Z Special Unit

Z Special Unit

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name=Z Special Unit

caption=The crew of the "Krait" during Operation Jaywick.
country=Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand and United Kingdom.
role=Field intelligence, raiding, reconnaissance, search and rescue
nickname= "Z Force"
colors= Red "Z", with a gold dagger through the "Z" and black lettering.
battles=Operation Rimau, Operation Jaywick

Z Special Unit, often known as Z Force, was a joint Australian, British and New Zealand commando unit, which saw action against the Empire of Japan during World War II. Z Special Unit carried out 284 covert operations in the South West Pacific theatre. The most well-known of these are a canoe raid on Singapore Harbour, and the subsequent Operation Rimau, in which all 23 participants were either killed in action or executed.

Formation and training

The Inter-Allied Services Department (IASD), was an Allied military intelligence unit, established in March 1942. The unit was created at the suggestion of the commander of Allied land forces in the South West Pacific Area, General Thomas Blamey, and was modelled on the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in London. It was renamed Special Operations Australia or SOA and in 1943 became known as the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD).

It contained several British SOE officers who had escaped from Singapore, and they formed the nucleus of the IASD, which was based in Melbourne. In June 1942, an IASD raiding/commando unit was organised, as Z Special Unit.

Several training schools were established in various locations across Australia, the most notable being Camp Z in Refuge Bay, an offshoot of Broken Bay to the north of Sydney, Z Experimental Station (also known as the "House on the Hill" or Z.E.S.) near Cairns, Queensland, Fraser Commando School (or FCS) on Fraser Island where a commemorative monument stands on the mainland overlooking the island, Queensland, and Careening Bay, on Garden Island, Western Australia. As a training exercise, one group paddled canoes between Fraser Island and Cairns.

Plans for an attack on Singapore

In 1943, a 28-year-old British officer, Captain Ivan Lyon of the Allied Intelligence Bureau and Gordon Highlanders, and a 61-year-old Australian civilian, Bill Reynolds, devised a plan to attack Japanese shipping in Singapore harbour. Z Special Unit would travel to the harbour in a disguised fishing boat. They would then use collapsible canoes to attach limpet mines to Japanese ships. General Archibald Wavell approved the plan, and Lyon was sent to Australia to organise the operation.

Bill Reynolds was in possession of a 21.3 metre-long Japanese coastal fishing boat, the "Kofuku Maru", which he had used to evacuate refugees out of Singapore. Lyon ordered that the boat be shipped from India to Australia. Upon its arrival, he renamed the vessel MV "Krait", after the small but deadly Asian snake.

Lieutenant-Colonel G. Egerton Mott, the chief of the Services Reconnaissance Department, suggested that they should test the effectiveness of the plan by making a mock raid on a tightly guarded Allied port. Townsville, Queensland was chosen for the location of the attack.

Operation Scorpion

In January 1943, Lieutenant Sam Carey, a Z Special Unit Officer based at Z Experimental Station, Cairns, Queensland, approached General Thomas Blamey with a proposition for a raid on the Japanese port at Rabaul. One submarine, with a small group of commandos on board, would be involved. The commandos would be dropped 16 kilometres off Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. They would then use collapsible canoes to travel into the harbour, attach limpet mines to as many enemy ships as possible, and then retreat to Vulcan Island, where they would hide out until they could safely rendezvous with the sub. Blamey was sure that the unit would be captured and shot, but he authorised the operation, and issued Carey carte blanche authority to perform whatever actions he deemed necessary during the planning of the proposed operation, which was codenamed Operation Scorpion.

"Raid" on Townsville

By the end of March 1943, Carey had assembled a team of nine men on their base at Magnetic Island. Lyon and Mott arranged to have Carey's unit perform a mock attack on Townsville, although they were careful not to commit anything to paper. Townsville was a busy harbour full of troop transports, merchantmen and naval escort vessels, and tight security was maintained due to the constant threat of Japanese air and submarine attack.

At midnight on June 22, 1943, the unit left their base on Magnetic Island and paddled through the heavily mined mouth of Townsville harbour. Dummy limpet mines were attached to ten ships, including two destroyers. The men rowed into Ross Creek, hid their canoes and traveled into Townsville to find a place to sleep. At around 1000 hrs, the limpets were discovered, and panic ensued. Carey was arrested, and despite producing Blamey's letter and earnest assurances that the mines were dummies, they refused to allow him to leave or to allow the removal of the mines, which the RAN feared were real and may accidentally detonate. Mott was able to arrange Carey's release, but only on the condition that he left Z Special Unit. Operation Scorpion was scrapped, but Mott and Lyon had learned many valuable lessons from the raid.

