Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Battle of Tarakan
1-25 May 1945
Tarakan was a small island located in the northeastern corner of Borneo. The town and its oil fields were primary objectives when the Japanese invaded in 1942, and again was deemed important when it came for the Allies to invade Borneo. Although its 350,000 barrels per month production could no longer reach Japan due to the Allied occupation of the Philippines (oil so pure that the Japanese could pump them directly into warships without refining, some claimed), Operation Oboe One still provided key airfields that the Allies could use to aid the upcoming campaign against Borneo. The Allies, of course, could use the additional oil production capability that the oil fields could provide.
Before the invasion, air forces softened defensive positions between 11 and 29 Apr, and between 27 and 30 Apr minesweepers cleared way for the landing craft. On 30 Apr, commandos and engineers landed to clear beach obstacles. In the morning of 1 May, the Australian main assault force landed west of Tarakan, suffering only light casualties, and set up a beachhead for delivery of heavier machinery and vehicles to land later that day. The 26 Infantry Brigade met fierce resistance against the Japanese garrison at the Tarakan airfield, and could not capture the airfield until 5 May; the town of Tarakan fell the next day.
Losing Tarakan, the Japanese troops fled into the rugged interiors of the island. Though well dug in, heavy artillery and air bombardments made short order of the Japanese garrison position by position. By 15 May, Tarakan was declared secure, but pockets of Japanese resistance continued to harass Australian troops. On 14 Jun, the remaining Japanese forces made a break to Borneo. Those who remained on the island made a last organized counteroffensive on 19 Jun, which resulted in failure.
Although the primary objective of Tarakan was the airfields, they were so heavily damaged during the pre-invasion bombardment that Australian engineers of the 1 and 8 Airfield Construction Squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force took much longer to restore usage. By the time the airfields were ready on 28 Jun, it was too late to provide the air umbrella for Borneo landings as originally intended. Aircraft from Tarakan, however, did have a role in supporting ground troops during the campaign.
Battle of Brunei and Northern Borneo
1 Jun-15 Aug 1945
Australian 9th Division augmented with American troops landed in Brunei on 1 Jun. Expecting a landing much further down the coast, the Japanese defenders were taken by surprise. They offered little resistance before fleeing southward. Douglas MacArthur was aboard cruiser Boise during the initial landing at Brunei, observing from the sea. He noted the lack of Japanese aircraft and submarine that previously threatened all forms of Allied shipping; "just peace and quiet", he wrote, "such a delightful contrast to the savagery of the past months."
Battle of Balikpapan
7-21 Jul 1945
The Australian 7th Division made a landing a few miles north of Balikpapan after heavy air and naval bombardment. The Japanese garrison fielded fewer troops than the invaders, and offered only sporadic resistance. By 21 Jul, Japanese resistance was considered defeated, though small groups of Japanese soldiers fled into the jungles and continued to harass Allied troops for the next couple of weeks (some did not learn of Emperor Showa's (Hirohito) intention to surrender for some time). MacArthur noted the "skill and courage" of the Australian troops that made the push for Balikpapan a success.
Conclusion of the Campaign
Though successful at a minimal loss of lives, the campaign was largely controversial for being unnecessary. With the garrison stranded, many believed that it could have been left alone, held in check by Allied aerial and naval blockade much like the island fortress of Rabaul. Some believed that, since MacArthur wished to use only American troops for the campaign in the Philippines, which was an American commonwealth, he had to provide Australia some visibility, and thus Borneo was chosen. MacArthur argued that Borneo was important for a campaign on the island of Java, should it become necessary.
Sources: Reminiscences, Wikipedia.
Borneo Campaign Timeline
|5 May 1945||Allied aircraft conducted raids across Borneo in preparation of the Australian invasion.|
|14 May 1945||Australian troops landed on Borneo.|
|8 Jun 1945||The fleet minesweeper USS Salute was sunk by a Japanese mine whilst covering landings at Brunei Bay.|
|23 Jun 1945||The last organized Japanese defense was broken by Australian troops at Tarakan Island, Borneo.|
|24 Jun 1945||Australian forces captured Sarawak.|
|1 Jul 1945||Amphibious landings by Australian and Dutch troops captured the great Borneo oil producing centre of Balik Papan.|
|3 Jul 1945||Australian troops captured oil fields at Balikpapan, Borneo.|
|19 Jul 1945||P-38 aircraft of US 13th Air Force attacked a Japanese suicide boat base in Sandakan, Sabah, North Borneo, while US B-25 bombers attacked Japanese airfields at Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) to the west.|
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945