"We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."
-Sir Winston Churchill
In a world where honor and values we freedom loving Americans and our allies hold dearly are slowly eroding, who are the rough men?
I wager the rough men are we secret warriors who have ventured in and
out of harms way form time ,eternal. Given that fact, what
then, makes a secret warrior uphold his honor to retain the secret
life he once led? Sometimes, a secret life often long ago?
What sort of man retains his silence, often
to a system that shows him no respect for such difficult honorable deeds
or loss of a brother in arms underfire in a place where no one can know
where he was? Why does the secret warrior elect not to leak his tradecraft or exploits to groups like wikileaks ; but rather retain those secrets with little or no fanfare for most of the rest of his life --even when his exploits and conflict they represent may have long since been de-classified or no longer hold any strategic or significant value ?
What Kind of men are we to do that?
For we Yanks, like to think that in times of conflict, we are the toughest hombres on the block, especially when it comes time to showing any enemy of free men, how wrong they are to have oppressed said free men. When the Merde starts to fly and stick - that starts a conflict -- We often step into it; and in turn step up to the plate and clean things up - bang up job all the way around. But that is not always the case.
Many times our allies come to the fore front of a campaign and wage havoc in ways equal or surpassing fear and destruction to an enemy force that all the sophisticated organized might in the world can't stop it . While
other secret warriors receive such little notoriety, others morph into
legend but are known to be the true heroes amongst their peers and
modern legacy, like Mess.
Such legends often spawn other legends, much in the way the true secret warriors of World War II Borneo spawned a Joesph Conrad -esque tale and movie about that arena of conflict titled of the "Farwell to the King;" one of the most curious legends and little known tales of Unconventional warfare in yet , one of the most deadly backwater campaigns of WW II.
To say the jungle island of WW II Borneo was anything less than a mystical Kipling- esque never-never land that was then, and today still is a land that time and 'Limes'- ( --quinine to prevent malaria, you know..) forgot is to say that the Islamic insurrections in the middle-east and union protests in U.S. of February 2011 are not about Islamo fascist control of our nation.
Borneo: Third Largest island in the world and during WW II loaded with nasty not so friendly Imperial Japanese stooges -- read that forces; myths of local headhunters, Australians and Americans. And some of the most true exploits and most effective special operations units of all time, made Borneo a style of warfare that for some remained classified and for others made the tale about them abound in mystique that some of the most closet most intense this back water operation anything but that.
The secret war of Borneo culminating with the Borneo campaign of 1941-1945 was one of the most complex operations involving Allied land, air and sea forces in the war. It was also the last Australian campaign to be planned and undertaken.
Borneo had been captured
by the Japanese in early 1942. Most of the island was part of the
Netherlands East Indies (modern Indonesia) but the north and north-west
was British territory. During 1942 and 1943, many prisoners of war,
including Australians, were sent to various locations on the island.
...The decision by the Allies to invade Borneo in 1945 was for the most
part political. It had only marginal strategic value. General Douglas
MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief of Allied forces in the South-West Pacific
Area, planned the operation partly to alleviate concerns of the
Australian government that its forces were being relegated to
operational backwaters, as New Guinea had become. MacArthur had largely
left Australian forces out of the most significant operation of this
stage of the war - the liberation of the Philippines - with only some
warships and a few air force units taking part. The invasion of Borneo
was intended to make Australian forces more visible again in pressing
home the war against Japan. General MacArthur selected Borneo partly on
the basis that bases on the island could be used to support an invasion
of Java. The recapture of Java from the Japanese would formally restore
control of the Netherlands East Indies to the Dutch. The Allies would
also be able to capture the many oilfields in Borneo; however, this
would have little effect on the war because American air and naval
blockades of Japan had virtually cut off Borneo from Japan. No oil was
reaching Japan from Borneo. And by the time it would all be over, another special forces legend would be born, and 25 years later another legend to this never-never land involving a mythical Marine Sergeant from Corregidor by the French Author who wrote of him would also appear...
A Marine Sergeant named Learoyd
Do to the secrecy of MacArthur's Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB )much of the popular myth the non participants of the secret war or share of any secret operations in Borneo comes from the book and subsequent underrated epic movie both titiled-- "Farwell to The King," based on the 1969 novel L'Adieu au Roi by French author Pierre Schoendoeffer who took great license from tales he learned as a French Soldier
meeting various Ausies and Yanks who had served in the secret back
water war, of Borneo. Produced 22 years ago, the story goes like this:
As a U.S. Marine
-- Sergeant Learoyd -- with several of his marines -- all
retreat from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and
subsequent fall of Corregidor by commandeering a small boat
, they head across the open sea in a small bat and land via
vicious surf onto a Borneo beach. There blessed to have
found land , Sgt Learoyd and mates, take off and into the
waiting hands of the Japanese who brutally execute them all -
scared he runs deep into the jungle where his is captured by native
Bornese head hunter tribesmen , where through ritual and acceptance by
them challenges the heir apparent to the throne of Borneo and
killing him becomes the King of Borneo -- the leader of a
personal empire among the headhunters in this war story told in the
style of Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling.
When a British
Captain and commando leader assigned to Australia SOA 'Zed force' and
his Black Colonial Queens West African Rifle Regiment
Sergeant, are parachuted into the jungle Learoyd's tribesmen find
them and deliver them to Learoyd he tells them of how he came to be
King. They give him the standard UW line( seemingly written in WW
II Borneo) (him they need the reluctant Communist King and his
tribesmen to join them, and their about to arrive supplemental
joint Aussie and American OSS team , to fight the..
Learoyd who has taken a wife, takes a wife, and believed that WW II is
behind him will have no part in the war until it arrives at his
front door of his longhouse. A combined Japanese air attack and
corespnding with by the commandos arrival seal his fate and Learoyd's
emerald forest changes, Circumstance forces him to revert to his
military tactics to save his tribe he conducts a war of vengeance
when the Japanese attack his adopted people.. Demanding a treaty from
General MacArthur to ensure the post war period keeps the Borneo
people free, Learoyd becomes enraged when Macarthur's treaty with
the Borneo people is not up held he surrenders' himself AWOL so that
they are given there stone age Jungle and its freedoms. However,
while he is locked in the brig of the transport ship
ferrying him back to the states to face certain courts martial,
Learoyd is released by his friend the British SOE team
leader, who in the end, allows Learoyd to jump
ship and swim to shore and make way back into the jungle to
from and disappear amongst the natives back into the wilds
"Farewell to the King," is a 1989 film written and directed by John Milius. It stars British Nigel Havers as the SOE officer, Fran McRae as the Black British colonial Sgt., famed surfer Gerry Lopez as a headhunting Borneo tribesman and Nick Nolte, as the Marine Sergeant Learoyd. Milius' does a great job directing the film. His images here have a similarity to a David Lean military picture, like Bridge On The River Kwai, or Lawrence Of Arabia. Milius has brought us some of the better U.S. themed military action movies including Uncommon Valor a fictional film based on Vietnam MIA hunters ; The Wind and the Lion, based on President Theodore Roosevelt's morocco expedition of 1904 and Rough Riders (which
assisted in helping congress select the same Colonel Teddy Roosevelt
for a posthumous Medal of Honor )-- all draws us in wonderful and gripping, thought-provoking, action adventures. Farewell to the King has one of the finest on screen CQB sequences ever dramatized.
While Milius was not in the military, he
often chooses stories with characters which reflect the values and mind
set of the professional soldier which is why his films have served those
audiences, well. Any elite commando trooper or adventurer with a
military background can watch a Milius directed film and see the detail
he takes to insure the character arches reflect values of the American
Servicemen and ideas taken to watching this film cannot be anything but
griped by it, as it is a thinking man's "war movie". "Farewell To The King," shows the war through the eyes of a man who has been to hell and back. It draws us in wonderful and gripping, thought-provoking, action adventure.
Yet for all the fine and wonderful effort the director put into "Farwell To The King", not he nor author Pierre Schoendoeffer could have known that much of the stories involving characters in the secret back water war, of Borneo were not true -- yet had a truth to them than greater than the non fiction characters they depicted. You see, the books original author as a former soldier may have by his writing in 1969 have learned of tales and legends of the secret operations in the Borneo Highlands in WW II, but even so, since it his
take on the real folks whom they were based on was still very highly
classified. His tale and the Hollywood version of it, could only 'dance around" the facts. And if the following facts you read below were somehow 'available' to him to draw upon.. Schoendoeffer fictional tale is actually better than the fine credit is has received.
The Movie and MacArthur's Secret
Sgt. Learoyd the King was a fictional creation of Schoendoeffer as was the British officer Fairbourne...Or were they? Both were based on real secret warriors who fought in that theater? Again since the exploits of the actions were not declassified until nearly
2000, the most interesting fact of the movie is how the truth of the
back story is a honest interpretation based on here say and legend, that were spoken openly at the time of authorship.
instance, few openly knew (until well into the mid to late 1980's of
General MacArthur's very classified and secret Allied Intelligence
Bureau (AIB). Let alone how the AIB authorized the
Borneo back water war, and yet although all American in concept, most of
its personnel for Borneo, were not.
As you may recall Macarthur forbade Donovan's OSS was to operate in the pacific, he had the Army's G-2, U.S. Navy ONI, and Brits Dutch and Aussies to round out AIB for that job...but know one knew the detail or how jointly special ops AIB really was until long after the war. The AIB had something more seasoned than the new Army Alamo Scouts or driect action mission Rangers, Marine Raiders or Navy Frogmen : A force in the combination of the OSS OG's ( Operational Groups ) he disliked that was originated elsewhere...
Z Special Unit, also known as Z -Forceor the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD)...
Was a joint Allied special forces unit formed to operate behind Japanese lines in Southeast Asia; including Borneo, South east Asia. Predominantly staffed by Aussies, Z Special Unit was a specialist recon and sabotage and unconventional warfare unit that included Brits, Dutch,
New Zealanders Indonesians, Timorese and the people of Borneo. Z force
predominantly operated on Borneo and the islands of the former Dutch or
Netherlands East Indies.
