War 1939-45

War 1939-45

In 1942, Bougainville was occupied by the Japanese, and was used as a base to attack Guadalcanal and other Allied territory.The 3rd Marine Division landed on the west coast of Bougainville in November 1943, and shortly afterwards the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay was fought between cruisers and destroyers of the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy
The Americans routed the Japanese and were never bothered again in this area by the I.J.N.It took a concerted Allied land offensive between November 1943 and April 1944 to occupy and hold the part of the island along the western shore in an area called “Torokina”.The Americans set about establishing a wide defensive perimeter, draining swamps, and building multiple airfields for defense, and for attacking the Japanese on New Britain Island.


The Marines were replaced by US Army troops.

The Japanese infiltrated the mountains and jungles of Bougainville, and launched a counteroffensive against the Americans in 1944. The critical focus of their attack was at a place called “Hellsapoppin Ridge” by the Americans.

In repulsing this attack, the American soldiers and airmen broke the back of the Japanese Army on Bougainville.

The survivors retreated to their bases on northern and southern Bougainville, and the Americans left them to “wither on the vine” for the remainder of the war.

During the 1943-45 period, more than 17,500 Japanese soldiers were either killed in combat, died of disease, or died of malnutrition

. In 1945, the Australian Army took over occupation from the Americans, and Australia resumed control of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, which became a United Nations trusteeship.

The remaining Japanese on Bougainville refused to surrender, but rather held out until the surrender of the Japanese Empire on 2 September 1945.

They were then commanded by the Emperor to surrender to the Allied Australians, Americans, and New Zealanders, and they were then repatriated to Japan.


Japanese Admiral Yamamotos Plane Crash Site

About 25km north of Buin along the south of Bougainville lies the wreck of the Japanese Betty bomber which was intercepted and shot down by Allied Forces on 18th April 1943.

On board that plane was WWII’s most famous Japanese commander and mastermind of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

He was on an inspection tour of forward positions in the Solomon Islands when his aircraft (a Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber) was shot down during an ambush by American P-38 Lightning fighter planes.

His death was a major blow to Japanese military morale during World War II.

The site is covered in thick jungle and there are still some landowner issues, but if you arranged yourself early and got in touch with one of the local tour companies, they can get you there.

Torokina WWII Sites

Torokina, on the West Coast of Bougainville is the site of important invasions and land and sea battles between Allied and Japanese Forces.

You can find a lot of WWII relics here including unexploded ordinances.There is an airstrip here and much of the road network built during WWII is still intact.

Torokina was also famous in pre-crisis days for the heavy surf that could be found there. To get to Torokina you can organize a charter boat in Buka.

Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo is an underground military base that the Japanese Forces, who held Bougainville for much of World War II, wanted to resettle a larger number of civilian Japanese at.

According to the locals the big white bunkers are all now covered in very thick jungle and it looks like a place that time forgot.

Little Tokyo can be accessed via Buin, South Bougainville.

Nissan Island

For War buffs, this island 100 km north of Buka has an American WWII airstrip and other relics including a WW2 swimming pool. There is a guest house there. You can hire a speed boat or catch one of the regular shipping boats that travel out that way. If I was you, time your visit well, hire a speed boat out there and catch the regular ship back. You can do this for Catarats as well.

Read, Mason, Tashiro and the Bougainville mystery: Ken Wright

During World War 2, two  groups of Australian Coast Watchers operating independently of each other  played a decisive part in the battle for Guadalcanal  and the subsequent Allied advance through the South Pacific. The first group  was led by W.J. [Jack] Read, an assistant district officer from near Buka  Passage, a one kilometre wide sea passage separating the islands of Buka and  Bougainville. The second group was led by Paul E. Mason, the Inus plantation manager  75 kilometres North West of Kieta in Bougainville.

The concept of the Coast Watchers originally began in 1919  when selected personnel were organised on a voluntary basis to report in time  of war any unusual or suspicious events along the Australian coastline. This  concept was quickly extended to include New   Guinea [not Dutch New Guinea] as well as Papua and the Solomon Islands.  In 1939 when World War 2 commenced, approximately 800 Coast Watchers came under  the control of the Royal Australian Navy Intelligence Division. Lieutenant  Commander Eric Feldt had operational control of the Coast Watchers in the north  eastern area of defence which encompassed the Australian  Mandated Territories,  Papua, the Solomon Islands  and Australia.

