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Battle of North Borneo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Battle of North Borneo
Part of Pacific theatre of the Second World War
Soldiers from the 2-43rd Battalion patrolling on Labuan (AWM photo 109462).jpg

Members of a patrol from 'A' Company, Australian 2/43rd Battalion, disembark from a boat and walk along a large fallen tree, as they move inland to investigate reports of Japanese activity.
Date10 June – 15 August 1945
North Borneo (present-day Sabah and Brunei)
Result Allied victory
 United States
Commanders and leaders
Australia George Wootten
Australia Selwyn Porter
Australia Victor Windeyer
Empire of Japan Baba Masao
Empire of Japan Taijiro Akashi
Units involved

Australia 9th Division

United States 727th Amphibian Tractor Battalion

United States 593rd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment

Empire of Japan Thirty-Seventh Army

≈29,000–30,000 men ≈8,800 men (Allied estimate)
Casualties and losses
114 killed or died of wounds
221 wounded
At least 1,234 killed
130 captured

The Battle of North Borneo took place during the Second World War between Allied and Japanese forces. Part of the wider Borneo campaign of the Pacific War, it was fought between 10 June and 15 August 1945 in North Borneo (later known as Sabah). The battle involved a series of amphibious landings by Australian forces on various points on the mainland around Brunei Bay and upon islands situated around the bay. Japanese opposition to the landings was sporadic initially, although as the campaign progressed a number of considerable clashes occurred and both sides suffered significant casualties, although major combat was largely restricted to Labuan and around Beaufort. On the mainland, while Allied conventional operations focused largely on the coastal areas around Brunei Bay, guerrilla forces consisting of Dayak tribesmen and small numbers of Allied personnel from the Services Reconnaissance Department fought an unconventional campaign in the interior. The Allies were successful in seizing control of the region. Nevertheless, many of the strategic gains that possession of North Borneo provided were ultimately negated by the sudden conclusion of the war in August 1945.

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  • ✪ WW2 in South-East Asia | Battle of Borneo (1941-1942)
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  • ✪ Battle of North Borneo
  • ✪ Australian World War Two History, Labuan Island, Borneo, Malaysia