Besides the Borneo operations the unit
carried out a total of 81 covert operations in the South West Pacific
theatre under the AIB and countless others throughout Borneo. Parties
inserted by parachute or submarine to provide intel and conduct
unconventional guerilla warfare( UW). The best-known of these missions were Operation Jaywick and Operation Rimau, two of the most classic and maritime commando sorties of the war both of which involved super endurance swimmer canoeist SBS style raids on Japanese shipping in Singapore Harbor; however the latter of which resulted in the unfortunate deaths
of twenty-three commandos either in action or by execution after
capture, by which experts in the field say was due to infil /exfil
techniques to the target that Using operational swimmers via underwater combat diver insertion, would have resulted differently.
Few details of these operations have been
officially released, although details have emerged from the personal
accounts of some Z Special Unit personnel.
How Z-Force came to be: Meet the AIB
Prior to couple years leading up to MacArthur's landings in Borneo in 1945, the South East Asia South West pacific theater was mostly Japanese occupied and the allies had not gotten there act together.
While the OSS and British
SOE were operating in Europe and China-Burma-India theater -- all fairly
close to Borneo --, Macarthur forbid Donovan's OSS to operate in
the Pacific Theater to which he was Supreme Commander, and
where Borneo logistically fell under during the war.
So he established the Allied Intelligence Bureau(AIB) to meet the needs of joint British Dutch a U.S. and Australian Special operations under his force command, in the Pacific theater. Established in June 1942 under the command of Australian Colonel C.G. Roberts, He reported directly to U.S., Major-General Charles A. Willoughby who was MacArthur' s Chief Intelligence Officer for the South West Pacific area (SWPA). Interestingly enough Willoughby was born in Germany and named Karl Widenbach
at birth. He still spoke with a thick German accent when he worked for
MacArthur. He was an admirer of Spanish dictator, General Franco.
U.S., Aussie, Dutch, Kiwi, and Brit intel and spec ops agency, AIB was
responsible for all operating parties of spooks(spies) coast watchers and commandos behind Jap lines in order to collect intelligence and conduct nconvetional against Jap forces under
General MacArthur's. The AIB was formed in June 1942 to coordinate the
existing Allied propaganda and guerrilla organizations. The first
controller of the AIB was Colonel C.G. Roberts. At its peak the AIB
contained men from ten individual services and controlled or coordinated
eight separate organizations. The role of the AIB was to obtain
information about the enemy:
weaken the enemy by sabotage and destruction of morale and to lend aid
and assistance to local effort to he same end in enemy territories."
There were four sections of AIB: A, B, C and D.
focused on secret intelligence, and was known as Secret Intelligence
Australia(SIA). Ironically and much to General MacArthur's displeasure, B
section reported directly to MI6 in London but was not accountable in
any way to either the Aussies or MacArthur.( Ironically in the Farewell
to the King Movie the British Officer in the field is reporting directly to London as well...a fact little know by the public at the time of the writing...) C Section, gathered field intelligence through Coast Watchers (aka M-Force), natives and civilians. D section was the psyops, propaganda arm. However it was A Section that concerns this tale.
A Section AIB, was later known as the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD)(aka Zed Force Z Force and Z Special Unit , mentioned earlier). It was also known as Inter-Allied Services Department (IASD), Special Operations Australia (SOA) and was an Aussie military intel and special recon unit (SR). Authorized by Australia's first and only Field Marshal, Sir Thomas Albert Blamey (Decorated with GBE, KCB CMG, DSO, ED
24 January 1884 - 27 May 1951) in March of 1942, following the outbreak
of war, the unit was modeled initially on the British Special
Operations Executive(SOE); it organized initially by a British
Army officer and was also renamed Special Operations Executive
Australia (SOA). When the AIB was established in June 1942, SRD became a
branch of AIB.
/IASD/ SOA oversaw intelligence-gathering, reconnaissance and raiding
missions in Japanese-occupied areas. This was primarily done via M-
force as coast watchers and Z Force as unconventional SR operatives
focusing on information collection and commando operations.
While MacArthur had U.S.
Marine Raiders and U.S. Navy UDT's for direct action Amphibious missions
and Alamo Scouts and Rangers working behind the lines in for
MacArthur's American operations, by the time Borneo happened the AIB was cooking up pure genius!
Borneo and Z Force
Prior to MacArthurs
amphibious landings on Borneo in 1945, Z-Force was the ticket to cause
fear in the hearts and minds of the Jap and kick his ass. Between 1943-1945,
Z Special Unit conducted SR Ops, harassing attacks and sabotage behind
Jap lines in Borneo, as well as the training of natives for operations
very similar to what today's U.S. Army SF and Aussie SAS considers to be
Unconventional warfare(UW) . These operations were fought at such a
high tempo and ferocity of fire power, that the Japs only saw and felt Owen Sub-guns ablaze and could not anticipate the fine suppressed Barrel of the near silent, Welrod 9mm Silences Pistol or sub sonic .45 from a Delisle carbine, let alone blow darts from a Dahlak blow gun...as the Z Forces used their fine stealthy skills of Bush and Jungle fighters; and assaulting with intensity, that they to really put fear into the enemy.
