Australian guerrillas burning down the village of Mindelo in East Timor

east timor mindelo portugal australia ww2

Australian soldiers are photographed while burning town the village of Mindelo (Turiscai) in East Timor (Portugese Timor), on December 12th 1942, during the Battle of Timor, and shortly before their withdrawal from the area. They were doing so in order to prevent the village being used as a Japanese base.

East Timor (or Portugese Timor) was a colonial possession of Portugal between 1702 and 1975, while West Timor (or Dutch Timor) was a colony of the Dutch (1799-1949). The island of Timor is now Indonesian territory.

Portugal was neutral in WW2, until changing its stance to “non-belligerent in favor of the Allies” in 1944, allowing US forces to set up a military base in the Azores.

The Portugese neutrality was, however, violated by the Allies on December 17th 1941, when a Dutch-Australian force occupied the Portuguese Timor to defend the coast against a hypothetical Japanese invasion following the Pearl Harbor attack. The invasion did occur in February 1942, with Japanese forces eventually forcing the Allies to evacuate Timor by January 1943 (along with European Portugese civilians) and maintaining control of the area until their surrender in September 1945.

Overall, it is agreed that the campaign in Timor held little strategic value, and it could be said that, despite losing control of the area and having to withdraw, the Allied forces were actually more successful in this conflict. That is because their resistance in small numbers, based on commando-style guerrilla operations, forced the Japanese to station numerous forces (four times as many) which could have been used at the start of the New Guinea campaign. The Allies also inflicted disproportionately high casualties among the Japanese.

Book suggestions ⤵️

📖 The Men Who Came Out of the Ground: A Gripping Account of Australia’s First Commando Campaign: Timor 1942 (Paul Cleary, 2010)

📖 Indonesia’s Forgotten War: The Hidden History of East Timor (Politics in Contemporary Asia) (John G. Taylor, 1991)

Photo source: Australian War Memorial

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *