Special Forces – Covert Operations

How many Illawarra people may have served in the Special Forces during WW2 is unknown. However we do know of one man. Corrimal born Lance Corporal Eric Carmalt, (Nominal Roll), formerly Eric Smith of Reidtown,  NX51434 , who served in 2/4th Commandos; the highly secretive M Special Unit and Z Special Unit. Eric  is remembered with pride by his great nephew, Illawarra history enthusiast Dave Heycott, who shares a few tales of his relative.

M Special Unit was a successor to the Coastwatchers. “M Special Unit’s role was focused upon gathering intelligence on Japanese shipping and troop movements. Small teams from the unit were landed behind enemy lines by sea, air or land, in contrast to its counterpart, Z Special Unit (“Z Force”), which became well known for its direct-action commando-style raids” – Wikipedia article. M Special Unit’s history “Soldiers of M Special Unit” was written by Neil Smith AM. A key part of its history was the execution of M Special Unit’s Sergeant Leonard George Siffleet provided several of the haunting, horrifying and iconic photographs of WW2 and also underlines the risks faced by Eric Carmalt  – Wikipedia – 1, 2, 3, 4. They were part of the SRD – Special Reconaissances Department, which was in turn part of the AIB, Allied Intelligence Bureau,  and approximately 80 operations were said to have been undertaken in WW2. M Special Unit Images – 1, . Other M Unit articles – 1,

Previously Eric had served with Wollongong’s 34th Battalion,  a Militia Unit. He gave his occupation as Porter on NSW Railways Relief Staff, when he enlisted on 7.11.1941 and on 23.12.1941 he was allocated to 2/No.4 Independent Company, also known as 2/4 Cavalry Commando Squadron, one of the Commando Units in WW2.

During WW2, places Eric served in and found himself located in were :

  • Timor from 22.9.1942 to 9.1.1943 having embarked on the Voyager which ran aground on arrival and was attacked by the Japanese though nearly  all aboard escaped except two Naval ratings – 1, 2, 3,  4,  (Voyager after running aground at Betano Portuguese Timor is shown below); 157242 Voyager 1942
  • leave in Australia in March 1943 and visited his family at Charbon in March 1943 also – described as having been one of the AIF marooned on Timor – also noted as a Trombonist –  Trove;
  • New Britain via Milne Bay PNG 9.8.1943 to 4.3.1944 having embarked for PNG on the HT Allen (see below) 302647 Allenand returned to Australia, after being at the New Guinea Details Depot, departed from Finschhafen on the “Sea Snipe” (see below & Daily Naval Summary)  about the time  he developed Malaria; 303912 Sea Snipe
  • back in Australia he suffered various bouts of Malaria and served with 9th Division as an instructor in July 1944;
  • 29.5.1945 transferred to M Special Unit;
  • Solomons 22.6.1945 to 29.10.1945 during which time he suffered fractured ribs and other abdominal injuries; was being discharged on 30.11.1945.
Eric Carmalt nee Smith via Dave Hayter

Eric Carmalt nee Smith via Dave Hayter

His highly dangerous role in these little known and understood units raises a few questions :

  • how did he come to join M and Z Special Units ?
  • where did he train and where did he serve ?
  • why did he have to change his name from Smith to Carmalt in late 1944 ?
  • what did he do after the war and did he carry any legacies of his wartime experiences ?
  • how much of his experiences was he able to share with his family after the war ?

After the war, Eric returned to working on the NSW Railways, and some answers to the above questions may lie in this article from the Manning River Times on February 26 1947 – Trove. “Residing back in Taree, at 100 Wynter Street, is Mr. Eric Carmalt a railway guard, who has just re turned to Taree, from periods of loan to Wallarawang, where he ran coal trains to Sydney, and to Nyngan where he ran water trains to Cobar. Mr. Carmalt is a serviceman from   this war and saw active service with the Commandos on Timor, where he earned for himself the Distinguished Conduct medal. He later, served with the same unit in the battle for Lae,   where he was wounded in the knee and as a result was admitted to 2/9 A.G.H. for thirteen weeks. In this ac   tion he won an M.M. He later serv ed as a physical training instructor to a Commando training unit at Canungra, Queensland, after ten   months of which, he transferred to Allied Intelligence Bureau, in which unit he served as an interpreter in Portuguese and pigin English. He served with the latter unit in Nor thern Bougainville till he was againwounded, and admitted to 2/5 A.G.H. for eleven weeks. This second wound was caused when an artillery shell landed under the front, of his jeep, two days before the close of the war with Japan.”

His service record does not record the MM nor Distinguished Conduct Medal – however this may not be surprising, given the units he served with.

Eric was married to Jennie and they had two children at the time of his enlistment on November 7 1941, when he gave his residence as being in Ilford Road Charbon. During Eric’s time away in the war, Jennie lived at 476 Princes Highway Reidtown, near Fairy Meadow in the Illawarra. Later in the War she moved back to Ilford Road Charbon.

Eric seemed to enjoy shooting (1948 – 1953) and fishing during his time at Taree after WW2.

In 1949 he seems to have been involved in railway union activities “The secretary of the Taree subbranch of the N.S.W. Railways and Tramways Ex-services Association, Mr E. Carmalt, of 124 Pulteney Street, Taree, spent a few days in Sydney this week and attended the investiture at Government House on Tuesday.” via Trove. After living at Taree, he moved to the Hunter Valley in 1954, where he lived at Charlestown and Gateshead. Eric died in 1997 and is buried at Palmdale on the NSW Central Coast.

