Borneo Campaign, 1945: History in Focus

Borneo Campaign, 1945: History in Focus cover

This teaching activity resource is to encourage discussion and further learning. The Borneo campaign was considered the final major Australian operations of the war in the Pacific. Beginning on 1 May 1945 and continuing through to August, the campaign comprised of three distinct operations. Overall, Australian casualties numbered more than 2000 for the entire campaign.

Series: History in Focus
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The Borneo campaign constituted the final major Australian operations of the war in the Pacific. Commencing with the landing at Tarakan on 1 May 1945, and continuing through to the final Japanese surrender in August, the campaign comprised three distinct operations codenamed OBOE: at Tarakan (OBOE 1); Labuan Island (OBOE 6); and Balikpapan (OBOE 2). Several other planned OBOE operations did not go ahead. Tarakan and Balikpapan were part of what had been the Dutch East Indies, while Labuan Island was a British Crown Colony.

Some questioned the necessity of the Borneo campaign at the time. In the Pacific, United States and Allied forces were drawing closer to Japan, while in Southeast Asia Japanese garrisons were largely cut off from supply and reinforcements.  Considered the brainchild of General Douglas MacArthur, the campaign was viewed with misgiving by the Australian Commander-in-Chief, Thomas Blamey.  However, driving the Japanese from Southeast Asia was an important goal when it seemed the war had perhaps more than a year to run, and the Australian Government saw Australian forces as playing a key role in this. 

For those who fought on Borneo, the practicalities of the campaign overtook more abstract questions of longer-term strategy.  The OBOE operations were major undertakings involving complex logistics and many thousands of men.  The Australian formations that fought in them had been at war since 1940, and fought through the Mediterranean campaigns and the bitter fighting in Papua and New Guinea.  Now, supported by Allied aircraft and armadas of Allied ships, they quickly overcame the fiercest of the resistance in the OBOE operations, but fighting continued in parts of Borneo until the end of the war. 

Though questions about their strategic value continued to be asked long after Japan’s surrender, the three OBOE operations were successfully and skilfully carried out. The 9th Australian Division carried the brunt of the fighting on land at Tarakan and at Labuan Island, while the 7th Australian Division undertook the Balikpapan operation. All three operations were supported by overwhelmingly powerful Allied air and naval forces, including Royal Australian Navy ships and Royal Australian Air Force personnel. Australian casualties numbered more than 2000 for the entire campaign.

Men of the 2/14th Battalion come ashore at Yellow Beach, Balikpapan, 1 July 1945. AWM 110436

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