In December 1941, as the 22nd Bombardment Group was at Muroc Lake, California preparing to move across the Pacific to Australia, a highly trained unit of Australian commandos landed at Koepang, in Dutch Timor. Their mission, working with the Dutch, was to defend the Island from the Japanese. The sector assigned to 7th Section of C Platoon of the 2/2nd Australian Independent Company, the Double Reds, was the aerodrome at Dili, in Portuguese Timor. Comprised of 18 men, the unit was led by Lt. Archie Campbell. Ultimately, the paths of the two units would cross.
On 20 February, a Japanese invading force had landed unknowingly during the night. Shortly after daybreak, the enemy ambushed, captured and executed 12 of Campbell's men and two others. One commando escaped death by playing dead and was rescued by a Timorese native. Another, spared for interrogation, became a prisoner of war. The rest of C Platoon dispersed into the mountains and regrouped. For them, from then on, it was a game of cat and mouse. Or, to put it in their words, of shoot and scoot. Always concealed but in contact with the enemy, at the opportune moment the Australians would strike fast and hard. Breaking contact, they melted away to a prearranged, distant rendezvous.
In one such action, much time was spent reconnoitering a hilltop town in which enemy troops were quartered. Equipped with two Bren guns and six .303 rifles, the assault party crept to the town under cover of darkness and deployed into firing positions. The Bren guns were set up to cover the enemy positions with cross fire. Only two commands were given: FIRE! was followed minutes later by WITHDRAW! And withdraw the patrol did, rapidly and silently, without drawing a single round from the Jap. As the enemy extended the territory he controlled, the envelope within which C Platoon could find refuge kept getting smaller. In an effort to give them some relief, twelve 22nd BG Marauders from Reid River and Iron Range, Queensland, were sent to Batchelor Field at Darwin, Western Australia. From there, on 2, 3, and 4 November 1942 they conducted strikes on enemy strongholds at Dili and Aileu, .
Lt. Marcus, Lt. Patterson's co-pilot, tells of the enemy's unique early warning system: As we approached the island, we could see a fire on the shore sending up a lot of smoke. As we flew to the north shore, we could see similar fires being lit just ahead of us. By the time we got to Dili the fires had made their effect and we could see Zeros taking off as we made our bomb run over the town.
T/Sgt. Albert Catallo was the bombardier on Lt. Wenk's crew: Ours was the center flight and loaded with 2,000# bombs. The flights on the wings were equipped, one with 500# and the other with 100#, set on instantaneous for shrapnel effect. The mission was very successful, as we scored two direct hits with the 2,000# on the Catholic cathedral which the Aussie commandos reported being used as a Japanese Naval warehouse. The third #2,000 hit a government headquarters across from the cathedral. As we passed over the target area, we started a turn to the left which carried us over the airport and saw Zeros scrambling to take off. It seemed the formation just completed its turn and they were upon us and a lively fight ensued. One particular Zero was attacking us, scoring numerous hits. The formation made a course correction whereupon Hitchcock's plane edged between the Zero and us.
Lt. John Marcus, co-pilot on Patterson's crew: There was a Zero on our right, just out of gun range. Everyone seemed to be calling, "Get the SOB." The next thing we knew a pack of Zeros were coming out of the sun on our left. Charlie Hitchcock was piloting the last plane on the side and took the brunt of the attack. Charlie got an engine knocked out and fell behind with Zero's swarming all over him. The rest of the flight was leaving him behind so J.T. Smith, our old line army sergeant bombardier picked up his mike and called to Michaelis the flight leader and said, "Damn you Michaelis, get this flight around and go back and help Hitchcock." To his credit Michaelis immediately wheeled the flight back to Hitchcock and the Japs broke off.
Sgt. Lawrence S. Steslow, Lt. Patterson's flight engineer, recalled that the bombs J. T. Smith had dropped on a rather large building had caused quite sizable explosions. He continued: Right after that a Zero flew in and locked onto our tail. He shot at us and I at him. I noticed that he peeled off pouring out a lot of black smoke. Another Zero flew up in back of us and started his guns blazing at us. Just after I got off a few rounds, my 50 caliber single pedestal machine gun jammed. I tried getting it working while also looking at this Zero pilot firing at us and filling our ailerons and rudder full of holes. I was real lucky some of them didn't hit me because that was right where I was. He must have run out of ammo, because he just peeled off.
They had reason to. As the crippled B-26 came over the water, they were at no more than 500 feet and barely climbing. The battle over, Miller made his way back to the tail to relieve Sgt. J. G. Schank, the flight engineer, who was needed to transfer from the right wing tank to the left. I sent the engineer forward and took his place as tail gunner. Looking forward I could see tremendous damage to the right wing, a large portion of the wing skin was gone between the fuselage and engine and there was at least one large hole in each prop blade from cannon fire. Shortly after I saw specks on the horizon approaching us from directly astern. I thought that they were sending more Zeros to finish us off. As they grew larger I fired a couple of bursts from the twin fifties and noted the tracers falling far short. In a little while I could make out the engine nacelles and realized that they were B-26 aircraft. One, Lt. Patterson, stayed with us.
While they were gliding, Hitchcock took his safety belt off, got out of his parachute, and slipped his seat back as far as it would go, sitting on the forward edge of the seat with his toes on the pedals. The plane was in about a 30-degree angle of glide. Turning to be parallel with the waves, he held to a flat glide for as long as he could and then, without dragging the tail, let the plane skim over the water. The plane skimmed for approximately 100 yards.
Hitchcock continues: Since I had forgotten to refasten my safety belt, the instant I felt the plane stop moving, I lunged upward and out with no trouble at all. I climbed up on the left wing and noticed five of the other crew members already out. The fuselage was broken open to aft of the turret at the side windows at the bulkhead. The plane seemed to float fairly well for 1 1/2 minutes, time enough for me to climb in through the cracked fuselage and pull out the other crew member and also a life raft.
Since the raft Hitchcock retrieved could hold only four men, two swam alongside. A raft that Patterson had dropped before near empty tanks forced him to depart was damaged in the fall and useless. It was not until a RAAF Hudson dropped them a large round Australian raft that all six could get out of the water. One of the Hudsons signaled them that a rescue boat was on its way. It arrived next morning at daybreak, 17 hours after Marauder #17593 had ditched.
Marcus recalled that their return trip to Timor on the following day was highlighted by a call to them over the radio from one of the Aussies on the ground anxious to learn how Hitchcock's crew had fared.
In December, with the enemy squeezing them into an ever smaller pocket, 2/2 Independent Company was evacuated. Existing with and as the natives, the commandos had experienced a miserable and dangerous life. In turn, they made it even more dangerous for the Jap. Their guerilla tactics and some support from bombers cost the enemy 1,600 casualties. That is a post war estimated figure; the Double Reds never tarried around to take a body count. After that first terrible ambush and until withdrawn from the island, further losses numbered no more than twelve, several of these to disease.