Operation Jaywick

On September 2, 1943, the "Krait", with a crew of 11 Australian and four British personnel, left Exmouth Gulf in Western Australia. The group, commanded by Lyon, dyed their skin brown and hair black. The skin dye later caused many skin problems for the members of the team, including irritation and reactions in adverse amounts of sunlight. They also wore sarongs, so that they resembled Indonesian fisherman. They arrived off Singapore on September 24. That night, six men left the boat and paddled 50 kilometres, to a small island near the harbour, where a forward base was established in a cave. On the night of September 26, they rowed into the harbour and placed limpet mines on several Japanese ships.

The limpet mines sank or seriously damaged four Japanese ships, amounting to over 39,000 tons. The raiders waited until the commotion had died down, before returning to the Krait. On October 19, 1943, the "Krait" arrived back at Exmouth Gulf, having achieved a great success.

Operation Rimau

Operation Rimau was an attack on Japanese shipping at Singapore Harbour, carried out by the Allied commando unit Z Force, during World War II. It was a follow-up to the successful Operation Jaywick, which had taken place in 1943.

Rimau (Malay for "tiger") was led by the man behind Operation Jaywick, Lt Col Ivan Lyon of the Gordon highlanders. The goal of Rimau (originally named Operation Hornbill) was to sink Japanese shipping by placing limpet mines on ships. Motorised semi-submersible canoes, known as Sleeping Beauties, would be used to gain access to the harbour.

Lyon led a Z Force contingent of 21 men. They left their base in Australia aboard the British submarine HMS Porpoise on September 11, 1944. When they reached the island of Merapas — which was to be their forward base — it was discovered to be inhabited. To ensure that their stores would remain undiscovered by the natives, one of the officers from the Porpoise, Lt Walter Carey, remained on Merapas as a guard.

The force commandeered a Malay junk named "Mustika". Taking the Malay crew aboard the submarine, Z Force transferred their equipment to the junk and the Porpoise departed.

Lyon decided to drop off four more men with Carey: Corporal Colin Craft, Warrant Officer Alf Warren and either Lance Corporal Hugo Pace or Sergeant Colin Cameron (accounts differ on the identity of the fourth man).

Meanwhile, the "Mustika" neared its target. On the day of the planned attack, October 10, 1944, disaster struck. A Japanese patrol boat challenged the "Mustika" and someone on board opened fire. Their cover blown, Lyon had no option but to abort the mission. After blowing up the junk and the Sleeping Beauties, he ordered his men back to Merapas. However, Lyon led a small force of six other men — Lt Commander Donald "Davo" Davision, Lt Bobby Ross, Able Seaman Andrew Huston, Corporal Clair Stewart, Corporal Archie Campbell and Private Douglas Warne — into Singapore Harbour, where they are believed to have sunk three ships.

Lyon and twelve others were killed in action soon afterwards. The remaining ten men were captured and later executed by beheading in July 1945.

New Zealand recruits

During the southern winter of 1944, 22 young New Zealand soldiers, based at Trentham military camp, 30 km north of Wellington were sent to train with Z Force in Melbourne, Australia. From there, they made their way to Fraser Commando School, on Fraser Island, Queensland, to be trained in using parachutes, unarmed combat, explosives and the Malay language.The 22 New Zealanders who served with Special Operations Australia “Z” Special Unit during World War II were:Sgt P.J. Boyle, Sgt W.J. Butt, Maj J.K.L. Brown, Sig A.J. Campbell, Cpl G.R. Edlin, Sig N.G. Flemming, S/Sgt G.R. Greenwood MID, Cpl J.K. Harris, Sgt W.H. Horrocks, WOII R.G. Houghton, Lt F.J. Leckie, Capt L.T. McMillan, Capt R.M. Morton MC, DCM, Sig E.H. Myers, Sgt R.J. Newdick, WOII L.N. Northover MM, Lt A.G. Palmer, Sgt R.B. Shakes, Sgt V.E. Sharp, Maj D.J. Stott DSO & Bar, Lt R. Tapper, Sgt F.A. Wigzell.Four of them lost their lives during operations in Borneo. Major Stott and Captain McMillan were both presumed drowned in heavy seas while going ashore in a rubber boat from the submarine USS "Perch" in Balikpapan Bay on 20th March 1945. Their bodies were never found. WO Houghton made it to shore in a second boat but was captured by the Japanese 10 days later and languished in Balikpapan Prison where he is reported to have died of beriberi about 20th April 1945.Signalman Ernie Myers parachuted into enemy-held territory near Mt Mentawir, on 30th March 1945, but landed with two other operatives inside a Japanese camp area. They put up a good fight but the Australian in the party was killed and Ernie was captured along with the Malay interpreter of the group. They were both tortured for three days before being beheaded.In his book “New Zealand Army Involvement: Special Operations Australia,” (published in 2001) Frank Wigzell, the first NZ “Z” Force operative to parachute behind enemy lines in Borneo, records how their bodies were recovered immediately after the Japanese surrender on 15th August 1945.A fellow New Zealander, Lieut Bob Tapper, working with the War Graves Commission, found their heads in one grave and their torsos in another. Native witnesses gave the Commission all the necessary information about their deaths and the Japanese involved paid the penalty for this atrocity.


