ML 815 which accompanied ML 814 on the mission to Timor.

ML 815 which accompanied ML 814 on the mission to Timor.


Operation lagarto

Operation Lagarto was an Australian military operation in Timor during World War Two in 1943. It was run by the Services Reconnaissance Department.The Naval component of the mission was named Operation Mosquito. The operation was ambushed and captured. Japanese intelligence used information from the mission to lure other Australian commandos to Timor where they were captured and killed, notably Operation Cobra (Timor), Operation Sunlag and Operation Suncob.


Prior to the evacuation of the Portolizard refugees from the Dilor River district of Portuguese Timor, it was planned to insert two new parties into Timor, one to be located in the east and the other in the western districts. Both parties were to be led by Portuguese officials, of whom Lt M. de J. Pires and Sr A. da Sousa Santos were available, and it was hoped that a spirit of competition between the parties would inspire them to achieve excellent results.

The eastern party was duly formed and went into Timor under the name Lagarto (being Portuguese for “Lizard” or a “cunning fellow”). Plans for the western party under Santos were not pursued following news of the massacre of the western chief, Don Alexio, and his family by the Japanese. This left no friendly contacts in the west.

The personnel of Lagarto were drawn partly from Australia and partly from Portuguese and Timorese members of Portolizard.

Timor operations map (2) copy.jpg

Personnel -

Lt M. de J. Pires (Portuguese Army) (Leader) Sgt (later Lt) A.J. Ellwood (AIF) Patricio Luz (Portuguese civilian) Matos da Silva (Native) Jose Tinocco (Native) Seraphin Pinto (Native) Jaca Viera (Native) Procopio (Native) Rebello (Native)

Pires, Ellwood and Luz proceeded from Australia to Timor where they were joined by the others. Pires was an officer and military pilot of the Portuguese Army. He had been administrator of the Province of Sao Domingos. His party was drawn from various sources. Patricio Luz, who accompanied Pires to Timor, had been in charge of the Dilli Radio Station prior to the war. He acted as signaller to Pires and transmitted all his messages.

Sgt Ellwood joined the party about a month after its entry. He had been a member of the 2/4 Aust Indep Coy and had stayed behind with the rear guard of Lancer, being evacuated to Australia with Lizard III. He was a capable signaller and cipher operator. He carried his own ciphers and communicated direct with SRD. The remaining members of the party joined it in Timor.

Matos da Silva had been 2 i/c of Portolizard. He acted as personal assistant to Pires, doing his clerical and cipher work, looking after his monetary affairs and acting as general adviser. His particular area was the Baucau district with which he was thoroughly acquainted. He has been reported on as being a useful but lazy man, much of whose attention was directed to his mistress who accompanied the party on the march. Jose Tinocco, ex-Chief de Post at Laclutar, in which area he had good contacts, had served with Portolizard. Seraphin Pinto was the medical orderly of the party, a position he had filled with Portolizard. Jaoa Viera was a courageous man but somewhat unreliable. He had done excellent work with the 2/2 Aust Indep Coy and had carried on with a band of guerillas after Lancer’s evacuation. Procopio was Viera’s signaller. He had been a student operator under the Portuguese regime and was operator to Portolizard. He volunteered to stay with Lagarto but was a poor and unreliable operator. Rebello, a nephew of the King of Manatuto, was a good all round man. Two other Portuguese recruited for the party in Australia accompanied Pires and Luz to Timor but were evacuated with the Portolizard party a month after arrival.

In a special Directive dated 12 Jun 43, Pires was instructed as to the objects of the party which were briefly as follows:

1. To create and operate a secret network covering the eastern part of the colony for the purpose of reporting upon all enemy activities; 2. To maintain the morale of the Portuguese and Timorese, 3. To arrange the evacuation of the refugees assembled with Portolizard, 4. To establish OPs to cover enemy movements, with particular emphasis

on Fuiloro, Lautem and Laga.

Pires was informed that Lagarto party was under the operational control of Allied HQ Geographical Section. A party comprising Pires, Luz and 2 Portuguese NCOs escorted by Capt I.S. Wylie, embarked aboard a US submarine at Perth, W.A. on 18 Jun 43 and proceeded to Timor, landing at the mouth of the Luca River on the night of 1/2 Jul 43. A heavy sea was running at the time and three W/T sets were lost in the landing operation. Portolizard party assisted in guiding Lagarto ashore and acted as reception party.

Pires was informed that Lagarto party was under the operational control of Allied HQ Geographical Section. A party comprising Pires, Luz and 2 Portuguese NCOs escorted by Capt I.S. Wylie, embarked aboard a US submarine at Perth, W.A. on 18 Jun 43 and proceeded to Timor, landing at the mouth of the Luca River on the night of 1/2 Jul 43. A heavy sea was running at the time and three W/T sets were lost in the landing operation. Portolizard party assisted in guiding Lagarto ashore and acted as reception party.

