The human cost of Australia’s invasion of East Timor in WW2

by Tom O’Lincoln

We recently read that Japanese representatives have apologised for the World War II bombing of Darwin in northern Australia. Trade Minister Hadahiro said Japan had caused tremendous damage and suffering. Very true. Now it’s time for Australia to apologise to East Timor for invading it during the same war.

The Japanese wanted to stay out of the colony, hoping to keep the Portuguese colonialists neutral. But Australia’s invasion, forced on the colony in violation of international law, prodded the Japanese to enter also.

Australia’s provocation is clear from Lionel Wigmore’s official Australian war history. Once the invading forces had mobilised, their commanders went to the Portuguese governor and demanded he invite them in. The outraged governor said his instructions were to request help only if the colony was attacked by Japan. The reply was that troops were already on their way

Net result: tens of thousands of civilian fatalities from the ensuing fighting. Ex-diplomat James Dunn would later write that as a result of the 1941 Allied invasion and subsequent military operations, East Timor suffered one of the great catastrophes of World War II in terms of relative fatalities.

By the way, why did the Japanese bomb Darwin? The purpose was to deny air cover to the Australians in their military operations to the north, including the illegal invasion of East Timor. 

Tom O’Lincoln’s latest book, Australia’s Pacific War: Challenging a National Myth, Interventions, Melbourne, 2012, is available from Dennis Jones and Associates,

Read our interview with Tom, here.