Operation Rimau (What went wrong) Pt3


83. LTCOL Lyon, LCDR Davidson, LT Ross, CPL Campbell – Furuta the Japanese interpreter was interrogated by ‘E’ Group South on 21 October, 1945. He confirmed the death of four white Servicemen on the Islands of Soreh and Tapai. Referring to the Soreh killing, he said: ‘the Jap made very fine graves for them’. (54) According to a local living at Soreh the Japanese stripped the bodies of the killed Servicemen and left :hem in the spot where they had fallen. Confusion exists as to :he true identity of the skeletons. It is speculated that LCDR vidson is probably buried under the name of LT Ross. Two corpses assumedly those of LCDR Davidson and LTCOL Lyon were recovered in the depression where they had established a defensive position. (Paragraph 27-28) The two skeletons were handed to the Dutch Commandant at Tanyung Pinang and later the ;.;ar. Graves Commission had them taken to Kranji War Memorial where they were buried under the names of Lyon and Ross. (55) At Tapai two bodies were also taken to Kranji. (56) It is probable that the identity of the skeletons will never be totally established given the absence of identity discs at the twine of their discovery. It is believed that they were either .temoved by the Japanese or that the Rimaus carried no identity discs given the nature of their activities.


84. The original documents which might have disclosed the means of identification for the skeletons recovered at Soreh nd Tapai no longer exist. The only evidence is the coding 1:•lalaya 16E-110.E20687′ written on a sheet from the cemetery. (57) LTCOL Lyon was reburied on 18 -ecember, 1946 and LT Ross (alias LCDR Davidson) ten days later at Kranji. They now rest alongside each other at Kranji War Memorial sharing a grave Narked with two headstones.

85. The Office of the Australian War Graves indicated that LT B.P Reymond, A/B F.W. Seaman, A/B F.W. Marsh and A/B A.W. :4.uston (the latter possibly buried on Selajar Island) are commemorated on the Plymouth Naval memorial in England. S/LT J.G.M. Riggs is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial in England. According to their records LCDR D.M.N. Davidson is -commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial in England. The -t?-st of the Rimau crew are commemorated on the ‘Memorial to the :missing’ at Kranji War Cemetery.
82. PAGE 27 PDF

86. A general summary of Operation Rimau has been provided above. In this final section some conclusions will be made from the reconstitution of the events leading to the interception of the ‘Mustaka’, (Paragraphs 11 – 16) followed by a general discussion on the gradual development of the events.

87. To give them credence, some accounts of historical vents may vary from the original. Thus an explanation was given 39 years later by an aged Kasu villager, the last survivor of the police junk, to a SAFC correspondent. He recalled that the patrol seen by the Rimaus were neither Malaysian or Indonesians but unpaid laborers working for the Japanese. They became very excited similar to that of innocent or naive villagers upon sighting Europeans on board the ‘MUSTAKA’. The survivor made a point of stressing: ‘…they were more excited and curious than suspicious’ …) and called out to each other: ‘The white men have come back. The white men have come back’. (59) Because their junk was anchored 50-60 yards from the village chief’s compound and the Police Station, the villagers could distinguish quite clearly some of the Rimaus by their white hair and prominent blue eyes which contrasted more with their sweaty skins smudged with paint.

88. While the above appears true to some extent, an anomaly arises in the villager’s account, in that, he remembered his colleagues calling out welcome greetings in Malay: ‘Hello! Hello!’. (60) In addition, local opinion is positive that one Chinese was among the Hei Ho, and was heard launching a greeting in English. (61) In this hypothetical case, it must be strongly stated that LTCOL Lyon spoke Malay (see Soreh, Paragraph 29) and in view of the simple vernacular involved there is doubt as to the other Rimaus’ misrepresenting greetings for a menace. The SAFC correspondent wrote: ‘The five Malays ran down the jetty …) excited at the hope that the Orang Puteh might be coming back, with the blind faith that simple villagers had in Orang Puteh at that time’. (62) Given the simplicity of the language and shouts of excitement coming from the jetty and from aboard the police launch, if these were greetings given by simple people, these greetings must have been accompanied by broad smiles and adequate gestures of welcome, for example, the waving of arms, a customary behaviour ordinarily done when locals are friendly. Such demeanour could not have possibly escape the Rimaus’ attention at the best of time. The whole incident was nevertheless tragic in every conceptual way.

89. It is worth noting also that the informant could not remember whether a ‘Sun painted flag’ was flying on the ‘Mustaka’ in spite of its close anchorage nor could he recall the flag indicator on the barge. He stressed: ‘ that in the mid stream position where ‘Mustaka’ was anchored, it would always have presented its side, (port or starboard) to viewers on the Kasu shore because of currents’. (63) One could argue that the flag, therefore, would have become apparent in due course if the ‘Mustaka’ indeed had a flag. Also if the ship was at anchor with the sail furled then the ocean tide would dictate the lay of the ship.

90. It should be noted at the outset that Historians and others have underestimated the rational element in the thought of ‘natives’. Investigators drew attention to the fact that the Rimau crew had been ‘betrayed’ all along their attempted journey back home but apart from some exceptions, the local informants were economically poor and technologically unable to dominate Japanese occupation, let alone Japanese brutality, the latter rewarded villagers for any information on the fugitives. Failing to cooperate meant severe beating or death. There is also the human element to consider, in that, the Kasoe accident must have shocked many villagers and the killings of three locals was regarded as cold-blooded murder given that the Hei Ho were reportedly unharmed. It is also orobable that the villagers employed a kind of bush-telegraph system to inform occupants of other islands of the Rimaus’ forthcoming landing, facilitating the task of Japanese patrols who eventually rounded them up one by one or in two’s.