W/T contact was established with Australia on the day following insertion and thereafter was maintained regularly. For a time, the party remained near the coast in the Dilor River-Luca area. Here on 9 Jul 43, the party was surprised by a party of 200 Japanese with mortars and MG, but escaped, losing most of its equipment except the W/T gear. Two days later, it was again mortared in the Luca Plain and the large body of Portolizard natives being a serious hindrance, it urged SRD to arrange their early evacuation.

At this stage, Pires in reporting that all the people were weak and sick, expressed doubts as to the possibility of staying on in Timor. He had complained about the delay in getting into the country and now repeated the complaint that his return had been too late. SRD interpreted Pires’ remarks as an indication that he would leave Timor with the evacuation vessels, thus in a signal on 3 Aug 43 he was urged to stay, the message ending “Your skill and courage in remaining in Timor are a vital part of Allied plans”.

Originally arranged for 22 July 43, the evacuation of the Portuguese and Timorese refugees was postponed a number of times by Pires owing to Japanese harassing activity. Finally the evacuation took place on the night of 3 Aug 43 at the mouth of the Dilor River. Two HDMLs of the RAN performed the double task of inserting Sgt Ellwood with party stores, and evacuating the refugees of Portolizard.

Partly for the purpose of improving Lagarto’s signal arrangements and partly as a brake on Pires’ aspirations, SRD had decided to reinforce the party with an Australian representative in the person of Sgt Ellwood who had originally been detailed as a member of the proposed western party under Santos. Although Pires had been advised of the intention to send him another signaller, he resented Ellwood’s arrival, apparently desiring to keep his party a Portuguese affair for the purpose of inflating his service to Portugal and minimising his connection with the Allied forces.

Despite a directive signalled from Melbourne that Ellwood was to be consulted on all matters and was to check the text of Pires’ messages, in order to ensure that their meaning was clear, Pires at all times denied Ellwood information and access to signals and resented his sending messages on his own initiative. Silva enciphered Pires’ messages and Luz transmitted them, consequently Ellwood had little knowledge of Pires’ intentions except what he could learn from Luz with whom he was on good terms.

All messages to and from Lagarto were passed in English, of which Pires did not have a good command, consequently the meaning of messages from the field originated by Pires was often not clear and it is probable that he, on his part, did not fully understand the text of messages sent to him. Ellwood communicated direct, using his own cipher, in a separate series of messages.

Pires reported on 20 Jul 43 that he had given orders to the natives to prepare for the provisioning of some thousands of Allied troops. On 12 Aug 43, he signalled asking that the C-in-C be told that landings without loss, of invasion forces of 500 men at the Jra Bere River and at the Dilor River would be easy and that this force, with 1,000 natives would suffice to destroy all Japanese forces in the east. At the time, of course, Pires was being chased and harassed by the enemy.

On the day following Ellwood’s insertion and the evacuation of Portolizard, Lagarto moved northward through the Laclutar and Barique area and established a camp in the hills. A small party of natives was then despatched to recover the stores which had been buried at the beach. The following day, however, this party returned to the camp with the news that it had been surprised by a hostile patrol while digging for the stores and had been forced to abandon its task. Thus Lagarto lost all its rations, spare arms and ammunition.

On the same day, news was received that large native patrols led by Joaquin, the pro-Japanese chief of Ossu, were converging on the district in which Lagarto’s camp was located. The party struck camp and moved off, gradually working its way through Barique, Laclutar, Laline (Tetelaqui), Cribas and Ludi to Issuim (Obaqui) on the north coast a few miles SE of Manatuto. The party was constantly harassed and forced to keep on the move.

Discipline on the march was non-existent. Movement was very slow and the party was incapable of fighting its way out of trouble. At this stage, the party numbered 34 persons including Ellwood; 6 Portuguese, 2 women (Pires’ and Silva’s mistresses, one of whom was pregnant and frequently ill), 12 servants and 13 assorted chiefs, porters, etc. The provisioning of such a large party was very difficult, all military rations having been lost, and they were frequently without food for days. Their main diet consisted of yams, leaves, and wild potatoes. On one occasion at Cribas, they killed a buffalo.

On 10 Aug 43, the Japanese captured and tortured natives into disclosing the whereabouts of the party. Thereafter chiefs and natives from places through which the party had passed were captured and tortured to reveal the party’s movements, a process which continued until the party itself was captured. Air bombing and strafing attacks were carried out frequently at the request of Pires but they had little Value in bolstering native morale. Ultimately so many chiefs and natives had been killed and tortured after helping the party, that the natives dared not give help for fear of a similar fate.

Early in Aug 43, arrangements were made by Lagarto to despatch a party comprising Vieira, Procopio, Rebello and a few other men for the purpose of establishing an OP in the vicinity of Dilli. The party was equipped with an ATR4A set and arrangements were made for it to work to Lagarto.