The first of these operations was Operation Python (which was split into two operations Python I and Python II)
Was the first Borneo Z -Force op. Led by Francis George Leech Chester, a charismatic South African born British officer and rubber plantation owner before the war, Chester was the Bad ass Richard Marcinko of the Z Force. Chester's
Z operatives reported on Jap sea-traffic in the Sibuti passage and the
Balabac Strait of the Sulu Sea, just to the north of North Borneo. After
landing along Labian Point in early October 1943 while he dashed about
and harassed jap forces with nasty hit and run raids. They also
supported and provided equipment and supplies for Filipino guerrillas
under the command of an American officer, Captain J. A. Hamner.
Chester found out on a later operation, that due to the activities of Python I
a number of posters with a picture of Chester offering $15,000 reward
for his capture-dead or alive were offered by the Japs for his
capture...and legend had it that he could "cut his way through close
jungle quicker than almost any man alive", but that he had never known
him walk more than 100 yards in Melbourne without summoning a taxi"
Chesters operatives form this operaiton were highly decorated and he was awarded a British DSO
and the American Presidential Medal of Freedom. Unfortunately he died
from complicaitons of blackwater fever shortly after the war.
In January 1944, Z force officer Bill Jinkins, led
Z Special Unit operatives with the objective of organizing the native
population for guerrilla warfare. These early efforts did cause havoc to
the enemy not bear any significant results.
Through the rest of 1944-45 , Z-Force Operations Agas 1 and Agas 3, Jaguar, Crocidile Politician and Semut I, II, III and IV were all operations groups of five to 25 commandos carried out within interior Jungle and coastal sea lane surveillance,
sabotage, attacks against Jap forces, and the training of Bornean
resistance forces in UW The Guerrillas with their own native skills set had the Japanese running mad .
Vast details of these operations have
emerged from the personal accounts of some Z Special Unit personnel,
which our next months story will delve into...
Operations SEMUT : Z Force and Headhunters,
The wild men of Borneo
Bangau Gugang was a Dahlak tribes men with operating with a Z Force group after he was brought from Ba Kelalan valley to Long Beluyu as a porter.
reaching Long Beluyu he and two other men were ordered to go with a
group to Sabah. According to Bangau he had a very interesting experience
in Merapok. In his own words:
when they had a fierce fight with the Jap troops in Merapok, he was
running out of bullets, so he had to find a way out from the fighting
ground. By so doing he met with a Jap soldier, whom he guessed also had
no more bullets. He charged after him. A few times the Jap soldiers
aimed at him as he was chasing the Jap soldier; they but failed to open
fire. He continued chasing him by swimming in the water under the
'Nipah' trees by the bank of the Lawas River somewhere in Merapok...At
last he managed to get him by surprise and beheaded him. Sang Sigar (an
interpreter) tried to ask him what gun he was using, but he told him
that he wasn't sure of the gun, but that it was the usual type his
friends were using.
~ Personal account of Bangau Gugang as told to Sang Sigar at Ba Kelalan in 1997, For Aussie SAS Command HQ, Z-Force historical project 'Voices of Borneo'
"...Bangau Gugang was indeed a: 'member
of my small party which I led against a small party of Japs in the
mangroves at Merapok. We were up to our necks and waist in water, the
distance between the two opposing groups was between approx 2 1/2 yards
to 10 yards, the standard
of shooting on both sides was appalling, so that to the best of my
knowledge, the only two Japs killed by gun fire were from my carbine.
The Japs were never renown for their accuracy, the headhunters even less
so. Bangau states that he ran out of bullets. Every guerrilla was
issued with ten rounds. I kept a small cache in reserve (the shortage
was due to Major Tom Harrisson's incompetent logistics). Bangau (and the
others) had a rough time. Ah Toh[ another Native guerrilla fighter] and
I had to scream to cease-fire then we attacked the Japs with our
parangs[long machete like knifes]. It was a hideous experience for all
of us who were involved (more so for the poor Japs I suppose). That plus
a few other incidents in Libya, Greece and Crete left me with a legacy
of nightmares for many years. That Bangau remembers so vividly his
experiences in that incident touches me."
~ a Personal account of Tribesmen Bangau Gugang at the Bala-Palaba Incident during Operation Semut, 1945 as told by Former Z-Force Semut I operative ] Corporal Roland Griffiths-Marsh , to Major Jim Truscott Austrsailian SAS in December 1996 , For Aussie SAS Command HQ, Z-Force historical project 'Voices of Borneo.'
Tales like the above quotes, the legends of Semut and its characters like Bangau Gugang , are most likely where author Schoendoerrfer got his material for "Farewell to the King" but sharing a beer as a former French Para with Legionnaire in Indochina during the 1950's.
WWII Jap occupied Borneo was no picnic. They treated all of the indigenous peoples like scum: Japs massacred many many Malay and Dayak peoples often, especially among the Dahlaks of the Kapit Division (state) of Sarawak on Borneo. Following this treatment, the Dahlaks formed a special force to assist the AIB SRD Z
force men Using a special skill set they had all but prior to the
Japanese arrival had abolished to put the fear into the japs: Head
In 1944, 'Z' Force- men -
were sent to the island to encourage Dahlak villagers to engage the
Japanese in guerrilla warfare. This was to become highly successful. Operation Semut I and the Merapok and Bala-Palaba incident from Corproal Griffths-Marsh and Bangau, represented one of several dozen smaller special operations conducted by the Z-Force within one UW enterprise.
