INFORMATION WAS GIVEN TO ME BY THE PROPRIETOR OF THE TRAVEL BUREAU SHE TOOK THE VETERANS TO LABUAN TO COMMEMORATE THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE LABUAN IN 1945.
The Second 43rd
Z Day was 10th June 1945. (American friends on L.S.T. 640 gave each of the Australians a fresh beef sandwich, which, at that stage, was a rare and most acceptable delicacy. Some scored huge cigars from the same allied source.) Before dawn the troops of the assault waves waited in their buffaloes in the bowels of the L.S.T.’S. The bow doors opened and the landing craft slid into the sea. All hell seemed to have been let loose on the target island ahead naval gunfire and aerial bombing and L.C.I’s armed with rockets, light guns and mortars made swift sweeps towards the enemy shore and raked the beach exits with devastating fire. It was an exhilarating experience for the assault troops heading shoreward in formation, to be so powerfully supported. At D hoc 0915the first wave with B Company right, D Company left hit Brown Beach.
B Company stalwart, Sergeant Fred Turner, recorded the following impressions of the hour:
June 10 '45 and it's DOG minus five for those of us in the first wave now churning in to assault another Jap held beach. Each turn of the over eager LVT’s "screws" drove us another yard of spewing, boiling, South West Pacific into anything. And we crouched and wondered just how things would go this time. Again that cold sick apprehension, as you squat in your boat team position and watch with wonder the eager, excited movements of the "new boys". The Coy is made up, almost entirely, of new men now, and you wonder how they will shape. Not much to wonder about, nor to doubt, though. Over the bedlam created by the cruisers Hobart and Shropshire, sundry destroyers, and rocket vomiting L.C.I's, we wisecrack at each other, and pass quite irrelevant backchat across the craft. As we approach the beach now, and prepare to dash off, the eager boys on those Browning’s and point fives have opened up with all the ferocity mustered in those jerking barrels, and have shot away belt after belt of the heavy slugs into the smoke wreathed tangle that is Brown Beach. Did they see any Nips? Certainly not. (We'd have shot through under that barrage.) But who cared? They were told to blaze away and they had done just that. B Coy is to land on the right of their sister Coy, D, in the initial landing. Ramps down and it's on.
The beach is rushed, and carried, and green clad men of the first wave swarm over the "splinter strewn corpse" of the beach. Unopposed. No sign of Tojo. He must be back further waiting in his stinking little round foxholes.
Phase One completed to, schedule; and Bert Higginbottom destroyed the only two Japs encountered, but is in turn given the doubtful honour of being the Battalions first casualty. No enemy to speak of to this stage, unless you'd call the vile, stinking, sucking quagmire, which reduced us all to sweaty shirts full of grease, an enemy.
Captain Glover's D Company landed simultaneously with B Company on the left of Brown Beach. They met no opposition, but the landing was made somewhat difficult by the fallen timber and casuarinas fringing the beach. C Company, under Captain Bray, landed behind D Company and in its support role took up an initial position on the left of that company. A Company, on board the MANOORA, had swarmed down the scrambling nets to their landing craft; then followed some interesting jockeying into position until they were lined up on the start line almost as though for a boat race; they claimed to have "greatly entertained and encouraged by the intensity of the naval and air bombardment" which preceded their landing. As was anticipated, the arrival of A Company on the beach also was unopposed by the enemy. The company however was astonished to be greeted on landing by none other than Captain Quartermaster McKee.
So, within half an hour, the whole of the battalion was ashore together with supporting arms tanks, 25 pounders, machine guns, and engineer. It was a perfectly controlled and coordinated amphibious operation for which a great amount of credit must be given to the U.S. Navy and all its supporting elements.