Vieira and party moved off and at the end of Aug 43 were located between Laclo and Remexio about 10 miles east of Dilli. A certain amount of information was passed to Lagarto by runner but the wireless link was not a success and never functioned, a state of affairs which is attributed to the incompetence of Procopio. At the beginning of Sep 43, contact was lost with Vieira and no word was received of him until 3 weeks later when it was learned that he was hiding in the vicinity of Kuri 8 miles west of Manatuto. On 25 Sep 43, Vieira with Rebello and a few natives rejoined Lagarto bringing news of Japanese strength and disposition around Dilli. Procopio with the W/T gear and 10 other men who were with Vieira had been captured in Laclo where the party had been ambushed.

On 20 Aug, while the Lagarto party was at Ludi, south of Manatuto, the Japanese had fired the grass making concealment very difficult. Pires reported that in the circumstances, the party’s existence would be impossible after the end of Aug, “As I have always told you”.

Melbourne suggested to Pires that he should split up his party to go into hiding for the time being, and repeating this in a signal to Ellwood, asked him if Pires was losing heart. Ellwood replied on 22 Aug 43 that the position was a little easier, the party then being at Obaqui and suggested that future plans for the party’s immediate safety should be left to them. Pires also replied that it was not necessary to separate as Manatuto had only 4 Japanese. He brightly suggested that Melbourne should “arrange something to do to boots when we are pursued with heels in front and soles at back to give impression we are going in opposite direction thus deceiving our pursuers”.

On 29 Aug 43, Melbourne asked Ellwood as to the prospects of setting up OPs in the east, particularly in the Cape Chater-Fuilero area. Ellwood’s reply made it clear that there were no prospects of carrying out such tasks at that time. The party was planning to move east when food had been found and native reconnaissances had been made. The Japanese however, were still conducting an intensive search for the party and had ordered all natives in the district to congregate at Manatuto, making it exceedingly difficult to obtain food and information.

At the end of August, the tension between Pires and Ellwood was acute and the latter reported the party to be a “bloody farce”. Ellwood recommended that the bulk of the party be evacuated, leaving himself and Luz in the north with 3 natives, and Tinocco and a few natives at Lacluta in the south. He expressed confidence that these two parties could produce better results with less trouble. Melbourne replied suggesting that Ellwood press Pires to reduce the party to six and apparently overlooked the reluctance with which a Portuguese Lieutenant would listen to proposals from an Australian Sergeant.

At this stage, Ellwood disclosed the true composition of the party and reported that it could not possibly succeed due to its numbers, lack of discipline and secrecy, slowness on the march and extensive food requirements. Melbourne signalled “Stick it out Jimmy. Try to avoid an open breach... We feel certain party will soon shake down into good show if misunderstandings can be avoided. Say if your promotion will ease position”. Melbourne also signalled Pires on l Sep 43 suggesting that the party be reduced to 6 and that it go underground, but he replied that it was impossible to scatter at that stage.

Melbourne then took up Ellwood’ s proposal for two small parties and on 5 Sep 43, instructed him that until such time as Pires had been persuaded to disperse the “circus”, he and Luz must be prepared to move off into hiding in the event of a future chase. As part of this plan, all signals were to be passed in Ellwood’s cipher to ensure his knowledge of Pires’ messages. Ellwood, Luz and Tinocco were all keen to effect the separation, and were sure they could operate effectively and minimize the loss of native life at the cost of which the party had existed.

The proposal to inform Pires that Ellwood’s cipher was to be used had not been communicated to Pires when the party was captured a month later.

On 8 Sep 43, Melbourne suggested to Ellwood and Pires that Paulo da Silva and his natives should be sent into Timor to form a reconnaissance group for Sao Domingos Province in view of Lagarto’s “difficult situation”, but Pires did not welcome the proposal. On this date, Ellwood reported that 8 natives had been sent home, reducing the party to 26 (including the 2 women) and that Pires intended to send a few more to their homes when Baucau was reached. He stated that the Japanese knew Lagarto’s approximate whereabouts and held captive a native king who was to be executed if the party or its camp were found.

The same action had been taken by the Japanese in every district that Lagarto had visited, resulting in many excellent natives being killed simply because the party was too big and clumsy. Ellwood urged the evacuation of Pires and his “circus” and the insertion of a signaller with light stores. Melbourne replied on 9 Sep 43 that it could probably implement the proposal but doubted whether Pires would agree. It also doubted whether the reduced party could establish the proposed OPs in the Lautem area which was in particular need of coverage. Two days later, it signalled Ellwood that it would not be politic to jettison Pires at that stage.

On 10 Sep Ellwood signalled that Pires had been planning to move to Baucau for the past 14 days, but would not split the party into small groups. At this stage, he was using his last battery, the reserves being cached in the Dilor area.

Melbourne continued to press Pires to reduce or split his party and offered to send in two extra signallers if it would enable the reorganization of the party on sounder lines.

On 18 Sep 43, the party was located near the sea between the Lalia and Vermasse Rivers. They had been surprised by a Japanese native patrol with dogs when, crossing the Lalia road but had escaped without loss. Two days later, Ellwood signalled that he had learned through Luz and Pires would shortly ask for stores to be dropped to the party and that the list included “a lot of bloody unessential rubbish”. Ellwood recommended that nothing but essentials should be dropped. He added; “I have had a gut full of ABC’s (Pires’) methods!”.

