“You alone do not surrender to us.”
–Lieutenant General Yuichi Tsuchihashi
In February 1942, there was no good news for the Allies. Germany was in Egypt and on the doorstep of Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. The Japanese were advancing through the Far East. The Americans were retreating along the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines, Hong Kong fell the previous Christmas, Singapore fell on 15 February, Ambon and Rabaul fell on the 3rd.
Reinforcements were on the way to Timor but were attacked twice; as they departed and when they returned to port at Darwin on the 19th. Darwin was attacked by the same fleet that attacked Pearl Harbour but twice as many bombs were dropped.
The men on Timor, known as Sparrow Force, were next to face the Japanese advance. Mostly equipped with weapons from the First World War, their only advantage over their enemy was that their bayonets were longer. In the last full battalion bayonet charge, Japan's elite 3rd Yokozuka Special Naval Landing Force were decimated.
Those members of Sparrow Force who escaped the Japanese onslaught fought a successful guerrilla campaign for 60 days cut off from Australia. When they ran low on ammunition and medicine, they stole parts to build a radio - which they nicknamed ‘Winnie the War Winner’ - and contacted Australia to ask for supplies.
The legend of Sparrow Force was the first good news for the Allies,
which gained a worldwide audience. Click on newsclip to enlarge.
The Men of Timor
This is the British Pathé version filmed by Damien Parer.
The improvised radio built by Sparrow Force that regained communication links with Australia.
(Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial)
Components of Winnie the War Winner - the improvised radio built by Sparrow Force to regain contact with Australia in April 1942.
General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Melbourne on 18 April 1942 to take up the position of Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). Bataan had fallen the previous week and Corregidor would fall on 6 May. On 19 April 1942 Sparrow Force regained radio contact with Australia. Sparrow Force was the only Allied unit under his command still fighting the Japanese.
The message of Sparrow Force’s exploits reached far and wide. To many, it was the first good news of the war.
Japanese morale was devastated as they thought that the commandoes were ghosts that came out of the ground. The attempt to raise morale by deploying ‘The Singapore Tiger’ to flush out the commandoes backfired.
The Allied guerrillas would become associated with the phrase “You alone do not surrender to us”, which was contained in a message to the men of Sparrow Force by the Japanese commander on Timor, Lieutenant General Yuichi Tsuchihashi. Winston Churchill later stated: “They alone did not surrender.”
Damien Parer (above) was often in the thick of the action, often taking daring risks to get the right shot. He filmed the Rats of Tobruk, the Men of Timor, and the Kokoda Front Line. Parer was killed on 17 September 1944 by Japanese gunfire while filming a United States Marine advance in Palau on the island of Peleliu.
Above is the Academy Award presented to Damien Parer in 1943 for his wartime documentary Kokoda Front Line.
Above is the Eyemo camera he used on Timor and Kokoda.
The Men of Timor
This is the extended Cinesound Review version.
In late 1942, Army public relations sent the Academy Award winning filmmaker Damien Parer and war correspondent Bill Marien to Timor, to record the efforts of the Australian commandoes. Parer's film, Men of Timor, was greeted with enthusiasm by Allied audiences. Marien's report for the Sydney Morning Herald can be viewed here.
The legend lives on in Sparrow in the most comprehensive account of their achievements.
The medals awarded to Sparrow Force. To view a list of recipients, click here.