The Oboe Landings
[Australian Campaign Series – 34]
Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2023
Paperback 264pp RRP: $19.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, June 2023
With the Allies gaining the ascendency in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) and General Douglas MacArthur intent on sharing the glory with no one, saw Australia’s 7th and 9th Divisions in training mode in Queensland in late 1944. In order to maintain morale, they were training for amphibious landings codenamed Oboe in Borneo in 1945.
Initially there were six landings intended, but these were cut back to three, while still retaining their original numerical designations. The landings, in sequence, were Oboe 1 (1 May) on Tarakan, Oboe 6 (10 June) on Brunei and Oboe 2 (1 July) on Balikpapan.
McCarthy provides his readers with the political and military background from the 1942 days in Papua to the seizure of Morotai in northern Indonesia (from whence the landings would be launched). From 1943 the full requirements of amphibious operations from staff planning, inter-service co-ordination and rehearsal were gradually developed. Each operation required months of staff work using reconnaissance reports, aerial photographs, in-theatre agents and local sources. For each of the Oboe landings, the troops involved (on both sides), the topography – especially landing beaches, and the objectives have been laid out. This massive manning involving all services from Australia and considerable input from US and British forces. All landings required the forces sailing in landing craft nearly 2000 kilometres from Morotai to the beaches.
Oboe 1: The 28th Infantry Brigade Group (from 9th Division) of 15 500 had a pioneer battalion, cavalry and commando squadrons, a field artillery and an anti-aircraft regiment, supply and transport personnel, a field ambulance, three RAAF construction groups and an Australian Beach Group. Its major objective was to capture Tarakan and its airfield to be ready in a week for Allied use for other Oboe landings. The landings were on three beaches with muddy tidal flats, all unopposed by the two Japanese light battalions-plus (2200 men) who fought delaying tactics from inland prepared defences. It was 5 May before the airfield was captured, but it took eight weeks to repair it due to inclement weather and massive pre-landing bombardments cratering the airstrip.
Oboe 6: Pre-landing bombardment was far more selective prior to the landing of 24th Brigade Group on Labuan Island and 20th Brigade Group (both from 9th Division) in Brunei Bay. These were two synchronised landings not separate operations for the 29,000 to 30 thousand troops tackling a reported Japanese force of 8,800. A major objective was to use Brunei Bay as a naval base for future operations. Again the landings were unopposed, but obstinate opposition was encountered inland.
Oboe 2: The 7th Division Group of 18th, 21st and 25th Infantry Brigades and a total force of 33,300+, including a minesweeping vessel and 121-ship attack amphibious group landing on three beaches against 3-4000 Japanese soldiers and armed labourers. This was the largest amphibious force assembled in World War 2. It quickly gained its planned objectives including Seppinggang airstrip and used riverine operations from Penadjam.
McCarthy has gone to great lengths to inform his readers of the incredible number of units with special skills and their roles in ensuring a seamless and smooth operation in landing the troops, establishing beach maintenance areas, providing vital logistic support and resupply, as well as ensuring that command and control was uninterrupted. He poses that with our recent awareness of future amphibious operations, there exists a knowledge gap of eight decades and no service personnel with many of the skill sets needed for them to be quickly replaced. There are a generous number of on-site photographs, biographies of commanders, weaponry, aircraft and landing vessels. Clear battle maps enable the reader to easily follow the described actions. A short Bibliography and a good Index rounds out McCarthy’s work.
A detailed, and perhaps nostalgic look at what we had, and wondering how that expertise can be rekindled. Some food for thought for the senior leaders in all our services.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.