79th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery

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79th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery
(21 LAA Rgt 79 Bty RA)
'The Sparrows'
The Sparrows Insignia.png
Royal Artillery Cap Badge and Anti-Aircraft Patch
Active 1939–1946
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Allegiance Allies

Flag of the British Army.svg British Army

Type Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft Badge.png Mobile LAA Battery
Role Anti-Aircraft Warfare,
Field Artillery,
Heavy Machine Gun Warfare

3 Troops, 12 Detachments, 250 men Timor

  • 2 Troops, 8 Detachments, 189


  • 1 Troop, 4 Detachments, 61
Part of Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft Badge.png Anti-Aircraft Command
Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft Badge.png 21 LAA Regiment
Australian 8th Division.png Sparrow Force
Garrison/HQ Walton-on-Thames
Motto(s) Ubique (Everywhere)
Quo Fas Et Gloria Ducunt (Where Right And Glory Lead)
Colours The guns are regarded as the regimental colours and are accorded the same compliments as the Standards, Guidons and Colours of the Cavalry and Infantry
March British Grenadiers (Quick March) Scipio (Slow March)
Anniversaries 23 February

Second World War

Ceremonial chief HM King George VI
Regiment Commander Lt-Col Martin Saunders (21 LAA Regt)
Major Jack Dempsey
The hat of
The Sparrows
- an Australian Slouch Hat, folded pungaree, and Royal Artillery Cap Badge.
Light Anti-Aircraft patch.
The Sparrows Hat.png
Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft Badge.png

The 79th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, also known as "The Sparrows", was a Royal Artillery unit of the British Army that fought with distinction in the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Java, and the Battle of Timor.



The 79th Light Anti-Aircraft (Ack-Ack) Battery was an independent Territorial Army unit (‘the weekend warriors’) of the Royal Artillery of the British Army.

Formed in the winter of 1939, they were based initially at Walton-on-Thames to defend key installations including water reservoirs supplying London. Originally containing mostly London volunteers, the battery became a full-time unit at the start of September 1939 when war with Germany became inescapable. As with all Territorial Army units, the battery was absorbed into the regular army by the end of that month. Together with three other similar batteries they became part of the 36th Light Ack-Ack Regiment.[citation needed]

Battle of Britain[edit]

During the first two years of the war the unit was employed on anti-aircraft protection duties in the Luftwaffe’s Blitzes of London. The unit saw action during the Battle of Britain where it served with distinction defending the Hawker Aviation factory at Langley, Churchill’s country home at Ditchley and the oil refinery north of Bristol. Later, they were used in the protection of airfields and key installations in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.

Formation of the 21 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment[edit]

During the months the battery converted to using Bofors 40 millimetre automatic anti-aircraft artillery the battery was preparing to become a mobile battery. Conscripted 19-year-old cockney drivers were being trained in Blackpool. Replacement gunners were sourced from the 79th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment trained at Hadrian's Camp in Carlisle. In November 1941 the men were all issued embarkation leave.

The battery was then formed with other batteries, including the 48th and 69th LAA batteries, into the 21st Light Anti Aircraft Regiment Royal Artillery for service overseas. The battery received some cursory training in mobile warfare during ‘Exercise Bumper’ and were now issued with desert kit and their equipment was painted in desert camouflage ready for overseas deployment in mid-November.


At this stage of the war, the European theatre had expanded to the Middle East and North Africa and large convoys of reinforcements were being sent to Egypt via the long route around the South African cape and the Suez Canal. Other reinforcements were also being dispatched to India and Singapore.

The scuttlebutt amongst the 79th gunners was that they were being sent to Iraq to protect the Basra railhead. The new commanding officer of the 21 LAA Regt, Lt-Col Martin Saunders, was called to the War Office in the third week of November to be given instructions on the regiment’s destination and operational tasks. It was to be a most secret operation known only to a few. He, alone amongst the regiment, knew they were to be a part of a small advanced force for a landing in French Algeria and then a subsequent 500-mile (800 km) dash to capture the airfields at Tunis and Bizerta.


The battery gunners left Gourock on the Warwick Castle at 8am on 7 December 1941. A small team from the 79th accompanied their equipment on the SS Malancha, which sailed independently from Liverpool on the same day as the Japanese launched their attacks on Malaya and Pearl Harbour.

Whilst at sea, the planners at the War Office decided to reschedule the operation which had been one of Winston Churchill’s pet projects, but without letting him know. The Operation would eventually take place a year later as “Operation Torch”.