While negotiations to avoid a possible war in the Pacific  were taking place on 7 December    1941 between Japanese and American diplomats, Vice Admiral  Chuichi Nagumo launched, without an official declaration of war, a carefully  planned and well executed surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl  Harbor in Hawaii.  Planes from the aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Koryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku killed 2,350 Americans and severely crippled the US fleet. President Roosevelt told  a stunned congress December 7 was ‘a  date which will live in infamy.’

The next morning, the Japanese attacked Malaya but this was  before the attack on Pearl   Harbour because of the  International Dateline. The Emperor’s Imperial troops then invaded Hong Kong,  the Philippines  and continued sweeping all before them. Guam, Wake Island, the Netherlands East  Indies, Rabaul, Malaya and Singapore,  the colonial jewel of the British Empire. An  enemy had arrived on Australia’s  doorstep and the country was now at war with both Germany  and Japan.

Rabaul was the peace-time capital of the mandated Australian Territory  of New Guinea.  The 2/22 Battalion of about 900 men and 38 officers which formed the bulk of  Lark Force had arrived on Anzac Day 1941. By December this number had increased  to about 1,400 and was tasked with the impossible job of defending the capital.  When the Japanese attacked Rabaul on 23 January 1942, the small garrison was overwhelmed and within  hours Rabaul was under Japanese control. The Japanese made a public  announcement of the capture of Rabaul on the afternoon of  24 January. It  was now up to the Coast Watchers plus the Independent Company men on  Bougainville, the Government officers transferred into ANGAU (Australian New  Guinea Administrative Unit), the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (who were doing much  of the monitoring of the Japanese in Lae and Salamaua) to be the eyes and ears  of the Allies. Another group of ‘spotters’ [New Guinea Air Warning Wireless  Company] also stayed. Keith McCarthy, Alan Timperley and Ivan Champion and  others who did so much to report what had happened after the fall of Rabaul and  rescue the remnants of Lark Force were all pre-war field officers of Papua and New Guinea.  The spotters had posts at Kokoda (from about February 1942), on the north coast  of Papua, and in the Milne   Bay Islands.  They alerted Moresby to incoming aircraft and the landings at Buna and Gona.

The 1st Independent Company was Australia’s first experimentation  into British style commando operations. After initial training at Wilson’s Promontory on Victoria’s  rugged coastline, they arrived at Kavieng in New Ireland  on 24 July 1941.  Between August and October, certain sections were reassigned to strategic  locations on Manus Island, Tulagi Vila and Buka before the war with Japan  began. No 3 section, comprising 25 men commanded by Lieutenant Jack Mackie, arrived on Buka Island on 4 October but the  group were reassigned to Bougainville to help the Coast Watchers in their role  after the Japanese attacked Kavieng on 23 January 1942. [2]

Early in July 1942 information about the construction of a  large Japanese airstrip taking place on the island  of Guadalcanal hurried the American  amphibious move into the southern Solomons and, on 7 August, American forces totalling  19,000 mostly the 1st Marine  Division, began landing on Guadalcanal and  nearby Tulagi. The small Japanese garrison of 2,200 on Guadalcanal  and 1,500 on Tulagi were taken completely by surprise and quickly scattered. In  the days following the landings, Japanese air attacks severely interfered with  the unloading of supplies. To make matters worse, the Japanese achieved a  stunning naval victory off Savo Island in the southern Solomon Islands during the early  morning of 9 August. A group of powerful Allied cruisers was almost annihilated  by a Japanese force obliged to travel hundreds of miles through waters that  were patrolled by Allied reconnaissance aircraft. Given the air strength  available to the Allies due to the presence of American aircraft carriers it  was amazing that the Japanese were able to escape after the battle almost  unscathed leaving more than  1000 dead or missing Allied seamen in their wake.

This defeat caused the American Admirals Fletcher and Turner  to withdraw their forces leaving the Marines ashore on both Guadalcanal  and Tulagi short of supplies and isolated. American engineers rushed to  complete the partially constructed Japanese airfield now renamed Henderson  Field and as soon as the airfield was completed, a squadron of 31 Marine aircraft  arrived to provide direct support and air cover. Towards the end of August aircraft  strength on Henderson  field had been increased to almost 100.

Throughout the island, clashes between American and Japanese  patrols became more frequent and intensive as Japanese reinforcements and  supplies began to arrive on Guadalcanal via the  ‘Tokyo Express.’ This term was used by the Americans to describe the nightly  runs by Japanese destroyers and light cruisers down the ‘slot,’ [the channel  between the north-eastern and south-western chains of Solomon Islands] With the  Americans also pouring men and supplies onto the island, the fighting on Guadalcanal escalated from short sharp exchanges between  each others patrols into a larger vicious and hard fought battle for the control  of what was now a strategically important island for both sides. To the  Japanese, Guadalcanal was ‘Jigoku no shima’ [hells island] and to  the Americans it was, ‘our time in hell’. Slowly, the American forces gained more and more ground wearing the Japanese forces  down.