Another Z Special Unit man seems to have made his home in the Woonona Bulli area of the Northern Illawarra in his later years – Robert Arthur Swan (1917 – 1999). His obituary in the Book Collectors Society of Australia focuses on the literary side of this former Z Special Unit man (WW2 Nominal Roll Entry – Service Record). He assisted in ensuring that Australian service personnel were able to vote in New Guinea in 1943 – Trove 1. Other WW2 experiences – 1, 2, 3,

Bob Swan was born in Broken Hill, educated at Scotch College, and living in Melbourne at the time of his 1942 enlistment in WW2. At that the time he was a Civil Servant, and had almost completed a Bachelor of Commerce and a Diploma of Public Administration.

In March 1945 he became engaged to Marjorie Vibert Brown – 1, though ultimately he may have married another, Marie Kathleen.

After the war he became a writer, poet, historian, avid collector of first edition books,  and appears to have remained in contact with the Intelligence community, viz ASIO, seemingly until at least 1979. In 1954 he was described as a public servant.

A fascinating history.

Written Historical Works include :

  • “A Nineteenth-Century ‘New Australian’ in the Antarctic” (J.R.A.H.S., vol. 46) May 1960 – 1,
  • Australia in the Antarctic: Interest, Activity and Endeavour (1961) –1,
  • History of ASIO, 47/2/170, Vol.1, p.20 in original ASIO copy (p.113 National Archives of Australia CRS A6122/48, Annex A). – 1, 
  • History of ASIO – appears to have been many volumes ie as many as 24 volumes in fact – apparently compiled  1949 – 1970.
  • To Botany Bay, If Policy Warrants the Measure : a reappraisal of the reasons for the decision by the British government in 1786 to establish a settlement at Botany Bay in New South Wales on the eastern coast of New Holland,  1973
  • ‘ASIO: a Chronology’ and R. A. Swan, ‘Significant Events in the History of Internal Security Intelligence Organizations in Australia up to the Formation of ASIO on 16 March 1949’ and ‘ASIO—A History 1949-79’, (typescripts, ASIO, Canberra)
  • Meditations for the captain-general on a voyage to Botany Bay, Melbourne 1983

Others who have cited his works on the History of ASIO include

  • Meredith Burgmann in her book, “Dirty Secrets Our ASIO Files” refers to “ASIO’s own internally written history, titled ‘History of ASIO’ by Bob Swan. These fascinating files include key decisions and policy documents, covering the period 1949 – 1970.”
  • John Blaxland in his book “The Protest Years – The Official History of ASIO 1963 – 1975” states “According to Bob Swan, the Special Projects Officer in the section (and later author of an internal history of ASIO), spoiling operations were ‘designed primarily to debunk, discredit, disillusion or destroy'”
  • David Horner may have also cited Bob Swan’s work on the history of ASIO in his own research, eg “The Spy Catchers – The Official History of ASIO 1949 – 1963”.
  • And undoubtedly Justice Robert Marsden Hope quite possibly could have mentioned  Bob Swan’s History of ASIO in his “Protective Security Review Report 1979
  • M Finnane seems to have cited Bob Swan’s History of ASIO  in his 2008 work  : “The public rhetoric of policing in times of war and violence “.
  • Justin T McPhee PhD Thesis RMIT 2015 “Spinning the Secrets of State : The History and Politics of Intelligence Politicisation in Australia” which indicates that Bob Swan was in ASIO’s Special Projects Branch and that he was the author of information leaked to the Bulletin on Federal MP Dr Jim Cairns – reported in the Bulletin’s June 22 1974, viz “Samuel’s article was based on a twelve-page assessment of Cairns prepared in 1971 by ASIO’s Special Projects Section and titled: ‘An ALP Socialist Looks at the Australian Parliamentary System’ (NAA: A 12694, 18).  … the practice of distributing material to the press via the Special Projects Branch had been approved by the former Attorney General, Sir Garfield Barwick. On his instructions, ASIO was permitted to ‘provide material to the press’” Predictably this infuriated then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, with the outcome that “In a press statement released on 21 August 1974, Whitlam announced the appointment of, Justice Robert Marsden Hope, of the New South Wales Supreme Court as Royal Commissioner to inquire into Australia’s intelligence and security services (Media release 21 August 1974:1).111 The Hope Royal Commission, as it became known, was convened to inquire into the history of the intelligence and security services of Australia, with reference to the purpose, function, and administration of each agency, the general coordination, control and direction of the services, and the use made by the Australian government of the information provided by the organisations.”

Books of Poetry :

  • Epitaph 1943 – 1,
  • Argonauts Returned & Other Poetry, 1946 – SLVic – 1,
  • Epitaphs to the Vanished Tribes – Jindyworobaks  1979
  • The three worlds : a poem-series, Melbourne 1982
  • Terra Australis Cognita – Being a Circuit in the Backyard Country 1982
  • World and word : dreams and memories, Melbourne 1983
  • To the Last Land, Seven Meditations for Adventurers, Melbourne 1983
  • The Fictive Universe 1981 – 1984, Mont Albert Melbourne 1984 
  • Towards Ithaca – 1986
  • Chart and Labyrinth, 1987
  • Shadows of the Rose, Melbourne 1988
  • A Bridge of Dreams, Mont Albert Melbourne 1990
  • Shadows on the wind : presences and absences in wordwebs, time-tides, worldlines : a poem-series, Woonona 1993 
  • SEA SOUNDINGS Poems for the Illawarra coast in Vistas, Voices, Silences and Shadowings, 1994
  • From & down the Bulli Pass : voices, echoes, visions, through prospects, perspectives, passages, and presences, in seven poem sequences, 1996
  • Bubbles of time : meditations at Collins Rock, Woonona, 1998 – limited edition privately published

Entries made by Bob Swan in the Australian Dictionary of Biography – 1, 2, 3, 4,

The National Library of Australia  maintains a collection of biographical cuttings on Bob Swan – click here   – more.

