The movie, South Pacific featured two "coast watchers" as heroes, the American, Lt. Joseph Cable, and the Frenchman, Emil de Becque, who observed, and reported on Japanese naval movements. The Japanese treated these people as "spies," and killed them at every opportunity. In the movie, Cable died but deBecque survived.

How dangerous was it to be such a coast watcher? Could they camouflage themselves and hide in the vegetation, and mostly survive? Or did "coastwatching" require them to expose themselves, use binoculars and radios, and generally make it obvious to enemy ships and planes as to what they were doing? Did the Japanese land troops to make "sweeps" of areas that coasts watchers used?

Put another way, what were the sources of risk to coastwatchers, and what evasive actions did they take?

  • Surprisingly (somewhat), en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coastwatchers is a bit light on details, beyond saying the Japanese 'executed several such officers' out of some 400 total.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 21, 2020 at 21:54
  • I do vaguely recall reading Walter Lord's book back in the 70's, but it was a more popular history rather light on details.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 21, 2020 at 22:02
  • 1
    There is a memorial with 38 names on it awm.gov.au/collection/C256337 which suggests a reasonable death rate if that 400 number is correct, but a lot better than operations in Europe. Would suspect there is no single answer to this since the needs/risks change with the course of the war and the personality of the watcher, noting early ones were amateurs who stayed behind, later more were specifically trained military personnel. Jul 22, 2020 at 8:42

1 Answer 1


A quick dash at Google . . .

Some sources report that there were some 600 coast watchers, others report a count of 700; of whom, regardless of the total serving, 38 lost their lives. Using the lower number, that is about a 6% loss rate. See anzacportal and Navy.gov.au from which you can download this PDF article on the subject and coastwatchers presents four pages of individual vignettes and short historical essays.

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