The battalion shook itself out, reorganised, and began to advance. The first enemy opposition encountered had just been disposed of when into the midst of tactical Battalion HQ, moving slightly in rear of the forward companies, strode, unmistakably, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander S.W.P.A., accompanied by our Corps Commander and former Divisional Commander, Lieut General Sir Leslie Morshead, Rear Admiral Forrest B. Royal (U.S.N.) and a retinue of staff officers and war correspondents. The presence, at this early stage, of "Ali Baba" (alias Sir Leslie), our great leader in the Middle East, was a gesture completely in character one recalled, for example, his visits to the Salient, the hot spot in Tobruk. One did not win a prize, either, recognising General MacArthur, for here he was in the front line complete with the gimmicky symbols everybody recognised sun glasses, cigarette holder, the gold emblazoned cap. Rather it was MacArthur who won the prize; for the trouble and risk that the Supreme Commander took to "show the flag" among the forward troops at a time when bullets were whizzing about (a couple of Japs were shot within 30 yards) enhanced his already significant stature in the eyes of the soldiery. The two generals discussed the situation with Colonel Jeanes and the battalion was honoured by their presence, although it was not the time or place for pleasantries. The generals, on departure, left behind them the thought firmly implanted in the minds of the surrounding troops that if it were good enough for the chiefs to be up there having a "shufti" well it was good enough for the unit to be even more firmly resolved to get stuck into the "unwashed sons of Heaven".
Labuan 10th 21st June 1945. The battalion made some good progress through difficult country, particularly, on the left flank. The awesome flamethrowers were used with telling .effect on an isolated Japanese pocket of resistance. The advance upon the airstrip Phase 2 of the operation commenced at 0935 hours, with B Company moving on the axis of the north south ABLE route and D Company moving across country towards Acparks. No. 9 Platoon, A' Company, had moved to come under command of B Company for operations against the hospital during this phase. The tanks and artillery had been landed, but owing to the restrictive nature of the country and the inability of the L.V.T's to rally in the designated area in sufficient time to clear the beach, there was some delay in getting the supporting arms into position. Our battalion had located mines set on the road in the form of aerial bombs covered over with wood.
13 Company made good progress astride ABLE route but it soon became evident that the study of the aerial photographs had not fully revealed the true nature of the terrain, for the undergrowth proved to be very thick and the ground underfoot was swampy. Despite these difficulties, B and D Companies, doggedly determined, brushed aside minor opposition and made steady progress; the pause line was reached only 15 minutes after the scheduled time.
The naval gunfire programme had achieved excellent results and the two forward companies were enabled to move forward in attack under what was, in the battalion's experience, the unique support of the senior service. When naval support ceased some 22 minutes after D hour, our own ever-reliable 3 inch mortars, under Lieutenant A. R. (Gus) Clues were "pumping them out"; the artillery of the 2/12th Field Regiment swung into action shortly afterwards. Continuous support, therefore, was available to the assault companies from the time of landing.
The two troops of Matilda tanks of the 2/9th Armoured Regiment were under command of the forward companies. The difficult going on the left, however, necessitated a slight change in plans, and the troops of tanks with D Company were withdrawn into battalion reserve at the junction of the tracks KING and ABLE some three quarters of a mile from the landing beach. By 1013 hours A Company, less 9 Platoon, was in a position forward of this junction, with C Company astride the junction itself.
The two assault companies resumed the advance from the pause line. Mines were located on ABLE route and both B and D Companies encountered enemy opposition south of the airstrip. With the assistance of the tanks operating along the road and by immediate offensive action on the left, the resistance was eliminated and the way opened for the capture by 1405 hours of the line from Tg Taras on the east coast of the island across to Acparks. A junction was effected with our sister battalion, the 2/28th, on the left, shortly afterwards at the Flagstaff in the Government House area.
Streams of natives Chinese, Indians, Javanese, Malayans, Eurasians moving back to the refugee area organised by the B.B.C.A.U. The functions of the officers of this unit attached to the battalion were to handle the rehabilitation of the native population, their medical problems and to recruit labour an encouraging experience for the members of the battalion was to be fighting in a country where the civil population Were so patently pleased to see them and so grateful for their coming. The amazing variety of headgear worn by the local inhabitants would have warmed a milliner's heart and one was not now so much in doubt to the origin of sonic Paris fashions' One head of the family picked up the Australian idiom, pointing to an area ahead and saving, "Bloody Jap man!"
The day had been intensely hot and humid. The excessive crowding of the assault companies on board the L.S.T.’S, precluding for a whole week any possibility of worthwhile exercise, had the effect of temporarily reducing the fighting troops fitness below the peak necessary for intensive day long strenuous operations in equatorial climes. This factor, coupled with the energy sapping heat, influenced Colonel Jeanes at this stage to replace the successful forward companies, B and D, with reserve com¬panies, A and C. In the original plan, such a change at this stage was to be made only in the event of heavy casualties. The changeover enabled momentum to be maintained and pressure to be exerted on the enemy. Such a knowledgeable and accurate appreciation on the spot and a prompt follow up decision were to characterise Colonel Jeanes command throughout the fighting in Borneo.