But what of MacArthurs Allied Intelligence Bureau with American Army Captain CJ Hanmmer of AIB supported by Z-Force from Borneo and mentioned earlier, - Were there eother Americans as well, to influence the Farwell to The King legend ?
|Cobelry Crew: B-24 Pilots who bailed out over Borneo|
Yes ! Is the answer and it is now referred to as "The Airmen and the Headhunters".
fascinating tale of an event, took place in the final year of World War
II: A small band of U.S. Army airmen parachuted into the dense jungles
of Borneo after there B-24 Liberator was shot down in there by the
Japanese over Borneo. Landing in good condition they were befriended by the Dahak people in the high jungle plateau, and were the only other Americans there during WW II.
no radio all they knew of the world's third biggest [island] could be
summed up in the Barnum and Bailey Circus phrase, 'the wild men of
Borneo.' These 'wild men' had been headhunters ... and, who knows, maybe some of them still were."
Balderdash! These were practicing headhunters!
Another Z Force Operative Chinese/Australian Jack Wong Sue confirmed this:
"Part of the job was to train local guerilla forces consisting of Malays, Chinese and other native forces.
|Jack Wong Sue, FGL Chester and OP Agas team|
The short, dark and
muscular Murut head hunters of Sabah like all others, had a deep hatred
of the cruel Japanese of the time. They were masters in the art of head
hunting. Their blow pipes were deadly accurate and they took great
delight in collecting Japanese head trophies that were often displayed
on top of village poles. The third death march in Borneo consisted of 75
POW and approximately 200 Japanese soldiers. Jackie followed part of
this route with his commanding officer for 5 days. Sadly, the POW
were dropping off like flies as their Japanese captors slaughtered
the weak and falling. Powerless to help in any way, they had to return
to Sandakan. When the last POW fell,the Muruts would have wasted no time
in delivering their poisonous darts into Japanese flesh.."
~ Jack Wong Sue, Z-Force operative of Ausitralan/Chinese heritage
-- in fact some who came to rescue the Americans seven months
later -- and did so with tribesmen who were Head Hunters against
the Japs. The American Airmen survived their hospitality for minding
their manners and acting:
"... like guests,
not soldiers. In return they were fed, clothed and hidden from the
Japanese until their dramatic rescue - [from the British Major who
the " Farwell to the King" British officer was based upon]- seven
~ Judith Heinman
airmen are a fascinating a central part of "The Airmen and the
Headhunters," an episode of the 2007 PBS television series
"Secrets of the Dead")
The reasons these Airmen
were able to be rescued was all to do with the real Britsh Major,
his modus operandi and the outfit he ran with whom with the headhunting
dahlak tribes men and other Bornese people made the Jap enemy ever wish
they had never ventured into this part of the world.
'Some of the
difficulties encountered by the A.I.B. stemmed from the fact that it had
toco-ordinate four separate national groups with differing aims and
allegiances; some, undoubtedly, from the fact that the kind of
organization it controlled tends to attract men who are not only
adventurous but imaginative, individualistic and temperamental to an
unusual degree. Such men are enthusiasts who see their own chosen
activity, whether it be propaganda, sabotage, or irregular warfare, as
exerting a far greater effect on the progress of the war than it
~ Major Jim
Truscott Austrsailian SAS in December 1996 , For Aussie SAS Command HQ,
Z-Force historical project 'Voices of Borneo'
Enter The Wild man of Borneo: Tom Harrisson the most offending soul alive
If South African Major F.G.L. Chester of Operation Python I can be compared to Richard Marcinko; Harrisson was most likely the character Schoendoeffer based the fictional American Learoyd on, in his Farewell to the King tale!
Major Tom Harnett Harrisson DSO OBE (1911-1976) , was a British polymath (someone whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas...) In the course of his life he was a Broadcaster, journalist, explorer
Soldier, Guerilla fighter ethnologist, museum curator, archaeologist,
documentarian, film-maker, conservationist and writer. Harrisson
was born in Argentina, educated in England at Cambridge, conducted
ornithological and anthropological research in Sarawak region of Borneo
(1932) and later the New Hebrides (1933-5).Former U.S. Diplomat Judith
Heimann and friend of Harrisson's and author of books on both the airmen
and the headhunters and Harrisson himself, describe him as wild as any headhunter more specifically:
"the most offending man alive ...A
romantic polymath, a drunken bully, an original-thinking iconoclast, a
dreadful husband and father, a fearless adventurer, a Richard Burton of
his time...[truly] the most offending soul alive. " For those of
you too young to remember Richard Burton the Actor to whom she refers,
he really was one to the true pioneering 'genius bad boys'
British stage and film ,and Harrisson was to have been able to
have run circles around him. Harrisson's dark side; hot-tempered,
arrogant, hard drinking, with a lifelong penchant for making enemies, he
'married once, probably twice for money' and virtually abandoned his
But during the war after initial service in the enlisted ranks,
Harrisson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Reconnaissance
Corps on 21 November 1943.He had been recruited (some sources say by a
confusion of names, despite his apparent suitability) for a plan to use
the native peoples of Borneo against the Japanese and attached to Z
On 25 March 1945, then Major Harrisson leading seven other Z- Force operatives, parachuted with from a B-24 Liberator
onto a high plateau thus commencing Operation Semut I. The plateau was
occupied by the Kelabit head hunters and their guests: the eleven U. S.
