{AGAINST ALL ODDS}


Ashore with the RAAF and Ninth Division at Tarakan went WINGS correspondents Bernard Gordon, Jack Evans, C. Menagh, Serge Dowling, photographer Bill Zones.

Their beachhead accounts of the first few days there were signalled to WINGS and woven into this account. The talk of the RAAF for the first few days was the work of the RAAF Liberators, which played an important part softening up the landing area. A few minutes before H-Hour, after naval guns and rocket ships had been pounding the area for 40 minutes, the Liberators methodically pattern-bombed the beachhead and low hills beyond. It was precision bombing of the highest order. Mistakes could not be afforded , for the laden landing craft were waiting line abreast just off shore.

RAAF engineering squadrons and ground staff of personnel of RAAF flying squadrons saw with their naked eyes the bombs tumbling from the Liberators bomb bays.

With part of the main-plane and one wheel damaged by flak, one  Liberator directed naval gunfire for nearly five hours. In the face of vicious flak, the Liberator flew as low as ten feet to observe shelling affects and report progress to the AMF.

Commanded by G/Capt P. Parker, of Melbourne, the Lib remained over Tarakan until fuel leakage from a tank damaged by flak forced it to return to base. Parker landed the aircraft on one wheel. Then another Lib went out, captained by F/Lt F. Montgomery, of Windsor, Vic.

The RAAF Liberator crews had a grandstand view of the landing, watch¬ing Ninth Division men and tanks spread out from the beachhead and along the roads. Their directions brought accurate fire to knock out enemy strong points and artillery posts.
This was the first time during the Pacific War that RAAF Liberators were used in Army cooperation work.
RAAF units which landed were prepared to man perimeters and fight if necessary, specially trained guards being included in the leading elements.

They were officered by experienced ex-AMF men. F/Lt F. (Smokey) Dawson, of Yarram, Vic, was a sergeant in the 2/22 at Rabaul when the Japs landed. F/Lt Les Beardsell, of Geelong, was a sergeant in the 2/2 Field Regiment (artillery) in Libya and Greece and was wounded fighting German paratroopers on a Crete airstrip.

An unbelievably difficult landing beach, a grim battle for the vital airstrip, destruction of enemy raiding parties, a backdrop of dust, and a string of refugees coming down from the hills that is the picture of the first six days.

Somehow the 10,000 tons of heavy engineering equipment were got ashore. Houses were probed for booby traps and taken over as residences, but stores could not be unpacked because, as the Army advanced, the RAAF engineers pushed forward, ready to go into action on preparing the strip.

When the big rangy Dyaks-the last word in prehistoric man, it seemed emerged from the fastness of the rain forest, Australians watched them open-mouthed. Their bodies were covered with long hair and hanging from their elongated ear lobes seemed to be everything but the kitchen sink.

Working from dawn until dusk was a small team of eight RAAF bomb dis¬posal men. The two officers-F/Lt Ralph Taylor, of Tenterfield, NSW, who won the US Silver Star for work in the Admiralty Islands, and F/Lt Maurice Dunkley, of Sydney were gleefully riding on the back of a big truck astride a 1000 lb Jap sea mine when interviewed.

The Japs used sea mines, depth charges and landmines in the ground over which the Australians advanced. In the squad were Sgt K. Pieper, of Swan Hill; LAC G. Germain, of Mel¬bourne; LAC W. L. O'Connor, of Mur¬willumbah, NSW; LAC C. Paddle, of Mosman, NSW; LAC M. Anderson, of Port Pirie, SA; LAC G. Marven, of Albert Park, Vic; LAC Tom Reidy, of Newcastle; and LAC G. Lawson, of East Melbourne.

Taylor, Reidy, and Lawson came ashore with the first wave on invasion day.

Probably the squad's most intrepid mission was to go to the airstrip the night before its capture and search out some of the mines planted by the Japs, who were covering the strip with fire' from surrounding country.

During the first week, the bomb dis¬posal boys stole the show from the more spectacular flying squadrons waiting to get on to the strip.

The guards soon had to fight. Manning several hundred yards of thick country on the outskirts of a bivouac area for RAAF construction units and flying squadron ground staff, the guards routed and destroyed four members of a well armed Jap raiding party.
Shortly after 2230 hours on the Friday the day after the landing, LAC W. T. Stevens, of Grafton, NSW, and LAC Ron Kleidon, of Bundaberg, were attacked by a Jap with a grenade. Although dazed by the explosion, Stevens opened fire with his Tommy gun and killed the Jap with two shots in the dark.
Just after midnight, two of the six small posts put out by F/Lt Beardsell heard Japs shuffling. Sgt Bill Ross, a burly Mackay Queenslander tried to fire but his Tommy gun jammed. When the leading Jap slashed at Ross with his bayonet, other RAAF men fired and dropped him and two other Japs close behind.

The handsome sword carried by the leading Jap was disposed of by ballot. LAC A. C. Laurie, of Boxhill, Vic, was investigating a house when he heard a noise underneath. He captured a Jap who was having a frugal meal.

RAAF Works squadrons commenced work on the airstrip early on the Sunday morning. Survey parties were on the strip first, headed by F/Lt Sam Endean, of Wollongong, NSW;

As the mechanical earth-moving equipment began to assemble nearby, several bullets whined in the direction of the strip from two enemy snipers on a hill. Army troops standing by launched a spray of Tommy gun, Bren gun and rifle fire and put an end to that.

Initially, a narrow strip was laid down to enable the Austers to get into the air as quickly as possible to spot for the Army artillery. This was done in two hours with bulldozers in charge of F/Sgt Harry Rush, of Lidcombe, NSW; Cpl Les Dorry, of Leichhardt, NSW; and AC1 Neil Edwards, of Melbourne; and heavy graders driven by
Cpl L.W. Leach, of Mackay, Qld; LAC N. Ralph, of Cooroy, Qld; and Cpl Ted Rake.

The Austers were piloted by F/Lt Ron Brabsh, of Brisbane; F/O Jack Ellis, of Brisbane; F/O Ted Dowse, of Sydney; and F/O Stan Lawrie, of Ballarat; all of whom had done a army artillery training course. Previously, they were in the Aitape area, evacuating wounded.
When measured, the Jap strip was 4900 ft long. The northern end at the main entrance to the field was in almost perfect order for 1200 ft and required little reconstruction. The middle and seaward sections, however, were badly cratered by bombing. The seaward end required most, attention. For about 1000 ft it ran through very swampy country, but fortunately strong embankments constructed during the Jap occupation lightened
the task.

The Japs used mudstone, gravel, sand and coral, and sealed it off with crude oil and sand.The new surface More than 600 RAAF men were directly associated with construction work on the strip, working night and day. Mobile kitchens on the strip supplied meals to save time. The main discomfort at first was the lack of sufficient drinking water. At night more than 100 RAAF guards watched for the enemy.

Behind this invasion was the preliminary work of the aircraft of RAAF Command and the US 13th Air Force. Not a single Jap suicide plane appeared and there was an absolute lack of air opposition during the landing.
For months before the operation, the Japs apparently tried to hide aircraft for such a contingency concealing them on small airstrips in Ceram, the Halmaheras, Celebes, Borneo and the Moluccas. But low-lying RAAF Beaufighters and US Lightnings ferreted them out and destroyed them one by one.

That meant thousands of hours of tedious and dangerous flying, but it was achieved.

Within a few days Tarakan was an arrow pointing deep into the Jap held Netherlands East Indies.