By the end of October, a large Japanese naval force had  assembled in the Caroline Islands and began moving to launch a massive counter-attack  to retake Guadalcanal from the Americans. On the  southern coast of Bougainville, the two groups of Australian  Coast Watchers led by Read and Mason  independently radioed early warnings to the United States Navy of a number of Japanese warship and  aircraft movements enroute possibly towards Guadalcanal. Read from his position inland reported twelve large  passenger ships, each over 10,000 tons headed south-east. Mason, from his  position at the southern end of Bougainville on  10 November 1942,  reported the passage of sixty one ships comprising six assorted class cruisers,  two sloops, thirty three destroyers, seventeen cargo, two tankers and one  passenger liner of 8,000 tons. Forewarned by these reports, the US forces  launched air and sea strikes against the enemy shipping resulting in a major  defeat for the Japanese and shattered any hope of their retaking Guadalcanal.

Now unable to resupply their forces, Japanese high ranking  army and navy staff from the Imperial General Headquarters conceded that they  had no hope of winning this particular battle and proposed Guadalcanal  be abandoned and a new defensive line be established in the central Solomons. Emperor  Hirohito gave permission for his troops to withdraw and, from 31 December, the  Japanese began gradually withdrawing from the contest as to who owned the  island and began evacuating their remaining forces from the island which they  completed by early February 1943. As  soon as it was confirmed the Japanese had left, US forces began preparations to  continue their move slowly northwards towards Tokyo. It had taken a little over 6 months of  vicious bloody fighting before the Americans were finally able to call the  island theirs.

Most American military historians write about Guadalcanal as  a victory due to the tenacity and bravery of American soldiers, sailors and  airmen which of course it was, but very rarely do they mention that it was the  vital contribution of the Australian Coast Watchers  which made the victory possible. Fortunately  for recorded history, the Australians were paid a high tribute when the United  States Admiral of the Fleet, William. F. Halsey Jr, said: ‘The Coast watchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal  saved the South Pacific.’  Additional  praise was sent by other important American military commanders. On Saturday 3 April 1943, copies  of congratulatory messages from Guadalcanal were  sent to the Coastwatchers: ‘Have much  pleasure relaying these to messages to Coastwatchers also thanking you on  behalf of Naval Intelligence. Keep up the good work.’ From Admiral Turner,  US Navy: ‘Large share credit our success  against enemy due to splendid men in Coast watching service.’ From General  Patch US Army: ‘Your magnificent and  courageous work has contributed in great measure success of operation on Guadalcanal.’ With just these four congratulatory  messages alone, there is no historical excuse not to give credit where credit  is due.

One significant effect of the fighting on Guadalcanal was  that it committed and then destroyed troops, aircraft and ships that would  otherwise have been used in the Kokoda and Milne Bay  campaigns. A very vital factor that allowed the Coast Watchers to operate throughout  the Pacific was the cooperation of the local people. It would have been almost  impossible for the Coast Watching operations to have started, let alone continued,  without their cooperation. As the influence of the victorious Japanese military  spread throughout the islands, the Japanese exploited conflicts that began  between the natives who enthusiastically or reluctantly supported the Japanese  and those who remained loyal to the Allies. By December 1942, the Japanese in  the southern part of Bougainville in the Buin/Kahili area began applying  pressure on the Bougainvillians to disclose the whereabouts of the Australians  they knew were somewhere on Bougainville. Propaganda  was spread amongst the natives telling them that Nippon was now the new government  and they would receive many good things if they cooperated but if they didn’t  help the ‘man bilong Japan’ they  would be killed. As a result, an ever-increasing number of natives, either out  of fear or willingly, became pro-Japanese creating an increasingly hostile  environment for the Coast Watchers to operate in. One prime example is that of the  tribal Chief of Sadi, a coastal village, who began fully cooperating with the  Japanese.  Members of his tribe were  given arms and ammunition to hunt down the Australians. In the southern part of  Bougainville, the people remained friendly  until Kieta, the capital, was occupied by the Japanese on 18 February 1943 and the problem of allegiances  began to appear there too. Old feuds were an additional factor that caused  friction between the various tribes choosing sides and were used as an excuse  to fight each other.

