The Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) was an Australian outfit directly responsible to General Sir Thomas Blamey, Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces, based at Allied Land Headquarters in Melbourne. SRD was a cover name for Special Operations Australia (SOA) that had moved out of the Allied Intelligence Bureau, and was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel P. J. F. Chapman-Walker.
Z Special Unit recruited men from many branches of the Armed Forces and as well as being most secret it was probably the most 'multi-cultural'. Although most of its members were Australian, there were also British, New Zealanders, Dutch, French, Malays, Canadians, Americans, Indonesians and Chinese - All experts in various subjects to do with clandestine operations.
Today, there has been some controversy relating to the 'proper' use of the term Z Force and SRD.
Z Special Unit Association of NSW refer to themselves as "SRD Operatives", "Z Men" or (army only) as members of "Z Special Unit".
Many Contemporary and post-war records (such as individual service records and nominal rolls) show the unit as "Z Force". This appears to have been a standard (AMF) administrative term for ISD/SRD. "Special Operations Executive - Australia" was the classified designation for the whole organisation with "Inter-Allied Services Department", the cover name. When SOE-A/ISD was disbanded, the organisation was absorbed into the Allied Intelligence Bureau and its classified name became "Special Operations Australia" with "Services Reconnaissance Department" as the cover name.
Note that "Z Special Unit" was an administrative unit created to allow AMF (Army) and civilian personnel to be paid and allocated through army systems. You'll notice that Navy, RAAF and foreign personnel such as Brits, Malays, Timorese, etc., were administered directly by the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) and before that, the Inter-Allied Services Department (ISD). [F]
In early 1943, Captain D. L. Leech envisaged the landing in central Borneo of several ex-Brooke officers (former colonial officers prior to Japanese occupation) of the Sarawak civil service and medical and wireless personnel "to establish W/T [wireless/radio transmission] communication and to contact free Europeans and local natives likely to be still loyal". Their tasks would be to organize the natives and Chinese in preparation for assisting an Allied invasion, to undertake raids against Japanese outposts, and, if necessary, to construct temporary landing grounds for an invasion and landing strips if indeed possible. Leech also identified three main areas where anti-Japanese uprisings could be launched: the Baram and Tinjar rivers, inhabited by the Kayans and Kenyahs; the Rejang basin above Kapit, peopled mostly by Ibans; and the Iban heartland of the Second Division (13) (the Rejang River eastwards to the Sadong River), which would eventually be a Tom Harrisson effort and Operation Semut.
According to Harrisson, “The scheme sounds "wild-cat" but is the sort of thing that must be tried and might come off ...The enterprising individual should be given a run.”
It is evident from correspondence between London and the Australian high command that the various schemes and ideas proposed for Sarawak were not wholly shelved but put on hold during 1942 and 194 whilst the search for personnel "with experience and real knowledge North Borneo and Sarawak" continued to be of high priority. It was not until March 1945, with the launching of Operation Semut did Harrisson and Leech’s wild ideas be given the go ahead.
On the 26th September 1943, one of the most spectacular missions undertaken by 'Z Special Unit' against enemy shipping in Japanese Occupied Singapore Harbou was called Operation 'Jaywick', which resulted in 38,000 tons of enemy shipping sunk. The second - Operation 'Rimau', 11th September 1944 involved the use of small one man submarines. They were compromised before arriving at their destination which resulted in the capture of the raiders and consequently their ceremonial execution (beheading) by the Japanese.
Operation Jaywick involved a small team travelling deep into enemy held territory in New Guinea from Queensland in a Indonesian fishing vessel named the Krait in September 1943. These early operations would be the catalyst for the Borneo operations that followed in 1944 and 1945.
The 'Krait' departed Exmouth in Western Australia laden with weapons, limpet mines and rubber canoes, which were stowed out of sight, and headed north toward the Lombok Strait in the very dangerous occupied waters around Surabaja, Indonesia.
She was sailed to within 21 miles of the 'Singapore Roads' and then the canoes were loaded with rations and water for one week plus operational stores and weapons. The canoe borne raiders arranged their rendezvous with Krait for the night of October 1st at Pompong, 28 miles from the advanced operational post, for which Dongas, eight miles from Singapore Harbour had been selected.
