Jump to content


Edward Willis

Recommended Posts

  • Committee






Lautem location map [1]

Lautem (see Photo No. 85 and Map No. 31) is 93 miles (149 km.) at a bearing of 82° E. from Dilli and is the capital and chief posto town of Lautem Province.  [8°22'14"S., 126°54'30"E.]  It is built on the alluvial flats at the entrance to the narrow valley in the foothills which come steeply down to the sea.  The rocky limestone hills come almost to the water's edge; they are fairly well covered with scrub.

Lautem is a fair-sized town with a population of about 500, including Portuguese, Chinese and natives.  It is an important commercial and market centre and a useful anchorage; the export trade is with copra, oil, rice, and maize.

On the flat-topped hills west of the town there are three groups of old fort-like buildings.  The most south-westerly group is the administrative posto and subsidiary buildings; a few yards northeast is the telephone hut and a long building containing the secretary's office and armoury.  The second fort-like enclosure is north of the posto overlooking the town; the house is used for a school.  The third group is north of the school and just above the beach; it contains a hospital and prison.  The bulk of the town proper consists of about 10 Chinese shops and about 20 native houses.  East of the shops there are a number of stone houses for Portuguese civil servants, and further east a stone customs house and cemetery.  There are extensive vegetable gardens on the flats in the valley and maize and sweet potatoes were plentiful.  There is a spring half a mile (1 km.) southeast of the town and another half a mile (1 km.) south of the town.  A pipe leads from the latter to a reservoir near the school, a branch line going to the posto. [2]




17. Lautem (Vila Nova Malaca) - Lautaim on chart (126' 54' E.):

Is the headquarters of a military officer, and is a place of some importance.  Exports were hides, copra and timber.

There is good anchorage in 11 fathoms (20 m.).  The water shoals rapidly further inshore because the little bight is shallow but free of coral rocks.  There are coral rocks at both corners of the bight.  K.P.M. vessels used to anchor here.  For small ships anchorage 200 to 300 yards (175 to 275 m.) offshore.

Only good anchorage in the east monsoon.

Easy to approach.  A white fort built on a rocky point is very conspicuous.

Just eastward of the rocky point the coast bends in a little, and there are four stone pillars (probably intended as a foundation of a light structure) on the beach.  With these bearing 150°, there is good anchorage in about 11 fathoms (20 m.).  Inshore and along the beach are coral reefs. [3]

Lautem is a good landing place, important from a military point of view because of the road running through to the south coast.

Anchorage is about 300 yards (275 m.) offshore in about 11 fathoms (20 m.), the depths decreasing rapidly towards the shore. There are coral reefs off the beach.  The beach itself is about (1 1/4 miles (2 km.) long, and of flat hard sand.  West from Lautem village to the Malai-Lada River there is a stretch of sand about 18 yards (17 m.) wide, which is level and hard and said to be possible for landing of aircraft.  The north coast road passes inland close to the beach.  Air cover is good in this vicinity, but it is poor farther west.  Buildings in Lautem include 12 stone houses, the largest of which is the customs house.  The Japanese landed troops here from flat-bottomed barges. [4]

The Japanese Occupy Lautem

“When the Japanese arrived in Lautem, on November 15 [1942], the administrator and his wife remained at the headquarters, as did the deportados who were there, with nothing unusual happening to the troops, who maintained a very correct attitude.

According to what was possible to ascertain from the narration of indigenous people, on the night of the 15th to the 16th, the head of a suco in the headquarters area, bordering the Luro post area, sought out the administrator and informed him that they were on their way to Lautem elements of the «black columns» who would finish off all the Portuguese they found, as they had already done in other places, advising the administrator and his wife to flee immediately to their posto, where they would be safe and from where they would then move on to a better location, if that were necessary.  The administrator was convinced that he was in danger and followed the advice given to him, especially since he seemed to place some trust in this chief, and followed everyone to that village, about 15 kilometers from Lautem.  Upon arriving there, the two poor Europeans were immediately surrounded by a crowd of indigenous people, who tied them up and mistreated them, ending up killing them savagely.

