Top secret, highly trained ‘Z Special Unit’. More commonly but also incorrectly referred to as ‘Z Force’, in fact these were two entirely different units. Z Force was a forward observation force attached to the British General Staff Intelligence, that operated in Burma during World War II. The crew of the Krait during Operation Jaywick.
Z Force’s function was to obtain information for General Slim commander of the British Fourteenth Army. The Fourteenth Army was engaged in the prolonged Burma Campaign fighting to recapture Burma from the Japanese. Z Force’s tasked to obtain information on the size and location of Japanese forces and their logistics (oil dumps, ammunition depots etc.). Z Force did this did this sending intelligence units into Japanese held territory that then relayed the information back by radio to the headquarters of the Fourteenth Army. The Chindit operation of 1943 owed much to men such as Major Herbert Castens of GSI (Z) or Z Force as it was known.
The intelligence units that went behind enemy lines were made up of expatriates who had worked in Burma before the war and were familiar with the jungle (most were teak forests, but some were petroleum engineers, and some had worked with radio companies), and natives Burmese from the Chins, Kachins and Karens peoples. The expatriates were all commissioned as offices from captain to colonel.
Z force operated for three years, initially penetrating Japanese lines on foot but later on they were parachuted in by the RAF who also resupplied them via parachute drops. The “highly dangerous mission in a war noted for its ferocity and bestiality” were carried out in some of the most difficult jungle terrain in the world. During the campaign Z force personnel were awarded one CBE, two DSOs, four OBEs, four MBEs, seventeen MCs with bars to two, and sixteen Burma Gallantry medals
Z Special Unit Operation Jaywick
The Operation was planned by Australian and British Commando and Intelligence Officers and was to take place at the same time when the Salamaua, Lae and Finschafen operations were taking place against the Japanese in New Guinea. Disorganisation of Japanese shipping was deemed to be an essential factor in the success of these operations. So great was the secrecy of Operation Jaywick that Major Bob Page of Grafton, New South Wales, died in a later operation without even knowing he had been decorated for his part in it. For nine months the party trained at a secret camp on the Queensland coast.
The vessel assigned to them was the ‘Krait’, a former Japanese fishing boat, 70 feet long, 11 foot Beam with a range of 11,000 miles and a top speed of 6.5 knots. Krait had originally been sailed to India from Singapore, after its fall to the Japanese, where she was commandeered by Military Intelligence for ‘possible future use’. Later, she was sent on a perilous voyage across the Indian Ocean to Australia and refitted for her new role.
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.
Lieutenant Carse and the seven 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.