At 8:30 on September 22, the three canoes, with their six raiders a piece reached Dongas. The arduous nature of the long paddle necessitated a day of rest for the canoeists and the next day Singapore Harbour was reconnoitered for likely targets. At no time during their five day observation was there less than 100,000 tons of shipping present in the harbour. On September 24 the three canoes attempted infiltration of the harbour but adverse tides forced abandonment of the mission. All during this period the raiders were under the constant threat of being detected by the numerous and active Japanese water and shore patrols. The next night the base of operations was altered to Palau Sambu where the tides were more favourable and on the night of 26 September the successful raid was launched.
Canoe 1 reached a 10,000 ton tanker and two limpet mines were attached to her hull, one at the place of the engineroom and another on her propeller shaft. Canoe 2 twice crossed the boom of the harbour in search of worthy targets and finally selected three of the most tempting - one 5,000 ton freighter, the 6,000 ton 'Taisyo Maru' and another 5,000 ton tanker. Canoe 3 covertly examined ships and sentries along the lighted wharves before selecting the modern freighters 'Nasusan Maru' and 'Yamataga Maru'. The attacks began soon after 8:00 pm. At dawn, the canoes were back at their operations base camp and there the crews settled back to watch the forthcoming show.
Seven separate explosions were heard between 5:15 am and 5:50 am and both sea and air patrols were observed setting out searching for the attackers. At dusk on 27 September the raiders set out for their rendezvous with Krait which was cruising in the vicinity of Pompong Island and despite the frantic and exhaustive air and sea searches by the enraged Japanese the canoeists slipped through the net and made their rendezvous .
The eight member crew of Krait had been waiting and playing cat and mouse with Japanese patrols for 16 anxious days when all of the raiders were picked up safely. The Krait then stole away unnoticed bound for Australia where there were one or two close calls along the way - such as being interrogated by an inquisitive enemy destroyer, but she reached Australia without the loss of a single man (a remarkable achievement for such a hazardous mission). The seemingly impossible 'Operation Jaywick' had been a resounding success. 
For further reading on Operation Jaywick, read: http://www.anzacday.org.au/history/ww2/anecdotes/1943.html
An SRD/Z Force party of twenty-three men left their base in Western Australia aboard the British submarine HMS Porpoise (N14) on 11 September 1944. When they reached the island of Merapas, which was to be their forward base, and unloaded their gear and equipment on the island under the guard of officers from the Porpoise while the special forces team commandeered a Malay fishing boat named Mustika, taking some of the malay crew aboard the submarine. The SRD team then transferred their equipment to the finishing boat and the Porpoise departed. Additional men were left behind on Merapas to help secure the stores at the forward base whilst the attack force continued on.
However, the operation and their surprise attack fell apart on the 10th October 1944 when the fishing boat was stopped by a Japanese patrol boat and challenged. At some point, an SRD operative opened fire and gunfire erupted and a number of the malay fishermen and Japanese were killed. With their cover blown however, the SRD team had no option but to abort the mission. After scuttling the junk and their motorised semi-submersible canoes which were known as 'Sleeping Beauties' with explosives, the team headed back to Merapas.
However, using SRD MKII folboats or canoes with sail and rigging, the SRD dispersed into a small force of six other men—Lieutenant Commander Donald Davidson, Lieutenant Bobby Ross, Able Seaman Andrew Huston, Corporal Clair Stewart, Corporal Archie Campbell and Private Douglas Warne—kayaked into Singapore Harbour at night, where they are believed to have sunk three Japanese ships in the harbour.
In the ensuing battles with the Japanese, 13 Rimau men were killed including Lyon, a veteran of the Jaywick operation. Ten were captured. The ten were brought to Singapore and imprisoned at Outram Road Prison. On 3 Jul 45, they were put on trial for espionage, found guilty and executed. The ten men were beheaded on 7 Jul 45 - barely a month before the war came to an end. These ten men, Lyon and four others are buried at Kranji War Memorial.