The island of Borneo is a land of primeval jungle. The coasts are fringed with mangrove and swamp, and over nine-tenths of the interior is covered with thick evergreen forests. In 1941 the population was small – that of the whole island was estimated at less than three million – and there were less than a dozen settlements large enough to be called towns. There were few roads and only one short railway; communication was by the many waterways or by narrow jungle paths. Much of the interior was unexplored, or very inadequately known. It was rich in oil and other raw materials. The island was partly Dutch and partly British. British Borneo lay along its northern seaboard and comprised the two states of British North Borneo and Sarawak, the small protected State of Brunei, and the Crown Colony of Labuan Island. North Borneo and sarawak were not technically British colonies, but “protectorates,” all of whom depended upon the British for their protection and to run their foreign affairs. British North Borneo was administered by a chartered company of the same name. Labuan, just off shore, had been managed in this way, but in 1941, it was administered directly by the British from Singapore. Brunei was a sultanate, and therefore an autonomous entity, although it was under British protection, and the resident British administrator wielded more practical administrative power than the sultan. Sarawak, meanwhile, was a kingdom ruled since 1841 by the British-born Brooke family, who were called the “White Rajahs.” Looking for protection from pirates and other regional powers, the Brookes were interested in a protectorate relationship with Britain, but the British were content to simply recognize them as an independent country. Oil, and its importance, had yet to be discovered, and the British were not interested. Later, In 1888, the United Kingdom finally granted protectorate status. While The rest of the island—collectively known as Kalimantan—was under Dutch control. Of the five major islands on the Dutch East Indies, Borneo was the primary objective for japanese because of the great oil fields that were located in both the British north and on the Dutch west side. Borneo occupies a position of great strategic importance in the south-west Pacific. It lies across the main sea routes from the north to Malaya and Sumatra on the one hand, and Celebes and Java on the other. Strongly held, it could have been one of the main bastions in the defence of the Malay barrier, but neither the Dutch nor the British had the necessary resources to defend it. The available forces had to be concentrated further south for the defence of Singapore and Java, and all that could be spared for Borneo and the outlying Dutch islands were small detachments at important points which it was hoped might prove a deterrent to attack. The oilfields in British Borneo lay in two groups: one at Miri close to the northern boundary of Sarawak, and the other Seria in the State of Brunei. The crude oil was pumped from both fields to a refinery at Lutong on the coast, from which loading lines ran out to sea. For defence at northern borneo, Commander-in-Chief Far East, Sir Robert Brooke-Popham had ordered the 2nd Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment, a heavy 6-inch gun battery from the Hong Kong-Singapore Royal Artillery, and a detachment of 35th Fortress Company (Royal Engineers) to proceed to Kuching, unsupported by air or naval assets. Given the area’s importance as an oil producer, he should have done more. The only place which it was decided to hold was Kuching, the reason for this being not only that there was a modern airfield at this location, but that its occupation by the enemy might give access to the Dutch airfields in Borneo, furthermore, it would also give the enemy access to Singapore. There had been a small RAF contingent at Kuching, but this had been pulled back to Singapore several months earlier. Brooke-Popham’s orders in case of a Japanese attack were simply to burn, not defend, the petroleum industry infrastructure. In December 1940 a company of 2/15th Punjab was sent to Miri for the protection of the demolition parties. These troops were entrusted with the destruction of Miri Oil Fields. While at Kuching was deployed a force of 6 Platoons of infantry from 2/15 Punjab Regiment. These troops were to conduct a delaying action at the Bukit Stabar Airfield outside of Kuching. While the "White Rajah" assembled a small army of local tribesmen into a unit which he called the “Sarawak Rangers,”. This force consisted of 1,515 troops who were primarily Iban and Dyak tribesmen trained in the art of jungle warfare. The defenders, Punjabis as well as rangers, were under the unified command of Lieutenant Colonel C.M. Lane as the Sarawak Force (SARFOR). In August 1941, It was also decided that no attempt should be made to defend British North Borneo, Brunei or Labuan, and the Governor of North Borneo, Mr. Robert Smith, was informed that the Volunteers and police were to be used solely for the maintenance of internal security. The Oilfields in dutch borneo lies on the east coast of Dutch Borneo, including both drilling and refining, was centered at two locations. First was Tarakan Island, and Second was Balikpapan. The defenses in place to fend off japanese attacks were inadequate at east borneo. As with the British in northern Borneo, the Dutch had left the east side of the island only lightly defended, planning to deny their petroleum resources to the Japanese. The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army KNIL, maintained its 6th Infantry Battalion at Balikpapan numbered approximately 1,100 men, and its 7th Infantry Battalion at Tarakan, numbered approximately 1,300 men. These units were each supported by two field artillery batteries, and the ports were defended by coastal artillery batteries, each of which consisted of a pair of 120mm guns and four 75mm guns. The Dutch commanders at the two locations were Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius van den Hoogenband at Balikpapan, and Lieutenant Colonel Simon de Waal at Tarakan. Bandjarmasin, the Dutch administrative capital for its part of Borneo, was effectively undefended. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Halkema commanded a contingent of about 500 troops and no artillery. Like Tarakan and Balikpapan, Bandjarmasin was also a center of petroleum activities, but of less significance than the other two. Overhead, the mainstay of the Military Aviation of the Royal Netherlands East Indies ML-KNIL, was equipped with American-built aircraft, such as Glenn Martin bombers, as well as Curtis Hawk and the Brewster Buffalo, the type that had proven so inadequate in Malaya. While the Royal Netherlands Navy provided the submarines of its Divisie Onderseeboten III, and a small number of support vessels. In the west borneo, The Dutch forces had a secreat airfield near the border of British Borneo called "Singkawang II", which was defended by a smaller dutch garrison. On 25 November five Brewster 3-39 Buffalo fighter planes arrived for local defence followed in the beginning of December by Martin B-10 bombers. while in Pontianak was defended by west borneo KNIL garrison Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Dominicus Mars, numbering approximately 500 men. To gain control of the oilfields, to guard the flank of their advance on Malaya and to facilitate their eventual attack on Sumatra and western Java, the Japanese decided, as a subsidiary operation to their Malayan campaign, to seize British Borneo. This operation was launched by Southern Army eight days after the initial attack on Malaya. On 20 November 1941, the Kawaguchi Brigade was activated in Tokyo, and placed under the direct command of the Southern Army. It was commanded by Major-General Kiyotake Kawaguchi and it was composed mainly of the 35th Infantry Brigade and the 124th Infantry Regiment from IJA 18th Division, and reinforced by engineer units from the divison and Oil Drilling unit. Also involved in the British Borneo operations was IJN 2nd Yokosuka Naval Landing Force. Japanese Intelligence reported that the entire island was covered with dense jungle. there were no roads connecting the major cities. All long-distance transportation was by sea. For the invader, there was no opportunity to use tanks, motor vehicles, or that stellar conveyance of the Malay campaign, bicycles. Each of the objectives would require a separate amphibious assault. General Kawaguchi decided that the first landings would be made at Miri and Seria in order to capture vital oilfields and airfields in these towns on 16th december 1941. Part of the force would remain in this area to reestablish Miri oilfield while the main body would advance and capture the Kuching airfield. For the east borneo, The Japanese battle plan called for Tarakan Island to be invaded on January 10, with Balikpapan assaulted soon after. In preparation, the Japanese flew a number of reconnaissance missions, and had begun flying bombing missions on Christmas Day. The main objective of the invasion of Tarakan Island was the capture of the oilfields, oil refineries and the airfield located on the island. The invasion will go through Central Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Ibo Takahashi. Leading the attack would be the 56th mixed infantry group AKA Sakaguchi Detachment, drawn from the IJA 56th Infantry Group of the 56th Division, commanded by Major General Shizuo Sakaguchi, based on the 146th Infantry Regiment, and