Below are photos of Z Special Unit and M Special Unit, including Camp Tabragalba near Beaudesert in Queensland.

Australia had a number of special forces units, including M Special Unit and Z Special Unit which were part of the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD). One of the most famous actions was Operation Jaywick (AWM article) , a raid on Singapore – though there were other actions in New Guinea and Borneo in 1944-1945. Though of course there were far more actions than Jaywick.

In June 1942 Z Special Unit was formed from volunteers from the RAN, the AIF, the RAAF, and Allied service personnel. These commandos were used for covert operations deep into enemy territory launched from bases in Australia. They trained in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.” – source AWM – Z Men.

There had been some confusion with a similarly named British Unit – however clarification was made in 1985 in a Letter to the Editor of the Canberra Times via Trove

“It was raised on a volunteer basis for clandestine operations, the object of which was to damage and disrupt the Japanese war effort, which it did quite significantly. It had Naval and Air Force personnel attached to it and, in early 1945, its strength was over 1,200 officers and men. –  C. H. FINLAY (Major General (Ret) Commander, Special Unit 1944-45, Sparrow Force & Z Force Special Unit – M Special Unit – SRD – Operation Jaywick & Operation Rimau.

Many did not survive, and a search Z Unit under Family Notices in Trove, reveals some of their names. A memorial for Z Force is located in Cairns -and Townsville;  also there are others in Western Australia – Rockingham and Exmouth. There is also some information with the Australian Film Archives.

A service commemorating the 50th anniversary of the formation of Z Unit and M Unit was held in Hervey Bay in 1992

Qld tribute to commandos – Canberra Times July 13 1992 via Trove

“MARYBOROUGH: The Governor-General, Bill Hayden, paid tribute to the World War II bravery of Z Special Unit and Z M Special Commando force members yesterday. More than 1000 people at Hervey Bay listened as government and de fence force personnel also praised the achievements of the combined forces commandoes, which trained on nearby Fraser Island – rare film footage. The event marked the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Z Special Unit and of Operation Jay-wick, the raid on Singapore Harbour which sunk 38,000 tonnes of enemy shipping. Two years later a similar raid was tried in Operation Rimau but all 22 men involved perished, many beheaded by the Japanese.”

“In September, 1944, Z Force left Garden Island, W.A., to raid Singapore Harbour in midget submarines. The raid was not successful. There were only eight survivors, of whom Captain Bob Page was one. These men were taken prisoner and kept in Outram Road gaol in Singapore until July 7, 1945, when they were all executed.” Canberra Times November 10 1964 via Trove.

The headquarters of Z Special Unit was in the “House on the Hill” Cairns, former home of Sir Charles Kingsford – Smith,  – Canberra Times June 27 1965 – via Trove

“Daring raid – During World War II the house was taken over by the Inter-Allied Services Branch of the Australian Army and bccame the headquarters of the Z Special Unit. The house became the point of assembly and departure for operations by Z special operators. Final preparations were made in the house for such famous expeditions as Operation Jaywick, the highly successful raid on Singapore in the little vessel Krait.”

There was some controversy at times “Some details of the case are contained in Tom Harrison’s book ‘World Within’. Harrison, best known now as a TV personality, was during the war a member of the British SOE, and the first white man to parachute into Japanese-held Borneo. Towards the end of World War II Australian operatives of Z Special Unit led Dyak groups in guerrilla attacks on the Japanese. After several narrow escapes from capture, one of the Z groups learned that a treacherous Malay had been reporting its movements to the local Japanese command. The group caught the Malay and, in the terms of the CIA, terminated their association with him “with extreme prejudice”. One version has it that the Dyaks cut off his head; an other that an Australian Z force man shot the traitor. The result of this was that the Australian was arrested by the 9th Australian Division and charged with murder. Then General Sir Thomas Blarney intervened, and had the Z force man flown to his Morotai headquarters for a private interview. The upshot of this confrontation was that the murder charge was dropped and the man was released. Another similarity in the two cases is that the Z force group, like the Green Berets, was not popular with the regular army formations because of the glamour and privileges it en joyed. Service rivalry could have been a factor in the launching of both prosecutions.” – Canberra Times October 9 1969 via Trove.

Reunions began to be held in 1946, as part of the Commando Association, including Independent Companies, Commando Squadrons, M and Z Special Units and AIB –  The Argus June 11 1946 – via Trove.