For further reading on Operation Rimau, please visit: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/about_us/history/world_war2/v08n10_history.html
Note: The Jaywick and Rimau operations inspired the movie Z Force starring Mel Gibson, a movie that is still available on DVD in some countries.
The Start of the Borneo Campaign
The SRD implemented the Borneo Project in a series of long-term operations codenamed AGAS and
SEMUT in North Borneo and Sarawak respectively. These SRD operations laid the groundwork to a certain extent, thereby paving the way for the eventual invasion in mid-1945 at the Brunei Bay-Labuan Island area with the assistance of local natives in the area. Basically, SRD operations focussed on two main objectives: the gathering of intelligence, and organizing (including training and arming) the local inhabitants into resistance groups to wage guerrilla warfare.
The precursors to Operation Agas and Operation Semut were Operation Python 1 and 2 carried out in North Borneo in the vicinity of Labian Point, the most easterly point of the North Borneo coastline, surrounded by mangrove swamps and deep waters off the coast which made it possible for the Z Force teams to be dropped off via American submarines.
PYTHON 1 & PYTHON 2
PYTHON 1, led by Major F. G. L. Chester with landings in early October 1943, undertook the task of reporting on Japanese sea-traffic in the Sibutu Passage and the Balabac Strait of the Sulu Sea. Chester also provided support for a band of Filipino guerrillas under the command of an American officer, Captain J. A. Hamner by supplying weapons and equipment for the resistence training camp and force.
In the later part of January 1944, Bill Jinkins headed PYTHON 2 with the objective of organizing the native population for guerrilla warfare. These early efforts did not bear any significant results as most natives and Chinese civilians were far too scared of revenge by the occupying force, so soon after the failed Kwok Rebellion in which the local resistance leaders and the vast majority of their guerrilla force were surrounded, captured and killed after a short trial in Petagas and Labuan. Recruiting informers also proved difficult.
In early March 1945, Gort Chester and his Agas 1 force landed just North of Sandakan by submarine and canoed into Labuk Bay, and hid out in the mangrove swamps of the bay whilst setting up a communications station. It would be almost a week before radio contact had been established with the Dutch station at Batchelor and the SRD personnel at Leanyer.
Furthermore, drop zones for air drops by allied long range aircraft were located at Jambongan Island, off the coast of Sandakan below Buli Gantongan Hill in late April.
A central signal and communications station was also established at Lokopas, and a hospital for the native inhabitants on Jambongan Island. There already existed a town on Jambongan but much of the treatment for natives were in the villages.
Two months later, Operation Agas 2 led by Major Combe, the pre-war district officer of Kudat, landed at Paitan Bay. Combe, familiar with the areas between Sandakan, Beluran, and Pitas all the way to Kudat and Kota Marudu organized guerrilla activity in the Pitas area and at the same time established an intelligence network with local natives and Chinese informants in the towns.
Chester was re-tasked and Operation Agas 3 launched , under Gort Chester, with the express purpose being for him and his force to focus on the West coast of North Borneo, primarily between the Jesselton-Keningau-Beaufort sector.
Meanwhile, in Sarawak, plans were in motion for SRD groups to be parachuted into the mountainous hinterland of Brunei Bay. The initial designated target areas were the headwaters of the Baram, Limbang, and Trusan; later, the areas of operation expanded into the Padas valley of North Borneo, southwards into territories of former Dutch Borneo, and southeastwards to cover the Upper Rejang. These reconnaissance missions were codenamed SEMUT under the overall command of Major G. S. ("Toby") Carter. However, as the situation developed, the SEMUT operations were divided into three distinct parties under individual commanders: SEMUT 1 under Major Tom Harrisson; SEMUT 2 led by Carter; and SEMUT 3 headed by Captain W. L. P. ("Bill") Sochon. The areas of operation were: SEMUT 1--the Trusan valley and its hinterland; SEMUT 2--the Baram valley and its hinterland; SEMUT 3--the entire Rejang valley.