reinforced by artillery, armored, and engineer units drawn from the division. Whereas the northern Borneo attack had launched from Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, the Sakaguchi Detachment sailed from Davao in the Philippines, which they had captured in December as a base of operations for the Dutch Borneo assault. Also involved in the Dutch Borneo operations was the IJN 2nd Kure Special Naval Landing Force, a battalion-sized contingent of IJN ground troops under Lieutenant Commander Masanari Siga. At 13:00 on 13 December 1941, the Japanese invasion convoy consisted of 10 transport ships left Cam Ranh Bay, Indo-China, escort by an IJN escort under Rear Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto, a task force which included the cruiser Yura, four destroyers, and a sub-chaser. It was an imposing force, considering that northern Borneo was virtually undefended. The convoy crossed the South China Sea without being sighted, and at about 23:30 on the 15th, the main body of the convoy arrived at the Miri and seria anchorage. at dawn on 16 December 1941, two landing units secured Miri and Seria with only very little resistance. The main body of the Kawaguchi Detachment found only about 50 members of the police unit defending Miri. They surrendred with very little fighting. Two companies of the 2nd Yokosuka SNLF landed on the coast near Lutong and within two and a half hours captured the important Lutong oil refinery. Anticipating Brooke-Popham’s order to destroy the drilling and refining facilities, Kawaguchi had arrived prepared. He brought with him four field well drilling companies of the Oil Drilling Section of the Kwantung Army’s 21st Field Ordnance Depot. The petroleum infrastructure was torched on 8 December at the first notice of the Japanese attacks from Malaya to Pearl Harbor, but the Japanese engineers were capable of repairing and restoring the drilling and refining equipment that had been damaged. after 17 December, the three batallion from main body of the Detachment prepared for the next operation - the landing at Kuching. The Japanese troops suffered only 40 casualties between 16 and 23 December, most were drownings as a result of Japanese amphibious operations. Overhead, the only air support for the defenders, would come from the Dutch, operating out of bases far to the south in Dutch Borneo. The first came three days after the invasion, on 19 December; two Dutch Dornier Do 24 flying boats from Tarakan Island sank the Japanese destroyer Shinonome and damaged a transport ship. On 22 December, having achieved their immediate objectives, the Japanese resumed their offensive. the main body consisted of two battalions of the Japanese invasion force re-embarked at Miri and left for Kuching, leaving one battalion to secure all British Borneo outside Sarawak. the covoy was escorted by the cruiser Yura, the 3 destroyers. The convoy was sighted and reported to Air Headquarters, Far East, by Dutch reconnaissance aircraft on the morning of the 23rd. At 11.40 that morning twenty-four Japanese aircraft bombed Singkawang II airfield, so damaging the runways that a Dutch striking force which had been ordered to attack the convoy was unable to take off with a bomb load. Air Headquarters of Far East, ordered the transfer of the aircraft to palembang on the afternoon of 24th. The Japanese convoy did not however escape unscathed. On the evening of the 23rd it was first attacked by Dutch submarine K-XIV, sank two japanese ships and damaged two others, and the following night another Dutch submarine K-XVI torpedoed the IJN destroyer Sagiri near Kuching. The K-XVI was herself sunk by Japanese submarine I-66 on her way back to Soerabaja. The convoy was seen at 18:00 on the 23rd approaching the mouth of the Santubong River. Two hours later Colonel Lane received orders from Singapore to destroy the airfield. It was too late to change back to mobile defence and, as there seemed to him no point in attempting to defend a useless airfield, he asked General Percival for permission to withdraw as soon as possible into Dutch north-west Borneo. While awaiting a reply Lane concentrated his battalion at the airfield, with 18-pounder gun and 3-inch mortar detachments covering the river approaches, and a Punjabi gunboat platoon, working with the Sarawak Rangers. The Japanese troops commande by Colonel Akinosuke Oka landed at 11:00 . Although 2nd Battalion, 15th Punjab Regiment, resisted the attack, they were soon outnumbered and retreated to nearby airfield. By the afternoon, Kuching town was in Japanese hands. The Japanese followed up and before dark made contact with the airfield defences. As Christmas Day dawned, firing temporarily ceased. A general withdrawal into Dutch Borneo was ordered to start at dusk, but heavy firing was heard to the north of Batu Kitang shortly after noon and, fearing that his line of retreat would be cut, Lane decided on immediate withdrawal. Awaare of Colonel Intention the japanese reinforced by the 2nd Yokosuka SNLF, launched a full-scale attack. Two of the Punjabi Companies were destroy, but the SARFOR succeded retreating to dutch border. At about 16:40 on the 25th, the Japanese troops completely secured the Kuching airfield. The Japanese losses during this operation were about 100 killed and 100 wounded. Following the capture of Kuching airfield, the Detachment commander ordered Colonel Oka to secure the strategic area around Kuching with the main force of the 124th Infantry Regiment, while he with one infantry battalion left Kuching on the 27th and returned back to Miri. On the same day, the japanese troops capture the tembelan island, which was the first Dutch territorial loss in the Pacific War. The retreating SARFOR later arrived at singkawang ii arfield on the 29th December. The SARFOR is disbanded 2 days ealier after the sarawak state force were release, in view of their agreement to serve only in Sarawak. at singkawang the british force joined with a garrison of 750 dutch troops. Lane placed his battalion under Dutch command for the defence of the airfield and the surrounding area. The Japanese planned to attack the airfield from the north, and also from the west by a force landed on the coast. This attack was held up by bad weather for nearly a week, but on the 24th January five companies advanced along the road from the Dutch border, and by the 25th had reached a village two and a half miles north-east of the airfield. the defenders launched an attack on the 26th which was repulsed by Japanese. That evening a counter-attack succeeded in turning their flank and early on the 27th the order was given to evacuate the airfield. the remnant of british and dutch troops retreated to Ledo, 15 miles to the southwest. Meanwhile three Japanese companies had left Kuching in small craft during the night of the 25th and by daybreak on the 27th had landed at Pemangkat due west of the airfield. Striking north-east and south and meeting with little opposition, they quickly captured the coastal villages and moved towards Bengkajang, thus threatening to surround the Allied force at Ledo. The British and Dutch troops retreated further into the jungle southward trying to reach Sampit and Pangkalanbun, where a Dutch airfield at Kotawaringin was located. two days later, on 29th january, the japanese landed and seize pontianak. On returning back to Miri on 28 December, Major-General Kawaguchi ordered Lieutenant Colonel Watanabe to advance on the 31st by landing barges to Brunei with one infantry battalion. On 1 January 1942, two infantry platoons commanded by a company commander landed on Labuan Island, and capture the undefended island. On 8 January, Kawaguchi proceeded to Jesselton and having occupied that town and Beaufort, where he disarmed the small police unit. Using ten small fishing boats, two infantry companies (minus two platoons), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Watanabe, captured Sandakan, the seat of government of British North Borneo. On the morning of the 19th January, the Governor Robert Smith surrendered the State and, refusing to carry on the administration under Japanese control. This unit then captured Tawau and Lahad Datu on the 24th and 31st respectively. The Japanese forces suffered no combat casualties during this operations. the 16 transport vessels carrying the IJA’s Sakaguchi Detachment and the Special Naval Landing Force depart from davao, Mindano for attack on tarakan island on 7th january 1942. The Convoy were escorted by the IJN cruiser Naka, 11 destroyers, 3 patrol ships, two seaplane tenders, and a bevy of minesweepers and patrol boats under the command of Rear Admiral Shoji Nishimura. On 10 January a Dutch Dornier Do-24K flying boat spotted a Japanese invasion fleet. The Dutch Commander ordered the destruction of all oil fields on the island. At sunset on 10 January 1942, the convoy reached its 1st anchorag. In the afternoon, Tarakan Island was visible due the smoke caused by the Dutch destruction of the oilfields and other vital installations. By night the flames were so bright that the island was clearly visible in the dark. At 18:00 hours on 10 January, the Wing and Left Wing Unit boarded landing craft and started for their landing points. The assault went forward that night as planned, with the Wing and Left Wing Unit using the fires to navigate through the smoke and darkness. The Right Wing Unit, commanded by colonel Kyohei yamamoto hit the shores on the east coast of Tarakan Island exactly at midnight of 11 January, albeit