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The Investigation into the Loss of 7 Men from Operation Copper
 
The following report is the result of an investigation conducted by Major R.A.C.Cardew, Services Reconnaissance Department into the loss of seven men during Z Special, Operation Copper, April 11-20, 1945. The report has been copied verbatim, with corrections to spelling only. Note in this report Major Cardew refers to an area he calls Cape Sabar. It is believed that this is either an accidental misinterpretation of the name Cape Sarabar as marked on the operational map (Cape Sarabar, Special Map compiled by the US Army Corps of Engineers) or a localised abbreviation. The original document source is the Australian War Memorial Archives.
 
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REPORT by Major R.A.C. Cardew

10 Oct 45.

To: C.S.

From: Major R.A.C. Cardew

Subject: REPORT ON INVESTIGATIONS OF MISSING PERSONNEL – MUSCHU PARTY.

The following personnel were members of an S.R.D. party from Group “C” who were inserted into MUSCHU Island, T.N.G., on the night 11/12 Apr 45:-

Lt. BARNES J.J.

Lt. GUBBAY A.R.

Sgt. WEBER M.F.M.

L/Cpl WALKLATE S.H.

Pte. EAGLETON R.E.

Spr DENNIS E.T.

Sig HAGGER M.

Sig CHANDLER J.R.

I was instructed by C.O. “Z” Special Unit to proceed to H.Q. 6 Aust. Div. to make investigations in an effort to trace the seven missing personnel of this party (Spr DENNIS was the only member of the party to return safely to our lines). I arrived at WEWAK, the location of 6 Aust. Div. on 13 Sept 45. There I contacted the GO.O.C. G1 of 6 Aust Div., O.C. ANGAU Det., WEWAK, and O.C. A.I.B. Det., WEWAK. All the above officers advised me that investigations and interrogations of the enemy had been carried out in an attempt to locate the whereabouts of the missing personnel, but that no trace could be found.

About five days prior to my arrival all the natives of MUSCHU Island had been withdrawn to the mainland in the vicinity of the HAWAIN River. This was done as it was intended that the whole of MUSCHU Island would be used as a P.W. Camp for the enemy.

On 14 Sep 45, I obtained permission from all concerned to proceed to HAWAIN River to personally interrogate the abovementioned natives. These natives had been very pro-Japanese and, as a result, were not inclined to make any information available on any matter in the fear that they would be implicated as War Criminals with the Japanese in any atrocities committed in the area. However, by using subterfuge methods I was able to obtain the following information:

 

  • That a party of unknown numbers had landed on the Eastern tip of MUSCHU Island (Cape SABAR) about the middle of April, 1945.
  • Three of the party were ambushed and killed by Japanese naval members of the Island garrison, approximately three days later.
  • The name of the native who accompanied the enemy patrol which ambushed these personnel.
  • The name of the native who was fired at by Spr. DENNIS (according to his report).
  • The approximate location of the site of the ambush.
  • The approximate position of the foldboat hideout.
  • The whereabouts of 1 ATR 4A wireless set and 1 Welrod.
  • That the bodies of the three personnel were mutilated by having their legs, arms and heads cut off by enemy troops after the personnel had been shot (this latter information proved incorrect).
  • The natives had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the remaining four missing personnel nor had they seen them or heard of them at any stage of the action.
  • The area in which the operation took place was under enemy Naval control.

On 15 Sep 45, accompanied by the native who was with the enemy patrol during the action, a MANUS native who had heard of the operation, and an interpreter in Japanese, I proceeded to Cape SABAR on MUSCHU Island and there located:-

The foldboat hide-out.

  • The position at which two of the party were ambushed and killed while endeavouring to work their W/T set.
  • The water-hole mentioned in Spr. DENNIS’ report where the remains of the third body were found.

In reference to (i) above, odd pieces of doweling were found in the area of the foldboat hide-out.

In reference to (ii) above, pieces of human skeletons and clothing were found in the area of the ambush.

In reference to (iii) above, again pieces of human skeleton were found.

All remains were collected to take back to the 7 Aust. War Graves Unit at WEWAK.

Later that day in making a reconnaissance of the Island, I ran into a Japanese Naval patrol and questioned them on their knowledge of the shooting of the three personnel. They told me that a Capt. TOMEI, the Japanese Naval officer who was in command of that area, had full knowledge of the matter and would answer my questions necessary. I proceeded to the Western tip of the Island to MARCHESA Bay where Capt. TOMEI was located and interrogated him. He said that he was not in a position to answer my questions, but that the naval Commander of the Island, a Capt. TEMURA, would be in a position to give the full information required.