At an RSL Conference in 1947, it was being claimed that the men were not being given appropriate recognition “These men were gathered together and embodied in the organisation known as A.LB., which again was split up into various groups of S.R.D., “Z” Special Unit, F.E.L.O., N.E.F.I.5, the Philippines section known as P.R.S., the New Guinea section known as N.E.A. There were Australians, British, Americans.’ Dutch, Chinese, Canadians, SouthAfricans, New Zealanders, Free1 French, Filipinos, Indonesians and Malay, but at least 80 per cent were Australian. Operations behind the enemy lines were carried on from 1942 until the cnd of the Pacific war, and even after the cease-fire order in the Pacific in August, 1945, some A.I.B. parties were in conflict with Japanese troops and native collaborators who ignored the cease-fire order. The area of operations reached from Java to Malaya and wherever the Japanese were in occupation. Unob trusively these parties left the main land of Australia, by submarine,lugger, junk, by aircraft to descend by parachute behind the enemy lines, or by Catalina aircraft landing on some quiet river or lake in enemy-occupied territory. Each operation undertaken by A.LB. was a story of daring and courage.Appalling risks were taken to achieve success, to make sure the sabotage act was perfect, that the vital in telligence of Japanese activity was radioed to G.HSQ. without delay. Thousands of Japanese were killed by these parties, who with their trained native guerillas caused havoc and panic behind the Japanese lines. They captured Japanese and brought them back to G.H.Q. They rescued Allied airmen who crashed in occupied territory and rescued P.O.W.’s from under the noses of the Japanese. LOSSES ON BOTH SIDES. Losses were not all on the enemy side. A.IB. had its losses, ealso. Parties vanished in Timor; a party in the Are Islands vanished into thin air; they vanished in New Guinea, Ambon. Sumatra, Celebes, Borneo and Malaya, but always back at H.Q. men were ready to take their place, always ready and more than willing to go and ascertain the fate of a missing party. Even now the fate of some members of the organisation is unknown. Party members met their death in various ways, by the executioner’s sword, by drowning, when attempting to land in frail canoes in a rough sea; some died horribly and alone, while others who were to descend by parachute van ished together with the aircraft taking them to the dropping area. One leader, the sole survivor of his party. after being ambushed by the Japanese on Timor, was badly wounded, captured and thrown into a stinking cell in Dilli, where he died without a friend, denied medical attention, food or water-defying the Japs to the last. Not one word of information would he give. The narrow escapes, sacrifices and feats of endurance would fill more than one book, but most acts have passed without recognition of any kind apart from a curt “Good show’ from the C.O. A party which was jumped by the Japs at Lake Kuvamas in the New Guinea interior lost all their stores and equipment, but nothing daunted, the party set out to walk to Mt, Hagen, the nearest allied post, knowing that it might take them a couple of months. After weeks of indescribable suffering, they made it, their only loss being one native police boy drowned while crossing a river. Then there was the party of four who stood off two launch-loads of Japs on the banks of the Upper Sepik in the Yellow River area.Hopelessly outnumbered they held them off all afternoon till dark. They then crawled away to spend the night in the stinking jungle swamp, tormented by clouds of mosquitos, wet through, hungry, shivering with fever, waiting for first light so that they could go back and have another crack at the Japs and try to regain their stores. In this particular area, hundreds of miles from the nearest allied combat troops, captured re ports from a Japanese headquarters indicated that they were of the opinion that large forces were concentrating for an attack on Wewak. The handful of Australians involved was the direct cause of immobilising very large numbers of Japanese troops which otherwise would have been used in the actions then developing round Lae and Salamaua. AUDACITIES IN BORNEO. In the Borneo area, there was the party who set out and landed near BalikPapan to attempt to sabotage the oil wells. This party was found and attacked by the Japs, some were killed, and all stores were lost. The remainder, after wandering around for days, managed to obtain a native canoe which they loaded with bananas and water and set sail for the nearest allied post, over 1,000 miles away. If they had not been sighted by a U.S. Catalina, their story would never have been known. There was the agent in Borneo who made contact with a Japanese garrison, selling them food and sometimes that very valuable commodity, rice. One day he arrived at the ispIpost with a whole bag of rice.  The Japs seized it eagerly, paid the agent who departed with a certain amount of ill concealed haste, but not before he, unobserved, had squeezed in a small time pencil concealed in the rice and attached to a nice big chunk of plastic explosive. The fuse was set for ten minutes and the agent went off to find fresh customers for his rice. There were the specialists on the raiding of enemy aerodromes, wireless and radar equipment; they had a nice little gadget which could be placed in the tail of a plane and would detonate when the plane reached a certain height. This was a very satisfactory business because the plane just failed to return and sabotage was not suspected. It is hard for a plane to fly without a tail. One night this party raided a particularly large radio installation. All day they lay at the edge of the jungle watching the Japanese activity. At night, lugging haversacks full of explosive, they crowded through the iap guards till they came under the radio station. With great care and an eye to best results they laid charges in a pretty liberal manner under the floor, set their time fuse and were away again without the Japs being any wiser until it was too late. So it went on from 1942 till the end of the Pacific war, deeds of sabotage increased in number, whilst information poured in to G.H.Q. from all areas of the Pacific, information which, without doubt, was instrumental in shortening the war. Yet these men who made great sacrifices and achieved such amazing results have received very little recognition, either material or other.  One of the greatest epics of the war, the second attempted attack on Singapore Harbour, from which there were no survivors, was hardly recognised in Australia; yet the Japanese paid a most amazing tribute to these men on the occasion of their trial in Singapore for “espionage and perfidy.” The West Australian November 1 1947 – via Trove

In 1948 there was an attempt to deport a Malay member of Z Special Unit, from Perth to Singapore, after he had been a little too effective in his role with the Pearl Divers of Broome in the post war years. He had been parachuted in and spent 199 days behind enemy lines in Labuan. His fellow pearl divers stood up for him, and then Minister Arthur Calwell allowed him to stay. The West Australian – Feb 20 1948 via Trove

