Operation Copper 1945

The party was inserted by HDML 1321 into the Cape Moem, Wewak Area on the night of 8 Apr. The party landed at 2245 hours and proceeded to an area from which lights had been seen during the approach of the launch. However, just before reaching the shore, the lights were extinguished and, owing to poor visibility, bad weather, and the fact that the enemy could not be pin-pointed prior to insertion, no prospective prisoner could be found.


A reconnaissance was made for a mile and a half along the beach but no defences, obstacles or entanglements were seen. It had been left to the discretion of the party leader whether he would remain ashore until the following day or be withdrawn the same night. He decided to return to the launch at 0300 hours as he was unable to ascertain the enemy strength in the area, and considered it unsafe to remain there during daylight. The party returned to Aitape on the 8 Apr.

A screen-grab of Lone Operation Copper Survivor Mick Dennis as seen in  A Secret War

A screen-grab of Lone Operation Copper Survivor Mick Dennis as seen in A Secret War

At the request of GOC 6 Division it was decided to insert a party by launch from Tadji into Muschu Island, nine miles north of Wewak. Its primary object was to capture a Japanese soldier for interrogation. In addition the party was required to make a beach reconnaissance of a prospective landing area on the south coast of the Island, and a ground reconnaissance of the south-western sector.

The party consisted of the following personnel:

  • Lt A.R. Gubbay Lt TJ. Barnes Sgt M.F. Weber L/Cpl S.H. Walklate Sig M.S. Haggar Sig J.R. Chandler Pte R.E. Eagleton Spr E.P. Dennis

On the night 11/12 Apr they proceeded to the area in a launch subsequently embarking in four folboats about three miles east-south-east of Cape Barabar. On their approach to the coast they struck a reef. Three boats were swamped, the majority of the equipment and arms being lost and the remainder saturated. After pulling the boats ashore, the party spent the night just off the beach.

On the morning of the 12 Apr the party concealed the boats 50 yards inland and made camp about 100 yards from the shore. After concealing the wireless sets at this point, the party moved east and after half an hour reached Sup Point. Here they found two unattended machine guns covering the beach to the north-west. These were dismantled and thrown into the sea.

The party then moved west and north-west towards Cape Saum. Strong-posts were seen every fifty yards along the coast with a network of trenches and connecting tracks behind. Four more machine guns were dismantled. Various westerly tracks were followed, which led to a tilled garden with scattered huts, some occupied by Japanese.

A prisoner was procured and the party endeavoured to return to the landing place. However they mistook the track and moved west for 1 1/2 miles, shooting two Japanese on their way. At one point a Japanese patrol passed nearby, and the prisoner slipped his gag and shouted. He was shot, and the party went to ground. On discovering their error of direction they turned east and eventually located the folboat cache, but found a Japanese ambush set, with machine guns covering the boats. The party thereupon withdrew and made a fresh base.

155451-harbour-defence-motor-launch-hdml-1321 copy.jpg

On the night of the 12/13 Apr the party moved east, and built a log raft on which they put to sea but the raft was smashed on a coral reef near Sup Point, and most of the equipment was lost. Lts Barnes and Gubbay, L/Cpl Walklate and Pte Eagleton decided to put to sea on separate logs. Their intention was to signal a Tac/R plane the next morning, so that the launch could pick them up, and take off the remainder of the party from the alternative rendezvous at Cape Saum. This is the last known of these four personnel. It was considered possible that the strong westerly current would have washed them back toward the island in Muschu or Kairiru Strait, but sea and air searches proved fruitless.

Mick Dennis the only surviving member of Operation Copper

Mick Dennis the only surviving member of Operation Copper

The remainder of the party moved inland and rested, arriving at the rendezvous near Cape Saum on the afternoon of 13 Apr. Throughout the night they awaited a signal either from the launch or from Lt Gubbay’s party, but none was received. The next day they proceeded back to the original base to get a wireless set. An ATR4 set was found intact, but as the party were returning to the rendezvous to set it up, they were ambushed. Two Japanese were killed but the party was dispersed, discarding the set in the scrub.

