The coast watcher idea was initiated right after WWI where responsible men were recruited
to report through telegraph stations in North and Northwest Australia. The advent of portable radio transmitters extended the scope of these volunteers to Australian territories in New Guinea and the Solomons. The program
was called Ferdinand, after the storybook flower-sniffing bull that was tranquil until roused. LCdr Eric Feldt activated and ran the organization from Sept 1939 with stingy support by the RAN, but the RAAF arranged
men were enrolled when war started in 1939, mostly on the mainland, by 1942 most were in enemy territory. Those in the
Solomons, mostly ex-planters, were the most notable. When the Solomons were occupied by the Japanese,
the coast watchers headed to remote observation posts with their radio transceiver and binoculars and lived off of the land
Coast watchers Mason and Read, located at opposite ends of Bougainville, reported air and sea movements from Kavieng and Rabaul. The beachhead at Guadalcanal was given 50 minutes warning of arial attack by number and types of aircraft. Carrier air and pilots from Henderson Field had time to gain altitude and vector to intercept.
Also interesting was the count of fewer Japanese planes returning. The first attack warning on Guadalcanal was by 24 torpedo bombers which had only one return. A Japanese reinvasion fleet was reported and only four ships
made it to Guadalcanal and they had to beach themselves to keep from sinking. Adm Halsey credits them with saving Guadalcanal. The Japanese soon discovered the source of their problems and made life even rougher
by forming local police forces to root out the coast watchers.
Coast watchers also assisted isolated detachments that had not surrendered. Many instances of rescue of downed airmen and sailors by "friendly natives" were
actually auxiliaries sent by coast watchers. The part played by the coast watchers was suppressed for their
protection. Natives were offered tinned meat or similar rewards for each hapless allied member delivered live to the coast watcher; 120 downed pilots were brought in. LTjg John Kennedy, PT-109, was rescued by Reg Evens, a coast watcher who had spotted his boat on fire that night and effected a rescue when Navy ships and planes were unable to find the site. Yes, he was invited to the White House in 1961.
For people working in secret, newsmen hundreds of miles away were as much a hazard as turncoat natives.
A newsman reported that the first attack on Port Moresby by Japanese planes had been reported when over the distant island of Gasmata. In the following days the island was repeatedly bombed forcing the coast watcher's to move from their position there. Concerning natives, they conformed to the politics of power ; they were loyal to the Australians until they left, then were loyal to the Japanese until they were expelled.
When we read of the Navy's annoyance on being directed to effect submarine rescue
of civilian, missionary and coast watcher, we must think that these men that had put their lives on the line for months, whose
location had been overrun, and needed a way out. Cornelius Page stayed behind at Rabaul to report on Japanese movements and installations. Mechanical failure of a first submarine rescue and cancellation of a second for a more important mission, resulted in capture of the Australian team and execution.
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About this page: Coastwatcher.html Notes about the Australian Coast Watchers.
Last updated: 24 September 2009