Operations - Agas - Lt. Col. Chester and guerrillas.jpg


The objects of Agas I project were to establish a base on the east coast of BNB, with W/T communication to Australia; to set up a native intelligence network in BNB, particular importance being attached to detailed information on the PW camp at Sandakan (originally project Kingfisher) and the high priority target indicated by GHQ at Kudat; through the medium of known agents, to establish friendly relations with the natives and ultimately to organise such armed resistance in that area as might be authorised by GHQ. The intelligence objectives subsequently became extended by military developments and covered, in addition to the areas comprised in the original plan, the NW coastal area to the Sarawak border and the area of Japanese concentrations at Ranau and its approaches.

The original party consisted of the following:

Maj F.G.L. Chester Capt D.S. Sutcliffe Lt D.L. Harlem Lt F. Olsen S/Sgt J.R Greenwood Sgt. J. Wong Sue Cpl A.W.C. Hywood

Reinforcements were:

Lt H.H. Hollingworth Sgt G. Nash Pte A.J. Kelm WOII Thompson Sgt Neil Cpl Russell Sig Norton

The first party left Darwin on 24 Feb 45 in USN Submarine Tuna (Commander Stefanides, USN). The voyage was uneventful, and the submarine reached the disembarkation point after dark on the 3 Mar 45. This point was some 5 3/4 miles offshore from the selected point of entry, an unnamed river 1 1/2 miles south of Kg Tagahan. Immediately the party had disembarked from the submarine, the submarine went off at full speed. The party then proceeded to paddle ashore in their 7-man rubber boat, towing two folboats and steer ing on a bearing, arriving at exactly .the right point.

Agas - Original watch tower camp, near Tagahan.jpg

They then went inland approximately 24 miles up the river. Here an island site was chosen as suitable for the set up of the wireless station and the dumping of the stores; the base was well hidden, being surrounded by mangrove and nipa. Radio contact was first established on the emergency link to the Dutch Station at Darwin on 7 Mar. Three days later the SRD Leanyer Station was contacted and good wireless communication was thereafter maintained without difficulty.

Immediately wireless contact had been satisfactorily established with Australia, all the party, except the signal section which was left at the base, moved off in two folboats on a series of reconnaissances of the whole of the coastal area from the Tagahan River to Kuala Paitan. During this period close reconnaissances were made of the estuaries of the Rivers Sesip, Sugut, Mamahat, Arbar and Paitan. It was necessary to make not less than four replenishment trips back to base during this period.

The first good contact was made at Meninghatan, approximately 2 miles north of Trusan, with an ex-Custom House boatman named Semak, who recognised the party Leader. Thereafter a number of other useful contacts came down from the interior on their own initiative to Meninghatan, all through the medium of Semak.

Following information given to him by Pangiran Mohammed Saleh, a native chief of the Sugut area, the Party Leader decided to contact Badji Abdurajap, Headman of Jembongan, to which island the party proceeded, arriving about 10 Apr. There the party Leader discovered the whereabouts of two useful contacts previously known to him - Datu Mustapha, who was said to be at Panokaran, and Mr. Tsen Yin San, a former member of the Kudat Chamber of Commerce, who was at Lokopas. Details of the whereabouts of a number of other people for whom the Party leader was looking were also obtained. During this phase the Party Leader himself covered some 250 miles by folboat.

It was decided that there was a suitable dropping zone on Jembongan Island, near the Kampong of Jambongan, and following this the Party Leader immediately returned to the original base for the purpose of sending a signal requesting that the first stores drop should take place at Jambongan. His signal having been accepted, he returned to Jambongan for the purpose of receiving the stores drop, which took place on 20 Apr 45. This drop was successful as the second drop on 28 Apr and another drop on 3 May.

Following the first drop, the Party Leader decided to move north with Mustapha to contact Tsen Yin at Lokopas, which he thought would be a suitable dropping zone for Agas II. This contact was satisfactorily established and arrangements were made with Tsen Yin to collect natives for the clearance of the dropping zone and the building of huts prior to the insertion of Agas II, which as due on 3 May. After making these arrangements, the Leader returned to the original base via Jambongan, arriving on 24 Apr in time to arrange for the further drops on 28 Apr and 3 May. He then moved to Lokopas, where he was able to arrange for the reception of Major Combe on 3 May.