I then proceeded to Capt. TEMURA’s H.Q., which were three miles distant, and interrogated him. He advised that he had only taken over command of the Island on the day of the landing of our party and therefore was not fully in the picture in the matter but that Capt. TOMEI would answer all questions. I immediately put Capt. TEMURA under arrest and returned to MARCHESA Bay to put Capt. TOMEI under arrest but found that he had, in the meantime, returned to the Eastern tip of the Island. Owing to sea transport difficulties I was not able to contact Capt. TOMEI until the following day, whereupon I interrogated both Capt. TOMEI and Capt. TEMURA together, the outcome being that Capt. TEMURA instructed Capt. TOMEI to give all the information required and to facilitate in the recovering of the bodies. From this interrogation the following information was received:-

  • The party had landed on the night 11/12 Apr 45 at Cape SABAR.
  • The enemy had suffered as casualties from action by our party six killed and two wounded and one, possibly two, MGs destroyed (owing to the length of time between the landing of the party and the time of interrogations, Capt. TOMEI could not remember the exact details of the MGs).
  • A Japanese patrol found one dead Japanese soldier on the beach at Cape. WARBU. This patrol then proceeded immediately eastwards along the beach and located the folboats, by which time they realized an enemy party had landed and the alarm was given. An ambush was arranged over the folboats; patrols were dispatched to various parts of the Island, and a general search was made.
  • Approximately two days later two of our personnel were surprised by an enemy party while trying to make communication with their W/T Set. The two personnel were shot dead at a range of approximately 30 yards. One of them had in his possession a Welrod.
  • The following day another of our personnel was found dead at the wate-hole mentioned by Spr. DENNIS’ report, having apparently died of wound which had occurred in a clash with the party the day before. The bodies were not searched and were left lying where they fell for one month. The remains were then collected and buried in a common grave North of Cape. SABAR. Capt. TOMEI could given no reason as to why the bodies were not buried immediately.
  • While the bodies were left on the ground part of one of them was blown to pieces during a bombing raid.
  • The wireless set and Welrod were brought to Capt. TOMEI’s H.Q. and then they passed them on to Capt. TEMURA’s H.Q.
  • Capt. TOMEI stated that the personnel were not searched or mutilated in any way after death.

On completion of the interrogation Capt. TOMEI led me to the common grave of the three personnel. There I observed the nearly complete skeletons of three personnel one of the skulls having a bullet wound above the left ear. Also from this grave was dug up one serviceable oil bath prismatic compass and odd pieces of equipment and clothing. The grave was clean, well laid out and marked with three head-stones. The bones, on my examination, did not appear to have been fractured in any ways as had been stated by the natives.

Neither Capt. TEMURA nor Capt. TOMEI had any knowledge at all of Lt. BARNES, Lt. GUBBAY, L/Cpl. WALKLATE, Pte EAGELTON or Spr. DENNIS. However, they estimated that, owing to the extent of operations of the party, approximately 16 – 20 personnel had been landed. They did not know that Spr. DENNIS had escaped and were quite surprised to know that there were still four personnel missing.

The bodies were taken to the WEWAK War Cemeteries (7 Aust.War Graves) where I arranged for a burial service and photographer to take photos of the graves. Unfortunately, I was unable to identify individually the three bodies but from the following information and deductions I presume them to be Sgt. WEBER, Sig, CHANDLER and Sig. HAGGER:

 

  • Spr. DENNIS stated that four personnel had set out on individual logs to contact HDML 1321, i.e. Lt. BARNES, Lt. GUBBAY, L/Cpl. WALKLATE, Pte EAGELTON.
  • The three personnel remaining with him were Sgt. WEBER, Sig, CHANDLER and Sig. HAGGER.
  • Spr. DENNIS stated in his opinion that these three personnel had been killed by the enemy in the action and position described in his report which was, as far as possible, confirmed by Capt. TEMURA and Capt. TOMEI.
  • It is most probable that the two personnel working the W/T set were the two signalers.
  • The four personnel who set out on logs would not have landed at their point of embarkation owing to the strong currents prevailing in that area.

7. Aust.War Graves are making a full investigation into the matter of identification of the bodies and they hope to obtain satisfactory results.

Owing to the lack of sea transport for the next two days I was held up at WEWAK. On the following day I proceeded to WALLIS Islands, West of MUSCHU Island, where I interrogated the native chiefs and other members of the Island, but they had no knowledge whatever of the operation not of any of the personnel concerned. This is quite understandable as these natives wee not friendly disposed towards the MUSCHU natives nor the enemy and would make as little contact with MUSCHU as possible.

The following three days I spent in making a search and contact of natives on KAIRIYU Island just North of MUSCHU. These natives had knowledge of the three personnel all being killed on MUSCHU but were completely unaware of the existence of any further personnel. Throughout all the interrogations of the natives I am convinced, from my own personal knowledge of their nature, that they spoke the truth in all but a few minor details, in fact, eventually, they had a tendency to exaggerate in certain matters in their endeavour to help. I am also convinced that no atrocities were committed against our party by the enemy and that the information that they eventually gave me was true, to the best of their knowledge. In fact, once they realized that they would not be marked as war criminals, they were eager to give all the information in their power. (see additional information. Author, January 2007.)

As regards the four missing personnel, the only conclusion I can come to is that they lost their lives by drowning at sea. It is to be remembered that they set out separately on logs approximately 2000hrs at night in waters with very strong currents –up to 2 ½ to 3 knots – and that by daylight they were probably washed well off the coast and either succumbed through exhaustion or were drowned or taken by sharks.

Prior to my closing up of Group “C” in Jun 45, I had personally searched VOKEO and VALIF Islands, lying to the North-East of MUSCHU, and there were no signs of them having landed there. Therefore I did not consider it necessary to make a further search of these Islands.

(Signed). R.A.C. CARDEW.

Major

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Since the book's publication more information has emerged discrediting Captain's Tomei and Temura.
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