An indigenous people of the Sarawak highlands in Borneo, the Kelabi tribe,
lived at a high elevation on a plateau slightly over 1,200 meters.
Because there are few roads and the area is largely inaccessible by
river because of rapids, the highlands and the Kelabit are relatively
untouched by modern western influences. There, tightly knit communities
live in inherited long houses and practice a generations-old form of
agriculture - they are cultivators of wet paddy , hill rice, corn, wet paddy, hill rice, pineapple,
pumpkin, cucumber, bean and fruit. Hunting and fishing is also
practiced. Domesticated buffalo are valued highly, seven of which are
traditionally required for the dowry for an upper class bride.
allies moved in on expunging the Japs from Borneo, the Kelabit, like
other natives of Borneo, were co-opted by the Allies into fighting the
Japanese. Tom Harrison was the man to do the job. With the old tradition of Head hunting about to be revived, Harrisson's Pre war experience in Borneo was invaluable to organizing the tribes as a combat. Harrisson would lead the
Semut I operations (one of four Semut operations in the area), which
parachuted into their midst in 1945 to make contact; they were supplied
weapons by the Australian military and played an essential role in the
liberation of Borneo.
As expected from a leader like Harrisson, report from those who commanded him and served under him both loved and hated him. His wild seat of the pants eccentric style of leadership was often not approved by his cadre, but adored by the natives. But
he and the few dozen Australian Z Force men under him did train a
thousand Dayaks from the Kapit Division( state on Borneo) to battle the
Japanese with UW guerilla. His Army of tribesmen
killed or captured some 2,000 Japanese soldiers, and were able to
provide the Allies with intelligence vital in securing Japanese-held oil
fields. He also was instrumental for carving an airstrip out of the
high mountains and laden it with a bamboo runway so that a plane could
land there to retrieve the stranded U.S. aircrew. Which Harrisson did.
|Harrisson and Z force with Bamboo Airstrip to evac Airmen form Borneo|
Not knowing Harrisson's personal politics, his actions make him an eccentric idealist. He
embraced indigenous people and did become a protector of, and advocate
for,them, at odds with traditional anthropologists. Harrisson was a
forerunner of the contemporary movement to preserve local cultures and
ecosystems... a sold conservationist -- something even special forces
units contend with from time to time...But when he did have to step up
to the plate and rescue a stranded allied crew and kill the Jap enemy,
he did so with wild gallantry only a wild man of Borneo could. Harrisson
was a true legend of his own mind.
However even his legend shortly became overshadowed before the exploits could be shared over a long house camp fire, they were swallowed up by the tide of General MacArthur...
Codenamed Operation Oboe Six: The Battle of North Borneo was part of the second phase of the Allied operations to capture the island of Borneo --
the wider Borneo campaign of the Pacific War, it was fought between 10
June and 15 August 1945 in North Borneo (later known as Sabah ). And by the time it took place Z Force operations were in full tilt in the highlands.
The battle involved a series of amphibious
landings by Aussie forces with U.S.Navy gun fire and air cover on
various points on the mainland around Brunei Bay and upon islands
situated around the bay. Japanese opposition to the landings was
sporadic initially, although as the campaign progressed a number of
considerable clashes occurred and both sides suffered relatively
significant casualties. Ultimately, however, the Allies were successful
in seizing control of the region, although to a large extent the
strategic gains that possession of North Borneo provided the Allies with
were ultimately negated by the sudden conclusion of the war in August
1945. However, on the morning of, July 1, 1945,
MacArthur personally observed the last major amphibious landing of the
Second World War, when after the naval bombardment was concluded, the
7th Australian Division hit the beach at Balikpapan.
( PHOTO An 8 by 10 inch
black and white photograph depicting MacArthur receiving salutes as he
comes on board the Cleveland, signed in fountain pen, quite likely on
the Cleveland that very day: "Douglas MacArthur, Borneo, 1945". The
photo also has "Official photograph USS Cleveland" stamped on the
While MacArthur had Army Rangers and Alamo Scouts and Marine Raiders
by the time he had reached Borneo for the OBOE SIX landings,
some of the most notable behind the lines men he had working
for him were not Army or Marines, but
U.S. Navy UDT Frogmen. Who were taking gun fire to get his Aussie
amphibious forces ashore. Frogmen, of UDT 11, 18 to be
exact . As the U.S. Navy supported the Navy UDT teams 11 and 18 cleared
the beaches at Balikpapan. Conducted some harrowing beach
"I was a member UDT
Team 11 and participated in the invasion at Brunei Bay and
Balikapapan[Borneo]. No mention was made of our work prior to the
invasion...There were 3 rows of pile driven posts on the beaches that
were to be used for the assult troops. There were also many mines that
had to be destroyed. We took care of both of these obstacles and brought
back information regarding water depths and beach exits. Without this
information no successful landings could have been accomplished. I
personally helped brief General MacArthur as to the best possible
landing sites...on the invasion of Brunie Bay in Borneo. It was the
last invasion of World War II. He changed part of his plan because of
what I suggested because I had been swimming into the beaches. "
~Donald Lumsden UDT 11, WW II
"21 June 1945. Here
at last, Team EIGHTEEN learned what its assignment was to be. Orders and
the operations plan for the invasion of Balikipapan, S.E. Borneo were
published to the team....On the morning of 28 June 1945 (FOX - 3 day)
the team performed its assigned duties of clearing the Klandasan beaches
for the assault forces just as they had the Manggar Ketjil area. The
procedure of dropping and retrieving swimmers was modified somewhat due
to the mortar and machine gun fire the enemy was concentrating in the
swimming area. Visibility was poor for the second day and softening-up
bombing runs weren't completed until 0820 when the LCPRs crossed the
gunboat line. Mark 127 demolition packs were the basic change used
on the Klandasan Beach obstacles; the team obtained just enough Mark
127s at Moratai to perform one operation with the larger charges, and
since Klandasan was considered the "hotter" beach and the one to be
utilized in the landing they were used there.