Vieira on his rejoining Lagarto on 25 Sep 3, predicted that Lagarto would all be killed or captured within a few days. It was subsequently learned that the Japanese had followed Vieira’s party closely as far as the Issum (Obaqui) area, had captured and tortured some natives of that place and as a result of which they probably learned of the party’s movements from Issum.

Following the return of Vieira, on 25 Sep 43, Ellwood signalled:

“Quite impossible for us to stay any longer. All natives too afraid feed or hide us. Within two days Japs will conduct search for us this area and along north coast... We now have no place to go to. We can only be saved from a sticky end if you can send two or more flying boats at sunset tomorrow 26 Sep to east side of mouth of Laleia River. Please give your verdict today if possible and send instructions quickly in case we lose our set...”

On the same day, Pires signalled “Big pressure from all sides and impossible stay here any longer. Save us please bomb and strafe urgently Ossu!”

Melbourne replied to these signals :-

“Impossible arrange evacuation suggested. Party too large must divide into smaller groups. GHQ will not provide urgent air transport for women or large party. Can you reach Baucau caves or any area where we can supply you by dropping?”

On the same day, Ellwood came back:-

“We “repeat, it is impossible for the party to carry on. It is equally impossible to send any natives away or divide the party’ into small groups. Wherever we have left natives behind Japs have captured and tortured them into telling everything. We cannot receive stores from air. Jap drive now is not same as February drive. It is grimly earnest business of torture and killing. In the last fortnight big chiefs have been killed Lacluta, Dilor, Luca, Barique, Cribas, Laclo. All natives very afraid. Natives say Baucau heavily patrolled. Say they will give us enough food to reach there, but no one will offer to guide us. As a last resort we could jettison our natives making number for evacuation ten.”

Pires on 26 Sep 43 signalled:-

“People Vemass asked us to leave their place last night without guide to Uai-Cuac but chiefs of this place did the same - refused receive us or give a glass of water or guide. Today, our HQ Marulidir but this night we will go stay bay east Pta Bigono where we wait salvation of you. All people when see us hide, for frightened to be killed by the Japs and at all moments we wait to be betrayed by the natives. Send quickly tomorrow 28th some flying boat for to save us...”

On the night of 28 Sep 43, the party marched eastwards along the north coast to a point between Manu Lidir and Bigono. During the march, some natives of Uai- Cuac refused to assist Lagarto. Their refusal to help was a surprise to Pires who had anticipated cooperation in the Baucau area. It was subsequently learned that the chief of Uai-Cuac betrayed the party’s movements to a Japanese patrol. No reconnaissance of the Baucau area had been made before the party marched there. According to Elwood, Pires relied on his own judgement “as always”.

Lagarto halted near Cape Bigono and communicated with LMS Darwin, receiving a message:-

“Regret RAAF state flying boat out of question. Only alternative is evacuation from south coast. We will lay on any bombing required”.

Ellwood immediately urged Pires to move across the Salazar (Baucau) Plateau and march southeast towards Baguia, Matos da Silva’s country, and although other members of the party were in agreement, Pires refused to march as he had sprained his ankle.

On the morning of 29 Sep 43, Lagarto’s water carriers reported the presence of a party of obviously pro-Japanese natives about 100 yards north of the party’s position. The gear was loaded onto porters, and led by Vieira, the party marched southwards. Ellwood and Luz moving with the W/T gear. After travelling about 50 yards, Lagarto was ambushed by a strong patrol of Japanese. LMG and HMG fire accounted for some of the natives, including one carrying W /T gear. The whole party, with the exception of Pires, Ellwood, Luz, Silva, Tinocco, Pinto and the two women scattered in every direction. The remainder led by Pires marched eastwards through light bush close to the beach. The party was fired on by riflemen from the west and south, and was completely surrounded by a large party of pro-Japanese natives who made no move to capture or kill the party. Pires would not permit the party to open fire. Luz begged the hostile natives to guide Lagarto through the Japanese patrols to safety, but they refused.

Shortly before noon, Lagarto halted in heavy bush near Point Bigono. Ellwood endeavoured to dispose of his diary, cipher, signal plans and private papers but there were no dry matches so he could not burn them. Instead, he scooped a hole in the sand and buried the documents.

Luz, Silva and one woman refused to stay with Pires and moved off. Silva carried Pires’ cipher and papers. As the party had lost the W/T gear they decided to move to the hills in the hope of getting assistance from the few remaining friendly natives. Tinocco, Pinto and one woman and Ellwood remained with Pires who was exhausted and incapable of moving alone. The party again moved eastwards but observed one patrol approaching from the west and another from the south-west. Pires then said he could not go on so the party halted on the beach and surrendered to the two patrols, it then being about midday 29 Sep 43.

