Australian/New Zealand Z-Force

Z Force, also known as Special Operations Executive (SOE), Special Operations Australia (SOA) or the Services Recon Dept. (SRD)—was a joint Allied special forces unit formed during the World War II to operate behind Japanese lines in SE Asia. Predominantly Australian, Z Special Unit was a specialist reconnaissance and sabotage unit that included British, Dutch, New Zealand, Timorese and Indonesian members, predominantly operating on Borneo and the islands of the former Netherlands East Indies.

The unit carried out a total of 81 covert operations in the SW Pacific Theater, with parties inserted by parachute or submarine to provide intelligence and conduct guerrilla warfare.

Crew of the ‘Krait’, Operation Jaywick, 1943

The best known of these missions were Operation Jaywick and Operation Rimau, both of which involved raids on Japanese shipping in Singapore harbour; the latter of which resulted in the deaths of 23 commandos either in action or by execution after capture.

Although the unit was disbanded after the war, many of the training techniques and operational procedures employed were later used during the formation of other Australian Army special forces units and they remain a model for guerrilla operations to this day.

On 25 March 1945, Tom Harrisson was parachuted with seven Z Force operatives from a Consolidated Liberator onto a high plateau occupied by the Kelabit people.  His efforts to rescue stranded American airmen shot down over Borneo are a central part of “The Airmen and the Headhunters.”  The unit he commanded was called SEMUT – 1, six Australians and one New Zealander, all younger than the major, but had years’ more experience from fighting in New Guinea, mainland SE Asia and North Africa.  (I highly recommend the book).

Z Force 1945

Throughout June and July 1945, several operations under the aegis of Operation Platypus were launched in the Balikpapan area of Borneo.

In his memoirs, former leading aircraftsman Jack Wong Sue claimed that Z Special Unit commandos in Borneo killed 1,700 Japanese for the loss of 112 commandos, as well as training more than 6,000 guerrillas. According to Sue, the activities of the commandos laid the groundwork for the Allied invasion of Borneo in 1945.

Borneo Campaign

During the southern winter of 1944, twenty-two New Zealand soldiers, based at Trentham Military Camp, 30 kilometres (19 mi) north of Wellington, New Zealand were sent to train with Z Special Unit in Melbourne, Australia. They were then sent to Fraser Commando School, on Fraser Island, Queensland, to be trained in using parachutes, unarmed combat, explosives and the Malay language. Four New Zealanders were killed during operations in Borneo.

Major Donald Stott and Captain McMillan were both presumed drowned in heavy seas while going ashore in a rubber boat from the submarine USS Perch (SS-313) in Balikpapan Bay on 20 March 1945. Their bodies were never found. Warrant Officer Houghton made it to shore in a second boat but was captured ten days later and languished in Balikpapan Prison where he died of beriberi about 20 April 1945.

The last of the Z Force, 2012

Signalman Ernie Myers, a trained Z Special Unit operative in Platypus VII, parachuted into enemy-held territory near Semoi on 30 June 1945, but landed with two other operatives inside a Japanese camp area. They resisted strongly, but the Australian in the party was killed and Myers was captured along with the Malay interpreter of the group. Both men were tortured for three days, before being beheaded. Their bodies were recovered soon after the Japanese surrender when Lieutenant Bob Tapper, another New Zealander who was working with the War Graves Commission, discovered their remains. Evidence given to the commission by native witnesses ensured that the Japanese involved paid the penalty for this atrocity.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Howard Allison – Wichita, KS; US Army, WWII, PTO, MSgt.

Phillip Barksdale – Bowie, AZ; US Navy, WWII / US Army, Korea, Engineer Technician

David Ferland – Hornell, ME; US Coast Guard, Navy & Air Force, 1st Class Gunner’s Mate, (Ret.)

Edgar Gifford – Chicago, IL; US Army, WWII, surgical tech.

Harold Henderson, Knoxville, TN; USMC, WWII, PTO, 9/3rd Division & CBI, 7th Service Regiment

Clifford Moore – Des Moines, IA; US Army, WWII, ETO

Robert Shaffer – Pawtucket, RI; US Coast Guard, WWII

Woodrow Smith – Vidor, TX; US Army, WWII

Jack Young – Murphy, NC; US Navy, WWII, PTO & Korea

Josef Zawitkowski – Nisko, POL/Buffalo, NY; Polish Home Army, “Ojciec Jan” unit, Deputy Cmdr.

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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 27, 2018, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 111 Comments.

  1. Thanks for your like of my post, “Israel, For And Against;” you are very kind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your like of my post,” Left Behind? Why?” You are very kind.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have never heard of Z Force before, thanks for another illuminating post; what’s the title of the book btw that you mentioned?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for giving coverage to other nations involved in this war, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My library actually has that one! It’s going on the list- thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Quite a group of people, what a tough unit to have been apart of. I am going to reblog this for you Sir.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good to know for improvements on the next war.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I missed this earlier GP. Brave men indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like very much your reportages .

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am currently reading a book from 1960 detailing the formation and training of Z Force. Very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Your posts are remarkable in that they cover and give credit to not just Americans, but also to the allies who fought alongside of them – not something that one always sees regardless of the nationality of the writer – you must do a lot of research. I have dug up the poems I wrote about the Balikpapan landing – should I just post them here? I will be away for the next week but will get onto it when I get back. Once again congratulations on a great site.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would really like to have those poems. Yes, post them here. I will post them as soon as possible.
      I thank you for the compliments. I try to give credit where it is due. Often many do not because so much data is wrapped up under the title of “Commonwealth Nations.”

