Compiled by Tom Wilson from an Article by Author: LAC GEORGE PARK 4ACS SURVEY
In compiling this article, I have drawn on my diary and memories, as well as information passed on to me by other members. Of course it is very far from a complete account of what happened; in the main it covers what I saw and experienced and I am conscious of the fact the approximately 400 odd other Squadron members had their own unique experiences. I would welcome corrections; my diary and my memory are not infallible; please write and tell me, and if my story revives memories I will be more than amply rewarded if you tell me of them also. Those of us who participated in the landing at Labuan Island will never forget the harsh reality of total warfare or the dedication of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen of whom Australia can be very proud
30th. April 1944, at Biak 62 Wing came under operational control of 1st.Australian Army Corps and Units were alerted for a forward move.
62 WORKS WING REPORT FOR MAY 1945
1st.May 62 Wing alerted on 48 hours notice to move to Operation Oboe 6. All Units were standing by packed and ready to load on 3rd.May all plant and transport 100% serviceable. 5 LST's arrived at LST loading slots on 8th, May and loading was completed in the record average time of 7.5 hours per ship. On 9th.May, the convoy departed Biak and arrived at anchorage at Morotai on the 12th.May after an uneventful trip. The Equator was crossed on 10th.May.
The convoy remained at anchorage at Morotai until
4th.June, all personnel except plant maintenance and guard crews camped ashore. W.A.C.Dale W/C Commanding 62 Works Wing
BIAK ISLAND Monday 7th.May At 1900hrs we embarked from the beach onto one of the American Navy LST’S, which were required to transport our Squadron. The LST was a shallow draft vessel, which we were reliably informed, could not be torpedoed and not unexpectedly, we were pleased that this was never put to the test. Two large hinged doors formed the bow and the ship was capable of beaching and retrieving itself. It had a lower tank deck where our heavy equipment was placed and from there a ramp, which could be raised and lowered, gave access to the upper deck where our trucks, and light vehicles were carried. Turnbuckles and heavy hooks connecting to build in anchor points in the deck ensured that all equipment was securely anchored. I was a member of our Survey Group and we had two vehicles, they were Dodge four-wheel drive light trucks known as "Blitz Buggies", fitted with a canvas canopy and both were assigned to the upper deck. Limited sleeping facilities below meant that many slept on deck in vehicles and on stretchers set up between the vehicles. Tarpaulins were strung up to provide protection from the elements. There was a white line painted about 6 feet in from the side of the ship, which defined the limits of deck we could use. However, this line encroached further into deck space at each of the anti aircraft guns and it was at one of these points that I found just enough space to allow me to set up my stretcher alongside one of our survey vehicles. After `tying my stretcher to the truck and draping a tarpaulin from the top of the vehicle to the deck I considered myself well housed. Our second Survey vehicle was parked beside our vehicle and the drivers Vince Sewell and Bert Ryan were asleep on the front seats. Our life preservers in the form of a wide waist belt had to be worn at all times. They had two small cylinders of gas for inflation purposes which were operated by squeezing one end of the belt and it was not long before our mates were reaching from behind us in the mess queues and squeezing our belts !. The life belts inflated to something like the tube of a large tyre. Efforts were made to prohibit the practice but in spite of this the ships store soon ran out of replacements and we were left to use our lungs in an emergency; there were two rubber tubes attached to the belt for this purpose.
We lay anchored off Biak for three days whilst other units embarked.
Tuesday 8th.May. We received news of the German surrender in Europe and on the following day an ecumenical thanksgiving church service was held for peace in Europe. It was conducted from the ship's bridge with all on board taking up vantage points, which were generally on top of vehicles. (I can't remember who conducted the service; it may have been you Allan)
Thursday 10th.May at 1915hrs we weighed anchor and sailed for Morotai under Naval escort crossing the Equator at 1220hrs the following day but the festivities were brief, and only a few of the more noteworthy members of the Squadron were actually initiated in King Neptune's bath. One person who did not escape was? Nichols who had a "handle bar" moustache that measured over 300mm from tip to tip and during his initiation the boys removed one half of it. According to Trev Mitchell, he became known as "Half a Mo when he refused to shave off the other half! One of the reasons for the brevity of the Equator crossing escapades was anti aircraft practice. It was my first experience with Bofors guns; they were mounted in the bow, rapid firing, and incredibly loud for their size all guns were in action and from them the brass cartridge cases cascaded onto the deck in unbelievable numbers.