In this time of tribal conflict and divided loyalties, one  organised group of pro-Japanese natives known as the ‘Black Dogs’ chased the  Coastwatchers and over an extended period of time, murdered, raped, pillaged  and burnt the villages of those who assisted the Australians. Mentioned very  briefly in several books on the subject of Coastwatchers, a Japanese civilian  named Tashiro was reputed to have established and controlled the Black Dogs. [1]

During this turbulent time, Coast Watcher Jack Read had attempted  to assure the natives on Bougainville the Allies would be back to liberate them  but the Japanese had been in control for quite a while and there were still no  signs of the Allies returning. Tashiro, who would have been under the minsei-bu commander—officer in charge of civil affairs in Rabaul—began a propaganda  campaign to ensure the natives continued to join the Japanese. Part of his  campaign was to convince the natives that the old days were gone forever and  pointed out the number of Japanese airfields and bases that were expanding on  the island. With his argument, he mixed in allusions to past white exploitation  which had some basis of truth and the more he talked, the more the natives  listened.

It was not only the pro-Japanese natives that Coast Watchers  had to contend with. Religious missionaries were originally approached to  become Coast Watchers and one assumes that for religious and ethical reasons most  declined. Overall, most missionaries either attempted to stay neutral or  supported the Allies and some were executed for their real or imaginary Allied support.  Many Lutheran and Roman Catholic missionaries at the time were German and, as  the Allies were at war with Germany,  their loyalty was naturally to the Fatherland. Some German missionaries were  interned and some of them were members of the Nazi party. But others, such as  Franke on New Britain,  risked their lives for Australians. On Bougainville  the Catholic mission was Marist and the Bishop was American (14 of the staff  were American in 1939). There were French (the most numerous), Germans, a few  Australians, a Belgian and a couple from Luxembourg.  At least one German Roman Catholic missionary  in the Sepik District region [Aitape-Wewak] in New Guinea is known to have  actively worked with the Japanese and had his native staff searching for  Australians working behind Japanese lines. One of the native ‘catechists’ as  the converted natives were called working for this priest was summarily  executed by a member of the ANGAU operating in the Aitape hinterland behind the  Japanese lines. There may have been many unrecorded deaths of this type. One such  execution was carried out by 3 section of the 1st Independent  Company. A native who had led the Japanese to their camp had been caught. He  was killed and the village   of Kiveri where he had  come from was burnt to the ground as a warning to others not to spy or work for  the Japanese. [3]

Who was this mysterious Japanese civilian who was alleged to  be stirring up the natives and giving the Coast Watchers and members of No 3  section headaches? He deserves a little more attention than just a mere line or  two in a few books about the Coast Watchers. Tashiro Tsunesuke [the Japanese put  the family name first] had migrated to Rabaul in 1917 at aged 16 to trade in  Copra and engage in coastal transport. On Bougainville,  he had been a popular trochus sheller and trader. In March 1941 he went back to  Japan  on a business trip aboard the last liner prior to the outbreak of war between  the Japanese and the Allies. He was conscripted 13 December to serve in the  navy as a gunzoku [civilian] in the  Japanese Navy Civil Administration at a time when the navy was recruiting  Japanese civilians who had experience in the South Seas.  Tashiro returned to Rabaul with the Japanese forces on 23 January 1942 assigned to the 8th  Base Force which controlled operations in New Guinea from Rabaul.

As the Japanese navy had very little knowledge of New Guinea,  Tashiro was placed under the command of the minsei-bu where he became a political officer working mainly as an interpreter as he  spoke fluent English and Pidgin English. He was very valuable for his local  knowledge and ability to engage in tasks such as investigating construction  sites for airstrips, recruiting native labour, gaining the co-operation of the  natives as guides for the Japanese forces and having them report any enemy  movements as well as placating the local people. Tashiro worked hard for the  Japanese Navy in Milne Bay, Nakanai, Talasea, Rabaul, Bougainville  and Manus but whilst carrying out his duties he may have been torn between  loyalty to his country and his long standing friendship with the people in the area  who he had known before the war. He always cherished his relationship with  them. [4]

Tashiro came to Bougainville  possibly in February 1943 on  orders from the Commander of the 1st Naval Force located in the  Burns Philp building in Kieta. He was assigned to 1 Base Force to work with  Petty Officer Harada who was in charge of the propaganda department which  included the Native Pacification Section dealing with natives and information. Tashiro’s  assignment was to assemble natives for the enlargement of the Buin airstrip and  assist Harada with propaganda duties. Harada spoke English and a simple version  of Pigin English and was responsible for investigating any anti-Japanese  activities on Bougainville. Any suspects were  brought to him for questioning. Harada told Tashiro that there were some Europeans  [Australians] with a wireless set hiding in the mountains and that a Mr Mason  commanded the party. Possibly on orders from the Kieta Commanding officer, Harada  had a native chief from Kuromira executed for warning the Europeans hiding in  the hills that a Japanese force was on their way to capture them. [5]