The small convoy which had been embedded in a much larger troop convoy WS(14) for their voyage to Gibraltar – which was to be the staging post for the invasion of Algiers – did not detach on 11 December as planned but stayed with main convoy en route to South Africa. The ‘Force’ received no instructions about what would be their new destination and mission.

In Cape Town, they were to learn that Britain was now at war with Japan and their new assignment was to defend Singapore. Singapore was under attack before they arrived and they were redeployed to Batavia on the jungle covered island of Java on 3 February 1942. Their ship was attacked as it arrived in port.

In Batavia the 79th LAA Battery was split in two. Troop B was sent to defend the airfield of Malang while Troops A and C boarded the Ban Hong Leong on 9 February to defend Penfui airfield in Dutch Timor – the closest airfield to Australia.


After their ship was chased and attacked by two Japanese submarines, the ship was attacked by Japanese bombers as they arrived at Koepang port on 16 February.

In Timor, the battery of 189 personnel joined Sparrow Force – a contingent of 1400 Australian troops, – under the command of Australian Lt. Colonel William Leggatt.

To cope with jungle conditions (and the fear that their tall white pith helmets would attract sniper fire), the 79th Battery were issued with the Australian Akubra slouch hat, which they wore with the Royal Artillery cap badge. They are the only non-Australian troops to ever be issued with Australia’s traditional hat.

The 79th (British) LAA Battery were the only anti-aircraft artillery on Timor. C Troop defended the Penfui Aerodrome while two detachments of A Troop each defended the coastal guns at Klapalima and Force Headquarters at Force Hill.

The battery certainly proved an important part of Sparrow Force. In Leggatt’s log he praised its actions:

“This unit showed its excellent discipline and training during the four days of action. Their guns registered eighteen hits upon enemy aircraft and reported 14 aircraft destroyed, including one four-engined troop carrier, and a twin-engine flying boat. Dive bombing did not deter them in the least, only ammunition shortages prevented them from engaging all enemy aircraft presented.”

According to Captain Fred East’s Intelligence Report,[1] the 79th LAA Bty claimed to have shot down:

They also claimed to have hit 18 bombers and fighters. "Some bombers had similar turret and fuselage to [the Blenheim bomber ]. All bombers were twin-[engined]."

Japanese Captain Fukada of the Kambe Company Nishiyama “Ace” Battalion stated “that about 20 of their planes had not returned.” Natives claimed to have seen two crashed Japanese transport planes in the bush with about 28 bodies in each.

The 79th were potent against invading ground forces. The exploding Bofors shells amongst the coconut palms killed many advancing infantry. As a result of Sparrow Force actions, Japan's most successful and elite special force, the 3rd Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force – which fought in China, Hong Kong, and Ambon – was decimated.

Only one casualty, Gunner Fred Watkins, died in combat. Three died on Timor from battle wounds. One member of the battery, Fred Berry, attempted to escape by boat to Australia while another, Harry Martin, was captured and executed while trying to pass important intelligence to the 2/2nd Independent Company in East Timor.

For a detailed description of the Battle of Timor see Battle of Timor (1942–43).

79 LAA Bty Casualties
Location Far East
Casualties and losses

Total Casualties
Timor Branch
Malang Branch

Killed in Action
Missing Presumed Dead



40 (Total)

  • 5
  • 23
  • 1
  • 11


After capitulation on 23 February 1942 the battery was held at Usapa Besar POW camp until 23 September 1942. They were then herded into the hold of an old Chinese freighter, the hellship Dainichi Maru, with the rest of Sparrow Force and transported to Surabaya via Dili coming under attack from Royal Australian Air Force bombers and Royal Navy and Dutch submarines. From there they travelled by train to Batavia and marched 11 miles (18 km) to Makasuru where they were separated from the Australians and Dutch to join the R.A.F. POWs in #5 camp. There they rejoined their comrades from B Troop.

On 15 October the Battery was broken up and sent to different parts of South East Asia. Some were held on Java while on 18 October the rest of the battery boarded the notorious Singapore Maru and Oshida Maru freighters to endure a one-week voyage to Singapore.[2]

At Singapore the battery were marched 15 miles (24 km) to Changi Barracks where they would be medically examined and assessed for labour camps throughout South East Asia. Some were sent to work on the Siam-Burma ‘Death’ Railway, sent to build the Sumatra Railway, sent to work in labour camps all over Japan, or remain in Singapore at the notorious Changi Prison.[3]

Those who travelled to Japan to work in labour camps endured 46 days on the hellship Dainichi Maru and Tofuku Maru. Most casualties were aboard these hellships – from disease shortly after disembarking at Moji.

