31 January - 3 February 1942
The island of Ambon was a
strategically important target for the Japanese because of its two
airfields. The island was defended by Gull force (2/21st Battalion) and
by several hundred Australian gunners and a force of 2,600 Dutch
The commander of the 23rd Brigade,
Brigadier E. F. Lind, had known since may of his probable task to
command a Battalion Group known as "Gull Force" to Ambon and
another Battalion Group, "Sparrow Force" to Timor. During the
following months he was to press Army Headquarters in Melbourne for
permission to make a liaison visit to the Dutch headquarters on Java.
Permission was constantly refused so that neither Lind or his commanders
knew what to expect.
Lind's orders to move his Battalions
came on 7 December 1941, just hours before the first bombs were to fall
at Pearl Harbour.
He had to send 1,100 men in all to
Ambon: the 2/21st Battalion, an anti-tank troop, a section of engineers,
a detachment of signallers and medical and service personnel.
The Battalion CO, Lieutenant Colonel
L. N. Roach, had no idea what he was expected to accomplish and had
received no clear orders.
Gull Force's commander had appealed
throughout December 1941 for additional reinforcements and equipment,
mainly artillery, anti-tank guns, mortars and automatic weapons. He sent
constant warnings to Army Headquarters in Melbourne that his force was
inadequate to defend vital points on the island. On January 10 1942 Lind
signalled Army Headquarters that an attack was expected soon.
Then three days later, he sent another
signal suggesting that if his force was attacked it could not hold out
for more than 24 hours. Roach recommended that , to avoid purposeless
waste of life, he evacuate his force immediately. Army Headquarters was
quick to react and Roach was told that such messages were to "cease
at once". The next day however, Roach was sacked as CO.
On 28 January 1941 the remaining
Hudson Bombers were withdrawn to avoid their destruction in the mounting
enemy raids. Along with them went all RAAF personnel. Except for eleven
men whose boat was intercepted by the Japanese, all the RAAF personnel
made it back to Darwin. The new Commanding Officer, Lt-Col Scott, was
disturbed to find that no plans had been made to store supplies in the
hills in order that if the island fell to the Japanese a guerrilla war
could be waged.
The Japanese invasion of Ambon
commenced on 30 January 1942 and within a day the Dutch native troops
began surrendering. On 3 February Lt-Col Scott surrendered the main body
of his Battalion. Fifteen Australians had been killed.
Across the bay from where Scott was,
several companies of the 2/21st put up a furious defence of the beach
and airfield at Laha. Overwhelmed on 2 February the 309
Australian officers and men were butchered by the Japanese in a series
of mass executions as 'reprisals' for the sinking of an enemy vessel by
a Dutch mine.
Of the original 1100 men of Gull
Force, only 363 were to survive the battles and the years of captivity
at the hands of the Japanese.