Announcing that the Z Special Unit men marched in the West Australian ANZAC March for the first time in 1949, it was reported that  “This force of volunteers from all nationalities and services was subdivided into S.R.D. (Services Reconnaissance Dept.), A.I.B. (Allied Intelligence Bureau), M. Spe- cial Unit, F.E.L.O. (Far East Liaison Office), N.I.CA. (Netherlands Indies Civil Ad- ministration) and numerous smaller Commando groups. Top Secret – Each trained its own men and was allotted a special task and area. All were concerned with top secret work in the Pacific and China theatres. S.R.D. was most successful. Men were trained at Frazer Island, Qld. and other schools in espionage and counter espionage and were finally dropped behind the Japanese lines. Some were parachuted, others landed by submarine or Catalina. They established Hq. in the jungle and wireless contact with Allied Hq. was set up.  These agents mingled with the population – and at times with the Jap troops – and relayed information on Nip troop, aircraft and shipping movements. Later Garden Island (WA) became an S.R.D. base and members were trained in one-man sub- marine and other specialised work. Many successful raids against Jap. shipping were carried out from this base.” – Sunday Times Perth April 17 1949 via Trove

In 1950, General Masataka Yamawaki, former Japanese Vice Minister of War, along with three other Japanese officers, one of whom was a legal officer Lieutenant Tomeyoshi Matsumoto, were the subject of a War Criminal trial under the War Crimes Regulations, on Los Negros Island near Manus Island in the Loyalty Islands. It was alleged that they had conducted what could be best described as the mockery of a trial of three Z Special Unit men who were deemed to be spies, although the Z Men were in uniform. Evidence was tendered that the Z men had been battered and then hung at Jesselton in Borneo in 1944. At the trial it was alleged that the accused had wilfully neglected their duties to see prisoners tried according to international law – Japan being a signatory to The Hague Convention. – The Advertiser October 17 1950 via Trove; Kalgoorlie Miner) October 17 1950 via Trove; The Age October 17 1950 via Trove; subsequently they were acquitted as the Australians had reportedly been wearing uniforms without identifying markings. No doubt those findings were controversial at the time.

AWM Unveiling of Z Special Unit Plaque 1.8.2016

AWM articles on Z Special Unit – click here  – also 1,

AWM Roll of Honour for Z Special Unit Members – click here


Article by Lynnette Ramsay Silver – click here

Military historian and enthusiast articles – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35,  36, 37, 38, 39,

NSW articles – Newcastle – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,

NT articles – 1, 2,

Queensland articles – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15,

South Australian articles – 1,

Tasmania articles – 1,

Victorian articles – 1, 2, 3,

West Australian articles – 1,

New Zealand articles – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,

Media articles on plaque unveiled at AWM 1.8.2016 – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,

A story has been recently told from Z Special Unit’s activities – Project Opossum.

Images – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 , 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17,

Films – http://www.liveleak.com/ll_embed?f=ed4663d6a402
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17,


  • “Deadly Secrets” written by Lynette Ramsay Silver, ISBN: 9781863514101.(pbk)
  • “They came unseen : the men and women of Z Special Unit” – Neil C Smith – 1,
  • Northern Territory Library collection – click here
  • “Z” Special Unit’s Secret War : Operation Semut 1 : Soldiering with the Headhunters of Borneo – Bob Long
  • The Guns of Muschu – Don Dennis
  • My War – Brian Walpole – interview
  • The Heroes – Ronald McKie
  • Silent Feet – G B Courtney
  • Forgotten Men – Ernest Patrick Chamberlain
  • Blood on Borneo – Jack Wong Sue
  • The SRD Technical Handbook – C A Brown
  • Against All Odds – Geoff Black
  • On Operations with Z Special Unit WII – Rowan E Waddy
  • Commandos Heroic and Deadly ANZAC Raids in WWII – Frank Walker
  • Others – 1, 

Members of Z Special Unit

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36,  37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45,

AWM Last Post Ceremony for Captain Robert Charles Page – 2013 – click here

AWM Last Post Ceremony for Sergeant Leonard George Siffleet – 2014 – click here

Claims to be a Member of Z Special Unit – 1,

Transporting the Z Men – Boat and 200 Flight (Special Duties)

Z Unit men were often taken in by boat (did these include McArthur’s Small Ships Fleet ?) and sometimes dropped by air – the RAAF’s 200 Flight was created specially for these missions. “In June 1944 it was decided that the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) and the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) should have an RAAF unit allocated to it to assist it in delivering agents and supplies of the Australian Army’s Z Special Unit by parachute into enemy territory” – Sourced from Tailside – 1, 2,

Three of the RAAF’s 200 Flight planes were to crash in WW2, and because of their highly secret nature behind Japanese lines, only limited information could be provided to the families of those killed in the crashes.

K A Christian note – by coincidence Ernest Travers Shorter was also killed on one of those missions on May 21.5.1945 –  (AWM Roll of Honour). He was the dear friend of my late mother in law Eunice Adele Christian nee Green. Had Trav survived they might have been expected to marry after WW2 ended. Eunice’s memorials to Trav – 1946,  1947 “SHORTER.-In fond memory of W.O. Trav. Shorter, killed air operations May 21, 1945. Always remembered by Eunice.”


