Home' Advance In Review : Advance in Review June 2013 Contents The Air Force Band recently supported
the Number 114 Mobile Control and
Reporting Unit’s (MCRU) 70th Anniversary
Parade. ‘Tarakan Day’ is commemorated by
114MCRU in May each year in recognition of
the battle honour received by that unit for its
involvement in the Tarakan campaign.
The Battle of Tarakan Island, code-named
Operation Oboe One, was fought with the
objective of taking the island from the
occupying Japanese forces. The invasion
of the island began on 1 May 1945 and
was part of the greater ‘island hopping’
The majority of the allied force was formed
around 12,000 soldiers of the Australian
26th Brigade, which had seen action in
North Africa and New Guinea. The force also
included nearly a thousand United States
and Dutch troops.
The 26th Brigade was supported by allied
air and naval units from Australia and the
United States. Famous Australian Spitfire
squadrons, commanded by fighter ace,
Group Captain Clive (Killer) Caldwell, as well
as Australian Kittyhawk and Beaufighter
squadrons all took part in the campaign.
Prior to the invasion, the Australian Services
Reconnaissance Department also deployed
five-man teams on the island to provide
intelligence on Japanese positions and
defences in northern and central Tarakan.
Fierce fighting continued for a period of
seven weeks, with over 200 Australians
killed before the last Japanese positions fell
on 20 June 1945. The casualties included
one of the most famous Australian soldiers
of the war, Lieutenant Tom ‘Diver’ Derrick
VC DCM, as well as Corporal John Mackey,
who received the Victoria Cross for his
actions on Tarakan Island.
Sniper attacks remained a hazard, and as
Japanese forces retreated in the jungles,
the task of securing the island became slow
and arduous. ‘One recent news cable [...]
told of an Australian patrol which stalked
a Jap in circles for two hours, only to find
eventually that the Jap was an orang-
utan. But their smiles vanished when they
discovered that while they had been stalking
the orang-utan “Jap” a real Jap had been
stalking them.’ (The Western Mail, Thursday
13 September 1945)
Another story of note involved the bravery
of pilots of six RAAF Douglas transports,
who flew 1,900 miles to drop ammunition
and supplies to the AIF on Tarakan. All
the captains of the six aircraft were hand-
picked for the hazardous job. The request
for supplies was received at 4pm on the
Saturday, and the planes were on their way
at daylight on Sunday. The aircraft circled
Tarakan airstrip for two hours while the
Japanese fired machine guns at them. All
the supplies dropped were recovered by
Australian troops on the ground.
As the main objective was Tarakan’s
airstrip, the invasion force also included
a large number of RAAF ground units,
including Number 61 Airfield Construction
Wing, comprising Number 1 and Number
8 Airfield Construction Squadrons. Airfield
construction proved a much more difficult
task than had been anticipated. The existing
airfield was badly damaged and excessively
boggy ground in the area selected for new
airfields impeded construction.
After extreme challenges, the airfield finally
became operational, though with severe
shortcomings. Landings could only be made
into the east, and take off to the west. As
Flying Officer Neville McNamara (later
Air Chief Marshal Sir Neville McNamara)
recalls: “It was one of the few airfields
in the world where one end rose and fell
with the tide. There was in fact a bulldozer
buried beneath the strip because it just
sunk to such a depth that they gave up
trying to get it out”. (Interview with Ken
Llewellyn, Australian War Memorial, 21
Number 78 Wing RAAF was based on
Tarakan from 28 June 1945 and flew in
support of the Balikpapan operation until
the end of the war.
Early in April 1945, 114 Mobile Fighter
Control Unit, with six radar stations (167,
168, 308, 309, 354 and 355), 35 officers and
779 other ranks, left Brisbane and moved
to Morotai to come under the direct control
of Number 78 (Fighter) Wing. On 26 April
1945, 114 left Morotai for Tarakan to provide
operational early warning and fighter
control to the RAAF. The assault echelon
landed on 2 May. 114MCRU remained on
Tarakan Island until December 1945 when it
was rotated back to Australia prior to being
For its operations during the Oboe One
campaign, 114MCRU was granted the Battle
Honour ‘Borneo 1945’ for its unit colours;
thus beginning the Unit’s long standing
association with the Oboe Operations.
Sergeant Ben van den Akker
References: The Australian War Memorial,
114MCRU, The Battle of Tarakan – Wikipedia,
Australia at War, Clive Caldwell, Air Ace
– Kristen Alexander.
Operation Oboe One
A very resourceful 2nd Field Company, Royal Australian
Engineers, managed to build a huge outdoor concert
theatre on Tarakan in ten days, called the New Bowl
Theatre. It was built for Gracie Fields and her party who
gave a concert there on 25 August 1945 for the massed
troops. It seated approximately 10,000 and the stage even
included dressing rooms. The show also included a “Victory
Review” by members of the Australian military forces and
78 Wing, RAAF. The island also boasted the 6th Division
Concert Party and Band.
Sergeant Neville McNamara (later Air Chief Marshall
Sir Neville McNamara) in the Pacific, WWII
(photo credit: Ron James).
Tarakan Landings 1945 (courtesy Warrant Officer Glenn Lyons).
Number 2 Airfield Defence Squadron members after return from a patrol at
Tarakan, 8 May 1945 (courtesy Warrant Officer Glenn Lyons).
New Bowl Theatre, Tarakan Island (source: Lorraine Phelan).
RAAF Base Darwin Freedom of Entry to the City
Parade makes its way through the streets with Drum
Major Sergeant Adam Schlemitz leading the way
with his Mace.
Air Force Band, Number 13 Squadron and Number 114
Mobile Control and Reporting Unit during the Tarakan
70th Anniversary Parade, Darwin.
RAAF Base Darwin Freedom of Entry to the City of
Darwin Parade with the Air Force Ensign proudly
displayed, prior to the commencement of the march
through Darwin’s streets.
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