Harrisson and members of the Semut 1 team parachuted into Bario in the Kelabit Highlands during the later part of March 1945. Initially Harrisson established his base at Bario; then, in late May, shifted to Belawit in the Bawang valley (inside the former Dutch Borneo or modern day Kalimantan) upon the completion of an airstrip for light aircraft built entirely with native labour.
In mid-April, Carter and his team (Semut 2) parachuted into Bario, by then securely an SRD base with full support of the Kelabit people. Shortly after their arrival, members of Semut 2 moved to the Baram valley and established themselves at Long Akah, the heartland of the Kenyahs. Carter also received assistance from the Kayans. Moving out from Carter's party in late May, Sochon led SEMUT 3 to Belaga in the Upper Rejang where he set up his base of operation. Kayans and Ibans supported and participated in SEMUT 3 operations. The nomadic Punans also extended a helping hand to Sochon and his comrades.
Prior to 10 June, D-Day of OBOE 6, SRD operatives in North Borneo (AGAS) and northern Sarawak (SEMUT) were relaying intelligence to Blamey's Advanced Land Headquarters at Morotai in the Halmaheras. Furthermore, SRD parties--particularly SEMUT--in their respective areas of operations were organizing, training, and arming native guerrilla bands. Four days before the launch of Oboe 6, Semut 2 operators captured the Japanese wireless station at Long Lama in the Baram; on the eve of D-Day, Semut 1 forces with their native forces attacked small Japanese garrisons in the vicinity of the Brunei Bay area.
STALLION and OBOE 6
In addition to the gathering of intelligence from Agas and Semut operators, preparations were underway for mounting reconnaissance missions aimed at extracting specific information on the topography and enemy dispositions in the immediate hinterland areas of Brunei Bay in preparation for the invasion of Borneo, almost exclusively by the Australians.
An outline plan codenamed Stallion was drawn up on 29 April and involved several phases employing a variety of methods to achieve their objective. The various phases and their respective tasks are summarized as follows:
Collection of required information from parties already in the field from Agas and Semut operatives.
Extraction of natives from the Brunei Bay-Kimanis Bay area for interrogation (on recommended landing areas for an invasion force and Japanese troop strengths in the vicinity).
Creating deception (of a invasion point by allied forces) by focussing enemy attention on the Kota Belud-Langkon area through the extraction of natives from the Usukan Bay area
Close reconnaissance of the Kimanis Bay area from Tanjong Nosong to Tanjong Papar (for the second phase of the invasion by Australian forces once Brunei and Labuan were taken).
Provision of Special Force (SF) Detachment and Special Task (ST) Detachment as follows: 1 SF Detachment and 1 ST Detachment with 9th Australian Division; 1 SF Sub-Detachment with 20th Brigade; and 1 SF Sub-Detachment with 24th Brigade. These detachments were to receive intelligence supplied from the field by wireless transmission. A wireless transmission network between field parties (Agas, Semut, Stallion), 9th Division Headquarters, 20th Brigade, 24th Brigade, and Advanced Land Headquarters at Morotai (also the base for Advanced SRD Headquarters).
The flow of intelligence from field units in North Borneo and Sarawak reached Morotai providing up-to-date information of enemy dispositions, identification of the Japanese Sago Butai Infantry Battalion that garrisoned Kuching, enemy defences, and troop movements. The field parties also relayed information about Japanese evacuation/escape routes from the east to the west coasts, including staging points as well as the progress of such movements. The location and movement of prisoners-of-war (POWs) in Sarawak, particularly of the Kuching and Sandakan areas, were obtained. The identification of airstrips and aircraft (hidden or camouflaged), previously unreported, and ammunition and/or food dumps were notified to Morotai. This intelligence effort fulfilled to a large extent the objectives of Phase I.
For more reading on the actual pre-invasion and post-invasion operations, please click on this link:
Exclusive credit for the above information must be given to the Journal of the Australian War Memorial.
 credit to: http://www.gunplot.net/zforce/zforce.html
 credit to:
[F] credit to the discussion on the proper use title/name applied to SRD operatives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AZ_Special_Unit
|Last Updated on Saturday, 17 December 2011 13:12|