Silva, Vieira, Rebello and many of the porters who had fled earlier were captured within a few days. Luz however, successfully evaded the Japanese and was still at large when the war ended. A communication was received by SRD from him in Dec 45 through Portuguese Consular channels.

After their arms and equipment had been removed, the captives were marched off westward. At this stage, they were not ill-treated, their captors giving them water and cigarettes. When they reached the main road in the vicinity of Vemasse, they were blindfolded and taken aboard a truck which then travelled eastward, probably to Baucau (Villa Salazar). Here they were placed together in a small cell and were bound about the wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. They were not permitted to sleep. Their guards keeping them awake by punching, kicking and beating with rifle butts. They were forbidden to speak.

On the following day, after being given a rice ball and a little water, they were blindfolded and driven in a truck to Dilli where they were confined in a large room in the Military Police Barracks. Shortly after arrival, a Tetum and Malay-speaking Arab questioned the Portuguese prisoners, translating their answers into Malay for the benefit of the interrogating officer. Pires gave his name, date of landing and his unit as Allied HQ Geographical Section. Tinocco cried and pleaded innocence before any accusation of espionage had been levelled against him. Ellwood was not questioned, although the Portuguese gave his name, rank and nationality to the interrogating officer.

After spending the night in their bonds and without being allowed to sleep, the prisoners were taken on the morning of 1 Oct 43 to a room in another house where their blindfolds were removed. A Japanese Major General and his staff comprising Major Tanaka, 1st LT Kazukane were present with an English-speaking member of the Consular Staff. Through PTE Inoue, in very bad English, they were charged with espionage and were warned that they would be tried and if found guilty, probably executed. If they did not answer questions put to them they would be executed anyway. Ellwood protested that he was a PW and could not be charged with espionage but was struck into silence. The Portuguese were addressed by the member of the Consular Staff and the prisoners were then marched out and put into separate cells. Ellwood did not see any of the others again, although on occasions during the interrogation, he heard their voices and screams.

Ellwood was housed in a filthy cell beneath the verandah of the house in which they had been charged. He was given no bedding. The cell was swarming with flies, mosquitoes and rats. He was handcuffed and bound at the wrists, elbows and ankles with cord, and a thicker rope, was tied at the small of his back for use as a halter when being marched to and from the cell. His limbs swelled as the result of the restriction of the bonds and he developed running sores where they chafed, especially at the wrists where the rust on the handcuffs made conditions worse.

Only occasionally during the interrogation were his bonds relaxed to permit the swelling to subside. For three weeks, his boots were never removed, resulting in pus sores developing on his feet. His clothes which were ragged when he was captured soon became filthy and rotted away, giving the mosquitoes greater access to his person. He soon developed malaria followed by beri beri and dysentery. He was not allowed to wash for about a month after his capture.

His diet at this stage consisted of a couple of salted rice balls and a few cups of salted water per day. The salted water had a severe weakening effect and his thirst became more unbearable than the floggings to which he was subjected during interrogations. His condition was made worse by his not being allowed to sleep, his guards beating him into wakefulness every little while. In these circumstances, he was in no condition to think connectedly or to put up any prolonged resistance to his interrogators.

Late on 2 Oct 43, his interrogation started in the presence of Major Tanaka, Lt Saiki and two NCOs of the Military Police, who acted as secretaries and used whips and sword belts to force confession. He was flogged, taunted and abused through- out the process. Ellwood’s interrogation was conducted simultaneously with that of the Portuguese and the interrogating officers were able to compare notes and play off one prisoner’s replies against another’s. In addition, Lt Saiki held much collated information of the activities of the Australian units in Timor, including Nominal Rolls of the 2/2 and 2/4 Aust Indep Coys, ciphers, messages, recent Army lists and documents captured from other areas. The Japanese had carefully searched the area in which the party had been captured and had dug up Ellwood’s cipher and signal plan.

Ellwood was later informed by the Japanese that Pires stated that he hated Australia but was ambitious to become Governor of Timor and had returned to further his interests. He confessed willingness to work with the Japanese in the belief that they would help him to achieve his ambition. He accused Ellwood of anti-native sympathies and with being a potential nuisance to Lagarto party. As the party had no “cover story”, its chance of avoiding disclosure was remote.

The same questions were asked of Ellwood repeatedly over long periods. Often in the end the correct answer would be put to him by his Interrogators after disclosure by other prisoners. Whips, belts, bamboos, shoes and sticks were used to flog Ellwood, who in his exhausted stage finally succumbed to interrogation and disclosed sufficient information to permit the Japanese to open communication to Australia over Ellwood’s wireless link.

Meanwhile, the Japanese had got hold of Pires’ emergency cipher and on 6 Oct 43, signalled Melbourne:-

“Continue big pursue against us. In this moment our HQ stay in Wacqui mountain where we are, hiding. Our operator Patricio Luz ran away. We lost cipher book ends.”

After the despatch of this signal, the Japanese flogged Ellwood into semi- consent to operate his set and send a signal to Australia. His condition at this stage was so low that a Japanese operator guided his hand on the transmitting key.

