Pearl Harbor shocked the world, and for 270 Aussie troops, it changed the course of their fate.
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.
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.
And they prepared to wage 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.
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.
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.
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.
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