It was not long before all of the K food rations which we had been issued with before leaving Biak, had been eaten. Being US army issued products they were superior quality, containing sweets, biscuits, canned food, and cigarettes.
The trip was excellent in all respects except for the showers. The use of fresh water for this purpose was limited to a set period each morning and it was impossible for more than a lucky few to take advantage of it the remainder showered in salt water but in spite of special salt-water soap you were always left with an uncomfortable layer of salt afterwards.
Sunday 13th.May we reached Morotai at 0820hrs, anchored amongst hundreds of cargo and naval vessels, and was not impressed the following day when we learned that to avoid having to pay the US Navy for our subsistence the Australian hierarchy had decided to put us ashore whilst the invasion fleet assembled. LCI's were brought alongside our LST and a small crane lowered our kit bags down. Scramble nets were then thrown over the side and down we went with full webbing, side arms and rifle, quite a hazardous exercise climbing down about 20 feet and not made any the safer by the bloke above me dropping his rifle which just missed my head!
Our LCI made for a "T" jetty at which an American Liberty ship was discharging cargo, and brought us in around the back of the 'T'. Where to our delight we found ourselves alongside a stack cartons containing American canned beer, which was about 12" high and provided a good screen, so out came the bayonets and cartons were opened in very quick time. Like most of the others, I went: ashore with a number of cans inside my shirt. Our transfer from ship to shore no doubt caused someone "higher up" quite a lot of embarrassment because our camp was not ready for us, and after two hours, during which we made short work of our canned beer we returned to the LST. Climbing back up the scramble net was quite an effort and I well remember reaching the deck exhausted and struggling off towards our survey vehicle when the authoritarian voice of one of the ship's officers called, 'soldier salute the quarterdeck" "Old Glory" hung over the stem and no one came on board without paying their respects to the flag.
Tuesday 15th May we went ashore at 1400hrs and found our camp. We were being hosted by 2ACS and the camp was supposedly on a burial ground where Japanese soldiers had been interred, however I had some doubt about this.
During our stay on Morotai we did very little, the only memorable events were as follows.
Thursday 17th.May in the evening it rained as it only can in the tropics and when I woke in the morning a large portion of the camp including our tent was under water to a depth of about 8". My diary, which was with other possessions under my bed got wet and still, provides evidence of this experience.
Friday 18th.May No.29 Air Stores Park, which had been stationed on Morotai, was also to be part of the Labuan force and we were detailed to assist in loading their equipment onto trucks. It was very heavy manual work lifting heavy crates and we were expected to continue after our evening meal however, several of us were "buggered" and did not return. Somehow word leaked out and we were caught in our tents by D.W.O. Arthur Whipp who told us in no uncertain manner that we were on a "charge". We were quick to observe that Arthur had been enjoying himself in the N.C.Os mess He gave us a torrid time of it. But the following morning when we reported to him as ordered, we hit him with a request for a parade to the CO. "What for" said Arthur and our spokesman said "you were half full last night" this had an immediate effect and with a brief "don't do it again" we were dismissed to resume normal duties. Morotai was under American control and as at Biak their forces had contented themselves with wresting sufficient land from the Japanese for airfields and military establishments and then set up a guarded perimeter. The Japanese cut off from supplies would occasionally infiltrate in search of food and whilst we were on the Island, there were several apprehended watching film shows.
Monday 21st.May we had a trip by launch to Little Nellie Nellie Island sightseeing and enjoyed ourselves talking to the natives and buying souvenirs, which were mainly in the form of wood carving model canoes and native sailing boats. I made a note in my diary on this day "getting this Malayan lingo" which really meant that I had learnt one or two words. Remember "teeda ba goos" very good and "bunya bunya ba goos" very, very good, and "kappelterbang" airplane? I have not the foggiest idea how they were spelt but that is what they sounded like.
The following day, Tuesday, we shifted camp and joined No.6 ACS. As on Biak, which was also a pre war Dutch possession, we were paid in Guilders and I noted in my diary on the 25th. May that I drew 5OG
On the 28th a Liberator malfunctioned and aborted its take off. After the crew had escaped it blew up shaking the surrounding area very severely as it had a full bomb load.
