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U.S. Army photograph
1.283S), on Sumbir River
on the southeast coast of Borneo,
boasted a significant oil field
(7.4 million barrels a year) and a refinery and a newly
constructed port with just
enough facilities to load tankers.
It was the largest town of Dutch
Borneo. Like most of Borneo, the climate
here is hot and wet with little seasonal variation. Sepinggang Airfield with a 5000' (1520
meter) runway was located on the coast while Manggar Airfield was
13 miles (21 km) east of the town. The surrounding country was
hilly and jungle-covered.
There was a well-developed road following an oil pipeline to
Samarinda that also provided
access to the interior oil fields.
At the time war broke out, Balikpapan was protected by two 120mm and four 75mm coastal guns. U.S. Destroyer Division 57 was in the harbor, en route Singapore, and there was a garrison of about 1100 Dutch militia (VI Garrison Battalion) in the town itself.
Some 5500 men of 56 Brigade (Sakaguchi) and elements of 2 Kure Special Naval Landing Force came ashore to capture the town on 23-24 January 1942. ABDA attempted to contest the landings with the few forces available. Dutch bombers and three American B-17s attacked the Japanese force as it was coming to anchor on the evening of 23 January, sinking one transport (Nana Maru, 6557 tons) and damaging another. Of eight submarines sent to the area, only K-XVIII managed to reach the anchorage and penetrate the screen, sinking transport Tsuruga Maru (7000 tons) just before midnight. The Japanese screen commander raced his ships to seawards to hunt for the submarine, leaving the transports largely unprotected.
In the early hours of the morning of the 24th, an American force of four destroyers slipped into the harbor and raked the anchored transports with torpedoes and gunfire. Four transports and a patrol boat were sunk and two other transports damaged. This was one of the few successes by forces under the ABDA command, though the American destroyers ought to have scored better against anchored, silhouetted, and largely unprotected transports. However, most of the Japanese assault troops had already transferred to landing craft, and the battle set back the Japanese time table by less than a day. By evening on the 24th the Japanese had the airfield ready for operations.
The Dutch garrison responded by firing the oil wells and
retreating into the interior. The Japanese advance on the town
itself was slowed by bridge demolitions,
but by evening of the 25th the Japanese had taken the town without
a fight. A second stealthy landing by a single Japanese battalion (guided by fifth columnists)
encountered little opposition and cut off the retreat of a few
Dutch stragglers, but failed to secure the oil fields before they
were put to the torch.
The Japanese had sent emissaries to the Dutch commander ordering the Dutch
forces to preserve the oil fields or "be killed without
exception." On 20 February 1942, the Japanese made good on their
threat, massacring every
European they could find in the vicinity of the city, at least 72
persons, in retaliation for the destruction of the oil fields.
Force 5 (Glassford)
|Damaged running aground
DD John D. Ford
DD Paul Jones
|9 B-10 Martin (at Samarinda)
3 B-17 Flying Fortress (at Surabaya)
Battalion, Royal Netherlands Army (1100
|Destroyer Squadron 4 (Nishimura)|
|Destroyer Division 2|
|AVP Sanyo Maru
AVP Sanuki Maru
Base Force (Hirose)
||Carrying 56 Brigade (Sakaguchi; 5500
||AP Ashiyama Maru
AP Sumanoura Maru (3519 tons)
AP Kuretake Maru (5175 tons, 10 knots)
AP Kumagawa Maru
AP Toei Maru
AP Yukka Maru
||Carrying 2 Kure SNLF
|AP Tatsugami Maru (7070
tons, 15 knots)
AP Tsuruga Maru (6987 tons)
AP Nana Maru (6557 tons)
Air Flotilla (Tada)
Balikpapan was retaken by the Australian 7 Division (reinforced to 33,000 men) on 1 July 1945 (Operation OBOE VI) in the last amphibious assault of the Second World War. The defending Japanese troops numbered about 3100 men from 71 Independent Mixed Brigade and 22 Special Base Force heavily armed with artillery and antiaircraft guns, plus another 1100 service troops and potential reinforcements of 1500 troops at Samarinda. The Australian landings were preceded by twenty days of heavy air attacks and the most massive prelanding bombardment ever conducted in the Southwest Pacific. This ignited many of the oil storage tanks. U.S. underwater demolition teams cleared many of the Japanese obstacles from 26 June onwards.
The prolonged bombardment was prompted by intelligence indicating
in the area, and, one speculates, a desire to minimize Australian
casualties this late in the
war. The fortifications were no illusion: The Japanese had built a
number of pillboxes, tunnels, and obstacles some 400 to 1000 yards
(360 to 910 m) inland and had excavated tank traps up to 14 feet (4
meters) wide near the beaches. Log barriers had been constructed
70 to 100 yards (64 to 90 meters) offshore, and the area was
heavily mined, including large
numbers of Allied acoustic and magnetic mines dropped from
aircraft earlier in the war. The shallow water (less than 10
fathoms deep as much as 6 miles or 10 km offshore) meant that
small minecraft would have to be employed and would be difficult
to provide with gunfire support. Furthermore, the nearest
functioning Allied airfield was at Tawi Tawi, which meant that fighter cover would be badly
Sweeping commenced on 15 June 1945 and continued until the landings on 1 July 1945. Three minecraft were destroyed by mines and another damaged, and three more were damaged by Japanese coastal guns. Some 27 mines were swept, but since it was known that 93 Allied mines had been dropped (and none were set to self-deactivate) a considerable number of mines were thought to be still in the area. However, no other ships or boats were lost during the landings.
demolition teams arrived on 24 June to begin demolishing the
obstacles. Over 300 yards (270 meters) of obstacles were destroyed
before the landings.
Following a Japanese air attack on 25 June, three U.S. escort carriers were detailed to assist the landings. These had been operating off Kyushu, but arrived on 1 July 1945, the day of the landings, and provided three days' air cover. Opposition was initially light but stiffened as the Australians moved inland. Some 10,500 men, 700 vehicles, and 1950 tons of supplies were brought ashore the first day. Sepinggang Airfield was seized on the second day and Balikpapan town on the third. Manggar Airfield fell on 5 July. Because the war was winding down, the Australian commanders were under orders to minimize casualties and the advance towards Samarinda was very cautious. However, the area was considered secured by the end of July, with the remaining Japanese retreating towards Banjarmasin and Kuching. Australian casualties were 229 killed and 634 wounded while the Japanese lost at least 1800 killed and 63 taken prisoner.
Ammunition was expended lavishly in the preinvasion bombardment.
Some 23,764 shells of 4.7" (120mm) caliber or greater were
expended up to 1 July; another 11.884 on 1 July; and 11.158 more
by 7 July. Another 114,000 rounds of 20mm and 40mm automatic
weapons rounds were also expended. This exceeded by a considerable
margin the ammunition expenditure of any other division landing during the
Temperatures: Jan 85/73, Apr 85/73, Jul 83/73, Oct 85/74, record 92/60
Rainfall: Jan 14/7.9, Apr 13/8.2, Jul 11/7.1, Oct 9/5.2 == 87.7" per annum
Bradley et al. (1992)
Pearce and Gordon (1990)
"The Balikpapan Raid" (accessed 2009-9-15)
East Indies 1941-1942 (accessed 2009-9-15)
Van Royen and Bowles (1952)
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