Boats went in very
close--within 100 yards to the beach here and one was hit by a 37
millimeter shell, but fortunately a flying mattress absorbed the
shrapnel and protected all personnel involved; the gunboats closed to
1000 yards to counter the enemy harassing fire. By 1030 the swimmers
were in the LCPRs and returning to the APD, while the control boat
remained in a position to view the effect of the shot. The charges had
been well placed and the beach lay unobstructed to the passage of
assault troops. All hands returned to the SCHMITT and the Commanding
Officer made his demolition report to Commander Demolition Unit.
At 0600 on 1 July
1945 (FOX Day) a boat carrying three officers and a volunteer boat crew
left the ship. This boat was flying a red flag and was designated as
Underwater Demolition Team wave guide, whose job it was to lead the
first wave to the beach and locate the gap made in the obstacles during
At 0900 (H-Hour) the
Underwater Demolition Team boat led the first wave in, preceding it by
one hundred yards. As the wave neared the shore it was discovered by the
wave guide that they would hit the beach too far left. Accordingly,
instead of retiring at 900 yards as planned, the wave guide shifted to
the left flank of the wave and forced it to the right. This quick
thinking prevented a possible serious disaster. The entire operation
went off as scheduled and proved very successful.
On 2 July 1945,
eight and a half tons of tetrytol were transported to the beach for use
by Australian Army Engineers. On 3 July 1945 at 1900 the SCHMITT left
Balikipapan for Morotai. Arriving 6 June 1945, the team departed the
same day for Hollandia, New Guinea."
~Navy UDT 18 History
when MacArthur returned to the Philipines it was OSS Operational
UDT Frogmen men who made that possible...again for another time and
RAN Beach Commandos
The Royal Australian
Navy also formed commando units along the lines of the British Royal
Naval Commandos ( and U.S. Beach Master ...) to go ashore with the first
waves of major amphibious assaults( right after UDT 11 and 18 cleared
the beach heads) , to signpost the beaches control boat traffic,
communicate with the maritime forces, and carry out other naval
tasks. These were known as (Royal -Australian-Navy)RAN Commandos.
April 1945, Beach Commando B's Commander B. G. B. Morris, RANVR went
into action in the Battle of Tarakan, supporting the Aussie Army's 26
Infantry Brigade and 2nd Beach Group. Two beach commandos were killed
and two wounded. Morris was awarded the U.S. Bronze Star for his role in
the Tarakan Landings. Beach Commandos A and C, under Lieutenant
Commander R. McKauge D.S.C., RANVR took part in the 9th Division and 1st Beach Group's Landing at Brunei and Labuan. Beach Commandos B and D participated in the 7th Division and 2nd beach Groups landings in the Battle of Balikpapan.
The Royal Australian Navy Commandos fought various direct action missions with gallantry in support of the major Oboe Six l landings on the beach with great support coming form their network of native tribal assistance and coast watchers and the myth of several curious operations and actions involving some rather flamboyant figures, some larger than life - some mythical in proportion, some who recognition is unknown out side of their tight knit ever fading cadre of members .
But all this was a necessary if ballsy side show these Yank and Aussie High water mark commandos were more a direct action bunch to
the real behind the lines adventures of Borneo's Secret Z force
warriors . Their network of native tribal assistance, coast watchers
and the myth of several curious operations and actions
involving some rather flamboyant figures, some larger than
life - some mythical in proportion, some who recognition is
unknown out side of their tight knit ever fading cadre of members.
We may never know how
author Schoendoeffer came up with his tales and characters, but
Harrisson alone had to be the inspiration for Learoyd and
Fairbourne. Author Schoendoeffer was a former sailor, French Army Alpine
soldier and who at the battle for Dien Ben Phu also became a
combat camera man who spent four months as a Vietminh POW. Perhaps he
had did invent the Farwell To The King tale to escape his mind
from being a former POW? This remains unclear, despite parallels to
people like Harrisson who he may have had access too.