At the Wentworth Hotel Ball in March 1942 – Far Left : Trav Shorter
Second from Left : Eunice Adele Green

And it was in researching Trav Shorter, that I learned of the RAAF’s Flight 200 and its role with Z Special Unit. And also that I found information on the fates of two NSW South Coast men who had been on the same flight crew with Trav Shorter : Ralph Proudlock of Bulli  and John Anderson of the Berry area.

The three crashed B-24’s in 200 Flight of the RAAF in 1945 were :

  • B-24 Liberator A72-191 of 200 Flight RAAF
    Missing off British North Borneo on 25 March 1945 during operation “Semut 1 (Ant 1) ” insertion. The aircraft was approximately 200 miles from the target area on its return journey to its base at Mindoro – more information on Semut – image 1
  • B-24 Liberator A72-159 of 200 Flight RAAF
    Crashed near Dili, Timor on 17 May 1945 on “Sunbaker” reconnaissance mission
  • B-24 Liberator A72-177 of 200 Flight RAAF
    Crashed in British North Borneo on 21 May 1945, on “Agas 2” sortie – further information from AWM – 1, This crash was witnessed by Major Combe (Coombe) , AIF  as being 2 miles west of Melobong village – report – go to page 13 – Memoriam (1947, 1948). Major R G P N Combe (Coombe) Military Cross, was leading the AGAS 2 operation in Borneo… from the AWM website “AGAS 2 led by Major R. G. P. N. Combe (Coombe), the pre-war district officer of Kudat, landed at Paitan Bay. Combe (Coombe) organized guerrilla activity in the Pitas area and at the same time established an intelligence network.” See report on their presumed deaths.

As indicated above, a mong those killed in the May 21 1945 B24 Liberator (A72-177) crash in the AGAS 2 (Sandfly 2) mission was W/O. Ralph Proudlock (Service Number 420488) of “Glenelg”, Organs Road Bulli, formerly of Sublime Pointone of the 11 RAAF and 3 Z Unit men aboard. Ralph was initially buried close to the crash site with all of those aboard A72-177, and then later reinterred at the CWGC Military Cemetery at Labuan – reference. He is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour in Panel 148 – AWM. An investigation report on the accident can be found on the NAA site – pages 30,  31, 32, 33. Ralph’s parents lived at Haig St Bulli.

Further information on Ralph Proudlock – AWM 1, 2, RAAF Database –1, Special Forces – 1,  Oz at War – 1, Wikipedia – 1, Other – 1, Trove : 1942 – 1,  2, – 1944 – 1945 – 1, 2, 3, 4 – 1946 – 1, 2 – 1947 –1, 2, 3 – 1948 – 1, – 1949 – 1, 2, – 1950 –1, 2


Warrant Officer Ralph Proudlock of Bulli – AWM image

“Enlisting in the RAAF in November 1941, AC Proudlock trained as a wireless operator, attained the rank of Warrant Officer (WO), and in 1945 was posted to 200 Flight at Labuan dropping supplies and inserting Z-Force personnel behind Japanese lines in British North Borneo. WO Proudlock was on board Liberator serial number A72-177, radio call-sign B24M, when it clipped a tree and crashed in Japanese occupied territory whilst dropping supplies to Z-Force members near Melabong village on 21 May 1945.”

The other NSW South Coast Man killed in the same crash was Flight Sergeant  John Colin William Anderson (Service Number 424011), a former Farmer, of Bellawongarel in the Berry areaService Record (note only released in 1984 under FOI). Note he had served in the 34th Battalion prior to WW2 which was the local militia battalion of the Illawarra – and also the No.1 Machine Gun Regiment / Light Horse Brigade. Information – Probate

John Anderson 200 Flight

Flight Sergeant John Colin William Anderson

It would appear that this mission was probably preparatory to Operation Oboe 6 that followed in June 1945 – note although 6 Oboe operations had been envisaged in planning the recapture of Borneo from the Japanese, only 3 of these were actually undertaken. “SRD field operations, codenamed Agas (“sandfly”) in North Borneo and Semut(“ant”) in Sarawak, focused on intelligence gathering, and organising, training and arming local guerrilla groups.” (Source : The Star – Malaysia). Also it was not AGAS 2, but rather AGAS 1,  that had some interconnection with Operation Kingfisher – the possible rescue of the Australian and British POW’s at Sandakan – AWM article on Borneo – which of course was never undertaken. The Operations Python preceded the AGAS and SEMUT operations.

  • Oboe 1 – Tarakan Island – East Kalimantan
  • Oboe 2 – Balikpapan – South East Borneo
  • Oboe 6 – Brunei / Labuan in North West Borneo

Those aboard the flight with Ralph Proudlock and John Anderson were :