Neither the Japanese nor elements foreign to the people of the circumscription had, as far as it was possible to ascertain, interfered in these two deaths, which can only be attributed to the ill will that existed between the indigenous people towards this administrator and his own wife who they considered responsible for many injustices of which they were often victims.  Once again, the poor performance of the local authorities and the poor application of justice to the indigenous people were responsible for acts of indiscipline and crimes that the difficult circumstances in which they lived made possible, with the discontented taking advantage of them to take revenge on those who had lacked due justice”. [5]

In addition to the administrator and his wife, three deportados Antonio Teixeira, Mário Goncalves and Raul Monteiro were also killed. [6]

The Japanese Forces Operating In The Lautem Area

“The units of the 48 Division that replaced the 228 Regiment (the unit involved with the invasion) began to arrive in Portuguese Timor in early September 1942.  They then spread to all areas of the Portuguese territory.  Some units arrived in Lautem on 15 November 1942.

The Japanese forces in the area (the eastern part of the Laga-Baguia-Allambata) was named the East Area Force and was made up of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 2nd Formosan Infantry Regiment and the 4th Battalion of the 48th (Zeni) Engineering Regiment.

According to the map of the distribution of Japanese forces on the island of Timor in the period of the summer season (around April to November) 1943, the East Area Force headquarters was in Lautem with Colonel Toru Tanaka as commander, the 2nd Battalion was in Abis (the top of the mountain near Fuiloro), 3rd Battalion in Com, meanwhile, the 1st Battalion was in Koepang (Dutch Timor).  The Commander at Abis was Major Shichijuro Takizawa, and Commander at Com Lieutenant Colonel Zenkichi Sugano.

The task of the Japanese forces in Lautem was to neutralise anti-Japanese actions carried out by Timorese, use the Lautem military base to attack Australia, build a new military base in Abis, and defend the eastern part of the island”. [7]


85. Lautem – vertical (14/9/42) [8]


Lautem (Vila Nova Malaca) Portuguese Timor [9]


Lautem township map – Apple Maps


Ruins of Lautem fort high above the town, not accessible now, fort walls line the entrance to Lautem Vila and warehouses [10]


Lautem Fort in Mahlira village, on a strategic hill, contains the coat of arms of the Portuguese state with inscription “For the sake of the country”. [11]




The enemy built up considerable base area here and at LAUTEM WEST the airfield was continually maintained until recently when (since July 16th 1944) denial ditches have been dug across the runway.  This abandonment of this area probably confirms native reports that the present enemy strength in the LAUTEM area is no more than 100 Japanese and that the main forces have been withdrawn.

The enemy HQ (commanded by Col TANAKA) was situated at PISA in the hills approximately 5 km behind LAUTEM.  The enemy had large barracks on each side of the road inland from LAUTEM to FUILORO.  It is reported that the enemy were using small tracked vehicles which may have been carriers captured from Australian forces.  In this area the enemy employed up to 500 natives conscripted from the islands of MOA, LOKAR, LETI and KISAR.  These worked in the gardens at LAUTEM and the main food production was maize.  In Jan 1945 it was reported that the only food being used was maize 3 times per day”. [12]

In November 1946, the Australian Consul Charles “Moth” Eaton observed:

“During my last visit to the interior, I was particularly interested to see the Japanese defences of Lautem-Cape Lore areas.  I do not know if the full facts are known to our military authorities but at one time some 25,000 Japanese soldiers occupied these areas.  The Japanese camps and defence works along the road between Lautem and Fuiloro were considerable and the camouflage almost perfect”. [13]


Map showing Japanese military infrastructure in the Lautem area


Lautem. Foto: hasai husi Taiwan Hohei Dai-2 Rentai, Dai-9 Chutai Kai (Asosiasaun Kompahia 9, Rezimentu Infantaria Formoza 2), Senyu no Hi (Monumentu ba Kolega sira iha Funu) [14]


“One of the Japanese soldiers who had previously worked in Lautem wrote in a brief collection of Japanese war veterans, "In Lautem there was also the opening of a busy ianjo."  Idelfonso Januario, who lives in Lautem, told about women who were brought from abroad.  The following is his account:

The women were brought from Kisar or Java.  They stayed separate from the soldiers.  There was a guard, and when the Japanese came, they gave them money to enter.

João Moniz of Boruari Village, Moro, said that women were also brought from the Celebes (Sulawesi) and Java.  According to João, a woman named Pualau from Daudere, Macalotah,. had a child named Hanako fathered by a Japanese soldier.  Hanako was born after the Japanese left Timor.

The Japanese army positions in Lautem were always under attack by aircraft from Australia.  Two Japanese ships from Java were sunk near the port of Lautem on 15 December 1943.  The two military vessels were Wakatsu-Maru and Genmei-Maru, who were bringing stores and 700 women who were to become ianfu in Timor.  At that time, the air and sea of the island of Timor were dominated by the Allied forces”. [15]

On 7 December 1943, submarine chaser CH-2 departed Surabaya, Java for Lautem, East Timor, escorting convoy KAI-13 consisting of Genmei Maru and Wakatsu Maru.  By 15th, the convoy arrived at Timor, but was attacked by Dutch B-25s bombers, who hit Genmei Maru with six bombs.  Genmei Maru caught fire and on 16th, still burning, Genmei Maru was scuttled by shore artillery.  On 17th, Wakatsu Maru was attacked by RAAF Beaufighter bombers.  At 0750, she blew up and sank. [16]


On 21 July 1943 “Reconnaissance by Lightnings of No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit found further evidence of continued Japanese airfield construction.  On Timor two new airstrips were discovered, one of 5,000 feet running parallel to the coast at Cape Chater and another at Lautem, and a total of thirty-six enemy aircraft were counted on Timor airfields”. [17]







4000 ‘ probably longer

F & B [fighters and bombers]

Possibly 9 Lt [Light] guns 1400 ‘ SE of the strip

A new airfield probably completed.  level ground and is 5 miles WEST of LAUTEM. [18]

The 31 Squadron website gives the coordinates of the Lautem West airfield as S 8.395178, E 126.859484[8.39518° S, 126.85948° E] and this appears to be the most likely location.  This locations needs to be verified by on-site inspection. [19]

Establishment of the Lautem West Airfield

A Japanese source describes the establishment of the airfield:

“The airfield built by the Japanese military in Lautem was a so-called "secret airfield".  This was done from around September 1942 under the direction of the 3rd Air Wing Commander (Major General Rikitomo Tsukada).  Aerial reconnaissance identified a suitable site on a flat plateau area near Lautem.  The Army's 9th Field Airfield Establishment Corps (Major Toru Kawabata) had established the "secret airfield" by around February 1943 with the cooperation of the 4th Aviation Area Ground Service Corps.  “Using the grassland that was part of the wide plateau, it was possible to take off and land planes with a little leveling and clearing, and the scattered forest (some of which was planted) could be used for parked aircraft and other purposes.

There were two Lautem airfields, east [Cape Chater] and west.  In addition to the Lautem airfield, the Kawabata unit also established the Abis (Vila de Avis, Fuiloro) airfield, and Sae Namo near Cape Lore on the south coast.


The Australian continent is just south of Timor Island.  Eventually, Imperial Headquarters delineated an "absolute defense zone", intended to secure the resources of Dutch Indonesia; the plan was to stop the Allied Forces advancing westward and northward from Western New Guinea and Northern Australia.  While geopolitically understandable, however, the loss of air and sea supremacy made the Japanese soldiers in the area strongly feel that Japan's defeat was not far away, although they could not express it.  The Allied Forces marched west along the northern coast of New Guinea with a stepping stone strategy, annihilating all the bases of the Japanese army.  On the other hand, although the troops deployed in the Banda Sea received airstrikes, they were not confronted in land battles.


Lautem airfield was described as the ideal "secret airfield", being constructed on a vast meadow dotted with trees in a ranch style.  It was the ultimate camouflaged airfield, where even Japanese first-time pilots could not determine the landing site.  Planes were parked in a grove of trees and were difficult to spot from above.  The lower branches of large trees that were dozens of meters high were removed, and many aircraft could easily be concealed under the canopies.  Also, near the entrance of the forest, there was a large cactus with crimson flowers that could hide a small aircraft.  They grew in clumps and hid the parked aircraft.  Also, they tried to erase the traces of the runway tracks of the planes.  Of course, this kind of thing cannot be continued forever, and about half a year later, the airfield was discovered by the enemy”. [20]

Japanese Air Operations Against Australia From Lautem West

Lautem West was “used by the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) as a base for bombers and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over Darwin, the Northern Territory and north-west Western Australia.  Also used by the Japanese Navy”. [21]

