The original plan for the Opossum operation provided for an attack on Ternate Island on the east coast of Halmahera for the purpose of extracting an Australian airman, but later information from NICA indicated that this man might have been removed. SRD was then informed by NICA that it had instructions to extract the Sultan of Ternate and to equip, arm and supply on a small scale a number of natives on Hiri Island, immediately to the north of Ternate.

As the intelligence on which Opossum was based originated from the Sultan, it was considered that his extraction for the purpose of obtaining exact information was an essential preliminary to recovery of the missing airman. On NICA indicating that it was unable to carry out the extraction of the Sultan with its own resources, SRD decided to assist them in the operation as a preliminary phase of Opossum.

Subsequent to the extraction of the Sultan, it was learned that the RAAF prisoner had been removed and therefore the proposed sortie for his extraction was not carried out.

The Opossum party comprised:

Capt Kroll (NEFIS) Leader of mission Lt Brunnings I.O NICA Mr. Hardwick Lt G Bosworth Leader of SRD party WO RC Perry Cpl GH Phillpot Cpl J Kearns Sig WM O’Donnell Pte RN Higginbottom Cpl R Bennett (sig) Sgt DT Coughlin

The party left Morotai by PT boat at 1730 hours 8 Apr 45, and landed at Kg Saki on the north coast of Hiri at 2245 hours the same night. The party camped at Kg Saki for the night and despatched a messenger with a letter to the Sultan who was at Boekee Bandera on Ternate Island, to the west of Ternate Town.

On the morning of 9 Apr at 0700 hours, Kroll, Brunnings, Hardwick , Bosworth, Perry, Philpott, Kearns and Higginbottom walked around the east coast of Hiri to Kg Togolobe. After remaining here for awhile, they proceeded to Dorari ‘Isa where armed natives were holding nine native traitors. With the arrested natives, the party then returned to Togolobe where it was joined by the other members who had travelled from Saki by prahu. The whole party remained here over the night of 9/10 Apr. On the evening of the 9th, a reply came from the Sultan to say he would try to cross from Ternate but that he was surrounded by traitors and would find it difficult. Five large prahus full of natives then set out from Togolobe for the southeast coast of Ternate.

On the morning of 10 Apr, Hardwick, Perry, Higginbottom, and a native went to a house near the top of the mountain on Hiri where one of the traitors lived. Here they found a number of documents of which Hardwick took possession. Meanwhile, the Sultan had arrived at Togolobe at 1000 hours having crossed from Ternate in a rainstorm, The party remained at Togolobe over the night of 10/11 Apr, maintaining a strict watch. At 0200 hours, Kearns, who was on guard, saw lights on the north shore of Ternate and at 0700 hours, a native brought word that the Japanese were on their way over from Ternate.

The Opossum party thereupon moved around to Trafraka on the southern tip of Hiri, arriving to find Japanese on the beach already engaged by the natives. Another prahu was seen out at sea and Perry ordered the Bren to be brought to bear upon it. The prahu was shot up and both paddlers were killed, leaving one Japanese officer alive in the craft. This officer later paddled the prahu to Togolobe where the party was then located, and on being ordered to surrender, stood with a grenade in his hand and was promptly shot.

The first prahu which had landed at Trafaka contained 9 Japanese. Six of them tried to swim back to Ternate but were pursued by natives in prahus and all were shot, the last as he reached shallow water at Ternate. Of three Japanese who had landed on the beach, Lt Bosworth shot one with his Tommy gun. When the Japanese fell, Bosworth ran towards him in order to take him prisoner, but the Japanese, who was only wounded, raised his rifle and shot Bosworth in the head, killing him instantly. This Japanese and another were shot by the party, but the third escaped into the bush and evaded capture.

Meanwhile, Higginbottom, contrary to Perry’s orders, had stripped off his uniform and had swum out to secure the prahu which had drifted out from the beach. As Higginbottom climbed over the gunwale of the boat, he was shot by a native guerilla who had mistaken him for a Japanese. When the prahu was brought in, Higginbottom was still alive, but he died a few minutes later.

After the fighting had died down, the party returned to Togolobe. At 1145 hrs, the PT Boats arrives and the party, now consisting of the original members (less casualties), the Sultan, his wife and child, and 15 natives, were all evacuated at 1210 hrs, arriving in Morotai at 1650 hrs on 11 Apr 45.

Before leaving, some of the weapons of the enemy party were distributed among the natives of Hiri, comprising 1 Nambu LMG, a number of Meiji rifles and a quantity of ammunition. All papers collected by Mr Hardwick were forwarded to NEFIS.

The untold story: how Z Force saved the sultan