“When we shot down some planes full of paratroopers
the major told us that we'd earned our trip out.”
Unit photos of The Sparrows. Click on image to see the full size image.
• Timor Branch
• Malang Branch
Killed in Action
Missing Presumed Dead
• Dutch East Indies
(Continued from previous page)
After their ship was chased and attacked by two Japanese submarines, the ship was attacked by Japanese bombers as they arrived at Koepang port on 16 February.
In Timor, the battery of 186 personnel joined Sparrow Force – a contingent of 1400 Australian troops, – under the command of Australian Lt. Colonel William Leggatt.
To cope with jungle conditions (and the fear that their tall white pith helmets would attract sniper fire), the 79th Battery were issued with the Australian Akubra slouch hat, which they wore with the Royal Artillery cap badge. They are the only non-Australian troops to ever be issued with Australia’s traditional hat.
The 79th (British) LAA Battery were the only anti-aircraft artillery on Timor. C Troop defended the Penfui Aerodrome while two detachments of A Troop each defended the coastal guns at Klapalima and Force Headquarters at Force Hill.
Second Lieutenant A.H. Samuelson was awarded the Military Cross. In his citation, it states:
On 22 February 1942, at 0730 hours 'A' Troop 79 LAA Battery, R.A., under the command of 2/Lieut A.H. SAMUELSON R.A., were attacked by enemy parachutists from an ambush some 800 yards EAST of village of BABOE in TIMOR. The enemy, who opened a heavy fire using Mortars and Automatics, were posted in trees and thick undergrowth. Two platoons AIF counter attacked.
2/Lieut SAMUELSON rallied personnel and displayed considerable coolness directing offensive action while under fire. At one time, the LAA guns were completely encircled and continuously sniped from some 100 yards distance until the two AIF platoons counter attacked.
Casualties 1 killed and 6 wounded.
The Battery certainly proved an important part of Sparrow Force. In Leggatt’s log he praised the 79th (British) LAA Battery:
“This unit showed its excellent discipline and training during the four days of action. Their guns registered eighteen hits upon enemy aircraft and reported 14 aircraft destroyed, including one four-engined troop carrier, and a twin-engine flying boat. Dive bombing did not deter them in the least, only ammunition shortages prevented them from engaging all enemy aircraft presented.”
According to Captain Fred East’s Intelligence Report, the 79th LAA Bty claimed to have shot down:
12 Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bombers,
2 Mitsubishi Ki-57 "Topsy" troop carriers,
1 aircraft that resembled a Junkers Ju 88 (possibly a Kawasaki Ki-48),
1 aircraft that resembled a Douglas DC-3 (possibly the Showa/Nakajima L2D but most likely the Mitsubishi Ki-57), and
1 “naval bi-plane flying boat which was a persistent dive-bomber” (possibly the Mitsubishi F1M.)
They also claimed to have hit 18 bombers and fighters. "Some bombers had similar turret and fuselage to [the Blenheim bomber]. All bombers were twin-[engined]."
Japanese Captain Fukada of the Kambe Company Nishiyama “Ace” Battalion stated “that about 20 of their planes had not returned.” Natives claimed to have seen two crashed Japanese transport planes in the bush with about 28 bodies in each.
The 79th were potent against invading ground forces. The exploding Bofors shells amongst the coconut palms killed many advancing infantry. As a result of Sparrow Force actions, Japan's most successful and elite special force, the 3rd Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force – which fought in China, Hong Kong, and Ambon – was decimated.
Only one casualty, Gunner Fred Watkins, occurred in combat. Three died on Timor from battle wounds. One member of the battery, Fred Berry, attempted to escape by boat to Australia while another, Harry Martin, was captured and executed while trying to pass important intelligence to the 2/2nd Independent Company in East Timor.
After capitulation on 23 February 1942 the battery was held at Usapa Besar POW camp until 23 September 1942. They were then herded into the hold of an old Chinese freighter, the hellship Dainichi Maru, with the rest of Sparrow Force and transported to Surabaya via Dili coming under attack from Royal Australian Air Force bombers and Royal Navy and Dutch submarines. From there they travelled by train to Batavia and marched 11 miles to Makasuru where they were separated from the Australians and Dutch to join the R.A.F. POWs in #5 camp. There they rejoined their comrades from B Troop.
On 15 October the Battery was broken up and sent to different parts of South East Asia. Some were held on Java while on 18 October the rest of the battery boarded the notorious Singapore Maru and Oshida Maru freighter to endure a one week voyage to Singapore.
At Singapore the battery were marched 15 miles to Changi Barracks where they would be medically examined and assessed for labour camps throughout South East Asia. Some were sent to work on the Siam-Burma ‘Death’ Railway, sent to build the Sumatra Death Railway, sent to work in labour camps all over Japan, or remain in Singapore at the notorious Changi Prison.
Those who travelled to Japan to work in labour camps endured 46 days on the hellship Dainichi Maru and Tofuku Maru. Most casualties were aboard these hellships – from disease shortly after disembarking at Moji.
In Japan, those 79th gunners on the Tofuku Maru travelled by train to Hiraoka where they were held at the Tokyo #2 Detached (Mitsushima) POW Camp. There, they worked to build the Hiraoka Dam. In Aprill 1944, most of the gunners were sent by train to the Tokyo #16 (Showa Denko) POW Camp in Kanose to stoke furnaces in the carbide factory. Those gunners who disembarked the Dainichi Maru joined the Fukuoka #1 POW Camp. This group would be later split and relocated to camps in Moji, Kumamoto, Orio, Ube, Omine and Bibai.
Many died from disease or accidents in labour camps on the Siam-Burma ‘Death’ Railway, in Sumatra, Japan, Java, Borneo, and Changi Prison. Later in the war, several died when their hellships were sunk by United States Navy submarine en route to Japan from Singapore.
After the war ended, Bombardier A.H. 'Jock' Compton fell through the bomb bay doors of a converted B-24 Liberator bomber transporting liberated POWs from Okinawa to Manila. 30 other bombers were brought down by a typhoon on the same day on the same route killing almost a thousand liberated prisoners of war. To put this number in perspective, 1036 prisoners of war in Japan died during the war.
War Crimes Trials
Several members of the Battery were victims of War Crimes. In what would be the first war crimes trial after the war, at Yokohama, Tatsuo Tsuchiya was found guilty of mistreatment of several Battery members which resulted in deaths at Mitsushima POW Camp at Hiraoka. Several other guards at that camp would also be executed or imprisoned for their roles in the deaths and ill treatment of Battery members. In other Yokohama War Crimes Trials, several Battery members testified against Japanese guards for the ill-treatment of fellow Battery members at Kanose and Fukuoka Branch camps.