that asked at every little village they came across for directions.  The Timorese directed them towards the east.  Private John Barnes, 20, from Charleville, Queensland, had brought to Timor a small phrase book that he used to ask directions.

For several days after the ambush, up to eight men from the No. 4 AIC were listed as missing, but gradually they all filed in until there was just one man who didn’t come back, Private Hourigan.  Three of Hourigan’s mates volunteered to go back to the saddle to search for him, and when they approached the area the Timorese told them: ‘Australie mate’ (dead Australian), near the top of the saddle.  The party found Hourigan shot through the chest and head.  It seemed a mystery that Hourigan was found at the top of the saddle because he had last been seen running down the hill.  Ian Hampel, who helped to bury Hourigan, reasoned that he must have gone back up the hill in a vain attempt to make a stand and slow the Japanese advance.  At the time Hourigan had been grieving over the loss of his brother and just before he had embarked for Timor his mother had died.  Hourigan had been the last living member of his family.

The Australians had killed or wounded as many as 100 enemy troops in the Nunamogue and Samé ambushes.  Even so, the Japanese had succeeded in making a major inroad into their territory.  The southern region of the island was no longer the exclusive domain of the Australians.  Dexter’s platoon was ordered to step in and hit the Japanese at the coastal town of Betano, where stores were still awaiting transport.  Dexter’s platoon set up a position covering the village, but the enemy avoided it and headed for the ‘Voyager’.  The Japanese then moved west along the beach before turning inland towards Ainaro, burning villages as they went, including all the Timorese huts in the town of Hatu-Udo, which contained much equipment left by the Australians.  Dexter sent out patrols to search for this rampaging column but in the deceptive landscape of Portuguese Timor it passed through undetected.  This enormous body of troops had moved right through an area swarming with Australian patrols.  For Callinan, the result of his ambitious plan to hit the Japanese head-on had been ‘most disappointing’, given the numbers of troops deployed.  The Australians had thrown 200 troops against an enemy strength of 600–700, putting ‘more troops in that area than we had ever been able to muster previously’, and yet the Japanese by and large moved around the territory unchallenged. [8]

The Japanese drive had serious ramifications for maintaining crucial support from the local population.  This was a war that would not be won on the battlefield.  It remained a guerilla war that relied on support from the local people, and the Japanese were about to show how utterly ruthless they were prepared to be in dealing with civilians.

ACTION 2: 1st week in November 1942

Wray recounts another action on the Same Saddle in early November:

In the first week of November two soldiers from Lieutenant Palmer's section disguised themselves as Timorese and led fifty friendly natives in an attack on pro-Japanese natives on the Same Saddle.  Ten of the enemy were killed, huts were destroyed, and the rest of the pro-Japanese natives scattered.  This was typical of the actions of A Platoon during October and November when two sections would be forward around the Same Saddle with the other section resting in Same.  The success of this action prompted the Australians to raise 300 natives from the Same area to use in other raids.  This proved to be reasonably effective, and a number of hostile natives, deterred by the Australian action, returned to their villages.  To reinforce the lesson, a few days later troops supported by the 300 natives from Same went down the Aituto Valley attacking rebel natives and Japan ese.  During the raid a number of villages were burned out, about 150 huts being destroyed.  As a result of this operation many more hostile Timorese returned to their homes discouraged. [9]


[1] ASPT: Map 1.

[2] ASPT: 47-48.

[3] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C200484.

[4] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C200483

[5] Robinson: 114-116.

[6] Cleary: 241-246.

[7] Author interview with Harry Sproxton; and G. E. Lambert (ed.), op. cit., pp. 110-1[5].  The approximate location of this ambush is 8°55’20”S, 125°37’00”E.  The Samé saddle is located at 8°55’51”S, 125°36’20”E.

[8] B. Callinan, Independent Company, op. cit., p. 167.

[9] Wray: 148-149.


Ayris: 345-346.

Prepared by Ed Willis

Revised: 7 March 2023



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