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My father's small failed mission and its members will never be mentioned anywhere.

Just blips in history.

Z Special Unit His small group 'Platypus VII' of four " Commandos"  sent off in a botched raid at almost the end of the War, to help with an invasion that was mostly for vanity whether for Australia's or for General MacArthur's benefit I'm not sure.

The Japanese in Borneo in July 45 should have been a 'mopping up' operation rather than an invasion from what I've read. The US had broken their fighting forces in the Pacific and sent most back to Japan, where the possibility of a long, difficult fight still looked very likely, before the Atomic bomb was dropped.

JJ ODwyer

My very young father had been a Primary School teacher for one year before the Fall of Singapore and then the bombing of Darwin which shook Australia at the time even though it was downplayed by Govt, in press etc, to a supposedly small bombing raid but untrue. He felt Australia was threatened because Britain retreated to fight in Europe and felt he should help, not just depend on the US.

So here is his story. And that of the men of Z Special Unit Platypus V11.

Z Special Unit came into existence on 1 June 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).

In June 1942, an ISD raiding/commando unit was organised and designated Z Special Unit. This was the Unit that my father James Joseph O'Dwyer, was successful in gaining admission to and was also successful in completing the required training course. His part of the jungle warfare training was carried out on Fraser Island a place not too far from where I live now on the Sunshine Coast. A local man does occasional special tours of the Island to show remnants of the Training School and Course, which now holds some historical interest.

The Z men, were trained in explosives, camouflage and silent killing behind enemy lines and some carried cyanide pills in case of capture. They are best known for a 3,000 km voyage on a daring 1943 raid called Operation Jaywick. The men dyed their skin and wore sarongs to resemble Indonesian fishermen.

download 2020 08 21T121614.484

Seven ships were sunk in enemy-held Singapore Harbour, but a follow-up mission, Rimau, was sadly an abject failure with all 23 participants killed. The Unit is said to have carried out 284 missions in the Pacific, sneaking into places such as Timor and New Guinea. By war’s end, 32 men from Z Unit were in Borneo, working in four areas against 30,000 enemy soldiers.

 download 2020 08 21T121724.924

Sworn to secrecy, Z veterans were not allowed to tell anyone of their experiences until 1980. Although some famous stories were indeed told before that date.

My Dad's Mission was named Platypus VII one of a number of Platypus missions all targeted on Borneo in 1945. Both Platypus VI and Platypus VII's missions were to be dispatched from Australia to Borneo on 30 June 1945 where both parties would be dropped by parachute in different locations behind enemy lines, so they could radio back information to help with the Allied invasion of Balikipapan planned for 1 July 1945.

download 2020 08 21T122102.269 

Both Platypus Missions should have had their own aircraft but one had mechanical problems so both missions were put into the one aircraft which was to cause major problems. Platypus VI was commanded by a legend of a man Capt. “Jock” McLaren, who had already proven to be invaluable as a coastwatcher and in skirmashes with the Japanese. During one period of his service in the Philippines, McLaren commanded a 26-foot whaleboat called The Bastard, which he launched against the Japanese in broad daylight, shot up supply vessels and piers with machine Page 2 guns, then turned tail and ran before the Japanese knew what had hit them. Jock had been specially recruited for Z Special Unit.

download 2020 08 21T122247.580 

I'm proud to know my Dad got to meet Jock and probably to know him. Jock had fought in WWI, so was already in his forties during WWII. Jock and his men were dropped wide of their target and their storpodeos (containing supplies and ammunition) mainly dropped where they were very difficult to locate, but Jock managed to bring most of his men except one, back to the coast. I think he had become very wily and used to jungle warfare as well as blessed with a bit more good luck.

My Dad's mission Platypus VII was headed by Flight Lt. Alan Martin. The object of the mission was to carry out a reconnaissance of the area about 20 klms north of Balikipapan. The party was dropped at 20.00 hrs on 30 June 1945, by a Liberator bomber piloted by W/C Reid. The dropping of personnel and their storpedoes (containing ammunition & supplies) was described as “very poorly executed” in a report after the war.

