Australian Coastwatchers in the Pacific War

"They watched and warned and died that we might live"

Inscription on the Coastwatcher Memorial at Madang, PNG

When in 1942 the Japanese invaded Australia's Territory of New Guinea, which included the two northern islands of the Solomons chain, Buka and Bougainville, the activities of the enemy in the captured territory were closely monitored by Australian volunteer Coastwatchers. Most of these Coastwatchers were civilians. They had been recruited for coastwatching duties by Australian Naval Intelligence and were mostly old New Guinea hands, such as Australian government officers with experience as patrol officers. They knew the territory well and were used to working with the native people. Many Coastwatchers had military experience from World War I.

When the Japanese landed, the Coastwatchers withdrew into the jungle with their portable radio transmitters and loyal native helpers. The Coastwatchers found vantage points, often high in the hills, from which they could monitor Japanese military activity, and especially the movement of enemy aircraft and warships. This vital information was passed back by radio from Coastwatcher to Coastwatcher, and ultimately to Naval Intelligence in Australia.


Coastwatcher Martin Clemens is shown with six of his Melanesian scouts. Clemens played a key role in the capture by US Marines of a vital Japanese airstrip on Guadalcanal. He monitored its construction from behind enemy lines and gave the Americans timely warning that it was about to become operational.

In addition to observing and reporting Japanese military activity, the Coastwatchers played an important role in rescuing those at risk of capture by the Japanese, including downed Allied airmen and sailors whose ships had been sunk.

When the Allies went on the offensive against the Japanese invaders of New Guinea and the Solomons in 1943, the Coastwatchers acted as scouts for Allied troops. They went behind enemy lines before the landings to gather intelligence, landed with the troops, and set up radio stations to provide warning of Japanese aircraft attack, and guided the troops through the dense jungles.

Although many Coastwatchers and their native helpers were captured, interrogated under torture, and executed by the Japanese, the intelligence provided by them played a vital role in the ultimate defeat of the Japanese invaders.


The role of Australian Coastwatchers in the Pacific War

Establishment of the Coastwatcher Organisation

The vital role played by Australian Coastwatchers in the Battle for Guadalcanal

Lionel Veal's story of a Coastwatcher mission in the small motor vessel Paluma

Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt talks about his Coastwatchers Historical source material

Historical Source Material