The message read:-

“6 Oct 43. Our position very serious. Are hiding near Obaqui. Have not eaten for three days.”

On this date, Melbourne made its first signal since 27 Sep, namely:-

“Propose dropping three tins of food not rpt not by chute. On map best spot’ seems to be confluence Ue Na Acrau and Tugueti Rivers five miles SE Obaqui trig. Is this OK? Your 17 received. Also one from ABC (Pires) on emergency phrase as cipher book lost. ABC say Luz ran away. Is this a fact or a precaution? Are you with ABC or separated? Who is operating?”

On 7 Oct, a message on Ellwood’s channel was sent reading:-

“Reply your part 2. Confirm ABC lost his cipher book during pursuit by Jap patrol. At same time Luz run away. I am with ABC and am operating wireless.”

A stores drop was laid on at the position mentioned on 14 Oct 43 and was made blindly. The Japanese in their signals made it appear that the party had had to move from the area, but had sent natives back to the dropping zone from Ludi where the party purported to be and had found two out of three parcels dropped. At this time of course, the party was imprisoned. By the middle of Nov 43, when the next supply drop took place, Lagarto was ostensibly established in the Fatu Chili area about 14 miles south-east of Manatuto from which position it never subsequently moved.

For this and subsequent supply drops which were made regularly until the war ended the party controlling Lagarto took Ellwood by truck to Laleia and thence marched or rode to the dropping zone. The infantry and spare personnel concealed themselves in posts in a circle around the DZ. Lieut Saiki fired the smoke candle and Sgt Ueda operated the Lucas Lamp while Ellwood aimed the projector, Ueda hiding in the grass about 2 yards from Ellwood to avoid being observed. When the storpedoes were recovered they were carried to a nearby hut, opened and inspected. They were then repacked and transported to Japanese Div HQ. Ellwood was permitted to read his few letters, about one magazine a month and was given sufficient clothing to allow two complete changes.

When he had been a prisoner about a month, and his interrogation had been completed, Ellwood’s condition improved. He was given better food, medicines for his sickness and his body sores dressed. However, for about a year he continued to wear handcuffs which some of the more lenient guards used to remove when no officers were about, and which Ellwood himself learned to slip over his hands.

The flow of signals from Lagarto subsequent to its capture gave the impression that it was gradually getting on a more friendly basis with the natives and establishing itself in the country. It reported moving west to Obaqui, and thence west again to Ludi, and later eastward to the Fatu Chili area, where the party remained, apparently unmolested for 22 months.

The first move from Uai-Cuac (where Lagarto last reported before capture) to Obaqui, involved Lagarto retracing its steps some 20 miles over a route which it had taken to escape Japanese patrols. Along this route the people of Vemasse had declined to help the party, and by moving to Qbaqui, Lagarto was moving away from the expected haven of the sandstone caves of the Baucau Plateau into an area in which natives had been tortured and killed for helping the party.

When these apparent moves are studied in conjunction with the party’s earlier history of being hounded from place to place, with the Japanese learning of its movements by killing and torturing the natives in the area through which it had passed, it is incomprehensible that SRD HQ did not deduce that the party had been captured.

The signals of Ellwood and Pires on 26 and 27 Sep 43 forecasting early capture in themselves tell the story, since the Japanese in their subsequent control of the party did not give any indication as to how Lagarto had avoided the capture about which, both were so positive in their signals. Even if it were not reasonable from the circumstances definitely to assume that Lagarto had been captured, there were nevertheless adequate indications on which to base a very strong suspicion of capture.

A careful study of the signals from Lagarto reveals further indications, of the party having been captured. The desperate straits of the party up to the time that requests for evacuation were made on 26 and 27 Sep 43 cannot be reconciled with the apparently sudden relaxing of enemy pressure revealed in Oct 43, although there was no news of any special circumstances such as the reduction of the numbers of the party, or of the finding a haven with friendly chiefs. Yet the signals indicated that such a haven was soon found and that it proved to be of such permanent nature as to become the Party’s hideout for almost two years. Had any critical mind devoted itself to the task of carefully appreciating the situation, it could have come to but one conclusion, namely that the party was in Japanese hands.

Failing to interpret the situation in its true light, SRD HQ subsequently passed to Lagarto information of further parties to be inserted, with the result that their success was prejudiced from the start.

On 20 Oct 43, Melbourne signalled:-

“In view your impasse and rather urgent necessity for Fuiloro news can ABC (Pires) suggest best entry point for an OP on coastal range south Lautem plateau? What about. Bauleu...?”

Again on 5 Jan 44:-

“What does ABC ‘think of entry west of Bauleu with station vicinity Tein?”

This and subsequent disclosures was probably the cause of Adder party being lost within a few hours of landing 10 miles from Bauleu and 5 miles from Tein, 10 months later.

On 29 Oct 43, Melbourne was:- “relieved at your prospect of better security and quieter existence”, and related how SRD would soon have its own “snappy transport of South Coast”.

