Japanese ‘Scorched Earth’ Policy and the August Push

Their village has been destroyed, and some of them have been killed. They are absolutely distraught at the loss of loved ones. Saddest of all is the abduction of their wives and daughters. The Japs confiscated them as though they were food. It is terribly emotive to see the tears streaming down the cheeks of the villagers.

Lt Archie Campbell

The Japanese became increasingly frustrated by the efforts of the 2/2nd and resorted to a ‘scorched earth’ policy. In an attempt to prevent Timorese support for the Australians, they burnt rice paddies, slashed banana plantations, looted and razed villages.

These actions increased local hostility to the Japanese but made food scarcer for all. With the lack of Portuguese control tribal warfare broke out.

In August the Japanese, using 2,500 troops, carried out a major push to wipe out the Australians. Anticipating an attack, Callinan had provided his scattered units with a general plan to ambush the columns while slowly retreating. This they did successfully.

However, in the face of overwhelming numbers, by 18 August the 2/2nd was surrounded and expecting an attack from the village of Atsabe.

Callinan planned a final desperate counter attack but the next morning the Japanese were gone! With victory in their grasp these Japanese assault units were withdrawn to fight the Americans at Guadalcanal.

Remarkably only three Australians were killed and the 2/2nd was soon back in action from its former locations.

Despite the withdrawal of elements of the Japanese attacking forces, they still

Despite the withdrawal of elements of the Japanese attacking forces, they still called upon the 2/2nd to surrender. This original surrender note from the Japanese commander in Dili was treated with contempt. The 2/2nd never considered surrendering as an option. The cartoon to the left captures the spirit of the moment.
Surrender note on loan from James Dexter L2011.147 Cartoon courtesy James Dexter