“Compared with these naval air forces, the Japanese Army air forces played a relatively minor role in Japanese operations against Australia.  Bombers and fighters of the 3rd Air Brigade (Dai 3 Hikôdan), 7th Air Division (Dai 7 Kôkû Shidan) and 3rd Air Army (Dai 3 Kôkûgun) participated in the only air raids by Army planes on Australia, which occurred on 20 and 22 June 1943 from Lautem in the East Indies.  The bombers were from the 61st and 75th Air Regiments (Hikô Dai 61 Sentai and Hikô Dai 75 Sentai, respectively), while the fighters were from the 59th Air Regiment (Hikô Dai 59 Sentai).  Reconnaissance aircraft of the 70th Independent Air Company (Dokuritsu Hikô Dai 70 Chûtai; also under the 3rd Air Brigade), however, did fly numerous scouting missions over Australia before and after these air raids”. [22]

“[A] Japanese raid [on Strauss Airstrip approximately 60 kilometres south of Darwin] of 20 June 1943 followed a reconnaissance flight two days earlier by a Mitsubishi Ki-100 ‘Dinah’ of the Japanese Army Air Force’s 70th DCS based at Lautem on Timor, when equipment bound for the newly arrived 380th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the USAAF was photographed stockpiling at Winnellie”. [23]

“… on 28 June [1943] Lt Cdr Suzuki led 27 Zeros from Lautem, Timor, to escort G4M Rikkos [bombers] to Darwin.  Following the bombing 12 Zeros of the 3rd and 4th chutais claimed one and two probables.  Three Zeros of the element at the tail end of the formation were hit and one pilot was badly wounded, but all managed to return home after a flight of four hours and 45 minutes.

Two days later 27 Zeros were again led by Suzuki to escort Rikkos, this time the target being Brooks Creek airfield which was believed to be the base of the B-24s.  On this occasion defending Spitfires attacked before the bombing.  The Japanese pilots claimed 12 destroyed and three probables, gunners aboard the Rikkos claiming one more shot down (five Spitfires were actually lost).  One bomber was lost but all the rest of the formation returned after a flight which this time took five and a half hours.  27 Zeros were again involved in escorting Rikkos to Brooks Creek on 6 July, this time led by Lt Shiozuru, but on this occasion three G4Ms were lost and two Zeros were damaged”. [24]

Cooper notes in relation to an earlier air raid on Darwin (2 March 1943) that:

“The incoming formation of Zeros had proceeded independently and from a more northerly bearing than the bombers.  Lautem airfield in Portuguese Timor was only 650 kilometres away and was therefore the preferable take-off point for the fighters, while the long-legged G4M bombers could easily operate from Penfui, 850 kilometres distant from Darwin”. [25]

The presence of the Zeros in these raids must have alerted Australian intelligence to the fact that if they were land-based they must have flown from a location closer to Darwin than Penfui or Dili and prompted the reconnaissance flights that discovered Lautem airfield in late June 1943.

Allied Air Forces Operations Against Lautem West

Once discovered, the airfield was subjected to almost continuous bombing and strafing by American, Australian and Dutch aircraft.  The units involved included 380 Bombardment Group (528, 529, 530 and 531 Squadrons) of the USAAF Fifth Air Force, 79 Wing RAAF (No 2 Squadron), 18 (NEI) Squadron, which was manned by both Australian and Dutch airmen, and 31 Squadron RAAF Beaufighters.  By the middle of 1944, Allied bombing had rendered the airfield unusable and most of the remaining serviceable aircraft were moved to Kendari airfield and other locations.

Following the official surrender of Japanese forces on Timor, they destroyed most stores at the airfield and disabled their surviving aircraft before the arrival of Australian forces. [26]

The following is one example of a strafing mission conducted by a Beaufighter from 31 Squadron:

“In all, five sweeps and one strike were flown over Central and Eastern Timor.  On one mission by two Beaufighters, captained by Flight Lieutenants Strachan and Sippe on the 13th [1944] near Lautem strip, some 200 Japanese were seen crossing a river bridge.  The aircraft could not line them up because at the time they were in a tight turn, but the Japanese were observed jumping off the bridge in great confusion.  Continuing on they destroyed two well-camouflaged “Dinahs” parked in disperse bays.  This attack was carried out in spite of an intense barrage of ack-ack, heavy, medium and light”. [27]


At the end of WWII, ex No. 2 Independent Company soldier George Milsom (TX4141) was promoted to Sergeant and became a member of a three-man team Military History Team that was sent to both Dutch and Portuguese Timor to record significant campaign sites.  George was the guide of this team; Lieutenant Charles Bush was the official war artist and sometimes used George as a model and Sergeant Keith Davis the photographer.  In Dili they received help from two new criados Fernando and Akiu.

George Milsom was an avid letter writer and his parents kept all of his letters.  This post features a letter dated 14 January 1946 that he wrote after the Military History Team had completed its patrol to campaign sites at the eastern end of Portuguese Timor.

The twelve day patrol travelled through the following locations: Dili, Manatuto, Vemasse, Baucau, Lautem, Lore, Fuiloro and Ossu then back to Dili.  Milsom’s narrative of the patrol is complemented by photographer Keith Davis’s photographs of some of the locations visited by the Team.  The adventures and social activities of the men and their reliance on the hard working jeep as their mode of transport makes for interesting and entertaining reading.

“We stayed a right there and went on to LAUTEM next day (Sunday) [1 January 1946].  There we found the Administrator Senhor GONSALVES sitting on the verandah of a house that the Japs had built and used for their HQ.  He is a big chap, big-hearted, and welcomed us with VINHO DA PORTO.

He has gathered round him all the Japanese junk from the area, broken down bombers and small motor cars; I have never seen such a collection before.  We slept in Japanese beds with sheets and mosquito nets and had hot bathe in the concrete bath the Japs had built.  Then we went to the airfield and you should see the wrecked planes, all in the most fantastic angles and positions, you will have to see the photo to believe it.

We did not run short of petrol there because there is a dump of 56,000 44 gallon drums there.  The Administrator has trucks, cars and hundreds of bicycles.  One shed he has is full of gear, one wall was covered with chiming clocks.  He gave us some souvenirs.  The junk heap was even able to supply us with two wheels for the jeep”. [28]


Lautem, Portuguese Timor. Senhor Gonsales seated on the veranda of a mud house built by the Japanese.  VX128043 Charles William Bush (in shorts) Military History Section (MHS), an Official War Artist, is working at an easel.  Also identified (far right, back to camera) is TX4141 George James Beedham Milsom, MHS. [29]


Lautem, Portuguese Timor. 1946-01-02. This Japanese twin engine aircraft was probably destroyed by them at the end of the war. (Photographer Sgt K.B. Davis) [30]


Lautem, Portuguese Timor. 1946-01-02. Damaged bicycles in the Lautem area where the Japanese maintained their largest dumps of petrol, equipment and stores. They destroyed much of this material and many aircraft at the nearby airfield at the end of the war. (Photographer Sgt K.B. Davis) [31]


Lautem, Portuguese Timor. 1946-01-02. A wooden Japanese signpost with empty petrol drums and mobile anti-aircraft guns in the background. [32]


Lautem, Portuguese Timor. 1946-01-02. Equipment and stores deliberately damaged by the Japanese at the end of the war. (Photographer Sgt K.B. Davis) [33]


      Lautem, Portuguese Timor. 1946-01-02. A native weaving a fish net. (Photographer Sgt K.B. Davis) [34]


Lautem, Portuguese Timor. 1945-12-29.  A wrecked Japanese twin engine aircraft.  It bears the identification number 911 on its tailplane. (Photographer Sgt K.B. Davis) [35]


Lautem, Portuguese Timor. 1946-01-02. Remains of a damaged Japanese Zero fighter aircraft and a line of hand carts. The Japanese maintained their largest dumps of petrol, equipment and stores in the Lautem area and destroyed much of it at the end of the war. (Photographer Sgt K.B. Davis) [36]


Lautem, Portuguese Timor. 1946-01-02. This Japanese twin engine aircraft was probably destroyed by them at the end of the war. (Photographer Sgt K.B. Davis) [37]


Lautem, Portuguese Timor. 1946-01-02.  A burnt-out Japanese twin engine fighter aircraft at the Lautem airfield. (Photographer Sgt K.B. Davis) [38]



Little information is available of coast defence artillery on TIMOR  but at various points such as LAUTEM, DILI, ATAPOEPOE and particularly in the KOEPANG area there are AA weapons which may be sited in a ground or coast defence role”. [39]

Background: Japanese island defense doctrine

“Every Japanese manual from 1909 focused on the importance of offensive action to achieve victory.  What the Japanese lacked in firepower and matériel was to be made up for by spiritual power, superior martial values, and total dedication to fulfilling one's duty, even if it meant attacking a superior force with bayonets or defending a position to the death.  An officer corps evolved which loathed defense and fixed fortifications.  However, the Pacific War became nothing more than a series of defensive battles for the Japanese, a war of attrition that they did not have the resources to win, nor even to achieve a stalemate.