A few days later, it told Lagarto that the Fuiloro party would be inserted by Fairmile launch. On 24 Dec 43, Cobra’s prospects were ruined when Melbourne signalled:-

“Cashman Liversidge Heathcote Shand are now with us... as soon as you are able to report conditions you should be seeing each other.”

On 8 Dec 43, it asked for a reconnaissance of the Dara Bai area on the south coast and disclosed that it was intended for Cosme Suares and Sancha da Silva and one other.

When this news was received, the Japanese made arrangements to meet Cobra. About 20 Jan 44, Lt Saiki and his company with a large number of infantry and native soldiers moved to the Edemomo area, taking Ellwood with them. Elaborate arrangements were made to meet the incoming party and three pro-Japanese natives of the Ossu area were instructed to meet the party and to guide it into a Japanese ambush. This plan was effected and Cobra was captured within an hour of landing on 29 Jan 44.

Ellwood on this occasion had managed to obtain some dry matches and the essentials to make an electric flash lamp, with the object of making his escape and warning Cobra before it landed. Unfortunately, his plan to overpower his guard miss- carried and the man fled, shouting to attract the attention of the rest of the Japanese. Ellwood was soon captured as he was weak with beri beri. After being badly beaten, he was blindfolded, gagged and bound and left without food or drink in the open for 48 hours. He was then returned to Dilli where he was put on a starvation diet which caused the return of malaria and dysentery. Here he learned that Cobra had been captured.

On 5 Feb 44, Lagarto announced the death of Pires after a period of suffering from malaria. Vieira was also reported missing after having departed some weeks previously on a reconnaissance towards Dilli. At this time, Pires did in fact die, the exact cause not being known. At the time of his death, he was believed to have been insane.

On 2 Mar 44, Melbourne signalled:-

“We have reason to suspect Japs know about Cobra. To check on Safety Cobra we sent authenticator rpt authenticator message on 26 Feb and a related signal on 28th. So far Cobra have not acked either special message though in all other respects their sigs on 25th and 29th appear authentic. Have you any suggestions as to further check on Cobra security?”

Lagarto replied noncommittally but offered to send Edemomo to investigate, whereupon Melbourne on 3 Mar 44 signalled:-

“Matsilva to go Edemono at once. If he finds Cobra to be OK tell 452 to include word “slender” rpt “slender” as authenticator in message confirming his safety. If you are in difficulty you will try to include word “Jimmie rpt “Jimmie” but you will never use it under ordinary circumstances. If we are suspicious we shall include word “compact” in message and you will avoid using it under other circumstances. If you are OK you should include word “compact” in next message. We suggest no need to move your HQ for present but advisable Matsilva move quickly.”

Again on 7 Mar 44, Melbourne signalled Lagarto:-

“Cobra safe... Have given them your authenticator”.

And on 16 Mar 44 :-

“Is Matsilva come-back?” (“Compact” being Lagarto’s authenticator.)

To this signal, Lagarto replied on 17 Mar 44:-

“Matsilva not yet returned. Will send required signal when he reports back “.

This signal did not contain the authenticator word ‘Compact’ nor was this word included in subsequent signals. Thus the Japanese themselves failed to reply to the challenge, a fact which appears to have been ignored by SRD.

Melbourne on 24 Mar signalled Lagarto:- “Heard from Cobra 21st. We are now reasonably satisfied about them.” This statement was followed by a string of questions as to Lagarto’s composition, dependents of members, etc., which was apparently intended as an indirect challenge. The party’s reply to this signal supplied the required details.

On 24 May 44, Lagarto was told that it was desired to extract Ellwood for a spell and that it was planned to insert replacements by parachute. Many signals on this subject subsequently passed and much information, including the names of the relieving personnel was given to Lagarto until Oct 44, when the party was informed that arrangements for relief were temporarily postponed.

At the end of 1944, control of Lagarto passed to Group D of SRD which was established at LMS Darwin. At this time Lt (later Capt) A.D. Stevenson was Ops Officer of “Group D. He was also the leader of Blackbird party which was standing by to relieve Lagarto, could not be permitted to know much about them, or alternatively knew too much to be permitted to lead Blackbird (later called Sunlag).

When the control passed to Group D, the staff of the Group were not fully briefed on the early history of Lagarto or on the suspicion which existed concerning its capture. All that was known was that Cashman of Cobra was suspected of being compromised, and that by reason of the close association, Lagarto was also suspected in a general way. The signal files of Cobra and Lagarto, held by Group D were never complete in respect of the early months of both Lagarto and Cobra operations, and although Melbourne was asked to supply copies, these were not forthcoming. Signals to and from Lagarto up to approximately May 44 were missing until after Group D was disbanded.

In Jan and Feb 45, AIB Intelligence questionnaires were dropped to Cobra and Lagarto. In Apr 45, intercept intelligence reported that a copy of this document was in Japanese hands in Timor. Meanwhile under the title of Sunlag, Lagarto’s relief had been planned and a party comprising; Lt Stevenson, Sgt Dawson and Q Dos Anjos had been trained and were awaiting entry. An instruction to Lagarto, which had already been dropped with stores, gave directions for a reception party Of Lagarto to receive


The Official History of Special Operations - Australia; Vol. 2 Operations

the relief by parachute.