411761 F/L (Pilot) Keith Roy Norman EMMETT RAAF + Service Record not digitised – personal Accident Report Record not found – no image available. From No. 59 Squadron : “After  his time with 59 Squadron, F/L Emmett returned to Australia and flew as a captain with the top secret RAAF squadron, 200 Flight. He died as a result of air operations on 21/05/1945, in the Pacific Theatre of War.”
422755 F/L (2nd Pilot) Ernest Frederick THEYER RAAF +Service Record – Accident Report not digitisedTheyer 200 Flight
418101 F/L (Nav.) John Oswald GRAHAM RAAF + Service Record &  Accident Report – also pages 30, 31, 32, 33  – Trove 1Graham 200 Flight
120044 F/O (Air Bomber) Reginald Lee TAYLOR RAAF + Service Record & Accident Report Record not digitised – no image available – Trove 1, 2,
71522 Sgt (F/Eng.) Lawrence James STARR RAAF +Service Record not digitised –  Accident Report – AWM Source“Enlisting in the RAAF in October 1942, Sgt Starr trained as a flight engineer and in 1945 was posted to 200 Flight at Labuan dropping supplies and inserting Z-Force personnel behind Japanese lines in British North Borneo. Sgt Starr was on board Liberator serial number A72-177, radio call-sign B24M, when it clipped a tree and crashed whilst dropping supplies to Z-Force members near Melabong village on 21 May 1945. He and his ten crew members were all killed. Sgt Starr was killed aged 23”     – Probate 1,                                                                                                                          P07232.001 Starr 200 Flight
421421 F/L (W.Op.) Rodney Nelson WALKER RAAF + Service Record (PDF) –  Accident Report Record   – SMH Memorial 21.5.1948 :“WALKER -In loving memory of our dearly losed only son and brother Flt Lt Rodney Nelson Walker RAAF who lost his life on active service British North Borneo May 21 1045 Flight 200. Oh memories that glisten and burn In the hearts of his loving parents and sister. In memory also of those who perished on that flight”

Walker 200 Flight
420488 W/O (W.Op.) Ralph PROUDLOCK RAAF + Service Record & Accident Report Record not digitised


421295 W/O (W.Op.) Phillip Hector CORMACK RAAF +Service Record & Accident Report Record not digitised – no image available
14791 W/O (Air Gnr.[MUG]) Ernest Travers SHORTER RAAF +Service Record & Accident Report Record not digitised – SMH 19461947  – remembered in the memoirs of his brother Rus SCAN0494-SCAN0500 m1
5312 F/Sgt (Air Gnr.[Tail]) Owen William John DAVERN RAAF + Service Record – Accident Report Record not digitised  – image from RAAFDB                                         Davern 200 Flight
424011 F/Sgt (Air Gnr.[Nose]) John Colin William ANDERSON RAAF + Service Record – Accident Report Record not digitised                                                             John Anderson 200 Flight
Pass. NX201540 Pte Kenneth Lloyd HARDIE ‘Z’ Special Unit + Service Record not digitised
Pass. VX4326 Lt Leslie Alec McLAREN ‘Z’ Special Unit + Service Record                           McLaren Z Unit
Pass. VX85284 Capt Thomas Ivanhoe ELTHAM MiD ‘Z’ Special Unit + Service Record – no image available.

A photo of the crew from the Australian B24 site is shown below :


B24 Proudlock - Shorter

Back Row:- F/L Keith Emmett, Captain. F/O Ernie Theyer, 2nd Pilot. F/O Sheehan. Sgt Laurie Starr, Flight Engineer. F/O John Graham, Navigator. F/O Reg Taylor, Bombardier. 
Front Row:- F/O Rod Taylor, WAG Radar. W/O Ralph Proudlock, WAG Radar. W/O Phil Cormack, WOP. F/Sgt John Anderson, Nose Gunner. W/O Ernie Shorter, Mid upper Gunner. Sgt Owen Davern, Tail Gunner. 
Location:- B24 Liberator Squadrons Newsletter February 1995 in Library Cabinet B2 Box 5

Note there is some concern that the two rows have been mixed up and that Trav/Ernie Shorter is actually second from right in the back row as identified by his family – likewise Ralph Proudlock is probably in the back row second from left. Further, a comparison of photos from service records certainly suggests that the identities in the two rows have been reversed. K A Christian has written to the B24 Association in Australia to query this apparent anomaly.

The photo below is from the private WW2 collection of Eunice Adele Green.


Written on the back of the photo by Eunice Adele Green : Trav on his last trip to Balikpapan 21.5.1945 – no one is identified of the 11 men in the photo and presumably none of the 3 Z Special Unit  men are in the photo – perhaps Trav is far right in the back row ? Source : Eunice Adele Green WW2 Photographic Collection.

The words on the back of the above photograph pose some interesting questions :

  • Who gave Eunice Adele Green the photograph and when ?
  • Who gave Eunice  the information that Trav Shorter was on a trip to Balikpapan – which is in South East Borneo and nowhere near where they had been dropping supplies to AGAS 2 men in North Borneo ie north west of Sandakan and north of Ranau ?
  • Was this information that the trip was to Balikpapan correct or not ?
  • Clearly the accident reports indicate that their flight was on a mission to North Borneo as part of AGAS 2 to drop off supplies (STORP’s)  on the ground where Z Special Unit’s Major R P G N Combe was located – but was the flight then going onto Balikpapan or elsewhere ?
    • “A “storpedo” was a metre-long cardboard cylinder capable of carrying about 113 kg of supplies which was air dropped using a hessian parachute.” AWM Source
  • There were three Z Special Unit men aboard the flight who were also killed – were they on board to observe the ground ?
  • Or were the Z Special Unit men to be inserted into North Borneo eg ahead of Operation Oboe 6 ?
  • If so then what was the usual protocol – drop supplies or men first ?
  • Or were the Z Special Unit to be inserted elsewhere nearer to Balikpapan in South East Borneo  ahead of Oboe 2 operations ?
  • Had this flight crew been on missions to drop supplies and or Z Special Unit men near to Balikpapan in the past ?

In August 2016 – a question about another plane that crashed carrying Z Special Unit members – in 1944. Specifically  Z Special Unit members were on Operation Falcon in March 1944 the plane was on the way to Babo in West Papua and went down in Fak Fak.