From 3 to 30 May the Leader spent some time with Maj Combe, exploring the area north of Lokopas as far as Tg Berungus. During this period he had a number of interviews with the headmen from the various Kampongs on the mainland, all of whom made strong applications for arms and medical assistance. He then decided that it was most necessary to establish a hospital at Jambongan with Capt May a Chinese doctor, who had been brought in with the second phase, and took him down there for this purpose. He also sent down boats to the original base to bring up the signal equipment to establish a new control station in the Lokopas area.

During the period from 12 Apr to 20 May, whilst the Leader was effecting the reconnaissances referred to above and arranging for stores drops, the party, remaining on Jambongan, achieved a substantial measure of success. By 17 May about 150 natives were being trained as agents and on protective duties, and the base in Jambongan was considered secure. They had managed already to account for Japanese, who walked into the Jambongan kampong. Those who were not shot were immediately chased to boats and the whole party was annihilated.

There were also other small groups of natives formed as a result of the reconnaissance first effected. There were 30 at Panti Buring and 15 in Sungei Paitan. These parties too had their successes; 5 Japanese had been killed on Kuala Paitan, 6 on Tg Semangut and an additional 4 on Jambongan Island.

Lt Harlem had been despatched into the interior looking for a further DZ in the Sugut River area, where he organised another group of natives at Sungei Sungei to which the area HQ had since moved.

On 20 May a native party organised from Jambongan raided Trusan, where, although no Japanese were found, their headquarters and safe were seized and many documents were sent back for examination.

By the time Major Combe had arrived on 3 May, 150 natives were made available to him by Tsen to train and utilise in intelligence duties. This party had been increased by him and had pushed out its tentacles to Kota Belud. Agents had also been placed in and around Sandakan, Beluran, Linkabau, Kudat and Langkon. •

The attitude of the natives was most friendly and everywhere a keen desire to help the Allied forces was shown. Forced labour, the taking of crops, rape and general maltreatment by the Japanese had increased the natural disposition of these natives to remain loyal to the previous administration.

It was found most effective to teach the natives to hide food from the Japanese whose supplies were short. Complete co-operation in this respect was obtained from Kampong dwellers, making it almost impossible for the Japanese to obtain food in the outlying districts.

General health in all areas visited by Agas I party was poor. Malaria, jungle sores, yaws and a certain amount of TB were prevalent amongst the civil population, but the health of the enlisted natives was excellent. A hospital was set up at Jambongan, followed by another near Lokopas. A suitable Catalina pick-up point was established on the NW corner of Musa Island, near Lokopas. Here the Party Leader was picked up on 21 May and flown to Morotai.

In view of the requirements for Oboe VI, it was decided to proceed immediately with the establishment of a party in the Beaufort-Jesselton area, where the party leader already had contacts. Accordingly, arrangements were made for handing over the control of Agas I party and being reinserted into Musa Island on 25 May and extracted again by Catalina on 28 May. The party proceeded via Palawan to a point south of Kimanis Bay where the Party Leader, Sgts. Wong Sue, Hywood and Landor Ali were inserted at 1800 hrs on 28 May and began the operation known as Stallion IV.

On 20 May 45, Capt Sutcliffe took over command of Agas I party. The change of command coincided with the change of policy which was to strike vigorously at the enemy, inflicting as much damage and casualties as possible and to intensify the search for information. Lt Hollingsworth was inserted on 25 May. It was therefore decided to leave him at Jambongan while the remainder of the party moved inland to the Sungei Sungei area to establish a base on the Sugut River.

This move took place on 29 May. The force moved in two parties - Sutcliffe’s party went by sea to Paitan and proceeded to reconnoitre the route to, and area of Sungei Sungei, while the other party under charge of Lt Harlem proceeded to Trusan to wipe out the garrison of approximately 7 Japanese and thus open up the mouth of the Sugut River for craft to carry supplies to Sungei Sungei.

Sutcliffe reach Sungei Sungei on 1 Jun 45 without incident. Harlem contacted Japanese at Trusan on 19 May. Reconnaissance revealed 12 Japanese were guarding a considerable amount of stores, food and medical supplies. An attack was planned for 21 May. It was found, however, that all the Japanese had hurriedly left Trusan for Keniogan Island. As it was reported that the Japanese intended to return shortly, all stores and buildings were destroyed by fire. The party then continued to Sungei Sungei arriving 25 May.