not at their assigned location, followed by 2nd Kure Special Naval Landing Force thirty minutes later. Tarakan is a large island, comprising 177 square miles, much of it jungle or marshland. The swampy terrain, combined with the smoke and fires, was a recipe for confusion. The attackers encountered pockets of resistance from KNIL troops, mainly ethnic Indonesians, and were compelled to beat off one determined counterattack. Nevertheless, with their superior numbers and superior firepower, Yamamoto’s troops were able to battle their way through to the vicinity of the main oilfield by noon on 11 January The IJN landing forces, meanwhile, ran into tough going in the jungle and did not occupy the Tarakan airfield until the following morning. Realizing that his position was untenable, and knowing that his command had essentially been sacrificed to delay the Japanese, Lieutenant Colonel de Waal conveyed an offer to surrender. Yamamoto accepted and advised General Sakaguchi. However, because of the general confusion that then prevailed, and lack of adequate communications, not all of the KNIL forces got the message. The left wing unit, of the IJA 146th Infantry landed on Tarakan at 3:00 pm on 11 January. Their objective was to capture the coastal artillery battery, which was manned by troops who were not yet aware of de Waal’s surrender. While they were making their way through deep jungle to reach the guns which dominated the entrance to the harbor at Tarakan City, it was the turn of the IJN not to get the message. two minesweepers made for the waters off Tarakan City, entered within range of the coastal guns, came under fire and were sunk. There was much rejoicing in the gun batteries, but deep embarrassment for de Waal, who had already surrendered. He agreed to obtain a surrender of the battery to avoid further bloodshed, but when the artillerymen came down to give themselves up, the Japanese tied them up and threw them into the bay. It is estimated by the Allies that 219 men were drowned. On the same day, the Empire of Japan declared war on the Kingdom of the Netherlands. General Shizuo Sakaguchi came ashore on Tarakan at midday on January 12 to supervise the mopping up operations and to accept de Waal’s formal surrender. He remained for 48 hours before embarking with most of his detachment for the next objective, Balikpapan. On 22 January, the Japanese fleet was sighted moving south by an American PBY flying boat, and In the afternoon of 23 January, nine Dutch Martin B-10 bombers, escorted by 20 Brewster Buffaloes, attacked the Japanese convoy. The transport ship Tatsugami Maru was damaged and Nana Maru sunk. Near Balikpapan, the Dutch submarine HNLMS K-XVIII, under Lieutenant Commander van Well Groeneveld, attacked and sank the transport Tsuruga Maru, but was later heavily damaged itself by depth charges and forced to withdraw to Surabaya. Despite this, the Japanese unit successfully landed southeast of Balikpapan airfield on the evening of 24 January. The assault unit landed without meeting enemy resistance and, by dawn, had occupied the airfield. The southward advance moved slowly as the bridges had been destroyed, and the unit reached the northern outskirts of Balikpapan City on the night of 25 January. The Dutch garrison troops had been withdrawn and the Japanese entered the city without a fight. A portion of the Sakaguchi Detachment called the Surprise Attack Unit proceeded up the river in camouflaged landing craft, evaded detection, and landed just south of the reservoir at 04:30 on the 25th. thus cutting off the Dutch line of retreat. While the unit was advancing along the road to Balikpapan City, it ran into a Dutch military column, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel C. van den Hoogenband, attempting to escape from Balikpapan. After defeating this Dutch column, the Surprise Attack Unit proceeded to Balikpapan City. After Balikpapan was occupied, a new detachment was formed led by Lt. Col. Kume. He was ordered to secure and protect the oil fields. While the Japanese invasion force was landing at Balikpapan, on the early morning of 24 January, at around 02:45, the 59th U.S. Navy Destroyer Division under Rear Admiral William A. Glassford, attacked the Japanese navy escort. The U.S. Destroyer Division composed of 4 cleson-class destroyer, along with 2 cruisers, attacked the twelve transport ships and the three patrol boats escorting them. The Japanese destroyer escorts meanwhile were undertaking a search for the Dutch submarine which had been sighted earlier. with the japanese destroyer on the submarine chased the transport were protected mainly by 3 patrol ships. At least four transport ships—Kuretake Maru, Nana Maru, Sumanoura Maru and Tatsukami Maru were sunk in torpedo attacks and a patrol boat P-37 were sunk in the attack. Two other transports were damaged by gunfire or torpedoes. with no effective counterfire, the 4 USN destroyer escape with minimal damaged at 16:00. Although 4 transport ships were sunk and damaged 2 other, the USN success does not impact the japanese because the the invasion troops already disembarked from the transport. For General Shizuo Sakaguchi, the conquest of Balikpapan on January 26 left only Bandjarmasin at the south end of Borneo, which was important because it was the seat of Dutch power and the only major population center on Borneo that was not yet under Japanese control. The area around Bandjarmasin was strategically important to the Japanese because of the well-constructed airfields, which would be important bases for Japanese bombers patrolling and controlling the waterways to the south as operations were undertaken across the rest of the Dutch East Indies. For this next step, Japanese tactics changed significantly. Largely because Japanese naval power was being assembled for operations in Java and Sumatra, and because the Sakaguchi Detachment had lost most of its transport ships to enemy action, the next step would not be an amphibious operation. Rather, it would be a pincer movement that depended mainly on an overland march across the southern tip of Borneo. Rather than embarking most of his entire force, Sakaguchi just sent one battalion to advance through the mountainous jungle terrain and than steadily south towards to Bandjermasin. this force were named the Land drive unit. On 27 January, the sea drive unit, consisted of one infantry company under Captain Yoshibumi Okamoto left Balikpapan aboard small boats, intending to follow the coastline all the way to Bandjarmasin and join the land drive unit. His Group Headquarters would not take part and would remain in Balikpapan to assume operational command. The forces were to coordinate surprise attacks on Bandjermasin and capture the town. The Land Drive Unit under command of Colonel Kyohei Yamamoto left Balikpapan on the evening of 30 January and landed in Adang Bay without opposition before daybreak on 31st January. They marched due west carrying nine days’ worth of field rations and bicycles, which proved useless on the jungle trails. The mountainous terrain proved to be a far greater obstacle than the handful of KNIL troops which they encountered, and many of the Japanese soldiers came down with malaria or other tropical diseases. By the 8th February, the sea drive unit, who moved only at night to concealed its position had come ashore south of Bandjarmasin and advanced overland without opposition, to the airfield. Colonel Halkema, meanwhile, had abandoned the city with his last 75 troops, and had retreated into central Borneo, where he was ordered defending the airfield at Kotawaringin. At 09:00 on 10 February, the Martapoera airfield was captured by the Advance Force. By the evening of the 10th February, with the arrival of the main force and the Sea Land Unit, Bandjermasin was finally occupied. There was no fighting. Most of the dutch and british troops after the battle retreted further to terrible jungle of central borneo. Most of the these troops were captured by the Japanese. There were however small parties that went to fight on in the jungle, but they were all overwhelmed and usually executed by the Japanese. The Japanese also payed the Dajaks (native people who were extremely violent towards the Dutch) to search for soldiers and to kill them. The dutch also lost most of the native soldiers due to desertion. After 10 weeks in the jungle -covered mountains, allied troops surrendered on 1st april 1942. The IJA, which had soundly defeated a superior British force in Malaya, had now secured Dutch Borneo in the space of just 30 days without a significant land battle. With the latter victory – counterintuitively underreported in the global media of 1942, and largely overlooked in the history books – Japan had secured the petroleum that would fuel its triumphant war machine indefinitely. It takes japanes 56 days to conquer the borneo island. Throughout the campaign, total allied casualties amounted to 2,599 killed or wounded and 871 captured, while Japanese losses during this period amounted to 872 battle casualties and 9 due to malaria. The Japanese subsequently renamed the northern part as Kita Boruneo (North Boruneo), Labuan as Maida shima (Maida Island) and the neighbouring Dutch territories as Minami Boruneo ( South Borneo). For the first time in modern history all of Borneo was under a single rule. With Borneo now secured, the Japanese now planned an advance that placed Java and its capital Batavia, the richest center of the Dutch Empire, as the prime target of its southward advance.