In Japan, the 79th gunners on the Tofuku Maru travelled by train to Hiraoka where they were held at the Tokyo #2 Detached (Mitsushima) POW Camp. There, they worked to build the Hiraoka Dam. In April 1944, most of the gunners were sent by train to the Tokyo #16 (Showa Denko) POW Camp in Kanose to stoke furnaces in the carbide factory. The gunners who disembarked the Dainichi Maru joined the Fukuoka #1 POW Camp. This group would be later split and relocated to camps in Moji, Kumamoto, Orio, Ube, Omine and Bibai.[citation needed]

Many died from disease or accidents in labour camps on the Siam-Burma ‘Death’ Railway, in Sumatra, Japan, Java, Borneo, and Changi Prison. Later in the war, several died when their hellships were sunk by United States Navy submarine en route to Japan from Singapore.[citation needed]


After the war ended, Bombardier A.H. 'Jock' Compton fell through the bomb bay doors of a converted B-24 Liberator bomber transporting liberated POWs from Okinawa to Manila. 30 other bombers were brought down by a typhoon on the same day on the same route killing almost a thousand liberated prisoners of war.[4] To put this number in perspective, 1036 prisoners of war in Japan died during the war.

War Crimes Trials[edit]

Several members of the battery were victims of war crimes. In what would be the first war crimes trial after the war, at Yokohama, Tatsuo Tsuchiya was found guilty of mistreatment of several battery members which resulted in deaths at Mitsushima POW Camp at Hiraoka. Several other guards at that camp would also be executed or imprisoned for their roles in the deaths and ill treatment of battery members. In other Yokohama War Crimes Trials, several battery members testified against Japanese guards for the ill-treatment of fellow battery members at Kanose and Fukuoka Branch camps.

In Darwin, Kempeitai Lieutenant Colonel Yujiro Yutani was tried, found guilty, and executed for killing Gunner Harry Martin.

In Singapore, Otsu Shiro was found guilty of ill-treatment of Allied POWs resulting in the death of twenty-seven and physical suffering of many others on the Tofuku Maru.[5] Other Japanese and Korean guards were tried for their roles at POW Camps on Java, Siam-Burma ‘Death’ Railway, Sumatra, and the Sandakan Death Marches on Borneo.


Up until the end of the war, the unit was also known as:

  • 21 LAA Rgt 79 Bty RA
  • 79th (Timor) LAA Bty RA
  • 79th (British) LAA Bty
  • B Troop 79th LAA Bty RA

After the war the 79th LAA Battery was disbanded and it would thereafter be recorded as the 79th (Timor) LAA Battery – the ‘Sparrows.’


Second Lieutenant A.H. Samuelson was awarded the Military Cross.[6][7] In his citation, it states:

On 22 February 1942, at 0730 hours 'A' Troop 79 LAA Battery, R.A., under the command of 2/Lieut A.H. SAMUELSON R.A., were attacked by enemy parachutists from an ambush some 800 yards EAST of village of BABOE in TIMOR. The enemy, who opened a heavy fire using Mortars and Automatics, were posted in trees and thick undergrowth. Two platoons AIF counter attacked.
2/Lieut SAMUELSON rallied personnel and displayed considerable coolness directing offensive action while under fire. At one time, the LAA guns were completely encircled and continuously sniped from some 100 yards distance until the two AIF platoons counter attacked.
Casualties 1 killed and 6 wounded.

Each member of The Sparrows earned the following medals:

39-45 Star BAR.svg Pacific Star.gif Defence Medal BAR.svg War Medal 39-45 BAR.svg
39-45Starobv.png PacificStarobv.png
1939-1945 Star Pacific Star
(Burma clasp)
Defence Medal War Medal


Rank Name Command
Major. Dempsey, John Patrick Heyward Battery Commander
Capt. Craig, William Marshal 2nd in Command
2nd Lt. Samuelson, A.H. A Troop Commander
2nd Lt. Bell, Robert Peter Mangin(Peter) A Troop 2nd in Command (& Transport)
2nd Lt. Scott, Charles Walter C Troop Commander
2nd Lt. Baillie, Andrew C Troop 2nd in Command
WOII White, Reginald (Ron/Abdul) Battery Sergeant Major
BQMS Collett, William Joseph (Bill) Battery Quartermaster Sergeant
Sgt. Birkhead, Richard Walter (Dickie) Battery Sergeant Fitter
S/Sgt Lucas, Henry Transport Sergeant
Sgt. Lucas, Alfred Transport Sergeant
L/Sgt. Jones, Alfred Aubrey (Bob) A1 Detachment
Sgt. Weston, Ronald James A2 Detachment
Sgt. Brockway, Roy Frederick A3 Detachment
Sgt. Storey, James Matthew (Paddy) A4 Detachment
Sgt. Kember, Denis George C1 Detachment
Sgt. Brown, Gibson Harrison C2 Detachment
Sgt. Evans, Henry C3 Detachment
Sgt. King, George Herbert C4 Detachment