Following an air strike immediately north of the junction of George and Able routes, just west of the airfield at 1500 hours, A and C Companies assumed the forward roles. An hour earlier a strong patrol from D Company, with the task of capturing the reservoir, was subjected to heavy fire from that locality. The air strike proved most successful and as a result, the subsequent advance of A and C Companies met with only minor opposition. By 1613 hours the reservoir was captured intact.
After some minor “fog of battle” delay the two companies set out to capture the airfield. All support tanks bogged down on the airstrip and despite superhuman efforts, on the part of engineers and the tank crews, the tanks were unable to take part to any extent in the capture of the strip. The infantry advance along the airstrip was made in open formation almost as in the open, fighting of the Western Desert. Troops were again heartened by the accuracy and ferocity of the moving artillery and naval shelling which progressively demolished likely enemy positions. A Company captured, the eastern and northern, sides of the airstrip in good time PITCH l, as it was called, was in very poor condition being covered with numerous water filled craters. On the edge of the strip were several knocked out Jap fighters and bombers. .
The company re formed prior to pushing farther north to achieve their final objective for the day, but hoped beforehand to enjoy the pause that refreshes. The enemy had other ideas, ¬and A Company came under fairly heavy fire from rifles and light machine guns. An early appreciation indicated that the enemy in some force was holding positions across Able route. Accurate artillery shelling by guns of the 2/12th Field Regiment, followed up by a quick company attack, persuaded the enemy remnants to fold his tents and silently steal away. An interesting aspect of this encounter was the ruse attempted by the Jap to lure A Company into his main positions by confusing yelling and jabbering but our troops were not deceived. The quick push along the track disorganised and dislodged the enemy and A Company struck no more resistance until its final objective for the day-the divisional covering line was reached.
Simultaneously with A Company, Captain Bray's C Company, supported by a troop of tanks, had commenced its advance along the west side of the airstrip. The tanks here, however, were not in support for long: they found themselves unable to negotiate this area pock marked with huge bomb craters made by the fierce naval and aerial bombardment; tank commanders found it necessary to invoke engineer assistance to extricate' them from this location which rather resembled what had been depicted usually as typical of the moon's surface. C Company encountered no further resistance until they approached the vicinity of the hangars. Again, quick artillery support followed by a sharp infantry attack liquidated the opposition.
By last light on Z Day the airstrip was in our possession, securely held by three companies, with A Company farther north firmly established on the divisional covering position. It had been a long, arduous, testing day, but a day of great achievement. The important airstrip had been captured and the troops, many of them in action for the first time, when the critical crunch came, proved themselves equal to the occasion; 23 enemy had been killed, two wounded and one taken prisoner our casualties were three wounded.
During the Japanese occupation of the island, the local people had been forced on all occasions’ to salute their conquerors. Continuing this practice of enforced homage the natives stood to attention and saluted our troops. The sight of small children hardly old enough to walk, standing stiff and saluting was quite pathetic. The C.O. let it be known that he wished this servile saluting to cease; the natives spontaneously substituted a friendly wave and a cheery smile. English speaking civilians proved most helpful. Sam, a former boy scout, attached himself to A Company; his local knowledge was invaluable. He was fitted out in jungle green clothing and put on the company's ration strength.
Because of enemy small arms fire and the throwing of grenades the troops first night ashore was greatly disturbed and resulted in little sleep. During the second day on Labuan, the battalion was engaged in a limited advance as well as in mopping up and patrolling. D Company held a firm base south of the airfield and with E Troop of the 2/11th Commando Squadron mopped up the enemy in the area eastwards to the coast. C Company secured the track junction to the west of the strip and also provided a protective party for the engineers who were working on the reservoir captured by the company on the previous day. A Company patrolled northwards, and established a platoon outpost on the track junc¬tion EASY ABLE.