In 1945, behind Japanese lines in Borneo, Z Special Unit conducted surveillance, harassing attacks and sabotage, as well as the training of Bornean people in resistance activities. Few details of these operations have been officially released, although details have emerged from the personal accounts of some Z Force personnel. In his memoirs, "Blood on Borneo", Sgt Jack Wong Sue claimed that Z Special Unit commandos in Borneo killed 1,700 Japanese for the loss of 112 commandos. [http://www.booktopia.com.au/PopCat.asp?storeurl=booktopia&PageNo=31&catmain=BIO&CatSub=}] Wong Sue also reported that Z Force trained 6,000 Bornean guerrillas. The commandos laid the ground work for the Allied invasion of Borneo in 1945

Other vessels allocated to Z Special Unit

* AL254 "Charm", a 47 ft lugger
* AM355 , an 18 ft launch
* AB1184 "3064" & AB1185 "3065" (both ALC15 landing craft)

:(Source: "Register of Army Small Craft covering the period 1943 to 1946"; held by the the Navel Historian at the Navy Office, Canberra.)

Z Special Unit in popular culture

* Operation Rimau was depicted in the 1982 Australian-Japanese feature film "Heroes of the Krait", which was also known by several other titles in various countries, including: "Minami jujisei" (Japan), "Southern Cross", "Highest Honor" and "The Highest Honour: A True Story".
* Z Force was depicted in the 1982 Australian movie Attack Force Z.
* The 1970s Australian TV series "Spyforce" was inspired by the Z Special Unit.


There is now a public memorial to the Z Special Unit on the Cairns Esplanade. It was moved from the HMAS Cairns naval base and rededicated on 26 October 2007. Those present at the ceremony were original unit members George Buckingham, John Mackay and the current commander of Special Operations of the Australian Defence Force Major General Mike Hindmarsh. The RSL plans to erect a permanent display of military equipments nearby. [ABC 2 TV News 1900 AEST 27 October 2007.] [ [http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/10/23/2066942.htm Memorial move prompts ceremony for Z Force soldiers] - Australian Broadcasting Corporation 23 October 2007, retrieved on 28 August 2008.]

ee also

* Australian commandos
* M Special Unit
* Pacific War


Page 7 "From Morse Code To Sat phones http://digital.realviewtechnologies.com/default.asp?xml=defencenews_army.xml&t=Defence%20Newspapers%20|%20The%20Soldiers%20Army#


* Harrisson, Tom. (1959). "World Within. A Borneo Story". Cresset Press: London.
* Horton, Dick (1983) "Ring of Fire: Australian Guerilla Operations Against the Japanese in World War II" London: Leo Cooper/Secker and Warburg


Ronald McKie (1960) - "The Heroes: They Were Men of Z Force. Their Target - Singapore".

Lynette Ramsay Silver (1991) - "The Heroes of Rimau".

Gabrielle McDonald (1991) - "New Zealand's Secret Heroes: Don Stott And The 'Z' Special Unit".

G.B. Courtney (1993) - "Silent Feet: The History of 'Z' Special Operations 1942 - 1945".

A.B. Feuer (1996) - "Commando! The M/Z Unit's Secret War Against Japan".

Bob Long (1999) - "'Z' Special Unit's Secret War - Operation Semut 1 - Soldiering with the head-hunters of Borneo".

Jack Wong Sue (2001) - "Blood on Borneo".

Peter Thompson & Robert Macklin (2002) - "The truth about Operation Rimau: KILL THE TIGER".

Lieutenant Richard Thomas (2002) - "Never Ever Volunteer".

Lloyd Campbell (2006) - "Z-Special: Desert - Jungle - Sabotage".

External links/references

[http://www.dva.gov.au/media/publicat/2003/jaywick/ Australian Department of Veterans Affairs, 2003, "Operation Jaywick, 60th Anniversary" ]

[http://home.st.net.au/~dunn/ausarmy/zforce.htm Peter Dunn, 2005, "'Z' Special Unit in Australia During WW2" (ozatwar.com) ]

[http://www.specialforcesroh.com/browse.php?mode=viewc&catid=43 Roll of honour, awards and images. ]

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