Sgt Weber, Sig Haggar and Sig Chandler, were not seen again. It was later discovered that they had been killed, although the circumstances are not known.

Spr Dennis, unable to locate the remainder of the party, moved west, shooting two Japanese on his way. He hid for the night in the sago. The Japanese continued patrolling and shots were heard near the beach.


On the 15 Apr Spr Dennis continued moving west. He found a .5 machine gun in position but unattended and toppled it over a cliff. Eventually he reached a village near which were three wrecked barges. There appeared to be fifty to one hundred

Japanese in the area. Having selected a suitable board from one of the barges, he remained in the vicinity until the 17 Apr when he put out to sea paddling on the board.

Sergeant Max Weber on his wedding day, a few weeks before he was KIA during Operation Copper

Sergeant Max Weber on his wedding day, a few weeks before he was KIA during Operation Copper

He reached the mainland just west of Cape Pus and at first light on the 19 Apr proceeded north-west along the coast. He encountered three enemy patrols and shot two more Japanese. Finally on the 20 Apr he met an Australian patrol near Kumudu.

Spr Dennis had only his emergency ration of fruit, chocolate and milk tablets. He retained his SMG, water-bottle, maps, air photos, partially deficient compass and notebook, and brought back much accurate information on the terrain and Japanese positions.


Lone Survivor Mick Dennis points to the name of St George Rugby League player and Z Special Commando Spencer Walklate

Commandos' horrific end kept secret

Two Australian soldiers, whose bodies were found in a dump, were likely victims of war crimes.

When officials found human remains in an old Japanese medical dump in Papua New Guinea this year, they may have done more than locate two missing World War II commandos.

Instead, they may have unlocked a Pandora's box involving continuing censorship and the failure to punish those involved in some of the worst war crimes perpetrated on Australian soldiers in the Pacific War.

Screenshot at Jan 04 09-32-22.png

In April, the Australian Defence Force confirmed it had discovered bones suspected of being those of missing commandos Spencer Walklate and Ron Eagleton on Kairiru Island, about 20 kilometres from Wewak on Papua New Guinea's northern coast.

Walklate, 27, a one-time St George rugby league player, and Eagleton, 20, had gone missing during a raid to reconnoitre Japanese gun emplacements on Muschu Island, just to the south of Kairiru on April 11, 1945.

The raid failed when their boats capsized in the surf and they were attacked before completing their objective. Hunted across the island, the eight Australians fought on before most were killed or wounded.

Eagleton and Walklate were thought to have tried to avoid capture by floating out into the ocean on palm logs, where they drowned or were killed by the Japanese.

But when the bones were found on Kairiru this year, and information was obtained from the island's elders, it suggested the men had suffered a different fate - one that had been covered up for decades.

Operation Copper as they board HDML 1321 and head towards Muschu Island

Operation Copper as they board HDML 1321 and head towards Muschu Island

Previously secret documents from Government archives reveal the two were subjected to a ghastly death at the hands of Japanese who were never brought to justice - facts kept from the dead men's families.

The two young soldiers were thought to have been horrifically dissected while still alive and their organs served up in a ritual dinner to Japanese soldiers or souvenired.

Details of the atrocities were suppressed and some continue to be to this day. They are also misrepresented in military files raising questions about other such crimes being covered up.

The revelations this week prompted Scott Walklate, grandson of Spencer, and some of those involved in the efforts to find the men to call for information about such cases to be made public.

''It's as bad as the German war crimes,'' says the NSW resident, who had almost no clue about how his grandfather died until informed by Fairfax.

Walklate and Eagleton's case was quietly mothballed in the 1950s after a decision by the Australian government to release dozens of suspected war criminals after a change in foreign policy towards Japan and pressure from the US government to wrap up the war crimes trials.