Heinmann back in 2007 suggested we are not winning the current war
in Iraq and Afghanistan the way General's McCrystal and
Petraeus and Admiral Olson desire, due to how we do not work with
them as the Z force did with the various folks, hearts and
States is failing to have a major influence on sectarian and tribal
leaders in Iraq. In fact, our huge "footprint" in Iraq and Afghanistan
may be hurting us more than it helps.
That irony came to
light recently when I was researching a book about the Allies' special
operations in Borneo during World War II...I came to learn these facts
in the course of writing a book...And now, as I read the newspapers, I
cannot help noticing how in today's unconventional wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, our soldiers' and leaders' current lack of success in
co-opting the local people contrasts with what was achieved by a small
number of American airmen 60-odd years ago..."
~From "'Guests' can succeed where occupiers fail " By Judith M. Heinmann, New York Times: Friday, November 9, 2007
|Z Special Unit ( Z Force) Operative training with distinct Owen Submachinegun|
The difference between
1945 and now is then the Aussies and allies were finding Other freedom
minded tribes the Dahlak and Kalabit people to beat the enemy who was
not free. Today freedom is not a word our enslaved foe's
understand. If they did, a Caliphate and Sharia law for the western
world would not be a thought for those hell bent on killing world
cruising yacht owners who pass out bibles, or anyone else not
wearing a shemagh or a birka by annihilating anyone not like them,
including those of them who understand and desire freedom.
What is clear is that
secret warriors do come in all flavors: Wild men of Borneo like
Harrisson to mild and in between. Yet the Z Force association decided to
stand down due to the passing away of its cadre and that most are now
90 plus years old. The last Z Force reunion was in Summer 2010 and
similar to the many unsung former OSS and Brit SOE operatives who stay
quit well into their 90's, the surviving cadre of the Z- Force shun the
lime light also. Even so the whole of Australian military and patriotic
citizens have honored those who lived long enough to surpass Australia's
declassification of official secrets acts, as national treasures.
Glorious and sad as that is ,the Z Force modern legacy, the
Aussie SAS has a heritage behind it of the RAN Commandos and
Z-Force which pretty much gave them carte blanche for future UW missions
Aussies have found themselves fighting as allies and leaders,
in all campaigns from WWII to Iraq and
And how does it all relate to this wonderful tale about a Marine who became a King of Borneo?
Perhaps that tale is
fable, or better yet a parable. A parable, to illustrate how
the valiant t Z force men rallied a guerilla battle against the Japs
that relied on the passion of theire cadre for the fight and that war
has no place for those with utopian ideals be they the fictional Learoyd
or the non fictional Harrisson. Fictional Marine Sgt. Learoyd and
King Learoyd --one in the same -- wanted to live in never-never
land of the Borneo Highland jungle. Yet ultimately knew, he could not
hide from the pressures of outside unless he compromised and used his
warrior skills set before disappeared back into the jungle.
In real war you go after
and hunt the enemy and destroy him and are rarely afforded the luxuary
to do little else. And when he is really misguided or hell bent on
ending you our your kind, you use all stops including head hunting if
that will do it -- to defeat him first.
Harrisson tried to combine
the too, as did the fictional Learoyd. Half of Harrissons
troopers understood his eccentric love for "going native" with the
Borneo tribes he admired; half did not. Harrisson like his
fictional Z Special Unit counterpart and both
the films British Captain Fairbourne and Learoyd stayed and fought in
Borneo due to his fascination with it-a love of the place and the local
populace --the war going on there was a secondary motivation. Both
Learoyd and Harrisson were view by there fellow operatives as romantic
the modern incarnation against a enemy more savage than the Japanese or
Nazis ever were -the small cells of Islamo fascist extremists area
welcome ring for the secret warriors Since we are
unable to disappear from the enemy of our current unpleasentries,
perhaps its time we use Head hunting techniques to counter their garish
chainsaw beheadings? Take each one of
them islamo fascists we can find and end them personally. Inflict
personal harm to them in ways they feel we are not up too. And then, use a modern A bomb -- like a the neutron Bomb --- and let it fall on them where they stand and then engage those more enlightened Muslims who finally get the picture as to why we may elect to deploy such a weapon.
Headhunting? Its probably one of the few skills sets second to a neutron bomb which will stop the Islamo-fascist in his track..
War is hell. Why not win it by reminding the bad guys, they you will not beat freedom by offering up enslavement for an exchange. Primitive Bornese headhunting tribesmen understood this as did those upside down under backward Aussie 'Diggers', Who kicked Jap ass in Borneo ... even a author and director of a fictitious Borneo King knew it!
So what makes a secret warrior retain his secrets? In a world like ours, What kind of Men are we to retain our honor?
A rough man.
If your a modern version of a Z Force man, You are a rough man
|Secrecy Doc for Z Special Unit|
who does what those who are incapable of what you do, but expect you to do, if they, were to find themselves in our boots retaining the secrets we keep like we secret warriors have always done... that's why they chose you, 'Boy-O!'
Like those 90 year old Z-Force Diggers and OSS Jedburghs who passed the torch to cold war era Green
Berets Marine Recon and SEALs, and they in turn passed it on to you
their modern legacy, maybe when your 90 you can tell your tale too!
Keep your secrets until they are later indicated to be otherwise....Tow that line!
Part 2 of this article - coming next month!