Paul Mason and Tashiro had been friends before the war and,  even though Tashiro knew Mason had become an enemy spy, he was never too  serious about interfering with Mason’s activities although he knew was operating in  the area. With Tashiro’s local contacts, expertise in dealing with the natives  and the pro-Japanese loyalties of many of the tribes, he could have caught  Mason had he really wanted to do so. Nor was there any real effort at the time by  the Japanese to round up civilians or the 25 commandos of the 1st  Independent Company under Lt Mackie who were still on Bougainville.  Perhaps the reason for their half hearted attempts was that the Japanese failed  to make a connection between their losses at Guadalcanal  and the presence of the Coast Watchers.

As the war progressed, Mason and Read continued reporting  enemy ships and aircraft that were enroute to the Solomon Islands but now Japanese  pressure increased on the two Coast Watchers’ activities. Jack Read after the  war wrote; ‘By early 1943, Guadalcanal  had been won back and the Japs in Bougainville  knew that an American attack was on the way. Tashiro addressed a huge native  congregation at Buka Passage including some of my undercover scouts among them.  In effect Tashiro said that they were expecting to come under American attack  shortly and the Japanese forces may have to retire temporarily but that they  would be back. He said they were digging slit-trenches away from the village to  avoid any bombings. He urged the natives that it was not their war and that is  was one between the Japanese and the Americans and to stay out of it. He did  however, ask the natives to warn the Japanese if they saw any ships  approaching.’

Mason made a reference to the marauding bands of Black Dogs  that were now harassing both the Coast watchers and villages that assisted  them. Most of these natives came from coastal areas of which many were  pro-Japanese. He said, ‘It appeared to be  Tashiro’s method of getting the natives to plunder or kill or rape so as to get  them so they are afraid to come over to our side for fear of punishment.’

The harassment of the Coast Watchers by the Black Dogs has also  been attributed to Tashiro by Lt Commander Feldt in his excellent book about  Coast Watching but there is no positive proof of Tashiro’s actual involvement  with these renegade natives. There is a possibility that Petty Officer Harada  was, in fact, the man responsible for the creation and use of the Black Dogs to  pacify the area. Nothing was known at the time about Harada and Feldt and other  historians may have mistakenly associated Tashiro with the Black Dogs simply  because he was well known in the area and in an excellent position to influence  the natives. Another possibility is that Harada was a member the Tokkei-Tai, the  Navy secret police which was the Navy’s version of the infamous Kempei-Tai. [6] The Tokkei-Tai was attached to Navy units and  served as Colonial police in some Pacific areas. They were responsible for  recovering and analysing information and for the execution of undercover  operations. It is known that one of Harada’s assignments was to recruit natives  to help him track down and eliminate all anti Japanese elements and even Tashiro  himself stated he was deeply impressed with Harada’s detailed knowledge of the  operations of the Europeans on Bougainville.

By early June, the positions of both Mason and Read  on Bougainville were becoming too precarious. So much so  that on the 25 June 1943,  Read signalled Naval Intelligence in Australia; ‘My duty to report that position all here vitally serious. After  fifteen months occupation almost whole island now pro-Japanese. Initial enemy  patrols plus hordes of pro-Japanese natives have completely disorganised us.  Position will not ease. Believe no hope reorganise. Our intelligence value nil.  In last fortnight all parties have been either attacked or forced to quit.  Reluctantly urge immediate evacuation.’ In two subsequent rescues, the  United States Navy submarine, USS Guardfish, on the night of 24 July, took on board 62 assorted military,  Chinese and native personnel  [including  Lt Paul Mason] and trans-shipped them to the waiting US  Naval submarine chaser SS 761 which transported them  to American occupied Guadalcanal. Four days later USS Guardfish returned and picked up Lt  Read, Captain E.D. Robinson, AIF,  who had arrived with reinforcements on 29 April 1943, and 22 natives.  [One of the ‘natives’ was the Fijian Methodist  missionary Usaia Sotutu. Read wrote strong praise of him and recommended him  for a medal] This was the last party to leave Bougainville and again they were  trans-shipped to the sub chaser for the journey to Guadalcanal.  [7] When  the members of 3 section under Corporal Don McLean arrived at Lunga on Guadalcanal they were summoned to be paraded before US General Alexander Patch. They looked a  motley crew but had to parade anyway. The General was late but addressed the men  ‘Gentlemen, on behalf of the American nation and my self personally, I wish to  thank you. For without your information from Bougainville, this [Guadalcanal campaign] would have been a much longer and  bloodier business. Gentlemen, I wished to give you all you men on Bougainville a decoration, but your government would not  permit me.’

