A Memorial for Australia’s Z Force

Jack Tredrea w/ several Z-Force members and local fighters

Jack Tredrea w/ several Z-Force members and local fighters

Members of a secret Australian military unit that conducted more than 80 operations into enemy territory during World War II have been recognized at the Australian War Memorial.

The Z Special Unit conducted missions in the Pacific and South East Asia, but their achievements were classified for decades.  Senior historian at the memorial Dr Karl James said members of the unit conducted some of the most courageous and extraordinary acts of World War II.

“It is only given the passage of time say from the 1980’s onward, the wartime records relating to Z Special Unit have been cleared and opened, that we are now able to talk about some of these pretty remarkable exploits.”

Jack Tredrea

Jack Tredrea

Dr James said the unit was comprised of about 1,700 members who were sometimes deployed in two-man teams working alongside a wide range of other allied services.

“They worked much more closely with local people, like villagers and they were also given some language training,” he said.

There were also women members of the unit supporting missions from Australia as professional ciphers.

Jack Tredrea, 96, of Adelaide, unveiled a plaque commemorating Z Special Unit at a service at the War Memorial, which he lobbied for alongside ANU anthropologist Christine Helliwell.

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One of the few surviving members, Mr Tredrea, was deployed with Z Special Unit as part of the stealth Operation Semut in Malaysian Borneo, that involved parachuting into the jungle with weapons and cyanide pills.

“We didn’t know whether the Japanese had arrived up in the highlands, we were jumping in blind,” he said.  “But luckily they hadn’t got into the highlands and we were welcomed that day by the villagers. Semut consisted of Semut 1, 2, 3, and 4, and each one had eight personnel … at the end of the war we [had made] over 2,900 kills and taken over 300 prisoners.”

Mr Tredrea and his comrades were sworn to secrecy for 30 years after the war.  He said the new Canberra plaque and the public recognition it brought meant a lot to him and other surviving veterans and families.

Z-unit, Borneo

Z-unit, Borneo

“For all these years no-one knew anything about Z which I think was a great pity because even the SAS today tell us that they are still working on what we started,” he said.

“I was always so proud of the work that Z Special did and when Dr. Christine Helliwell approached me with this idea [for the plaque and service] I was absolutely chuffed.  There are a lot of fellows looking down on us from upstairs with big smiles too.”

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ANU anthropologist Dr Helliwell came across witnesses to some of the units’ secret missions during her field work with indigenous Diak people in the highlands of Malaysian Borneo, near the Indonesian border, in 2014.

“I was expecting that the locals might not have been flattering about Australian soldiers as a lot of people were resistant to colonialism,” she said.

“But in fact the Japanese did not have a good reputation through Borneo and they really liked the Australian Z Specials who really worked hard to get along with the local people.  That’s why they were so successful in Borneo and they actually formed guerrilla armies and fought with the locals.”

Z-Force Borneo

Z-Force Borneo

She described the members of Z Special Unit as national war heroes.

“There were groups that went into rescue American airmen that went down, coming in at night on a submarine and then these little canoes,” she said.  “Those are really brave and risky things to do.”

Hundreds of people including veterans, widows, families and dignitaries attended the plaque unveiling, which Dr Helliwell worked with veterans and the ACT SAS Association to have installed.

Among them were about 20 surviving veterans of the Z Special Unit and 10 families of veterans from New Zealand who also served with the unit.

It was the first time a national commemoration has been held to recognize the service of the members of Z Special Unit.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Virgil Boyd Atkins – W.VA; US Army, Korea, 65th/3rd Infantry Div., Pvt., POW, Silver Star

Joe Hosteen Kellwood – Sunnyslope, AZ; USMC, WWII, PTO, Navajo Code Talker128075867

Roy Kellwood – Sunnyslope, AZ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO

Dabney Montgomery – Selma, AL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, Tuskegee ground crewman

Allen Kenji Ono – Honolulu, HI; US Army, Lt.General (Ret.)

George Saxton – Worcester, MA; US Army, WWII, ETO, Sgt., Infantry

Gordon Eugene Thompson – MT; USMC, WWII, PTO, Captain, pilot

Charles Trout – Hernando, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

John Whalen – Broad Channel, NY; US Army, Korea

Byres Wylie – Burnie, Tas., AUS; RA Navy # H2890 & RA Air Force # A22496

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on September 8, 2016, in Current News, First-hand Accounts, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 66 Comments.