According to documents obtained by Fairfax, the file was downgraded to an alphabetically rated ''G'' status ''involving Australians or allied nationals and in which the accused, if convicted, would be unlikely to be awarded the death sentence''.

The controversial ranking system allowed those criminals nominated in the G cases - including dozens of murderers, rapists and torturers - to walk free and their files to gather dust in the archives despite their explosive contents.

In some cases, the details or issues about the horrific treatment by the Japanese troops remains censored as the Archives Act exempts public access to records if it would involve the unreasonable disclosure of personal information.

Fairfax has been told that some of the allegations of the cannibalism and other specific references to atrocities by Japanese on Walklate and Eagleton appear to have been censored or removed from the files.

However, in copies of the ''G'' files obtained by Fairfax, there is a graphic reference to the murder of the Australians captured on Kairiru about April 1945. The men are not named but there is little doubt they are the victims given the timing and circumstances of their treatment.

''After capture, they [the POWs] were beaten with sticks, slapped in the face and kicked by some of the accused,'' the copies say. ''It was then decided to execute the PW [prisoner of war].

Screenshot at Jan 04 09-32-01.png

''One prisoner whilst awaiting his execution was beaten about the feet and legs to such an extent that he could not stand. He was thereupon executed where he was then sitting by being struck a heavy blow (by a sword) on the back of the neck.

''Shortly afterwards, an incision was made in the chest and abdomen and the walls of the flesh were drawn apart to expose organs underneath.

''The heart and the lungs were seen to be still pulsating. The skull was then sawn with a surgical saw and the brain was removed and several lumps of flesh removed.

''The second PW was then executed by shooting and liver and portions of the flesh were removed.''

A screen-grab of Lone Operation Copper Survivor Mick Dennis as seen in  A Secret War

A screen-grab of Lone Operation Copper Survivor Mick Dennis as seen in A Secret War

The document notes 17 individuals are accused of involvement in the crime.

Another file unearthed from the archives by Vietnam veteran Don Dennis, who wrote a book about the raid and whose uncle Mick was one of the few survivors, confirms the censorship relating to the hideous treatment of the two commandos.

Dennis found a memo detailing an interview with Japanese soldier - Oagawa Waichi, who is suspected of beheading the men - but all details relating to the dissection and cannibalism appear to be censored from the document.

Waichi was reported to have committed suicide in 1947 while in custody, according to media reports at the time, but the other suspects did not face trial for the crime.

The case is just one of a truckload of files that include cover-ups and sensitive information that has been suppressed about war crimes, says Jim Burke, who runs an organisation that finds missing soldiers and did much of the legwork on the Walklate and Eagleton matter.

He saw documents confirming body parts from the two missing men had been served up as a food to the Japanese soldiers in a ritual.

But, he says, while censorship of such information can make it hard to track down missing soldiers, it still should be respected.

''It could be information that is distressing to the relatives and that makes it difficult,'' he says.

A National Archives of Australia spokesman said permission to access the information can be sought.


WWII secret soldier Mick Dennis MM dies in Sydney

Mick Dennis (centre) Just before deployment on Operation Copper

Mick Dennis (centre) Just before deployment on Operation Copper

AUSTRALIA has lost a genuine World War II hero with the passing of former Commando and ‘Z’ Special Unit operative Edgar ‘Mick’ Dennis.

AUSTRALIA has lost a genuine World War II hero with the passing of former Commando and ‘Z’ Special Unit operative Edgar ‘Mick’ Dennis.

The 96-year-old Mr Dennis was awarded the Military Medal for courage under fire following an ill-fated mission codenamed Operation Copper on Muschu island off the north coast of New Guinea in April 1945.

Seven of his ‘Z’ Special comrades perished (four drowned and three were executed) during the mission, but Mr Dennis evaded capture and ran amok.


Z Special Unit soldiers laid to rest