Australia and East Timor’s World War 2 History

Australia’s involvement with East Timor began in the 1940’s.

It was a time of war and Portugal had declared neutrality for itself and its territories, which included the eastern half of Timor island.

The Japanese were moving south and fully intended to take over the western half of the island which was under the control of the Netherlands, and known as the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese were very careful, however, not to invade any of Portugal’s territories. They were fearful that any violations of Portuguese neutrality could interfere in the war in Europe. So, they planned to avoid the eastern half of Timor which the Portuguese had controlled for nearly 500 years.

Australian 2/2nd Independent Company

However, Australian authorities landed 155 men of the Australian 2/2nd Independent Company, part of Sparrow Force, in East Timor on December 17, 1941. The Governor of Portuguese Timor vehemently opposed the arrival of the Australians verbally and in writing. His strongly worded protest reads: “…. every disembarkation of forces will be considered as a breach of the neutrality of our territory”.

The Australian incursion into Portuguese Timor in December 1941 was supposed to assist the Portuguese in the defence of their territory and protect the colony against Japanese aggression. However, the real consideration was the protection of Australia, as Portuguese Timor was seen to be its “entrance door”.

Timorese befriended and supported the Australians

Japan, which had respected the neutrality of other Portuguese possessions, decided to invade East Timor on 19 February 1942 in view of the Australian presence. For 14 months the Timorese befriended and supported the Australians by feeding, nursing and guiding them, and providing logistics. The Australians remained a formidable fighting force as a result.

Forty Australians died during the Timorese campaign. 1500 Japanese died. However, between 40,000 and 70,000 East Timorese died because of Japanese reprisals and Allied aerial bombing.

Australian troops were withdrawn in February 1943, leaving a few Z Special Forces to report on Japanese positions. Some Australians were captured and tortured, compromising Defence communications, and about 30 Australians were killed as a result. Japan remained in control until 1945.

“Your friends do not forget you.”

All of us who support ATLAS know that we are contributing as Australians to people who helped our soldiers. The leaflet dropped by the Australian government all over Timor said, “Your friends do not forget you.” Let us continue to remember and support them.