B Company struck strong opposition to the west of ABLE route, some 1000 yards north west of the airfield. Patently, movement along the main ABLE route would remain insecure until this area had been cleared, of enemy. One unsupported platoon of B Company attempted to destroy the enemy in this location and inflicted some casualties but was withdrawn to allow artillery and mortar concentrations. A further attempt late in the day resulted in casualties to our troops. The enemy positions were well sited to cover the approaches and any outflanking movement through the extremely difficult terrain would be a doubtful proposition. Colonel Jeanes had ample support available to him and saw no point in incurring unnecessary casualties to his own troops. The forward elements of B Company were withdrawn slightly to enable pressure to be maintained on the enemy through harassing fire from artillery, mortars, and Vickers machine guns. The air strike requested by Colonel Jean's eventuated at 1430 hours; six Beaufighters bombed and strafed the area north from the located enemy stronghold to include the feature FOX. The telling results of the strike were to be observed next day with great satisfaction. Battalion Headquarters spent the night on the airstrip and the troops swam and washed in bomb craters. Visitors on 12th June included General Morshead, Admiral Royal, and General Wooten. The Battalion raised the Union Jack on the airstrip.
During the day the 2/28th, on the left, encounter increasingly strong resistance and was fighting hard through difficult country towards FOX. Late that afternoon Brigadier Porter issued provisional orders for an attack next day by both battalions west and north against FOX, such orders to be confirmed on receipt of reports from patrols ordered for early the next morning.
In the event, the Brigadier's plan was not put into effect. At 0645 hours the following day, B Company patrolled the area of the enemy position and reported that the enemy had withdrawn some 200 yards to the west. Four enemy were observed moving west and carrying stores. An A Company patrol operating on the northern extremity of FOX killed three enemy in dug-in positions. The indications were that the enemy had withdrawn of least part of his forces from this area.
The battalion was ordered to swing its advance westward with a view to the capture of the Timbalai airstrip near the west coast of the island. A Company had already patrolled extensively in the area west towards BAKER route and had reported favourably on the going for tanks. B Company supported by tanks passed through A Company and swung west to its objective, which was seized in mid-morning, five enemy being killed.
Following this success Company supported by tanks commenced its advance against FOX and at 1140 hours made contact. The enemy withdrew under the pressure of the advance but a little later mines on the track and abandoned vehicles that had also been mined and booby trapped obstructed the passage of the tanks. Heavy enemy L.M.G. and rifle fire covered these obstacles from a commanding spur dominating the track. An attempt by one platoon to outflank the position to the north met with some success; several enemy were killed, and by the expert use of phosphorus grenades the C Company platoon incinerated six enemy sheltering in a tunnel. The platoon was unable to move down the spur, so it held on to the ground it had gained and brought fire to bear on the enemy from the flank. Any attempt to attack with infantry alone would doubtless have resulted in heavy casualties and with so much support available, this would have been senseless. (The battalion's machine gun platoon of four guns carried out a most effective shoot on the Fox feature.) In the meantime, 15 Platoon, pushing along FOX route, was held up 600 yards from their objective near two large bomb craters. The Jap here was dug in under some buildings. The tanks were held up along the road (to which their movement was necessarily restricted), blocked by several derelict trucks, until one of the tanks bulldozed them over the ridge. Thereupon 13 Platoon was called forward and a two-platoon attack launched. The objective was captured and C Company, following a successful day, took up its position, with 15 Platoon on the road junction, 13 Platoon and Company HQ 500 yards in rear and 14 Platoon at the FOX feature.
"The night was as dark as one could possibly imagine until an arson-minded Nip set alight to the buildings in the area. We were like players in a midnight drama, with the Nips in the stalls and supplying the lighting effects. It was a silent show broken only by the report from a single rifle, a chance shot in the dark by which C Company suffered its first casualty in the person of Corporal Noel Kilroy" in fact our only killed in action on Labuan.
During the afternoon, D Company had moved north and west through B Company and by 1900 hours had secured the track junction CHARLIE JIG. Thus at the end of the third day the battalion held positions from a point on ABLE track 1000 yards north of the airstrip, 1.1/2 I miles westwards through FOX to the CHARLIE JIG junction: During the night, a number of enemy, attempting to escape north by the various track systems, were killed by A and B Companies. In pursuance of the brigade commander's plan, the battalion had effectively sealed off the enemy in the southern half of the island.
The Japanese bottled up in the pocket to the south defended stubbornly, engaging the 2/28th Battalion during the next few days in some fierce fighting. With naval, air and artillery support the 2/28th wiped out this enemy concentration. Meanwhile, our battalion swept westward along Charlie Route. Features Jirja and Jebel were taken without opposition and Timbalai Airfield on the west of the island was taken without any resistance being encountered.
