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Edward Willis

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8° 44′ 16″ S, 126° 22′ 23″ E [1]


Manatuto location map [2]

Manatuto (see Photo No. 54 and Map No. 20) is 30 miles (48 km.) at a bearing of 840° from Dili.  It is east of the North Laclo River and on the coast.

Manatuto is the capital of its province and is a posto town of about 30 to 40 stone houses.  The posto is on a dominating conical hill which slopes gently northwards to the beach.  Most of the town is built around the foot of this slope, but also extends a short distance along the coast eastwards to another isolated ridge which runs down to the sea.  The two hills and town area have a fair amount of air cover from trees.

Manatuto is important in that it commands a major road junction.  The main motor road runs east/west through the town, and another runs inland between the posto hill and the river to Cribas with a horse track to Laclo.

The area surrounding the town and two hills is absolutely flat and is covered with paddy fields (sawa). [3]


10. Manatuto—Manatoetoe on chart (126° 01'E.) - See Photo No. 54: About 3 miles (5 km.) ESE of Cape Subao (Soebang on chart), is a fairly important place and the residence of a Government official.

There is anchorage in about 30 fathoms (60 m.).  The bottom in the anchorage is soft mud and not good holding ground.  There is no landing place except on the beach, which is steep-to, and there is a heavy swell at times.

Easy to approach.  It can be easily distinguished by a white church with two towers and some houses built on a hill.

Anchorage is with the light structure, a white conical masonry beacon, bearing about 210°.  There are many reefs eastward from this anchorage.  One Portuguese ship recently lost two anchors in the coral.

Manatuto was the exporting place for the surrounding district, and a coastal steamer called monthly to collect cargo.  Sheep and fowls were obtainable.

It was used as an anchorage by the Japanese forces and they landed troops from here in shallow draught barges in which they also conveyed M.T. [4]


Manatuto (Vila de Manatuto) – 27 December 1942 [5]


Manatuto – current map [6]


A similar occurrence in November resulted in the murder by natives of the Administrator and his secretary at Manatuto.  It was a strange coincidence that both these administrators at Aileu and Manatuto had attempted to remain strictly neutral, even to the extent of providing food and assistance to the Japanese and attempting to restrict the movement of Australians in their areas.  When these murders were followed up by that of the Chefe de Posto at Fuiloro, in the east, the Portuguese saw there was no other alternative but to come to the Australians for active protection. [7]



56. Administrator’s House [Posto], Manatuto [8]


Administrative Posto - 8 August 2022

The best killing field for Japanese was in the eastern end where their developmental work left them open to attack, also where the natives, under the Administrator, Senhor Pires, were in general actively hostile to them.  So I arranged for Laidlaw to move Nisbet's platoon to a position just west of the Baucau-Ossu road.  In this way we would have a watch along the whole of the road from Manatuto to Baucau and down to Viqueque, and it was hoped to inflict greater casualties. [9]



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. [10]


Baucau, the second largest centre on the island, came in for special treatment, as did Manatuto, the coastal centre between Dili and Baucau.  Manatuto was first bombed on 16 October when three Hudson bombers from 13 Squadron hit the town because their original target, Dili, was obscured by cloud.  After dropping two 250-pound bombs and more than 30 incendiaries over the town the main buildings were seen to be ‘burning fiercely’. [11]


Two days later [19 November 1942?], a second mission flown by 31 Squadron had better luck when two Beaufighters strafed Japanese barracks and Timorese huts in a coordinated attack on the northern centres of Manatuto, Laleia, Vemasse, and Point Bigono, while another two strafed Baucau, Laga, and Point Lavai.  All four returned safely. [12]


54. Manatuto = looking northeast (21/8/42 [13]

Harry Wray:

The town with the pro-Jap Comandante was Manatuto, and it was to this town that the burned R.A.A.F. officer was taken and removed from there by our Sapper Corporal.  Manatuto was a seaport on the north of the country, which is the same side of the island as Dili, and to the east of Dili.

An excellent motor road ran along the coast to Manatuto and in consequence it was a favourite Jap resort. They frequently made trips out from Dili, and in the later stages sent troops mounted on bikes for a jaunt out there.

A party of our men from the Company, which relieved us had a most successful ambush on this road and inflicted heavy casualties on the Japs travelling along the road on bikes.  One of the Aussies said that the Japs seemed unable to locate them and amused themselves firing back along the road in the direction from which they had come, while the Aussies were actually in front of them.  Our troops were able to withdraw in comfort while the Japs fought imaginary assailants in their rear.

This road was a favourite hunting ground for the men from The Bull’s Platoon who were in the area most of the time, and they made things lively for Jap passers-by.

Manatuto was a favourite target for our bombers, not that there was much there to bomb apart from a small fleet of native fishing boats, but I suppose it was bombed from time to time in the hopes of catching the Japs there as it was such a favourite resort of theirs.

I have mentioned the ‘queer blokes’, the two ex-Malayan police officers who trained natives in the eastern end of the island.  One of them hid in the roof of a house in Manatuto and overheard the conversation of some Jap officers in the room below him.  He gained some useful information I believe, as he was a Jap linguist of some ability.  He escaped from the town without the Comandante or the Japs being any the wiser.

As already mentioned the Comandante had always been pro-Jap and was on most friendly terms with them. This happy state continued until about the time we were in Mindelo district, say October/November 1942.

One day a large party of Japs and numbers of their native followers went to Manatuto.  They left during the afternoon and camped a short distance from the town.  Our H.Q. was given information that the Japs were in Manatuto and sent a message to Australia with the news.