This would appear to have been ahead of major Allied action against the Japanese in the Fakfak area from  July 1944 ( 1, 2) –  which had been previously taken by the Japanese in 1942 (1, ) – Operation Typhoon.

With a bit of digging the following information was found on Find a Grave and then with a RAAF New Zealander Henry William Clapinson, a vital clue to interrogate RAAF incident reports in WW2 – and so a key report was located : click here. It seems that the plane flew into a mountain.

B-24D Liberator #42-72801 “Big Ass Bird II” (Datasheet – Nose Art)
with the 5th Air Force, 531st Bomb Squadron,
380th Bomb Group departed Darwin, Australia
with a crew of ten Americans and six
Australian Army Z Special Unit members on a
secretive mission over West Papua, Indonesia
(Dutch New Guinea at the time).Sometime after midnight on March 19, 1944,
the bomber disappeared.

The aircraft was located in January 1948 by an
Australian search unit, near Fak Fak, and
remains were later recovered from the wreck
site and interred in the Galala War Cemetery
in Ambon, Indonesia. Only the pilot was
individually indentified, and he was originally
interred in a temporary American cemetery in
Manila, Philippines. Sometime after 1948, all
the crew members and passengers were
transported for permanent burial in the
United States.

The men Killed In Action were:

1st Lt. Otto H Martens, Pilot, Ogallala, NE
2nd Lt. Ernest R Hedges, Co-Pilot, New Albany, IN
2nd Lt. Clifford M Odegaard, Navigator, Missoula, MT
2nd Lt. Brian J Kennedy, Bombardier, Flushing, NY
SSgt. Charles F Burtis, Gunner, Lynbrook, NY
SSgt. Walter H Dellinger, Gunner, Lowell, NC
SSgt. Henry P Flanagan, Gunner, Framingham, MA
SSgt. Howard W. Musson, Gunner, Bensenville, IL
TSgt. William T Rabbitt, Jr, Gunner, Mount Vernon, NY
TSgt. Arthur J Schechtel, Gunner, New York City, NY
Sgt. Henry William Clapinson, Passenger, RAAF, Newton, Wellington, NZ
Cpl. Arthur Wesley Filewood, Passenger, AIF “Z” Special Unit, Kensington (Melbourne), Victoria, AU – Thursday Island – Photos
LSgt. Kenneth Dreis Ireland, Passenger, AIF “Z” Special Unit (hometown unknown)
Cpl. Ernest Charles Marshall, Passenger, AIF “Z” Special Unit, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, AU – Photos
Cpl. James Norman McPherson, Passenger, AIF, Sunshine West, Victoria, AU – AWM image
Cpl. Godfrey Charles Mitchell-Burden, Passenger, AIF “Z” Special Unit, St. Kilda, Victoria, AU – he had an alias of  “M. C. Taylor“.


Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery
St. Louis County
Missouri, USA
Plot: SECTION 84 SITE 402

Z Special Unit Crash 1944 -1

Additional and quite detailed information was found on the crash on the Pacific Wrecks website – 1, 2, :

” Mission History
On March 18, 1944 took off from Fenton Airfield south of Darwin at approximately 10:59pm for a night mission over Babo. In addition to the crew of ten Americans, six Australian crew members were aboard, for a total of sixteen passengers. The Australian Army passengers were part of the Z Special Unit. This B-24 was last seen on take off. When the bomber failed to return, the entire crew was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). The B-24 was presumed to be lost sometime after midnight on March 19, 1944.

1st Lt. John E. Lawor adds:
“This aircraft was on a highly secretive mission, the details of which are unknown to this headquarters, the operation being conducted by the RAAF at Darwin. In addition to the regular crew of ten men this headquarters has been informed that six additional men were aboard the missing airplane. At approximately 0345/L on 19 March 1944 four of our crew reported seeing an explosion which appeared to originate at approximately 5,000′ altitude. This sighting was observed in the vicinity between 3.05S 132.40E and Kokas village. All crews reporting were from 20-30 miles distant and no other details of the explosion were observed….

At Fakfak, in south-west Dutch New Guinea, bodies were recovered from a US Liberator which had crashed at night into Baham Mountains. There were six Australians as passengers in the plane.”

Under the Southern Cross – The B24 Liberator in the South Pacific – Bob Livingstone

Operation Falcon 1944 – part of Fraser Commando School RAAF 25 Radar StationRAAF 25 Radar Station

“FCS opened as the main SRD school for basic training in October 1943. The original impetus for the school was to train operatives for Operation Falcon, an ambitious plan formulated in August 1943 to carry out simultaneous attacks on 13 Japanese bases from Timor to New Ireland. The number of missions in Operation Falcon was gradually reduced due to a lack of submarine transport (helicopters were also supposed to be used, but were not available) and only one unsuccessful operation (Hawk—involving an air drop of men and supplies into the water) occurred in March 1944. One of the two transport aircraft had to turn back, while the other was lost with 6 SRD personnel. Although Falcon was a failure, the SRD personnel trained on Fraser Island were used on other SRD operations in the South West Pacific Area”

It was thought possible that there was another plane crash in this area – Trove 1, 2 – however a 1992 report referring to a 1946 indicates that it was likely to be the missing Big Ass II.

Perhaps some of the answers to these tragic crashes  lie in The Official History of Operations and Special Operations Australia also known as ISD and SRD – Volume 2 Operations – Source NAA – pdf. Note at over 600 pages in length this document will take some time to read and absorb. Or perhaps some of the mysteries will still yet remain ?