Primary weaponry[edit]

QF 40mm Mk1 CFB Borden 1.jpg Bren1.jpg
'Bofors' Gun Lewis gun Bren Gun



Secondary weaponry[edit]

Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk 1 (1903) - UK - cal 303 British - Armémuseum.jpg N°69 HE bakelite grenade.JPG Enfield Mk II revolver.JPG
No.1 Mk.III* Lee–Enfield rifle No. 69 grenade .38 Enfield revolver

Primary transport[edit]



Secondary transport[edit]


  • 2 x Chevrolet 1.5 tonne utility trucks
  • 4 x motorcycles with sidecars


  • 1 x Chevrolet 1.5 tonne utility trucks
  • 2 x motorcycles with sidecars


Roll of honour[edit]

  • Rank
Full Name Serial # Last POW Camp Death Cause
Gnr. Letham, James Dempster 1826529 Fukuoka 1944/06/24 Drowned (Tamahoko Maru)
Gnr. Adams, David Francis 1614691 Fukuoka 6B (Orio) 1944/12/28 Illness
L/Bdr. Angel, John Lindsay 1552212 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1945/08/02 Illness
Gnr. Bartlett, William Nathaniel 1826535 Sumatra 1945/02/07 Illness
Gnr. Bennett, Albert Sydney George 1653987 Burma-Siam Railway 1943/09/26 Illness
Gnr. Buchan, John Ford 1693996 Tokyo #16B (Kanose) 1945/03/11 Accident
Gnr. Burnett, John Reginald 1548346 Burma-Siam Railway 1943/06/25 Illness
L/Bdr. Burton, Edmund David 1548410 Usapa Besar, Timor 1942/06/23 Illness
Gnr. Casey, Albert Edward 1654002 Tokyo #2D (Mitsushima) 1942/12/09 Illness
Gnr. Chandler, Harold 1735808 Tokyo #2D (Mitsushima) 1943/02/24 Illness
Bdr. Charman, Wilfred Harry 1616543 Tokyo #2D (Mitsushima) 1943/04/06 Illness
Gnr. Cockaday, William Bob 1735528 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1942/12/18 Illness
Gnr. Coe, Albert James 1654010 Tokyo #2D (Mitsushima) 1943/03/04 Illness
Bdr. Compton, Arthur Frank 1552186 Tokyo #16B (Kanose) 1945/09/10 Air Accident
Gnr. Cook, John Harold 1654011 Sumatra 1943/11/29 Illness
Gnr. Crowdell, Oliver 1511317 Tokyo #16B (Kanose) 1945/03/11 Accident
Gnr. Cunliffe, Calvert 1809144 Fukuoka #4 (Moji) 1945/02/24 Illness
Gnr. Cunningham, Walter Pendreich 1826556 Burma-Siam Railway 1943/08/10 Illness
Sgt. Evans, Henry 1545870 Usapa Besar, Timor 1942/07/02 Wounds
Gnr. Foster, John 1826509 Tokyo #16B (Kanose) 1943/03/28 Accident
L/Bdr. Gallucci, Adolphus 1654030 Java 1943/01/23 Illness
Gnr. Goodworth, Harold 1781571 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1943/02/24 Illness
Gnr. Hills, Nelson John 1653876 Fukuoka #4 (Moji) 1945/03/14 Illness
Gnr. Hocking, Joseph 1548784 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1942/12/14 Illness
Gnr. Hudson, Thomas Henry 1809178 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1943/01/17 Illness
L/Bdr. Jarvis, Denis Arthur Claud 1556170 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1945/03/12 Illness
Sgt. King, George Herbert 1453589 Tokyo #2D (Mitsushima) 1943/08/17 Illness
Gnr. Mackie, Andrew 1774706 Tokyo #2D (Mitsushima) 1942/12/06 Illness
Gnr. Mansell, Percy Stuart John 1548785 Changi 1944/06/24 Drowned (Tamahoko Maru)
Gnr. Marshall, Gavin 1826695 Hiroshima 7B (Ube) 1945/02/27 Illness/Torture
Gnr. Martin, Harold Laurence John 6401712 Usapa Besar, Timor 1943/06/16 Executed
Gnr. McMahon, Henry 1478716 Java 1944/09/18 Illness
Gnr. Medlar, Sydney Ernest 1735606 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1945/10/12 Illness
Gnr. Mills, Jack 1456029 Usapa Besar, Timor 1942/03/10 Wounds
