The island of Timor, situated about 700 kilometers (approx. 380 nm) northwest of the Australian city of Darwin, was divided in 1942 between two colonial powers. The eastern half of the more than 30,000 km˛ large surface of the island was a Portuguese possession whereas the western half belonged to the Dutch East Indies. Almost immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on December the 7th, 1941, the allies decided to occupy the neutral Portuguese part in order to prevent the Japanese from conquering it with the purpose to establish a bridgehead.
In the night of 19 to 20 February, 1942, two Japanese invasion armies landed at Kupang, the capital city of Dutch Timor and near Dili, the capital of Portuguese Timor. Following this, the allied forces on Timor were quite soon beaten by the Japanese superior power and the majority surrendered. Several hundreds of the Australian troops and of the Royal Dutch East-Indies’ Army (KNIL) succeeded however to escape and started a guerilla warfare against the Japanese occupying forces. Only by the 20th of April, 1942, the allied forces were able to communicate, by means of an improvised radio, to their own army headquarters (HQ) that they were still not defeated. From that moment onwards the guerillas were supplied by air by airplanes of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). From May onwards relieve parties and supplies were provided by the Australian navy.
The Dutch and Australian troops have, with interchanging success, kept up the battle with the Japanese on Timor for almost ten months. They demolished bridges, attacked Japanese patrols and guards, conquered enemy stores and placed mines. In this way they succeeded, with primitive means, to be derogatory to the enemy.
By the end of 1942 the Japanese had sent so many troops to Timor in order to break the allied resistance that it became necessary to evacuate all guerillas as well as their native supporters and Portuguese colonists who had fought on the side of the allies. Several trials to achieve this were carried out by the Australian navy; some successful others failed. During these trials a corvette was lost at the cost of 100 lives.
After that, the Australians requested a fast and well-armed vessel from the Dutch Admiralty in order to evacuate the troops from Timor. The two Dutch destroyers Hr. Ms. Van Galen (2) and Tjerk Hiddes were stationed in Fremantle since a short time. But as the ‘Van Galen’ was at sea, ‘Tjerk Hiddes’ was charged with the dangerous mission. Hr. Ms. Tjerk Hiddes required three dangerous trips to evacuate all guerillas and their collaborators. The daring crossings resulting in the successful evacuations were highly praised by all allies.