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve been talking a lot to my uncle lately (Army in Vietnam era) about my Grandfather (Air Force in WWII era). I think the funniest story he’s told me was when he (uncle) was newly stationed in Vietnam and was wakened every morning by the sound of another soldier whistling — and recording himself on a tape recorder – Every. Single. Day! (I guess there are worse ways to pass your time.) Hope you’re doing well! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • When they are in a hell-hole (pardon my language), they do whatever it takes to get through it. I’ve sure heard of worse ways than whistling!!
      Yes, all is well here. Finally finished with up-dating our place – I think… haha

      Like

  13. A very brave group of people who deserve so much recognition for their efforts. What they did goes far beyond the call of duty.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Fascinating to learn more about Z Force. I knew about a little about via a completely different angle; the story of Tom Harrisson and the Mass Observation project. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Harrisson

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Heroism much enhanced by the dire consequences if caught

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Maybe you’ve covered this before, GP, but there was another Australian commando unit which fortunately or unfortunately didn’t see action.
    The North Australian Observer Unit was established 1942, in the wake of the defeat at Singapore and the first Japanese bombings on Darwin. At the time it was commonly believed that the Japanese intended full scale invasion of Australia. The NAOU patrolled across the Northern Territory, and were quite likely the first white men to set foot in some parts there.
    As it happened, the tide in the Pacific War turned soon after the NAOU’s inception. After the battle of the Coral Sea and then the defeat of the Japanese at Milne Bay, they were more or less superfluous to needs. But the experience gained living remotely in the Outback was useful to later special units.
    Curtin’s Cowboys by Richard and Helen Walker is a concise history of the unit, with recollections from many former members.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I have a memory that the New Zealanders were the most decorated of all the nationalities among the British and Commonwealth troops. An excellent and very interesting account. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Another story worth sharing, thank you. And just another little weep…..

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Have you mentioned The Airmen and the Headhunters before? I’ve heard the title, and it must have been here. If not, then someone has joined the effort to give these brave men their due. I was particularly interested in the article about the M/V Krait. Restoration’s a difficult task, although a worthy one. I have a friend whose son-in-law was a caulking specialist at Mystic Seaport — and not with silicone sealant, either. He used a variety of fills, but could fill a seam with oakum at quick as you please. I’m sure there are others just as skilled working on the Krait. I hope they can gather the needed funds.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, I have mentioned the Airmen and the Headhunters before, but I also hope someone is out there helping to fill in the gaps – because I know I have many!! 🙂 Glad to hear that craft for boats is still being passed down, sometimes the old ways are the best!!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I really enjoy learning about the Pacific theater. Very interesting article!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Side thought on how many of the WW II pictures of soldiers show them shirtless. Noted that they were fully clothed by 2012. 🙂 –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  22. The members of the Z-Force must have been all volunteers, as their mission was extremely dangerous.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Added The Airmen and the Headhunters to my to-read list. Thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

  24. This is just a test. My comments have been going to spam, and Akismet and I are trying to solve the problem. No need to post this — if it goes through, I’ll be back in a bit to read the post and leave a real comment.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Z-Force is well remembered in Western Australia because of Jack Wong Sue, who post war was a local identity in Perth, and a celebrated war hero. I did my driving lessons with Ken Sue driving instructors and was told he was a relative of Jack – but of that I am uncertain, but most locals in the 70s were convinced. Jack set up the first professional dive shop in Perth which is still going. Jack also wrote a book about his and Z-forces exploits called “Blood On Borneo.”

    Liked by 5 people

  26. Great to see posts on these unsung heroes…..well done….chuq

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Resourceful, Tough, and Courageous.
    We owe much.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. The thought of soldiers being captured/tortured/executed/starved and dying in prison always rattles me more than the thought of soldiers dying in combat.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. It’s amazing to hear about these different forces, GP. It doesn’t seem like this group could have been very big… and they had such heavy losses.
    Wishing you a thriving Thursday. Hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Thank you GP! I never thought before, that Japan was so important in the WW2 I only heared about the trial to deliver a nuclear bomb to Nazi Germany.Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  31. That’s quite a tale, GP, and well told – thank you. Such brave men – the very idea of doing that kind of thing is terrifying. We owe these people big time. SOE was an amazing organisation – as you may know, it grew from nothing in 1940 – there’s a bit about it here http://bitaboutbritain.com/britains-soe/ I believe the US equivalent, the OSS, morphed into the CIA. By way of a PS, one of the masters at my school was an ex-Chindit and gained huge respect by being able to do a handstand simply by bending down, putting his hands on the floor, and lifting himself up. Nobody messed with him!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for also helping in the story here with your contribution!! I can well understand why no one messed with the Chindit – I’ve written about them as well. So many to thank for giving us future, but I’m trying!!

      Like

  32. Brave men, doing a difficult job. They made a film about them, starring Mel Gibson. It’s not great, but worth a watch.
    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083591/
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 4 people

  33. Thank you for filling in the blanks of history. I really like the photo, “if going much further take one”

    Liked by 2 people

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