  1. That’s great news, as when I visited in January they did not have a memorial. My grandfather was part of Z Force, and there is very limited information in his service record of where we was sent.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t heard of this group and as a Kiwi I’m glad that I now do, so thanks for that. I did a quick check online and see there was a recent article here, around the time of the Australian plaque unveiling: http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/opinion/82691632/Overdue-acknowledgment-for-World-War-2-Z-Special-Unit as well as this one from a few years ago: http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/features/southern-military-history/3927188/The-fine-art-of-thuggery.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Z Force are a well respected group of Servicemen in Australia, their deeds are only coming to light now that the secrecy is over, they played a great cloak and dagger role throughout the South Pacific. I was fortunate to be asked to march with them one Anzac day, some of the story’s they tell would be unbelievable as a movie.
    Great post, thanks gp.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Z Force would make a very exciting movie.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Remarkable. For the life of me, I can’t see the point of all the secrecy. Did they think they might need to launch similar operations in the future? Even so …

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I suppose they are better known in the Anzac countries, but it seems to me that the contributions of the Anzac militaries both in World War I and World War II are little known and under appreciated in the US. They were tough fighters and contributed more to the war effort than is generally recognized.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very true and I try to correct the image that the US did it alone. The problem I have with the research, is the ANZAC countries in the official records are often grouped as “Commonwealth nations” so it is difficult for me to put the proper credit where it is due.

      Like

  7. I’m glad to read about this. Borneo is such a sad and delicate subject to Australians, because of the Sandakan Camp and the Death Marches. Four of my father’s men died there and the only survivors from the camp were 6 Aussie POWs. Read L R Silver’s comprehensive research Sandakan: A Conspiracy of Silence.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Hilary. I’ve noted it down.
      Perhaps you can answer for our readers why this story remained classified and Top Secret for so long that the men were unable to speak about their service. We understand it being secret for a while, but 30 years? (That sounds like the US archives taking so long to de-classify!)

      Like

      • I think the answer is in the book (which I read a couple of years ago). Basically, there were opportunities to rescue some of these prisoners, but decisions went the wrong way, priorities were mistaken, there were some incompetent people. It is the usual mistakes of war, but these ones had devastatingly grave consequences. I don’t know about the particular group you wrote about, but there were some brave men (and women) trying to get help from the authorities.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Worth a movie – or two.
    Then maybe people will appreciate what they did.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Nosal Timothy
    Sep 8 (1 day ago)

    to me
    Anne

    Thank you for the note. We have anticipated your requests and have already contacted the Army. Hopefully, we will have an authorization soon. Thank you!

    Sincerely,

    ________
    Tim Nosal
    Chief of External Affairs

    American Battle Monuments Commission
    2300 Clarendon Boulevard, Suite 500 | Arlington, VA 22201-3367 | T 703-696-6789

    http://www.abmc.gov | Join us on Facebook

    Looking good ! I thank God for his mercy !

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hey buddy. . . . check out this letter. . . one more to come. Looking hopeful !

    —– Forwarded Message —–
    From: Eric Montgomery
    To: Herrmann Sarah
    Sent: Tuesday, September 6, 2016 11:12 PM
    Subject: Request for assistance for a soldiers family

    The American Battle Monuments Commission
    Washington D.C.

    Dear Ms. Herrmann,

    I was given your name by a friend of mine, a Mr. Michael Forgy who informs me that you might be able to assist me in helping a family of a fallen soldier.

    Please allow me a moment to introduce myself. I am Eric Montgomery, the great nephew of U.S. Navy sailor Amin Isbir, killed in action on June 6th, 1944, who is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery. I am one of the few people who have been successful in providing the necessary proof needed to have my great uncle’s headstone amended in Normandy. With the help of your former colleague, Martha Sell, who I think has since retired since my emails to her rebound back to me, Daniel Neese, Superintendent of the Normandy American Cemetery, Lt. Nathan Kaspar of the United States Navy (Retired from the Causality Office) and a number of former platoon-mates from my great uncle’s unit that witnessed his death on D-Day, Amin’s June 8th 1944 dated headstone was excavated and replaced in 2009 by a new stone that adorned the correct date of his death to June 6th 1944.

    Because of this well know and nationally televised and documented transition, from time to time people run across my web site and discover that indeed miracles are possible. Recently I was contacted by the sister of Sgt. George B. Tullidge, who is buried in the Cambridge American Cemetery north of London England. There is an issue with his headstone that I hope you can help me with.

    Sgt. Tullidge was wounded on June 6th, 1944, and subsequently died on June 8th, 2 days later. Unlike my great uncle’s headstone, Sgt. Tullidge’s date of death is listed correctly. However, what is incorrect is the headstone inscription listing his parent unit as the 17th Airborne Division. Prior to and during the Normandy invasion, and at the time of Sgt. Tullidge’s death and for some time after the initial invasion, the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment was part of the 82nd Airborne Division, not the 17th as his headstone suggests. In August of 1944, the 507th was later assigned to the 17th Airborne Division as they prepared for additional operations in Europe. The reassignment of the 507th was a full 2 plus months plus following Sgt. Tullidge’s death.