After the war ended and the Japanese surrender, there were 807  alleged Japanese B and C class war criminals tried for war crimes in trials  conducted by Australian military courts between 30 November 1945 and 9 April 1951. The trials were conducted  at eight venues, Labuan, Wewak, Morotai, Darwin,  Singapore, Hong Kong, Manus Island  and Rabaul. Of those charged 579 were found guilty on one or more charges and  137 were sentenced to death and executed. In Rabaul, Tashiro Tsunesuke who had  been in Australian custody for some months was one of those placed on trial for  committing a war crime. He was charged under the heading Violation of the Laws  and Usages of War, and the charge was that at Kieta-Soloman Islands in or about  the month of March 1943 he ill treated Kerosin, a native resident of Buka  Island by beating him with his fists and an axe handle. Strangely, the  complaint by Kerosin was made one year after the war was over.

Robert Stewart was a plantation owner on Bougainville  and Kerosin was Stewart’s ‘boss boy’ who had remained on Stewart’s ‘Tenakau’ plantation  after Stewart went into the mountains to escape the Japanese. [8] Kerosin bravely remained in contact with  Stewart reporting any Japanese activities. Knowing that the Japanese forces  were asking the whereabouts of ‘Europeans’ renegade natives from the village of  Muk Muk captured Kerosin and took him to  the Japanese HQ in Kieta. Kerosin was able to escape and avoiding contact with  any other natives eventually made it to Coast Watcher Jack Read’s camp where  Stewart was hiding at the time. [9]

Kerosin told Stewart that he was questioned by Tashiro as to  his [Stewart’s] whereabouts and that he had answered that he didn’t know. He  said that Tashiro had him tied to a verandah post and had beaten him for a  number of days with his fists and an axe handle. When the beatings didn’t work,  he was told he would be executed. [10]

Much later, Read questioned Kerosin about the alleged beatings  and was told that he was taken to Kieta and placed in a shed, had his wrists  tied together and a guard placed outside. Every morning he was taken before  Tashiro and asked to lead him to where Stewart was hiding. Each time he refused.  Finally after a week of this, Tashiro one morning told him that he would be  executed the next day and personally took him back to the shed and tied his  wrists. Kerosin said he later managed to untie his wrists, found the usual  guard was not outside and escaped. Kerosin also admitted to Read that he was  never beaten by Tashiro or any other Japanese. Read wrote after the war that it  was his personal opinion that Tashiro  may have actually assisted Kerosin to escape but if Tashiro had actually caught  Stewart then the events may have taken a different turn as both Tashiro and  Stewart were business rivals before the war and there was an ongoing feud  between them both. [11]

During the trial, which took place in Rabaul from 7 to 16 July  1947, evidence showed that the defendant Tashiro did all he could to protect  natives and Europeans from ill treatment by the occupying Japanese forces. In  Rabaul, he protected the interests of the mixed races and the Chinese.

Jack Read wrote in a letter to the Commandant, Headquarters  8th Military District a character reference for Tashiro on 7 July.  He said in part; ‘The defendant Tashiro  had assembled the village chiefs of the Buka Passage area and addressed them  regarding the leaking of information by them to the Allies. He warned them to  keep clear of Japanese installations and specifically mentioned that as the war  was not theirs they should adopt a neutral attitude. Tashiro’s urging of native  neutrality must be regarded very significantly in the assessment of his  character. In Bougainville before the war,  Tashiro enjoyed widespread good repute amongst both the natives and European  residents. Most incidences which occurred in the Bougainville area during  1942-43 were known to me and that I was not aware of anything attributable to  Tashiro which fell beyond the normal scope of war.’

Another of the many character references submitted by  Tashiro’s defence counsel at the trial was a letter from the Catholic Vicar  Apostolic of Rabaul, Bishop Leo Scharmach, which was dated 16 July. In part,  the letter stated; he [Tashiro] in contrast to many other Japanese was  decidedly friendly and courteous. The missionaries who had to deal with Tashiro  indicated that he never ill treated the natives and that he handled the natives  with firmness and justice even those who, from his point of view, were  rebellious. In December, 1942, Father Franke at the mission in Bitokara in the district of Talasea had extended all  assistance and hospitality in his power to a group of Australian troops for  about 3 weeks. When the Japanese forces arrived at the mission, the  Australians had just left two days beforehand but a native traitor told the  Japanese of Father Franke’s assistance to the Australians. Fortunately, Tashiro  was amongst the Japanese troops and he used all his influence to stop Father  Franke being executed for aiding the enemy. The Japanese Officer in Charge was  so impressed by Tashiro’s explanation about Father Franke’s actions that he  completely exonerated the good Father. Also included in the Vicar Apostolic’s  letter was statement by Bishop Wade [US citizen] of the Northern  Solomon’s that; ‘Tashiro was of the  greatest service to him during the Japanese occupation.’