Tuesday 29th.May It was known that the island of Labuan to which we were headed was a bad Cholera area and so we were given hefty doses of an anti toxin; the reason for the large dose being that the material was not considered to be all that effective. An injection in each arm resulted in the muscles becoming hard and swollen for a few hours.
We were also issued with three cans of Australian "C" field rations for use when we landed, each contained 3 separately wrapped small meals of highly nutritional food. The cans were approximately 8"x 4"x1/2" and at Labuan we found them useful as "billys" in which to make our tea.
Wednesday 30th.May We rejoined our landing ship LST 937 at 1200hrs and I noted in my diary "back to good tucker", meals on US navy ships had a fair proportion of fresh food this being made possible by the large refrigerated space they carried.
I received a fruitcake from home. Remember how popular they were? They were in a round tin about 8" in dip sealed with tape and then enclosed in a hand sewn linen bag for posting. I felt they were unsuitable for the tropics as occasionally they would arrive with a mould growing on them due to poor sealing and the humidity, and if they did arrive in good condition the cake deteriorated rapidly. I found them "heavy", eating and generally unpalatable in the hot climate and it was a few years after the war before my taste for fruitcake retuned.
The following day our LST moved to the convoy assembly area and anchored. From the deck we could see by day an active volcano on the horizon and around us the hustle and bustle of ships coming and going, some joining our convoy and anchoring. By night it was a fairy land of lights, the ships signalers would "talk" to each other across the water with their lights and their 'stuttering" beams radiated in all directions.
Monday 4th.June Morotai The anchor was raised and our convoy and escort, numbering 77 ships formed up and we sailed in a westerly direction. We had been paid in Straits Settlement (Malay) Collars worth 2/11 (30 cents approx.) and received our last mail before sailing.
The layout of the convoy, which I compiled as we sailed, shows considerably more than 77 ships however, a number did join the convoy en route
Tuesday 5th.June at 1400hrs, we encountered a bad storm and it was very rough. We passed the Sanghi Islands and had continuous air cover during the day with two Spitfires at one stage and a Liberator at another. It remained stormy with rough seas all day and throughout the night. In the position where I was sleeping, the sea would occasionally wash over the deck and pass under my stretcher. An American Air Force "Black Widow" aircraft provided our night escort.
Wednesday 6th.June. The sea had calmed down and four "Lightnings" provided the day air cover with the "Black Widows back for the evening surveillance. We were by now off the southern end of the Philippines near Mindanao.
Thursday 7th.June was a calm cloudy day and we were close to Zamboanga, which was off the port side, and in the Sulu Sea. The convoy was regulated to the speed of the slowest ship and we maintained a steady 6 knots and constantly zig-zagged our course. 0ur LST was in the centre column and the third ship behind what was to be the control ship for the landing "Rocky Mount".
The position of our LST relative to the ship in front of us was maintained by a simple sighting angle used regularly by an officer on the Bridge. This angle intercepted the overall height of the ship we were following and our speed was adjusted in the case of an over or under intercept. A Catalina flying boat provided air cover this day. A tanker joined the convoy and was positioned immediately behind our LST and during the day the Navy ships Destroyers/Corvettes and Patrol Boats came through in turn to refuel on the "run". Passing a line and then drawing the supply hose across the water did this. It was a wonderful sight to see the ships sail up through the convoy and then take off at speed to their stations or the outer flanks of the convoy. I felt particularly sorry for the small craft in our convoy particularly during bad weather when they pitched and tossed very badly. We were eating the best of food (much of it was fresh) in typical US of A Navy style, and I wondered how the occupants of those craft were enjoying their Bully Beef, M and V. and Dog Biscuits!
Life on board ship was busy with everyone helping to prepare for the landing; the engines of all vehicles and construction equipment were waterproofed with a mastic material, which we moulded around ignition equipment. Vertical extensions were fitted to engine exhausts and air intakes to allow the vehicles to be driven through water to the beach.
Our Survey Group was briefed on the proposed reconstruction of Labuan airstrip; this was done with the aid of maps and aerial photographs. The airstrip had received a lot of attention from Allied bombing missions but the existing Centre line was to be retained and we was assigned to work on the southern half with 5 ACS working on the northern half