A new DZ was prepared and a successful food drop of 9 storepedos by B-24 was made on 7 Jun. Pte Kelm (Sig) also parachuted in on this occasion.

It was decided to continue to operate with two forces, the first party moving to Lingkabau then to Telupid on the Labuk River to harass the enemy in this area and to obtain information regarding POWs in Sandakan. The second party was to move via Lingkabau to Meridi area with a similar task. Both parties would then be astride the two main enemy lines of communication, East and West.

Thirty Japanese were reported to be garrisoning the village of Aling (near Linkabau), and, after a confirmatory recce, it was decided to attack at 0800 hours on 8 Jun 45 using 3 Bren guns for covering fire for the advancing troops. Sutcliffe and Harlem, with 23 guerillas, opened the attack at dawn, but apparently the attack was expected, for the Japanese immediately replied with LMG and 2” Mortar fire. After a fierce fight lasting 3 1/2 hours, the village was captured almost intact.

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The operation was completely successful. Eleven Japanese were killed in the attack, and another, who had temporarily escaped, later. Party losses in the engagement were one guerilla killed and one wounded. Shortly afterwards, however, far greater losses were incurred by the desertion of guerillas. With the exception of ten, all of them expressed a very strong desire to return to their homes. The position rapidly worsened and in spite of every precaution, trained men deserted daily, while others openly stated they would not fight only to defend their own villages. It was therefore decided to withdraw to Sungei Sungei to re-organise. Shortly after arrival it was reported that the party was being trailed by a party of 100 Japanese. This necessitated going off the air and moving on to Bongaya. SRD HQ was informed accordingly. During this period, Japanese movement in the Labuk area was in a wide circle (the purpose not being known) causing garrisons to fluctuate daily. The circle did not move west, but in the areas of Boto, Khamansif Klegan, Sapi, Muanad and Samawang.

Lt Hollingworth, who arrived at Jambongan Is on 25 May 45, was occupied in training guerillas. A regulated training syllabus was drawn up and adhered to. He reported that “enthusiasm amongst both Chinese and Malays was unbounded. Guards maintained good vigilance and piquets patrolled the complete perimeter at dusk and dawn”. At 2100 hours 10 Jun 45, an unknown prahu anchored approximately 200 yards from the beach, one mile SW of Jambongan village and ignored the challenge of the guard.

A general stand-to was ordered and maintained until dawn. At 0500 hours, 11 Jun, 2 shots were fired over the bow of the boat when it was seen that at least 8 Japanese were on board. The boat was then engage by Bren fire and immediately started to draw away from the beach, the occupants swimming under the bows, pulling the craft after them. Many hits were scored on the boat. Two boats gave chase and the Japanese again climbed aboard and returned fire with a Lewis type gun and carbines. All these Japanese were killed after a running action which lasted until 0800 hours. The boat which was taken back to Jambongan for repairs was searched, revealing only one chart of the Tawi Tawi area. There were also several grenades aboard. Our force suffered no casualties. After the action four bodies were taken out to sea, weighted and buried. On 11 Jun seven bodies were washed up and were searched. Nothing of importance was revealed. These bodies showed evidence of having been shot. One other Japanese was shot in the water, but this body was not recovered. In total, therefore, it would seem that at least 12 Japanese were accounted for. It is definite that no Japanese escaped. It was thought that the Japanese were fugitives from the Tawi Tawi area, as the boat was not of the type usually found in the Borneo area.

Lt Hollingworth continued the training of guerillas at Jambongan until 16 Jul assisted by Sig. Kelm. He was then ordered to report, with Kelm, to Capt. Sutcliffe at Bongaya.

On 21 Jun 45 reinforcements were inserted at Jambongan, consisting of WOII Thompson, Sgt. Neil, Cpl. Russell, and Sig. Norton, all of whom proceeded to Bongaya. On 4 Jul Lt Harlem was evacuated to Tawi Tawi, suffering from dengue, and returned to Bongaya on 11 Jul.

The party was again divided into two sections, Sutcliffe moving to Papasyia to establish a base. The native intelligence network was now well established in the Bongaya area and the party was receiving and transmitting accurate information of the PW position at Sandakan. Sutcliffe’s party comprised McKeowan and Norton (both signallers) with 45 guerillas. The reconnaissance party with Neil and Russell went ahead to New Bongaya, thence overland to the Tungud River.