Based on the evidence given by Kerosin and other witnesses  both for and against the defendant, the court found Tashiro guilty and sentenced  him to 10 years in prison. The question that has to be asked is not so much whether  Tashiro was guilty or not of beating Kerosin, but why the sentence was so manifestly  excessive for ‘ill treatment’. Other Japanese had been tried for torture,  whippings, beatings, failure to provide medical care and treatment, food and so  on, and many  received only 1 to 3 months in addition to the time they had already  spent in Australian custody. [12] In the  transcripts of his trial there is no mention whatsoever of his involvement with  the Black Dogs nor was there was there any evidence presented of spying  activities by Tashiro. The prosecuting officer, possibly trying to influence  the court early in his cross examination, did ask Tashiro if he had been a  Japanese agent spying in the Bougainville and Rabaul area. Tashiro denied the  accusation. Both Read and Mason were of the opinion that Tashiro was some sort  of Intelligence agent prior to the war but nothing has been proven to date as  to whether or not he was engaged in intelligence work.

The Judge–Advocate General reviewed the trial proceedings  and the petition for a sentence reduction in light of the accused character  references on 28 October   1947. He observed that while there was evidence before the court  from which the court could have arrived at the finding of guilty and while it  was not his ‘province’ to substitute his own   mind for that of the court, he could not help ‘avoid expressing the  view’ that he would ‘not have found the accused guilty on the evidence.’ [11] So why was the court so heavy handed with the Tashiro’s  sentence? Was Kerosin telling the truth or was there a hidden agenda behind the  allegations he made 12 months after the war was over. He was extremely loyal to  Stewart and may have thought removing Tashiro was a good move in case he came  back and the business rivalry began again.

Although only conjecture, there are two possible  explanations as to why the court took the action it did. The first is that with  the memory of Japanese war atrocities still raw in the public memory, the court  may have been under pressure from the press and the public for not being harsh  enough with the prison sentences being given to Japanese war criminals and Tashiro  was simply an unfortunate victim of that public pressure. In fairness this  public pressure could be equally applied to those Japanese given more lenient  treatment. Secondly, the complaint of the ill treatment of Kerosin may have  been a very convenient way to punish Tashiro for other crimes that the  authorities did not have sufficient evidence to charge him with. After Tashiro  had been sentenced, there were moves based on Tashiro’s character references to  have his jail term reduced. Not everyone agreed with any sentence reduction.

In early January 1948, the Director of Prisoners of War and  Internees wrote in part; ‘With reference  to the accused’s character, he is strongly suspected of being involved in other  war crimes and has been interrogated on numerous occasions but so far by  evasions and denials and lack of corroborative evidence, no case has been  established against him. These other crimes generally deal with the disappearance  of several civilians and servicemen from the Rabaul area during the Japanese  occupation and in this connection Mr J.H. Ellis, a recovered internee from the  Rabaul areas has stated; “Tashiro would be sure to know many of the untold  stories with regard to murders and atrocities committed on both Allied civilian  and service person in the Rabaul area from Japanese occupation date to the  Allied re-occupation date, because, apart from the fact he arrived in Rabaul  after with the initial landing force on 23 January 1942 and with the exception  of various trips to the Solomon’s area, Bougainville, New Ireland and  surrounding districts, was in Rabaul continuously. He was attached to the  Japanese Civil Administration under Naval direction and was very close to all  the information which was going on in war time.’ I recommend that the sentence  of a court should not be lightly interfered with and that this sentence should  be confirmed.”

