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A Picture from History: Aussie Diggers of Timor

In this picture from history, we take a look at Australian troops who fought in Timor to protect the Pacific Theater during WWII.

Pearl Harbor shocked the world, and for 270 Aussie troops, it changed the course of their fate.

Pearl Harbor Destruction
After the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans were understandably frightened.

These men had primarily been recruited from the Australian bush. Comprised largely of farmers, they had a reputation for toughness and bushcraft.

They were initially intended to engage in the newly coined term “special operations” in Nazi Germany.

Now, they had a different location in which to fight…Timor


Diggers in Timor

Within a span of three months, the Japanese took Singapore, New Britain, Ambon, and Java.

The next logical step was the tiny, mountainous island of Timor.

Here the Penfui airfield connected the American troops in the Philippines with Australia. If that connection was severed, Japan would have a much easier time conquering the Pacific. 

So it came down to these men — the “Diggers” — to ensure that didn’t happen. 

Members of the 2-2 Independent Company in July 1943
The Diggers

23,000 Aussies were spread among the region, along with 1,000 Dutch troops — all that stood in the way of the Japanese. If they fell, Australia would follow.

It wasn’t long before the Japanese bombed the Penfui airfield, beginning an invasion. Three days of fierce fighting ensued.

By the end, the Aussies were surrounded, outnumbered, low on ammo, and high in casualties.

One hundred Aussies escaped to the mountains to join up with the largely intact Diggers.

Australian commando in Timor 1942
Digger in the Mountains

And they prepared to wage war.

Guerilla War

The Diggers engaged in guerilla warfare against the overwhelming Japanese forces.

Living off of crocodile and water buffalo, they had nothing other than their Tommy guns and Bren machine guns.

Without a means of radio contact with the outside world, many of the Diggers actually assumed that Australia had fallen to the Japanese. 

Australian assault on pillbox, January 1943, Papua, Giropa Point
Australian soldier with a Bren machine gun

Knowing the importance of outside intel, the men repeatedly snuck behind enemy lines to scavenge pieces to build a radio.

The parts they couldn’t liberate they crafted themselves by pouring molten metal into hand-carved bamboo molds. 

The end result was a handmade radio dubbed “Winnie the War Winner” after Winston Churchill. 

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

With radio in hand, the Diggers were able to make their first radio contact with the outside world where they requested ammo, boots, money, and quinine.

Over the next several months, they used Winnie to coordinate further resupply runs as well as provide intel for bombing raids.

The Diggers themselves would go on to engage in hit-and-run attacks against the Japanese for 10 consecutive months.

This ended when they were finally forced to leave the island in January 1943.

Village in Timor, Mindello, burning
Diggers at War

As a result of their actions, several thousand Japanese were tied up on Timor while the Battle of New Guinea was underway. 

Had it not been for the actions and grit of the Diggers, the Pacific Theater could have experienced a drastically different outcome. 

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical; if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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15 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Marty Connors

    Yes, it was a great article, I never heard of this group either. I’m sure the Japanese won’t forget them.

    February 27, 2022 4:33 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I had never heard of the diggers before. This is a very interesting article.

    December 22, 2021 1:55 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Robert Martinez

    I liked your article very much. Australia does not get the recognition they so much deserve in American history books. They are such a strong ally to America and we should know a lot more about their contribution to the assistance they provided us over the years. Thank you for enlightening us.

    December 21, 2021 11:29 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I love these features. I had no idea about The Diggers, these guys must have been crafty and tough as nails!

    December 21, 2021 11:14 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Cyrus Gardner

    Terrific addition to the site.

    December 20, 2021 9:07 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Thanks, Cyrus! Glad you liked it.

      December 20, 2021 9:15 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Big Bryan Reilly

    Terrific article ... keep them coming.
    I am not sure, however, that "phooey" accurately expresses my feelings toward people who want to forget, erase, or revise history.

    December 19, 2021 11:06 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tom Simpson

    Great article. Keep them coming!

    December 19, 2021 6:06 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Len C

    Damn I can still learn something new everyday.
    Until just now I never heard of Diggers.

    December 19, 2021 5:19 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aden Tate

      Check out some of the books on them. Amazing stories out there on the Diggers. Much more detail is out there on these men.

      December 20, 2021 9:14 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    hank evans

    like it

    December 19, 2021 4:33 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Aaron Johnson

    Awesome article !! Keep them coming

    December 19, 2021 4:22 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Thumbs up!

    December 19, 2021 3:49 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    E. Wall

    I have never heard of The Diggers. Its incredible how many legends were made during those years.

    December 18, 2021 5:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Love the history lessons, keep em coming.

    December 17, 2021 2:45 pm
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