Over came the bombers and gave the town a good doing over while the Japs watched from a safe distance. The moment the bombers went we assume the Japs must have said to themselves that it could be coincidence, and that the Comandante must be friendly to the Australians and have tipped them off to send the bombers.  Whatever they thought they sent a party of their native adherents back and they chopped the Comandante into pieces in their own inimitable style.  We were pleased to hear that our enemy the Comandante was no more but regretted that the Japs had left the town before the bombs fell. [14]


Back to Manatuto – now and again the Japs would take a trip inland from Manatuto to Ossu as the road from Manatuto was good for cars or bicycles.  The ‘queer blokes’ heard that the Japs were on one of these jaunts to Ossu one night took a small army of the local natives they had trained to the town where the Japs were camped quite unsuspecting that any enemies were in the neighbourhood, and let their natives armed with Sten guns loose on the sleeping Japs.  The natives had a thoroughly enjoyable night and caused considerable casualties we hoped among the confused and unprepared Japs. [15]


Aerial Photo - Manatuto Village [16]


By T.C. Nisbet, Lieut.

At Fatu Makeric, 12 September 1942

The information contained in this report although coming from Porto sources must be considered as near correct because all the reliable sources told the same story.

Approx. 200 Japs went to MANATUTO in six launches or small boats on the morning of the 1st September. They disembarked at about 0300 hrs and encircled the town.  At daybreak they commenced an intensive search hoping to find the aviator (F.O. Wadey, RAAF) as they are supposed to have persistently demanded to be shown his whereabouts.  When they could not locate him they went to the Administrator’s House and demanded that he be brought to them.  The Administrator at the tome was absent (Timor Revolt) and the Japs were interviewed by the Secretary who told them that without a direct order from the Government he couldn’t have the aviator brought to MANATUTO.

The Japs then asked to be put on the phone to speak to the Porto Doctor at CALICAI telling him that unless the airman was [produced] they would go to CALICAI and destroy the hospital with their big guns – the Doctor refused replying that were plenty of mountains behind CALICAI.  The Japs had a meal in the Administrator’s House and also carried out mortar practice.  Corporal Loud reports seeing wheel marks which he states to have been made by a field piece of some sort.

The Japs returned to Dili by boat leaving MANATUTO at approximately 1600 hrs on 1st September.  There was no indication in any of the reports that the Japs took supplies of rice or tinned foodstuffs back with them.  The Jap air force was represented by one fighter which was noticed stunting over MANATUTO in the morning and also in the afternoon.

My conclusion is that the Jap did hope to nab the airman as his movement in this case is most unlike his methods against us (NB) and he had no reason to visit MANATUTO for food as the Administration in that province is most helpful towards the ENEMY in this respect as is born out by the behaviour of the troops while there.

T.C. Nisbet 1700 hrs

(NB) Six launches I consider hardly strong enough to indicate an attempt to ‘take’ the place against opposition. [17]

Mitchell Bomber A47-3 Brought Down Over Manatuto

“The following day, 22 September, four Mitchells were dispatched on a shipping sweep along the north coast of Timor.  During a strafing attack on a barge in the harbour at Manatuto, which was narrow with steep banks on both sides, Flying Officer Allen Slater's aircraft (A47-3) crashed into the sea from 500 feet, about 400 metres from shore.  All on board were killed.  It was thought the enemy machine-gun emplacements were responsible, but A47-3 had been fouled by wires stretching between the headlands.  Jim Henderson explained:

‘Our strategy was to dive in low and bomb the ships but the Japanese had anticipated this and strung wire ropes from bank to bank.  The first B-25 hit the wire ropes and dived into the sea out of control.  I was fortunate in that my turn to attack did not come until next day and 20 we were told to bomb from 6,000 feet’”. [18]

Crew List Mitchell Bomber A47-3 – All Killed in Action [19]




Flying Officer Allen Wallace Slater



Flying Officer Murray Scott Millett



Flying Officer John Francis Daggett


Gunnery Officer

Flying Officer Bernard Alwin Wisniewski


Gunnery Leader Officer

Flight Sergeant Keith Rutherford Philipson


2nd Pilot

Flight Sergeant Desmond Frederick Harberger


Air gunner

All crew members are listed at the Adelaide River War Cemetery on the Northern Territory Memorial.  Slater, Wisniewski and Millett on panel 7.  Daggett on panel 6.  Philips on panel 9.  Harberger on panel 10.


[1] ASPT: 83.

[2] Adapted from ASPT: Map 1.

[3] ASPT: 31.

[4] ASPT: 11.

[5] ASPT: Map 20.

[6] Adapted from MapCarta map – 20 January 2024.

[7] Callinan, Independent Company: 173.

[8] ASPT: Photo 56.

[9] Callinan, Independent Company: 189-190.

[10] Ayris, All the Bull’s men: 374.

[11] Cleary, The men who came out of the ground: 248.  //AWM64, 13 Squadron//

[12] Cleary: The men who came out of the ground: 250.  //AWM64 ORMF 0118, 31 Squadron//

[13] ASPT: Photo 54.

[14] Harry Wray memoir: 229-230.

[15] Harry Wray memoir: 231.

[16] Lambert, Commando, from Tidal River to Tarakan: 90.

[17] National Archives of Australia: NAA: AWM52, 25/3/2/4 [War diary] October 1941 – October 1942.

[18] Bennett, Highest traditions: 219-220.

[19] MILLETT, Murray Scott - (Flying Officer); Service Number - 426641; File type - Casualty - Repatriation; Aircraft - Mitchell A47-3; Place - Timor Coast; Date - 22 September 1944. - NAA: A705, 166/27/572.  [Digitised]









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