Strategic situation and planning

Codenamed Operation Oboe Six,[1] the battle was part of the second phase of the Allied operations to capture the island of Borneo. North Borneo had been occupied by troops from the Imperial Japanese Army since early 1942 following the Japanese invasion of Borneo; prior to this the area had been a British territorial possession.[2][3] Following its occupation, the area's oil resources had been exploited for the Japanese war effort. The island's population had also been subjected to harsh occupation policies.[4][5] This had led to a revolt at Jesselton in late 1943, which was suppressed by the Japanese with heavy civilian casualties.[6]

The first stage of the Allied campaign in Borneo had begun in May 1945 when a brigade-sized force had been put ashore on Tarakan, on the north-eastern side of Borneo.[7] The operation in North Borneo was planned by General Douglas MacArthur's South West Pacific Area command. Designed with three phases—preparatory bombardment, forced landings, and an advance—the objective of the Allied operation was to establish "an advanced fleet base" for the British Pacific Fleet in Brunei Bay, which offered the Allies a deep-water port, to enable subsequent naval operations.[8] Further objectives included capturing the vast oil and rubber supplies available in the area and re-establishing British civil administration.[9] It was also intended that Labuan would be secured to control the entrance to Brunei Bay, and would be developed as an airbase.[8] In the planning phase of the operation, the Allied high commands differed in their opinions about the necessity of securing Brunei, with the British Chiefs of Staff Committee believing it would take too long to develop the area for it to be developed for it to be used in operations. They were also concerned that it would divert the British Pacific Fleet from the main theatre of operations off Japan and instead favoured establishing a fleet base in the Philippines. The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, approved the operation believing that it could support future operations in south-east Asia.[10]

A map showing the movements of the main Australian infantry units in North Borneo
A map showing the movements of the main Australian infantry units in North Borneo

In preparation for the landings, commencing in March, the Allied Services Reconnaissance Department (also known as Special Operations Australia) began Operation Agas in North Borneo, and Operation Semut in Sarawak; these were clandestine operations to gather information and organise local Dayak tribesmen to carry out guerrilla operations following the main landings.[11] Ultimately, five Allied parties would be inserted into Borneo as part of Operation Agas, while four were deployed under Semut.[12] Preliminary aerial bombardment of northern Borneo by Australian and US aircraft began on 3 May, before being concentrated on the main landing areas on 5 June. Meanwhile, minesweepers began to clear sea lines of communication for the large Allied naval task force that was assigned to support the operation. This force was designated as Task Force 78.1 and consisted of Australian and US warships, under the command of Rear Admiral Forrest B. Royal.[13] Initially, the Allies planned to launch operations in North Borneo in late May, but shipping shortages delayed moving the assault troops to their staging base on Morotai Island and resulted in the operation being delayed until early June.[8]

Opposing forces

A total of 29,000–30,000 men were committed by the Allies to secure North Borneo,[Note 1] with the majority of the ground forces being provided by the Australian 9th Division, under the command of Major General George Wootten. The 9th Division consisted of three brigades—the 20th, 24th and 26th Brigades—however, at the time of the North Borneo operations, the 26th was engaged at Tarakan having been detached from the division in May 1945, so only two brigades were allocated to operations in North Borneo.[7] Part of the all-volunteer Second Australian Imperial Force, the 9th Division was a veteran formation, having previously served in North Africa, the Middle East and New Guinea. Prior to the Borneo campaign, the division had been resting and reorganising on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland.[14] The division had experienced a high turn over in personnel following its service in the Huon Peninsula campaign as soldiers were medically discharged or transferred to other units.[15] In addition to the Australian ground troops, naval support was provided by the United States Navy and Royal Australian Navy and aerial support from the United States Army Air Force's Thirteenth Air Force, the United States Marine Corps, and elements of the Royal Australian Air Force's 1st Tactical Air Force.[16][17] Two United States Army units, the 727th Amphibian Tractor Battalion who manned the LVTs and the 593rd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment's Boat Battalion, were also attached to the Australians.[9]