This plan was discarded, without telling Lagarto. Instead Sunlag was planned on the basis of a blind entry by parachute at Lagarto’s stores DZ two days before a supposed stores drop. The plan worked and in Jul 45 now-Capt Stevenson observed Ellwood under guard at the DZ. Sunlag evaded the enemy patrols which searched widely for it and after a difficult time and many set-backs was safely extracted.

When Lagarto received the news of the introduction of new parties by air, Lt Saiki moved his company with about 3 platoons of infantry and a large number of native troops to the Labeia Cairui area. Saiki hoped to capture the new parties at their DZs as they parachuted. The Japanese took a mobile DF station and established a listening watch on the 6-7 megacycle band. Saiki told Ellwood he had intercepted and located a W/T set in the Luica area (i.e. Sunlag) and expected to effect a capture. Ellwood also heard that a warship had been sighted off the south coast and that the search had been abandoned shortly thereafter. Saiki indicated to Ellwood that the party which had escaped was aware of his capture.

Compromise of Cobra and Lagarto parties (2) copy-1.jpg

About Apr 44, Ellwood was removed from Dilli to Lautem where the food was very poor consisting of 300 grammes of rice with very little vegetables or meat. Even the Japanese were suffering from beri beri and malaria. When he left Lautem in Sep 44, Ellwood weighed about 9 stone 6 pounds as compared with his normal weight of over 13 stone. From Lautem he was taken to his old quarters at Dilli but the company of Lt Saiki controlling Lagarto was forced to move to the outskirts of Dilli in Nov 44 as a result of Allied bombing. In Jan 45, he was moved to Tibar.

Japanese signallers continued to communicate with LMS in Darwin right up until the Japanese surrender. The final message received from Lagarto on 12 Aug 1945 read:-

“NIPPON for LMS. Thanks for your assistance for this long while. Hope to see you again. Until then wish your good health - NIPPON Army”

Copies of Japanese signals mocking the AIB.

Copies of Japanese signals mocking the AIB.

On 21 Aug 45, Ellwood was removed from his cell, having been in solitary confinement for almost 2 years, and was taken to Dilli Power House goal where he was housed with Cashman of Cobra. On 1 Sep 45, all the surviving SRD prisoners were moved by stages to Bali where they were picked up by aircraft of the RAAF and flown to Singapore on 2 Oct 45.

Following is an account, of the movements of Patricio Luz subsequent to the capture of the other members of Lagarto party. This account is taken from a letter written by Luz dated 30 Jan 46 to the Australian Consul in Dilli.

After the attack on Lagarto by the Japanese and Pro-Japanese natives near Cape Bigono on 29 Sep 43, Luz made his escape with four natives, Domingos Amaral,

Domingos Dilor, Jaoa Rebelo and Ruy Fernandes. The Japanese pursued and killed Rebelo and Fernandes by rifle fire during the flight. The other three eluded the Japanese and made their way to Lagarto’s previous camp site at Cairui, near Manatuto where they found refuge with the chief who had previously sheltered them.

In due course, the Japanese, learning of their presence at Cairui, followed them, but Luz and his two companions escaped to the Dilor River district to the country of Domingos Dilor. Here they,learned that the Japanese had killed all the natives who had helped them at Cairui.

In Dilor they recovered the W/T sets which had been brought in by Ellwood and had been hidden by Domingos Dilor. The sets were found to be in good order but the batteries had become exhausted owing to rain and humid conditions. Luz made exhaustive enquiries through native chiefs to ascertain whether it was possible to steal batteries from the Japanese, but he met, with no success.

Luz then set about organizing the natives in the Dilor, Luca, Bibileo and Viqueque areas in the hope of their being of assistance should an invasion be attempted by the Allied forces. Luz spread Allied propaganda among the inhabitants of these districts, often explaining the meaning of pamphlets dropped, and estimated that he had 1500 natives organized for co-operation with the hoped-for invasion forces.

During the two years following the loss of Lagarto, the Japanese made many attempts to find Luz, but with the help of four native chiefs, Domingos Dilor, Domingos Amaral, Antonio Jesus and Jose Maria, he was able to avoid capture.

On 4 Oct 45, learning of the Japanese surrender and of the resumption of control by the Portuguese authorities, Luz came out of hiding.


Cobra party landed on the south coast of Portuguese Timor on 29 Jan 44 on a long term reconnaissance of the east end of the island. Arrangements were made for natives of Lagarto party to meet Cobra on landing and to guide it to a safe area. Lagarto was in Japanese hands. The landing was effected and the natives were met and identified, but within an hour, Cobra was led into an enemy ambush and captured. Although SRD HQ had suspicions of the capture, Cobra party was maintained as if free until 12 Aug 45. Two of the five members were recovered as PW, the others having died during Imprisonment.