Gnr. Mitchell, Robert 1826700 Tokyo #2D (Mitsushima) 1943/02/04 Illness
Gnr. Moore, Alfred John William 1556169 Changi 1944/06/24 Drowned (Tamahoko Maru)
Gnr. Padbury, Charles 1807286 Changi 1944/09/18 Illness
L/Bdr. Pascoe, Michael Bennett 1555908 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1943/03/04 Illness
Gnr. Rushton, William 11060960 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1943/02/19 Illness
Gnr. Sparke, John James 1817355 Burma-Siam Railway 1943/06/29 Illness
Gnr. Todd, William 1653920 Sumatra 1945/08/03 Illness
L/Bdr. Wallace, John 1456027 Usapa Besar, Timor 1942/06/01 Wounds
Gnr. Watkins, Frederick James 1818926 1942/02/22 K.I.A.
Gnr. Wells, Gordon James 1556203 Changi 1944/06/24 Drowned (Tamahoko Maru)
Sgt. Weston, Ronald James 1452499 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1942/12/09 Illness
Gnr. Wilkinson, James Leonard (Bluey) 1807869 Burma-Siam Railway 1943/07/02 Illness
Gnr. Wright, Alfred Randolph 1781386 Fukuoka #1 (Kumamoto) 1943/05/01 Illness
Gnr. Wright, James 1735786 Changi 1944/06/24 Drowned (Tamahoko Maru)
(Served at Malang, Java)
Gnr. Barkin, Jack 1829651 Palembang 1945/08/03
Gnr. Bold, Joseph 1835288 Singapore 1944/08/27 Drowned (Noto Maru)
L/Bdr. Brown, Albert Joseph 1597152 Kuching 1945/08/13 Illness
L/Bdr. Butt, Arthur Ashley 1736369 Hakodate (Bibai Coal Mine) 1942/12/12 Illness
Gnr. Challoner, James Charles 1552311 Amboina 1943/11/20 Illness
Sgt. Clarke, Ronald Dudley 1555831 Kuching 1945/09/02 Illness
Gnr. Corderoy, Arthur Albert Henry 1614718 Malaysia 1944/04/18 Drowned (Hellship)
Bdr. Emms, Douglas Charles 1614637 Ambon 1943/11/29 Drowned (Suez Maru)
Gnr. Fitch, Leslie Ernest 1807016 Ambon 1943/11/29 Drowned (Suez Maru)
Gnr. Foster, Charles Herbert 1614639 Ambon 1943/11/29 Drowned (Suez Maru)
Gnr. Garrett, George Terence 1807025 Singapore 1944/06/24 Drowned (Tamahoko Maru)
Sgt. Goff, Arthur John 1458291 Sarawak 1945/07/26 Illness
Gnr. Head, John Edward 1807157 Sarawak 1944/06/24 Drowned (Tamahoko Maru)
Gnr. McCulloch, William Henry 1779808 Singapore 1945/02/16 Drowned (Hellship)
W.O.II Moth, John Bevington 1456257 1942/12/10 Illness
Gnr. Saban, Cyril Victor 1807346 Ambon 1943/11/29 Drowned (Suez Maru)
Gnr. Skinner, John Robert Alexander 1483416 Java 1944/09/18 Drowned (Junyo Maru)
Gnr. Smith, Kenneth 1826738 Ambon 1943/11/29 Drowned (Suez Maru)
Gnr Stearn, Sidney 1736274 Ambon 1943/11/29 Drowned (Suez Maru)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paragraphs 48 & 49, Observations on Timor and Java During 1942 and afterwards: A.I.F. on Timor known as Sparrow Force. Captain Fred G. East VX64901 AHQ10 “Sparrow Force”, 29 October 1945, Melbourne.
  2. ^ Rose 2002, p.76.
  3. ^ Chater 2001.
  4. ^ SCAP HQ & USAF investigation into Typhoon Ursula, September 1945. NARA RG
  5. ^ http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~warcrime/Japan/singapore/Trials/Otsu.htm
  6. ^ "No. 37585". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 May 1946. p. 2613. 
  7. ^ National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.


  • Chater, Leslie Hilton (2001). Behind the Fence: Life as a POW in Japan, 1942-1945: The Diaries of Les Chater. Canada: Vanwell. ISBN 1551250640. 
  • Rose, Bill (2002). You Shook My Hand. Kent: Barny Books. 

External links[edit]