Meanwhile, Allied intelligence estimated that there were approximately 31,000 Japanese troops on Borneo,[18] with about 8,800 of these in North Borneo.[19] The Japanese Thirty-Seventh Army,[Note 2] led by Lieutenant-General Masao Baba,[21] was tasked with defending the area, and was headquartered in Jesselton.[22] The main Japanese units in the vicinity included elements of the 56th Independent Mixed Brigade, consisting of six battalions (the 366th to the 371st), along with another independent battalion.[18] This brigade was commanded by Major General Taijiro Akashi.[23] It had been raised in Japan during the second half of 1944 and arrived in Borneo late that year as the area's garrison troops were reorganised for defence against future Allied landings.[24] By mid-1945, the brigade had been heavily depleted by its overland movement from the north-eastern part of Borneo prior to the Allied landings and was at around half strength; its troops were largely inexperienced, lightly equipped and were suffering from poor morale.[25] Japanese air power in the region had been heavily depleted and, except in Java and Sumatra, was ineffective,[22] although there were small numbers of aircraft at Keningau and Kuching.[26]



Australian troops from the 24th Brigade landing on Labuan on 10 June 1945.
Australian troops from the 24th Brigade landing on Labuan on 10 June 1945.

Two main landings were undertaken by the Australians in North Borneo on 10 June. After concentrating at Morotai Island in May, where complex landing rehearsals were undertaken,[13] the assault force, consisting of 85 ships—mainly from the US Navy—departed in early June, preceded by minesweepers and survey vessels, as well as the naval attack group.[27] The first landing was made when troops from two battalions of Brigadier Selwyn Porter's 24th Brigade—the 2/28th and 2/43rd Battalionslanded on Labuan Island with a squadron of Matilda tanks from the 2/9th Armoured Regiment.[7] The 24th Brigade's third battalion, 2/32nd Battalion, was placed in divisional reserve for the initial landing.[28] The attack was preceded by a heavy naval bombardment from cruisers, mortar and rocket ships, and attacks by eight Liberator heavy bomber squadrons which used anti-personnel bombs to target Japanese troops around the intended beachheads.[29] With this support, the main Allied landings were largely unopposed as the Japanese defenders had withdrawn from the beaches on the peninsula and Muara Island had been abandoned completely. At Labuan, the Australian troops came ashore near Victoria and, supported by a heavy artillery and naval gunfire support, the two battalions drove towards the airfield. Light opposition was overcome and the town and airfield were secured late on the first day, after minor clashes with Japanese outposts and troops fighting amongst the aircraft dispersal bays. Meanwhile, the 2/11th Commando Squadron provided flank support to the west.[30]

Despite the initial progress the fighting on Labuan intensified during this time as the Japanese defenders retreated inland to a heavily fortified position known as "the Pocket" and attempted to hold the Australians along the dense jungle ridges and thick swamps. The 2/12th Commando Squadron was brought ashore from divisional reserve on 12 June and was given the task of clearing the outlying areas of resistance that had been bypassed during the initial advance on the island,[31] By 14 June, the Australians had secured the island, apart from those Japanese contained within the Pocket.[32] Despite considerable artillery and armoured support, a company-level attack by the 2/28th Battalion was turned back on 14 June, and as a result further preparatory fires were called upon to soften up the Japanese defences.[31]

At this stage of the war, Australian commanders were under strict orders to limit their casualties, and "avoid unnecessary risks", utilising fire support where possible to reduce Japanese defences prior to attacking.[32] Commencing on 17 June, an intense three day naval and aerial bombardment was laid down in an effort to reduce the Japanese defences. Meanwhile, 100 Japanese attacked the Australian brigade's maintenance area and the airfield before the Australians launch a renewed attack on 21 June.[7][33] At this time, two companies of infantry from the 2/28th Battalion assaulted the Japanese position. Supported by indirect fire support from sea and air, and direct fire support from tanks and flamethrowers, the Australians overwhelmed the Japanese defenders and cleared the remaining resistance from Labuan. After the battle 180 Japanese dead were counted, bringing the total killed during the fighting on Labuan to 389. Against this the Australians suffered 34 killed and 93 wounded.[34][35]

Troops from the 2/13th Battalion patrolling around Miri, August 1945
Troops from the 2/13th Battalion patrolling around Miri, August 1945

Brunei and Muara Island

The second Allied landing that took place on 10 June, consisted of two battalions of Brigadier Victor Windeyer's 20th Brigade—2/15th and 2/17th Battalions—landing at Muara Island and on the mainland peninsula north of Brooketon, supported by a second squadron of Matildas from the 2/9th Armoured Regiment.[7] The 20th Brigade's third battalion, the 2/13th, was held back in brigade reserve.[28] Meanwhile, in the interior, Dayak tribesmen supported by Allied operatives commenced their guerrilla campaign on 9 June. Lightly armed, and with only limited training, these guerrillas sought to harass the withdrawing Japanese, while avoiding decisive engagement. In this role, they met with some success, but were in some cases forced to withdraw in the face of heavy opposition.[36] The troops that had landed near Brooketon on the mainland advanced on Brunei, which was captured on 13 June by the 2/17th Battalion after several minor section and platoon level actions over several days.[32] The 2/15th, which had earlier secured Muara Island, secured Limbang on 18 June, advancing by landing craft up the river in the south-west of Brunei Bay.[37] The two 20th Brigade battalions were now joined by the 2/13th Battalion, which had conducted an unopposed landing at Lutong on 20 June, supported by Spitfire and Kittyhawk fighters operating from Labuan,[38] before continuing their advance down the south-western coast and then overland, passing through Miri and Seria on their way towards Kuching.[39]