The US Army's 1944 Handbook on Japanese Military Forces describes the Japanese attitude toward defense.  "The defensive form of combat generally has been distasteful to the Japanese, and they have been reluctant to admit that the Imperial Army would ever be forced to engage in this form of combat.  So pronounced has been their dislike for the defensive that tactical problems illustrating this type of combat is extremely rare."

The 1938 Combat Regulations (Sakusen Yomurei), still in effect at the beginning of the Pacific War, called for passive defense in the face of overwhelming enemy superiority (unyielding resistance until additional forces arrived to resume the offensive): prior to this the Japanese had adhered only to the concept of active defense.  Active defense was only to be adopted when the enemy gained local superiority and continued until operational initiative could be regained and the offense resumed.  In reality, because of the previous schooling and aggressive nature of Japanese officers, the conduct of the defense on Pacific islands was essentially active defense.  Their goal was to halt the enemy at the water's edge, and if unable to decisively defeat him there they sought to reduce his strength, and conduct immediate counterattacks to keep him disorganized until mobile reserves could annihilate him.

Among the key problems Japan faced were the vast distances involved, limited shipping, brutal climate, and numerous health hazards.  She was compelled to defend islands in widely varied terrain and weather conditions - from baren, rocky, sub-arctic outposts to vast, mountainous, rainforest-covered islands.


An early-war Japanese report, Concerning Defense Against Enemy Landings, stated that enemy forces must be annihilated on the shore, and that, "therefore the second or third line of defense positions ordinarily will not be established very far to the rear."  However, most of the islands on which the early South Pacific battles were fought were quite large, hilly and thick with jungle.  It was impossible to defend the many miles of beach-lined coasts.


The defended island was ringed with trenches, rifle pits, machine guns, anti-boat guns, and coast defense guns.  Anti-aircraft guns were generally positioned on or near the shore to double as anti-boat weapons.  Most positions were covered, except for larger AA and coast defense guns.  All artillery was incorporated into the beach defense for direct fire: space was not sufficient to position it far enough in the rear to allow indirect fire.  Usually the only "field artillery" on these islands comprised light infantry guns.  Strongpoints were spaced along the shore as well as inland, especially around command posts, space permitting.  Even if all or most of the island's perimeter could be defended, the defences were sometimes concentrated in interconnected defended areas, essentially large strongpoints, with light defences in between them.  Antitank ditches were dug to block the passage of armour into key areas.  The airfield occupied much of the island, but never was it incorporated into the defense as it provided an exposed field of fire deadly for the attackers to cross.  Defences were established along its edge to cover the far side.  If the island was too large for the entire shoreline to be defended by available forces, a central defended area was established with both strong beach defences and cross-island defense lines.  The Japanese tended to deploy the balance of their defences on the seaward side of the islands, believing that the Americans would want to beach nearer to shore on the reef's edge.  On the atolls lagoon side the coral reefs were wider meaning landing craft were forced to discharge their troops further out.

Building and manning the island defences

The basic design of the island fortifications was based on the dictates of pre-war manuals, but there were many variations and exceptions in the field.  Such variations were provoked by the need to blend the fortification into the terrain (requiring its size, shape, and profile to be modified), locally standardized design induced by material shortages, types of material available, weather conditions, preferences and concepts of local commanders, and the ingenuity and imagination of the officers and NCOs supervising construction.  A Japanese manual on field fortifications notes: "It is most important not to adhere blindly to set forms in construction work, but to adapt such work to fit the tactical situation."  Dimensions, even for positions housing the same type of weapon, varied considerably and could be of irregular shape: local initiatives were the rule rather than the exception.  Despite very different appearances, the common, basic design can be seen in many examples.