    The decision of changing of my great uncles headstone from June 8th to June 6th was most likely a simple one considering the significance of date itself and the location of the cemetery in proximity to the site of his death. In the case of Sgt. Tullidge, the request to have his stone corrected isn’t about a date, it’s about the unit. Yet like all things set in stone, memorials, headstones and monuments are all storybooks to the past, a person’s legacy. They tell a story about sacrifice and courage and in the case of Sgt. Tullidge that story is not correct as currently written.

    I have attached documentation that supports the history behind trooper Tullidge as provided to me by the sister of the fallen, that he was a part of the 507th and that the 507th was part of the 82nd Airborne Division at the time of his death. General Gavin’s condolence letter written to Sgt. Tullidge’s mother plainly establishes that fact. Of course it is easy to understand how such errors occurred, with the re-interments of remains after the cemeteries in their current shape and layout were established after the war was over. Yet in a few years those that are living will not be able to tell the first hand stories of those who died so long ago. I think with this in mind it is obvious that those monuments must be correct in what they say.

    I can tell you that it was with profound gratitude that the Isbir family appreciates the correction of Uncle Amin’s headstone. I even went so far as to tie the replacement date to a significant event on the Christian calendar, Ascension Day, believing that my great uncle’s soul was in a state of purgatory until the excavation began. During the excavation, beams of light entered the area to which his headstone was affixed. I captured those moments on video and in still photography. It was an amazing sight which validated all the efforts made to assure that he was properly recorded for his sacrifice. At every opportunity I speak about the dedication and devotion of all that are a part of the American Battle Monuments Commission have towards our fallen servicemen and women. During my June 6th 2012 keynote address at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford Virginia, I mention this bond that is exhibited by each and every person that has the honor to work at the cemetery that sits above the sand where so many gave their lives for liberty. During that speech I could not honor Amin without honoring those who keep his final resting place in such good order.

    I hope that you can assist me in sharing this same gratitude and bringing to a close this family’s grief or at least point me in the right direction of who I can address the request to have Sgt. Tullidges’ headstone amended. I would be as equally grateful to you for your help in assisting the Tullidge family.

    Please kindly reply to me at your first opportunity.

    Until then I wish you a very pleasant day and may God continue to bless America and all those who have defended her.

    Eric P. Montgomery
    Great Nephew of Amin Isbir, USNR, Killed in Action, June 6th, 1944
    National D-Day Memorial Keynote Speaker, June 6th, 2012
    115 Whitson Drive
    Elizabethton TN 37643

    412-726-6665
    3 Attachments

    I can’t do the attatchments. .letter from Gen Gavin, order for original stone, and orders for the hospital ship

    Liked by 2 people

  11. two-man teams. That’s amazing.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Nice to read such an overwhelming post paratrooper.. Have a look at the special forces of my country at http://www.girlandworld.com

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Great to see recognition for these men and women.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Definitely think it is time they received recognition. I don’t understand why they had to keep their work secret for 30 years after the way. Be patient with me!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Recognition is always nice but it’s a real pity that it’s been left so long that most of these very brave men are no longer with us. What can have been so unbelievably secret?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I would really have to look into their operation more carefully to answer than or perhaps one of our Australian readers can. I have come across the Z-Force quite often in my research and they were great operatives in Borneo, but other than the fact that they were a secret operation at the time – I’m ignorant.

      Like

  16. Great article and glad that they got the reconnection they deserved. 30 years of silence is a long time!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. One small bit : Being “sworn to secrecy” for thirty years ! It seems that soldiers took that oath seriously . My uncle flew a B-17 , and he , also , took an oath . I think it was for 50 years , but I’m not sure . What a concept , eh !

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I had heard about these guys..Basically the Australian Version of the OSS Jedburghs…Awesome stuff!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. So good and fitting that their bravery, skill and dedication can now be officially recognised.
    I can’t even begin to imagine the hardship and danger they must have experienced. Excellent post. All the best. Kris.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Isn’t it so great to see how well Jack Tredrea aged – must be all the good and great things he did. A strong man, proud Aussie, such a delight

    Liked by 3 people

  21. I am glad that at least some of the people who served in this unit were around to be recognized. I understand the need for secrecy, but I wonder at the rationale for keeping it quiet for so long. Brave men and women, unable to tell their story. It seems a shame.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Great to read that so many survivors were still around to attend the ceremony. Justly honoured indeed.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

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