At Seria the Australians found the 37 oil wells ablaze, having been deliberately lit by the Japanese defenders as they withdrew, and engineers from the 2/3rd Field Company were called up to put out the fires, a task which took over three months to complete.[40] Kuala Belait was reached on 24 June.[32] Having secured its objectives, the 20th Brigade then began patrolling operations, using landing craft to move quickly along the various rivers and streams that punctuated the coastline.[41] The initial priority of Japanese troops on the mainland was to withdraw inland. As a result, only minor clashes occurred, against Japanese rearguards, which were generally poorly equipped and inexperienced. Resistance and aggressiveness amongst these rearguard elements stiffened as the Australians moved beyond Miri.[42] Generally, the guerrilla forces in the interior carried out their operations separately from the conventional forces that focused mainly upon the coastal areas. However, some co-ordinated action was achieved during the campaign. During July, guerrillas assigned to Operation Semut captured Marudi, on the Barem River, as part of efforts to disrupt the Japanese withdrawal from Miri. A strong Japanese counter-attack retook the village from the lightly armed Semut operatives, after which the guerrillas linked up with conventional Australian infantry from the 2/17th Battalion to capture it once again on 15 July.[43] During the course of their involvement in the campaign, the 20th Brigade's casualties were relatively light, suffering only 40 casualties.[44] Throughout late June and into August, RAAF aircraft including Mosquitos and Beafighters attacked Japanese targets throughout North Borneo, including barges, shipping, barracks and airfields, sinking an 800-ton vessel near the Tabuan River and destroying several Japanese aircraft on the ground. Wirraways were also used to provide tactical reconnaissance, and other fighters flew close air support sorties.[45]


Another landing was made by Allied forces on 16 June on the mainland at Weston, in the north-eastern part of Brunei Bay.[7] The 2/32nd Battalion, which had previously been held back as the divisional reserve, forced its way ashore near Padas Bay. After taking Weston, patrols were sent out to Beaufort, which was 23 km (14 mi) inland.[7] Due to the lack of roads and the indefensible nature of the railway track that led to the town, it was decided to advance along the Klias River, while a secondary force moved along the Padas River.[41] As a part of this phase of the operation, minor landings were made at Mempakul on 19 June and at Sabang on 23 June by elements of the 2/43rd Battalion and the 2/11th Commando Squadron.[46] Kibidang was captured the same day by the 2/43rd, while the 2/32nd advanced further along the Padas River and the two battalions married up.[47] Following this, reinforcements in the form of two companies from the 2/28th Battalion were transferred from Labuan to take over rear area security while plans were made for the main attack on Beaufort.[47]

Troops from the Australian 2/32nd Battalion land at Weston aboard US-crewed landing vehicles
Troops from the Australian 2/32nd Battalion land at Weston aboard US-crewed landing vehicles

The Allies assessed that Beaufort, which lay on the main Japanese avenue of withdrawal, was held by between 800 and 1,000 Japanese troops seeking to keep key egress routes open.[42] On 27 June, the Australians attacked the town.[48] The 2/43rd Battalion was assigned the task of the main assault, while the 2/32nd Battalion was tasked with flank protection. Despite being hamstrung by torrential downpours and unforgiving terrain, the 2/32nd Battalion secured the south bank of the Padas River, while one company from the 2/43rd was sent to take the town and another marched to the flanks, to take up ambush positions along the route that the Japanese were expected to withdraw along. The 2/28th Battalion secured the lines of communication north of the river.[47] The resistance from the Japanese defenders was not co-ordinated and as a result the Australians had secured their objectives by nightfall. Throughout the night, however, the Japanese launched six counterattacks which eventually broke down into hand-to-hand combat. During the course of these actions, one company became isolated and the next morning, 28 June, another was sent to aid it by attacking the Japanese force from the rear. Fighting its way through numerous Japanese positions throughout the afternoon, the company reached its objective in the early evening and launched its assault, killing at least 100 Japanese defenders.[49][50] It was during the course of this action that Private Tom Starcevich, of the 2/43rd Battalion, performed the deeds for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross.[51]

By 29 June, the Japanese began to withdraw from Beaufort in small groups.[52] Elsewhere, on 1 July, the Australian 7th Division carried out the final stage of the Allied operation to secure Borneo, landing at Balikpapan, on the south-east coast.[53] In North Borneo, Allied forces observed a brief pause while reinforcements arrived. The 2/3rd Anti-tank Regiment, being used as infantry rather than the anti-tank role for which it was intended, arrived at Weston on 3 July, where it relieved the 2/28th Battalion, which then moved on to Beaufort.[54] On 6 July the Australian advance was resumed. Due to the strategic situation, it was decided to undertake a slow and cautious advance using indirect fire to limit casualties. By 12 July the 2/32nd Battalion occupied Papar,[55] and from there patrols were dispatched to the north and along the banks of the river as offensive operations came to an end.[52]


Following the capture of Papar, the Australians ceased offensive actions on Borneo and the situation remained largely static until a ceasefire came into effect in mid-August.[52] In early August 1945, two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and on 15 August the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, effectively announced an end to hostilities, with the formal surrender being signed on 2 September 1945.[56] As a result of the ceasefire, the planned Allied invasion of Japan was no longer required and the strategic gains provided by the capture of North Borneo were arguably negated; this included development of Brunei Bay into a naval base, which ultimately never occurred.[57] To some extent, this has led to claims in Australia that the Oboe operations—as well as the campaigns in the Aitape–Wewak region of New Guinea and on Bougainville and New Britain—had been "unnecessary" and had therefore resulted in needless casualties.[58] Throughout the course of the fighting on North Borneo, the Australians lost 114 men killed or died of wounds while another 221 men were wounded. Against this, the Japanese lost at least 1,234 men, while 130 had been captured.[48][59] On top of this, a further 1,800 Japanese were estimated to have been killed by the guerrilla forces operating in the interior; many of these were Japanese troops who were withdrawing inland following the conventional landings on the coast who were ambushed by guerrillas or attacked by Allied airstrikes directed by these forces. These forces also occupied large areas in Sarawak and the southern parts of North Borneo by the end of hostilities.[60][61]