Establishing the defence

A unit was assigned a specific sector of defense and several factors were considered.  Firstly came the direction from which the enemy would approach: the defenses were principally oriented in that direction. Avenues of approach into the sector from the flanks and rear through adjacent unit areas were also considered and some defenses, even if only supplementary positions, were oriented in those directions.  While unit boundary lines were specified, with coordination, fields of fire from one unit's sector into an adjacent unit's were permitted to cover gaps.  Weapons were also emplaced to cover avenues of approach into a unit's flanks regardless of the adjacent unit's dispositions.  Key terrain features, which the enemy might attempt to occupy, were identified as were routes of advance through the defense sector, and defenses and obstacles established there.

Secondary defensive positions were selected to provide depth to the defense.  This was a critical aspect to the Japanese and a factor that made it so difficult and slow for the Allies to break through.  Defenses established in the depth of a unit's sector were not necessarily emplaced as continuous lines.  Although they might seem to be randomly selected, they were not haphazardly chosen: they were emplaced to cover other defensive positions, movement routes, key terrain, and dead space not covered by the primary opinot.si They were often emplaced to engage the enemy from the flanks or even the rear as they advanced.  Individual fighting positions were scattered throughout some areas requiring the assault force to clear each.  Often the assault troops would clear only the most troublesome, leaving reserve units to mop up bypassed positions: sometimes these were re-occupied by stragglers and infiltrators.

Inaccessibility was another factor affecting the choice of fighting position.  For example, placing a position high on a steep hillside made it difficult for the enemy to approach while under fire.  It is apparent that the concealment and inaccessibility of positions often took precedence over other considerations.  The key aim was to establish crossfire from several directions and all-round protection from attack from any direction”. [40]

Eastern Coastal Defences at Lautem

“Lautem is a good landing place, important from a military point of view because of the road running through to the south coast”. [41]

A Japanese coastal bunker is clearly visible from the road on the shoreline on the eastern outskirts of Lautem (8° 21' 32.0" S, 126° 54' 26.2" E)

“In this case, in order to strengthen the defence of the Lautem coast, the Japanese built stone tochka in April 1944.  Tochka which means "point" in the Russian language, that is, the construction is round, and it is enough that is strong with its wall and has the same layer a small window to remove an outer arm”. [42]


Tochka on the beach at Lautem.  Photo: Michitaka Yamaguchi. [43]


Japanese bunker on the eastern outskirts of Lautem township – 11 August 2022


Japanese pillbox on the western approach to Lautem township – 11 August 2022

Western Coastal Defences at Lautem

Two Japanese coastal defence pillboxes are located on high ground above a bay located approximately half way between Lavai and Lautem just off the highway (8° 24' 12.9" S, 126° 49' 03.1" E).  The access point to the pillboxes is indicated by a stack of painted tyres.

The coast line along this section is described in the ASPT:

“15. Laivai to Lautem—See Map No. 31:

Except for a patch of reef-bound coast about 3 miles (5 km.) east from Laivai, the foreshore for 8 miles (13 km.) is beach interspersed with coral reef.  There is then 3 miles (5 km.) of reef-bound coast to the Malai-Lada River. The main road lies about a mile (1 ½ km.) inland from the coast.  There is good air cover, particularly for the westerly eight miles (13 km.).  Water is available right along the coast”. [44]

The Japanese must have assessed this bay as the most suitable for an Allied landing along this section of coast and therefore to be defended in order to protect the nearby Lautem West airfield from capture.  The pillboxes probably housed machine guns that could have poured lethal defilade fire on any landing craft attempting an assault.

The surrounding area warrants more thorough investigation to locate and document the associated Japanese defensive infrastructure.DSC03801.thumb.jpeg.f9700179ae681888f975e92ca715a611.jpeg