On 20 Jul Lt Harlem with Sig Kelm moved to New Bongaya where WOII Thompson was training guerillas. Lt. Hollingworth remained behind. Shortly after starting, a runner reported that O.T. Kulanc who had been on a mission to Muanad had returned to Bongaya with an Australian PW named Gnr Colin Campbell, who was in a very weak condition. Sig. Kelm returned to Lt. Hollingworth at Bongaya with instructions to arrange the evacuation of Campbell to Morotai via Tawi Tawi. Campbell was evacuated from the mouth of the Bongaya River to Tawi Tawi by Martin Mariner flying boat on 26 Jul. A successful stores drop of 19 storepedos was received at Papasyia on 22 Jul 45.

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Meanwhile Lt Harlem continued his journey to New Tungud, it being necessary to pass Basal quickly as Japanese attention to this area was growing more pronounced daily. Sutcliffe was met at Papasyia by Lt Harlem and party, Lt Hollingworth and Sig Kelm on 2 Aug. From this date Agas I operated as two separate parties under Sutcliffe and Harlem respectively. Sutcliffe moved to Tungu River, arriving 4 Aug and Harlem to Meridi area arriving 8 Aug.

En route to Tungud, Sutcliffe contacted a Japanese garrison at Nelepak and arranged to attack it on 14 Aug. This attack was cancelled when orders were received to cease fire on 14 Aug. Sutcliffe then contacted F/Lt Ripley at Lansat here he received orders to move his party to Kaniogan, but leaving Neil, Russell and Norton and some guerillas with Ripley. On 24 Aug Sutcliffe was established at Kaniogan Island from where he was extracted on 29 Aug to Tawi Tawi by Martin Mariner flying boat, and to Morotai on 30 Aug 45 where he was admitted to 2/5th AGH for medical reasons.

Lt. Hollingworth, with a reconnaissance force of 12 men left New Tungud camp to prepare a secret track to enable Harlem’s party to operate in the Meridi - Merungin - Paring and Ranau area. It was Harlem’s intention to fight three or four quick actions in the Merungin area and then withdraw by way of Sugut and Genunok Rivers to Basai and harass Japanese water communications. On 4 Aug a runner informed Lt. Harlem that a party of 60 Japanese was pro ceeding by prahu to Basai to attack him. This information was passed to HQ Morotai with a request for air support. A strike was arranged and 16 enemy boats were destroyed and about 50 Japanese were killed or drowned.

Harlem met Hollingworth at Paitan on 14 Aug to finalise his arrangements for attacking the Japanese, but received orders that day to cease all military activities except in self-defence and to proceed to Bongaya. The return journey was made in three separate parties - Lt. Hollingworth with 12 troops in No.1 party, WOII Thompson with 12 troops in No.2 party, and Lt. Harlem with Sig Kelm and the remainder in No.3 party. Hollingworth’s party arrived at Bongaya without incident. Thompson’s party, at Sayoh River, met 22 Japanese who promptly fired on them. Thompson withdrew his men without casualties and arrived intact at Bongaya. Harlem intended to bypass Basai on the night of 22/23 Aug 45, but arriving on the night of 21 Aug and acted on a hunch and moved on immediately. It was subsequently learned that on information supplied by one Periong (a Filipino) to the Japanese, they had laid in ambush for Harlem’s party at Rimidi from 1900 hours on 22 Aug 45 expecting them to pass (as was originally intended) on the night of 22 Aug. They waited for four days and then returned to Khemansie.

Periong’s wife, Kokum, warned Kulang, an agent of Harlem, that her husband and a Chinese, Pang Fook, had notified the Japanese at Khamansie of Harlem’s movements. Kokum also stated that her husband was a Japanese spy. Kulang and .five guerillas started in pursuit of Periong and Pang Fook and found them in a prahu near Kg Darum. The guerillas twice called upon them to stop. As they ignored the command and suspecting both were armed, the guerillas opened fire. Both Periong and Pang Fook were killed. This happened at 0700 hrs on 24 Aug 45. As Kulang had not been in contact with Harlem since 7 Aug, he was not aware of the Japanese surrender on 15 Aug 45. Harlem’s party arrived safely at Bongaya on 23 Aug. On 24 Aug, all three parties arrived at Keniogan Island, where they remained until extracted, except for a patrol carried out by Lt. Harlem, Sgt. Roberts (Sig), Cpl Russell and natives.