Burning oil wells at Seria
Burning oil wells at Seria

After the fighting was over, the Australians began the task for establishing British civil administration, rebuilding the infrastructure that had been damaged and providing for the civilians that had been displaced in the fighting.[1][62] This proved to be a significant undertaking, with the 9th Division working to establish hospitals, dispensaries, and schools. Sanitation and drainage had not been provided by the Japanese, and the local population was suffering from disease and was malnourished. Infrastructure was re-built by Australian engineers, while 9th Division medical personnel provided medical aid directly to locals.[63] The 132-kilometre (82 mi) North Borneo railway was also re-established.[64] Houses that were destroyed in pre-invasion bombardment and later fighting were also rebuilt.[65] Following the ceasefire, there were still a large number of Japanese troops in North Borneo—by October 1945 it was estimated that there were over 21,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians still in North Borneo—and the 9th Division was made responsible for organising the surrender, provisioning and protection of these personnel.[66] They were also tasked with liberating the Allied civilian internees and prisoners of war that were being held at Batu Lintang camp in Kuching, Sarawak,[67] and with disarming the guerrillas that had been assigned to Operations Agas and Semut.[68]

As civil administration was slowly restored, in October 1945, the Australian demobilisation process began.[69] Initially this process was slow as there were few troops able to relieve the Australian forces in Borneo and as such only long service personnel were released for return to Australia.[60] The 9th Division remained in North Borneo performing garrison duties until January 1946, when it was relieved by the 32nd Indian Brigade, and subsequently disbanded.[70] For the majority of the 9th Division's personnel a return to civilian life followed, however, as part of Australia's contribution to the occupation of Japan, a number of men from the 9th Division were transferred to the 67th Battalion which was being formed as part of the 34th Brigade.[71] According to the Australian War Memorial, such was the relationship formed between the 9th Division and the civilian population of North Borneo, that the division's Unit Colour Patch was incorporated into the coat of arms of the Colony of British Borneo following the war, remaining as such until 1963, when the region was subsumed by the Malaysian state of Sabah.[1]

See also


  1. ^ Odgers 1988, p. 183 provides the figure of 30,000 men, while Coulthard-Clark 1998, p. 252 provides the figure of 29,000. Long (1963), p. 459 provides the figure of 29,361 and breaks this down as: 14,079 men from the 9th Division; 3,726 corps support troops; 4,730 base sub-area troops, 5,729 Royal Australian Air Force personnel and 1,097 American and British personnel.
  2. ^ A Japanese "army" of World War II was equivalent to an Allied corps, and usually commanded between two and four divisions.[20]
  1. ^ a b c "Battle of North Borneo". Australian War Memorial. Archived from the original on 4 October 2013. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
  2. ^ Shindo 2016, p. 67
  3. ^ Pratten 2016, pp. 298–299
  4. ^ Long 1963, p. 453.
  5. ^ Rottman 2002, p. 258.
  6. ^ Gin 1999, p. 56.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Coulthard-Clark 1998, p. 252
  8. ^ a b c Odgers 1968, p. 466.
  9. ^ a b Keogh 1965, p. 444
  10. ^ Long 1963, pp. 50–51.
  11. ^ Pratten 2016, p. 307
  12. ^ Pratten 2016, pp. 307–309
  13. ^ a b Pratten 2016, pp. 300–301
  14. ^ McKenzie-Smith 2018, pp. 2047–2049.
  15. ^ Johnston 2002.
  16. ^ Odgers 1988, p. 183
  17. ^ Long 1963, p. 458
  18. ^ a b Long 1963, p. 456
  19. ^ Keogh 1965, p. 447
  20. ^ Rottman 2005, p. 23.
  21. ^ Bullard 2016, p. 43.
  22. ^ a b Keogh 1965, p. 434.
  23. ^ Dredge 1998, p. 574.
  24. ^ Shindo 2016, pp. 68–70.
  25. ^ Pratten 2016, pp. 303–304
  26. ^ Odgers 1968, pp. 473 & 475.
  27. ^ Gill 1968, pp. 638–640.
  28. ^ a b Keogh 1965, p. 448
  29. ^ Odgers 1968, p. 470.
  30. ^ Pratten 2016, p. 301.
  31. ^ a b Long 1963, p. 472
  32. ^ a b c d Pratten 2016, p. 302.
  33. ^ Pratten 2016, p. 302
  34. ^ Odgers 1988, pp. 183–184
  35. ^ Long 1963, p. 475
  36. ^ Pratten 2016, pp. 308–309.
  37. ^ Pratten 2016, p. 303.
  38. ^ Odgers 1968, p. 473.
  39. ^ Coulthard-Clark 1998, pp. 252–253
  40. ^ Long 1963, p. 485
  41. ^ a b Keogh 1965, p. 453
  42. ^ a b Pratten 2016, p. 304.
  43. ^ Pratten 2016, pp. 306–309.
  44. ^ Johnston 2002, p. 228
  45. ^ Odgers 1968, pp. 473–475.
  46. ^ Keogh 1965, pp. 453–454
  47. ^ a b c Keogh 1965, p. 454
  48. ^ a b Coulthard-Clark 1998, p. 253
  49. ^ Long 1963, pp. 479–481
  50. ^ Odgers 1988, p. 184
  51. ^ Johnston 2002, pp. 235–236
  52. ^ a b c Keogh 1965, p. 455
  53. ^ Coulthard-Clark 1998, p. 254
  54. ^ Long 1963, p. 495
  55. ^ Johnston 2002, p. 237
  56. ^ Grey 2008, p. 191
  57. ^ Pratten 2016, p. 315.
  58. ^ Grey 2008, p. 190
  59. ^ Johnston 2002, p. 238
  60. ^ a b Long 1963, p. 501
  61. ^ Pratten 2016, pp. 309–310
  62. ^ Long 1963, p. 496
  63. ^ Pratten 2016, p. 311.
  64. ^ Pratten 2016, p. 314
  65. ^ Long 1973, p. 461
  66. ^ Long 1963, p. 561
  67. ^ Long 1963, p. 563
  68. ^ Pratten 2016, p. 310.
  69. ^ Long 1963, p. 581
  70. ^ Long 1963, p. 565
  71. ^ Long 1963, p. 577


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