Bird Forces

Sixty years ago Australian forces had entered the war against Japan in earnest. The RAAF had fought from the first hours of the Japanese invasion of Malaya. From 14 January two brigades of the 8th Division had just entered action in Johore. The division's other three infantry battalions were distributed in an arc across Australia's north, at Ambon, Timor and on New Britain. They protected the northern-most Australian territory of New Guinea and the airfields linking Australia with Allied territory in south-east Asia. These small forces were named after various species of birds. From west to east the main forces were: Sparrow Force on Timor, Gull Force on Ambon, Lark Force on New Britain. There will always be debate over the wisdom of the strategy of garrisoning what was grandly called the 'Malay barrier' with such small forces. Typically they were held by 'battalion groups' formed around an infantry battalion supported by artillery and other units and some RAAF squadrons. On Ambon and Timor Netherlands East Indies troops joined the defence. These forces proved to be far too small to hold the larger Japanese forces sent against them.