Front view of Japanese pillbox - 11 August 2022


[1]    ASPT: Map 1.
[2]    ASPT: 12.
[3]    ASPT: 12.
[4]    ASPT: 19.
[5]    Carvalho, Manuel de Abreu Ferreira de. - Relatório dos acontecimentos de Timor (1942-45) [Report of Timorese events (1942­45)]. - Lisboa: Edições Cosmos, 2003. – Originally published: Lisboa: Ministério das Colonias, 1947: 457-458.
[6]    Carlos Vieira da Rocha. - Timor: ocupação japonesa durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial (2a. ed. rev. e ampliada). Sociedade Histórica da Independência de Portugal, Lisboa, 1996: 116.
[7]    Luta ba lia loos no justisa: relatóriu finál ba Peskiza Konjunta Asosiasaun HAK ho Koligasaun Japonés sira ba Timor-Leste konaba eskravidaun seksuál militár Japonés iha Timor-Leste, 1942-1945 / hakerek-nain (ortografia): Akihisa Matsuno; tradutór: José Luís de Oliveira. - Dili, Timor-Leste : Asosiasaun HAK ; Osaka, Japan : East Timor Japan Coalition, [2016]: 128-130.
[8]    ASPT: Photograph 85.
[9]    ASPT: Map 31.
[10]    M. Hero “Stumblings ... Saturday, February 2, 2013 - Lautem Fort”. http://stumblingmatthew.blogspot.com/2013/02/lautem-fort.html
[11]    Sri Budi Rahayu, Yayuk. - Bangunan kolonial di Timor-Timur. - Jakarta : Proyek Pengembangan Media Kebudayaan, Direktorat Jenderal Kebudayaan, Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, 1998/1999 [i.e. 1999?]: 48.
[12]    [Intelligence - Timor, Flores', Soembawa, Lombok:] Summary of Intelligence Information (Enemy) - Timor information to 27 August 1945 - enemy strengths and dispositions and maps to be read in conjunction with New Guinea Force Operation Instruction No 84: 29.
[13]    Charles Stuart Eaton. – The cross in the sky: the life and adventures of Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton - soldier - pioneer aviator - pathfinder for global peacekeeping. – Melbourne: Echo Books, 2021: 268.
[14]    Luta ba lia loos no justisa: 129.
[15]    Luta ba lia loos no justisa: 136.
[16]    See https://wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?163921
[17]    George Odgers. - Air war against Japan, 1943-1945. – Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1957 (repr. 1968): 60.  (Australia in the war of 1939-1945. Series 3, Air ; v. 2)
[18]    Northern Territory Force war diary June-July 1943
[19]   http://www.sim-outhouse.com/sohforums/showthread.php/129345-Campaign-and-Missions-for-31-Squadron-RAAF-Coomalie-Creek
[20]   https://gbitokyo.seesaa.net/article/200902article_8.html
[21]    Lautem Airfield (Lautem West Airfield) https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/timor/lautem/index.html
[22]    Shindo Hiroyuki “Research essay: Japanese operations against the Australian mainland in the Second World War: A survey of Japanese historical sources” http://ajrp.awm.gov.au/ajrp/ajrp2.nsf/437f72f8ac2c07238525661a00063aa6/04fe8252bce8187eca256a1d00111139?OpenDocument
[23]    WWII Strauss airstrip: background historical information / prepared by the Heritage Branch. – Palmerston, NT: Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport, 2011: 25.
[24]    lkuhlko Hata, Yashuho lzawa, and Christopher Shores. - Japanese naval fighter aces, 1932-45. – Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2011: 73.
[25]    Anthony Cooper. - Darwin spitfires: the real battle for Australia. – Sydney, NSW: University of New South Wales Press, 2011: 54.
[26]    Lautem Airfield (Lautem West Airfield) https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/timor/lautem/index.html
[27]   https://31squadronassociation.com.au/about/war-history/history-8/
[28]    Ed Willis “The Military History Section Team’s patrol to the eastern end of Portuguese Timor, 29 December 1945 – 9 January 1946” https://doublereds.org.au/forums/topic/310-the-military-history-section-team’s-patrol-to-the-eastern-end-of-portuguese-timor-29-december-1945-–-9-january-1946/#comment-759
[29]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221037
[30]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221036
[31]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221031
[32]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221029
[33]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221030?image=1
[34]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221033
[35]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221028
[36]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221032
[37]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221035
[38]   https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C221034
[39]    [Intelligence - Timor, Flores', Soembawa, Lombok:] Summary of Intelligence Information (Enemy) - Timor information to 27 August 1945 - enemy strengths and dispositions and maps to be read in conjunction with New Guinea Force Operation Instruction No 84. - https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2751986
[40]    Gordon L. Rottman. - Japanese Pacific island defenses 1941-45. – Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003: 29-30.
[41]    ASPT: 19.
[42]    Luta ba lia loos no justisa: 132.
[43]    Luta ba lia loos no justisa: 132.
[44]    ASPT: 19.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...