The Dutch forces capitulated unconditionally on March 8, 1942 and the Japanese thought their conquest of the Dutch East Indies was complete. But was it?
A tough group of Australian and Dutch soldiers still held out in Timor. They consisted of the 2/2nd Independent Company or “Sparrow Force”, a unit commanded by Major Alexander Spence that was specially trained for commando-style, stay behind operations.
In early March, Captain Van Straten and his remaining KNIL forces linked up with them. Knowing they would be no-match for the Japanese in a regular battle, the Allied guerrillas hid themselves throughout the mountains of Portuguese Timor, from where they commenced raids against the Japanese, assisted by Timorese guides, native carriers and mountain ponies.
Portuguese officials — under Governor Manuel de Abreu Ferreira de Carvalho — remained officially neutral and in charge of civil affairs. But both the Portuguese and the indigenous East Timorese were sympathetic to the Allies, and allowed them, for instance, to use the local telephone system to communicate among themselves and to gather intelligence on Japanese movements.
The big problem however was that, since the surrender , the survivors of “Sparrow Force” did not have any functioning radio equipment and thus were unable to contact Australia to inform them of their continued resistance. Major Spence ordered Captain George Parker, Signaller Keith Richards, Corporal John Donovan, Signaller Jack Loveless, and Sergeant Jack Sargeant to build a radio out of recycled (or stolen) parts, which they called “Winnie the War Winner”, and re-established contact with Darwin. Their first message was:
“Force intact. Still fighting. Badly need boots, quinine, money, and Tommy-gun ammunition”.
From then on, a veritable guerrilla war developed in Timor. The Japanese were forced to commit an ever increasing number of troops to battle the elusive and deadly Australian -Dutch stay-behind raiders. They would become associated with the phrase “you alone do not surrender to us“, which was contained in a message by the Japanese commander on Timor, Lieutenant General Yuichi Tsuchihashi, demanding the men of Sparrow Force to stop fighting and capitulate. Winston Churchill later stated: “they alone did not surrender.”
The small group prevented an entire Japanese division from being used in the earlier phases of the New Guinea campaign while at the same time inflicting a disproportionate level of casualties on them.
By the end of 1942, there were over 12.000 Japanese troops on timor and the decision was taken to withdraw the Guerrilla’s. The last intelligence team, known as “S” Force was evacuated by the US Navy submarine USS Gudgeon on February 10, 1943.
Total Allied casualties included around 450 killed, while over 2,000 Japanese were believed to have died in the fighting, but this success came at a high price. Between 40,000 to 70,000 Timorese and Portuguese civilians have been killed during the Japanese occupation. .
Read a more detailed account of the extraordinary effort on my page “Australian-Dutch Guerrillas on Timor”.