The drop was made much later than planned and the storpodeos were dropped so far away, that there was no possibility of ever retrieving them. F/Lt Martin was unable to sight the Drop Zone (because he was already in the rear of the aircraft in harness as ordered by the pilot he was unable to crawl forward to the bombardier's compartment) and the party were dropped almost on top of a Japanese encampment, with about 200 Japanese soldiers there in preparation for the coming Allied invasion, instead of the usual 30. Flt. Lt. Martin's parachute became caught up in a very high tree.

He said the last time he saw the rest of his party, he watched their parachutes floating fairly close together, and never saw them again. Flt. Lt. Martin was able to cut himself free but was wounded when he hit the ground from the great height. Later as he made his painful way out, he heard gunfire over the next couple of days and thought it was his men being killed. He did hear reports from natives that his men had been captured and killed.

After the war the bodies of two Commandos were discovered, beheaded, while our Dad's body was not found. In 2000, my brother decided to try to find out what he could about what had happened to the three commandos. He wrote letters to Japan through interpreters and to Indonesia to see if anyone with any knowledge of the area, or anyone who might have been there and was still alive could help in any way. He was lucky to find an elderly gentleman in Japan (in his 80s) who had been at the exact jungle depot where our commandos had been dropped on 30 June 1945.

borner 3 Sept 1945 semoi river

This gentlemen was even there when our Dad was killed and was able to draw a map and tell the interpreter what happened. That's how we discovered the men had landed exactly in the middle of the compound, one even landed on the roof of one of the buildings.

 However they managed to fight their way out of the compound and laid low for a day or so as they scouted the area trying to locate their storpedoes. Their ammunition must have been running low because they decided to try to break into a well secured outbuilding (that did contain Japanese ammunition) but were surprised in the attempt in the early hours of the following morning and as they tried to escape our father was bayoneted in the back a number of times and killed.

The other two were captured with slight wounds and consequently beheaded. My brother and Alan Martin (former Flt.Lt. and Leader of Platypus VII and only survivor) then went back to Borneo to retrace the Commandos' old descent into the jungle and to try to locate where our Dad's remains could possibly be. After lots of investigations they were able to find out that his remains had been in a jungle grave and were moved by the Japanese for some reason, then overlooked by the first Australians sent to recover remains, and although discovered by the second Australian War Dead search were not identified but marked as 'Unknown'.

Then his remains went on a re interment roundabout. Relocated to Balikipapan, then to Tarakan, then to Sandakan and finally to the Commonwealth War Cementery at Labaun.

My brother's research was able to finally identify our Dad's remains in Grave 5D5 marked Unknown. To end this story.

The Office of Australian War Graves was kind enough to allow my brother to keep the old plaque marked:

'Known Unto God' while our Dad's bones are finally marked with a plaque carrying his name.

renamed grave JJOD

Sadly I wish we had been able to bring his bones home.

Since all we have in Australia is his name on the wall of the War Memorial in Canberra, similar to a lot of families. It seems more caring and personal to be able to visit a grave in your own homeland.

In memory of Sgt. James Joseph O'Dwyer (my father) Sig Ernest Henry Myers N. Z. (the youngest of the group) L/Sgt Ma'eroff bin Said whose name is also shown as Ma’aruff bin Shalid in the War Memorial ( both with same service number)

If you have a story to tell, honouring our unsung heroes, please send them. We are honoured to keep their memories alive and honour their service to our freedom. 


These operations were conducted the auspices of Special Operations Australia using the wartime cover name 'Allied Intelligence Bureau'.

Z special unit was an administrative unit and not an operational unit.

Also the personnel of AIB were referred to as 'operatives' as commandos was the term then used for members of the Australian Independent Companies that were later renamed commando companies and later commando squadrons.

This commonality of use of the term commandos was a post war development particularly when the independent commando squadrons and personnel from SOA formed the various post war associations like M & Z commando Association.

I had the privilege of being a young commando officer of meeting many of these fine men postwar reunions.

Doug Knight, President Australian Commando Association - Victoria

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