The Head of the Catholic Sacred Heart Mission in Kokopo in New Britain, Bishop  Schumach, visited Read and said he had heard of the controversy associated with  the Tashiro case and said he was contemplating getting the case reopened. Would  Read be prepared to come forward and give evidence? Read told the Bishop that he  would be prepared to tell all he knew on the matter. Some time later, the  Bishop wrote to Read saying that the sentence had been reduced and he  considered it now inadvisable to proceed with reopening the case. Tashiro’s sentence  had been reduced to 5 years on 13   January 1948. Jack Read met a mutual Bougainville  friend Fred Archer after the war crimes trials were over and in conversation  Archer said that he had met a Colonel Smith who was on the war crimes trial of  Tashiro and had boasted of having gaoled Tashiro. Archer also met Captain Watt,  who was also present at the trial, who had said that it was his opinion that a  great injustice had been inflicted on Tashiro. [13]

Most Japanese who were sentenced to terms of imprisonment by  the Australian War Crimes Tribunal served their time initially in the Number  One Australian War Criminals Compound in Rabaul. They were later transferred to  Manus Island and used as labour to clean up  war damage and restore the island to some resemblance of its original condition.  Tashiro was repatriated to Japan  in February 1952 while on 11 July 1953 the remaining prisoners  embarked on the SS Hakuryu Maru and were returned to Japan.  There they were to serve the remainder of their sentences in Sugamo prison near  Tokyo in an  agreement between the Australian and Japanese governments. As for Tashiro,  there remains the question based on available documentation, as to his actual  innocence or guilt for the crime he was charged with or the crimes he was suspected  to have committed will most likely never be known.

Perhaps the final summary of the Tashiro affair comes from Jack  Read who once said that he received communications passed via natives from  village to village from a Japanese ‘officer’ whom he knew pre-war guaranteeing  him safe conduct and good treatment if he gave himself up. Jack said, ‘that while he trusted the word of the bloke  who contacted him but he didn’t trust his mates.’


[1] In Eric Feldt’s  book The Coast watchers and Walter Lord’s book Lonely Vigil (The Viking  Press, 1977), both mention the name Tashira as being the instigator of the Black  Dogs. It would be very unusual for a surname to be Tashira, therefore the ‘a’  is a typographical error and should read Tashiro. A few other historians  writing on the subject also mention Tashira.

[2] When the Japanese  invasion of the Pacific   Islands began, most of  the isolated sections were either overrun or forced to retire to safer  locations.  Many of the men at Kavieng  attempted to escape by sea but were captured and taken to Rabaul. More than 130  of the NCOs and men were killed when the American submarine USS Sturgeon sank their prison ship, the Montevideo Maru, enroute to on Hainan Island  located at the southern end of China  on 1 July 1942.

[3] McNab, Alexander. We  Were The First. The Unit History of No 1 Independent Company. Page 149, Bougainville Section 3, Behind Enemy Lines. Australian  Military History Publications, 1998.

[4] Iwamoto, Hiromitsu.  “The War in Relation to Japanese Settlers in Papua and New Guinea”. South Pacific Study, Vol  17, No 2, 1997.

[5] It is not known who ordered the execution.

[6] Japanese version of  the German Gestapo. Des Martin. E-Mail to author.

[7]  Read, Jack. Coast Watcher  1941-42. His Bougainville  Reports. Papua New Guinea   Printing Company   Ltd. Port  Moresby, 2006.

[8] Stewart, Robert. Nuts  to You. Wentworth Books. Sydney,  1977. Pages 156-7.

[9] Kerosin was the name  used during the War Crimes Trial but other documentation has his name as  Kerosene and Kerasin. The author has maintained the name used in the trial reports.  National Archives, Melbourne.  Series B5569/1 Box 12  container B863744.

[10] Read memoirs. [Unpublished]

[11] War Crimes trial of Tashiro Tsunesuke. Australian War  Memorial, Canberra, Act, Australia.

[12] Dr Narrelle Morris

[13] Read memoirs. [Unpublished]


Special thanks to the following for their invaluable  assistance

Dr Narrelle Morris, Research Fellow, Asia  Pacific Centre for Military Law, The University  of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.       Professor Tim McCormack, Asia  Pacific Centre for Military Law, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.       Des Martin, Field Staff Officer, 6 Division, AIF, PNG,  1944-45 Aitape-Wewak campaign.       Albert Kinani, Bougainville  Tourist Development Office, Buka, Bougainville.       Alexander [Sandy]  McNab, Frankston, Victoria, Australia.       Andrea Williams, Editor; Papua   New Guinea Association of Australia.       Keith Jackson, PNG  Attitudes Blog page. http://asopa.typepad.com       Donald Hook, Canberra, ACT, Australia.       Emeritus Professor James Griffin, Spence, New South Wales,   Australia.       Dr Geoffrey Gray, Research Fellow, Australian Institute of Aboriginal  and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, ACT, Australia.       Emeritus Professor Hank Nelson, Division of  Pacific and Asian History, Australian National   University, Canberra, ACT, Australia.       Judith Fairhurst [neé Read], Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.


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