Fred Turner's report on B Company activities that day recalls that "the order for B and D to prepare at once to move and capture Pitch 2 (Timbalai Strip) was greeted by loud howls from Nicky and his men who were contemplating divers pots full of duck slowly cooking over camp fires. However, move it was and move we did and 10 Platoon presented a comical sight marching along with trophies of the chase in all stages of cooking, strung round their persons and dripping fat."
"Pitch No. 2 proved to be an elongated strip of nothing held together here and they’re by pieces of muddy earth. This was a close up of what we often read of as being ‘another air strip neutralised'. Capture unopposed of Pitch No. 2 was heralded by myriads of howling, mangy dogs and squawking feather shedding chickens who formed the advance party to a crowd of open mouth locals whose shy `Tabeh Tuan' came from wondering mouths, till then nourished with the poison of collaborationist propaganda, which had assured them that the allied attack five days before were merely bombardments intended to frighten them, and that we, the enemy, had since retired in disorder owing to the approach of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Their subsequent disbelief and relief was manifest by their ill afforded offerings of poultry, eggs and fruit and the company waxed fat for four days."
D Company, ever thoughtful, sent the C.O. a fine pair of plucked chickens. In the same jeep a Nip was also forwarded; the locals disagreed vehemently with the Nip's contention that he was not indeed a Japanese.
The major tasks of the battalion on Labuan Island had now been completed but during the next few days, concurrently with the concentra¬tion of the battalion in the area of the strip, patrols operated northwards for limited distances and as far as Tg Kiam Siamat, to the south west extremity of the island. This latter task was given to A Company.
By way of variety (Captain Lonnie's report states) our next task was an amphibious patrol to the southern peninsula, the object being to apprehend some alleged fifth columnists operating in that area. A simple but effective plan was made whereby portion of the force was to move overland to the south, the remainder travelled by landing craft and effected a link up. Both parties carried out their tasks with expedition and the junction was affected practically on time. The patrol by sea resembled a motion picture of a trader arriving with his wares in darkest Africa, except that its purpose was rather more serious. The village selected for searching was typically Dyak . . . every house on stilts driven into about ten feet of mud and water. As our craft could not close in on the jetty we were ferried ashore by native sampans. The natives a happy go lucky crowd entered with great gusto into a number of impromptu boat races which somewhat marred the dignity of our arrival. Proceedings from here on were not without an amusing side (continues the report). As soon as the purpose of the visit became known, it became a Denouncer's day out. What. With conflicting stories as to who had helped the Japs and who had not, affairs took some time to straighten out. Eventually, with Sammy's assistance, we arrested six Malays, five of whom were subsequently convicted. The overland patrol was unlucky enough to miss the Jap Governor of the island by half an hour. Apparently; he did not share the Samurai tradition of Hara Kari; and saw no future in becoming a celestial yellow sunbeam. Then followed a brief rest on the beach, during which time 8 Platoon, acting on native information, surprised and killed a Jap officer and two OR's, the officer's sword being suitably inscribed and subsequently formally presented by A Company to the Brigade Commander.
Apart from meeting up with one or two stragglers, this was the last contact to be made by the battalion with the enemy on Labuan. During the operations on the island, our casualties had been one killed in action and 12 wounded. Known enemy killed by our unit numbered 65, with another 17 probable. Four prisoners of war were captured.
Immediately after securing the divisional covering position on Labuan Island and the capture of Timbalai emergency airstrip, the battalion was ordered to prepare for operations on the Klias Peninsula, the nearest part of the mainland of Borneo. A small planning staff, including the C.O., Adjutant' and 1.0, accordingly moved to Brigade HQ on 16th June 1945 to prepare plans for this further operation intended originally to be launched on or about 23rd June.
By 17th June, two aircraft of No. 76 Squadron, R.A.A.F., landed on the rough strip at Labuan captured only a week previously by the battalion.
These were the first two operational aircraft to land there; next day the two pilots took off in their planes on the first operational sortie from Labuan and attacked and destroyed two enemy aircraft on the ground at Keningau.
At this stage the battalion was concentrated in a coconut plantation in the area of the airstrip swimming and canoeing in native praus provided a welcome respite. Army rations were supplemented with fish caught by using native spears and the occasional grenade, and with oysters, poultry, and bananas. Despite the presence of the Japanese contained by the 2/28th battalion in the pocket north of the harbour, the islanders were being happily rehabilitated amongst their plantations and rice fields and in their small villages. For the troops the sunbathing and poultry eating days were numbered.