91. During the course of interrogation in 1945 and in the 1980s the general view tended that a Chinese crew murdered three of the Rimaus (Paragraph 43). The extent to which this is true depends largely on interpretation. For instance, when the Chinese crew encountered the three fugitives they must have been concerned for their safety and probably kept them at a distance to deliberate options. One would judge that their principal concern was to remain alive and they probably viewed the Rimaus as dangerous foreigners who would bring problems and death to them. The Chinese crew may have been aware of the capture of the ‘Mustaka’ by Australians and the sudden disappearance of its crew, including the killing of three Hei Ho in Singapore Harbour. They diagnosed trouble and took proper action to solve the problem.

92. The unequivocal evidence from Central Bureau demonstrates Japanese methods of dispatching radio messages. The Japanese divided them into several parts and dispatched each of them separately, for example:
Message dated 21 October, 1944 Part 1 translated 31.3.1945 Part 2 translated 10.4.1945 Part 3 missing Part 4 translated 12.2.1945
In addition, all Japanese messages had to be decoded from Morse code into Cypher then translated from Japanese into the English language, with the result many messages did not always make sense to the recipient.

93. Many signals were passing between 2 Southern Expeditionary Fleet in Surabaja and Tokyo, Singapore, Pontaniak and Benjarmasin from late October 1944 onward. These signals were intercepted by a wireless intercept station and decyphered by ULTRA. On 15 October, No 10 Special Base Naval Unit, Singapore forwarded a message on the Rimaus’ presence. On 21 October, 1944 radio message 799 containing information on the Rimaus was dispatched by 7 Area Army Staff to Southern Expeditionary Force, Headquarters. There are ambiguities in the role and purpose undertaken by ULTRA underlined by the fact that these messages had been intercepted by ULTRA and not given top priority on arrival. Equally disturbing is the thought that the codebreakers working in Brisbane were prevented from ;Dossing on the raw data immediately because they were confronted by a strong security barrier; the essential administrative and security procedures involved in their release would have taken a substantial amount of time from the moment of interception to the time the decrypt was handed to those who had a need to know. The implication of all this is that about 28 October, 1944 the submarine ‘TANTALUS’ was travelling only a few miles from Merapas having left Fremantle on 16 October. The Commander of the submarine was not warned of the danger encountered by the Rimaus. This story has the unpalatable reality that many of the Servicemen might have been saved. MAJ Chapman, the Rimau party escort officer wrote the following observation on the 28 October:
‘Proceeded south east past Mapor, seeing the top of the hill of Merapas on the horizon’.

94. Very few people had a need to know the highly secret aspects of SRD. Intercepted Japanese radio messages were kept in secured areas in Washington and were not released for public access until well after the 1970s. Despite the passage of time these sensitive intelligence methods were afforded protection beyond the 30 year mandatory review period because the techniques employed against the Japanese in World War II were utilised against the Soviets. It was hence impossible to fix a date for automatic declassification. In considering the ULTRA secret, it has been alleged that the Allies were aware that the Japanese were shipping many prisoners of war to Japan, yet despite this knowledge, the allied submarines continued to destroy Japanese merchant vessels resulting in the deaths of thousands of Allied POWs.

95. From the foregoing many vital factors emerge which inhibited the successful implementation of Operation Rimau. There were too many obstacles to be overcome from the beginning, logistically and technologically. Captain Shadwell, RN who represented the Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia (SACSEA) had expressed his doubts:
‘This operation has been a cause of very considerable anxiety to Captain (S) VIII and to the Commanding Officer PORPOISE from various aspects:
(1) The undoubted confusion and lack of coordination of plans and arrangements for the supply of suitable special equipment in the preparations before the submarine arrived.
(2) Grave anxiety concerning the security aspect…the evidence as to the extent of the loss of security that might have taken place was inconclusive, and it was with considerable misgivings that Captain (S) VIII decided that the Operation should proceed as re-planned’.
(in H. Lander, Document ‘A’, 1984:12)

96. It is to be admitted that Operation Rimau was impaired from serious planning deficiencies. A thorough estimate of the situation in Singapore Harbour and neighbouring islands should have been taken into consideration through the acquisition of intelligence information on Japanese strength and disposition of their forces. A telling example of the problem was heavy Japanese maritime involvement along the Phillip Channel between the 9 and 10 October, 1944 (Paragraph 11). Had a strategic intelligence survey been carried out, Operation Rimau might have been delayed or cancelled.

97. Of crucial importance and it seems not detected by SRD planners was the strategic perceptions of the Japanese following the ‘Jaywick’ raid in 1943. As noted (Paragraphs 13 and 14), the Japanese had taken extra measures to safeguard their strongholds employing many of the locals as coastal watchers, the latter joining Japanese forces willingly, for money, or by force. While some of the native inhabitants had displayed hospitality to the ‘Jaywick’ crew, attitudes had drastically changed after the completion of the successful operation.

98. One would also question the decision-makers who had reached the final decision to transport the ‘Sleeping Beauties’ in Singapore Harbour, a move which had necessitated the capture of a junk for their delivery. Technically the junk could not proceed unless the wind and tide was favourable. Similarly, it did not have the advantage of ‘The KRAIT’ (see Note 8). The junk lacked the ability to manoeuvre against currents and tides and lacked the necessary speed to effect an emergency escape. This was in marked contrast to the less cumbersome motorised ‘Country Craft’ (Paragraph 7) which could make an escape inconsnicuously, an important consideration in view of the retreat route, a distance of 70 miles.

99. Many other vital factors come into play which doomed the Operation to failure. SRD agreement to use the SBs for the first time in an environment not originally intended, and similarly on testing the SBs proved to be unreliable and erratic, hence there was no guarantee that they would have been operationally successful

100. SRD had failed to undertake the necessary precautions involving the identification of Japanese flag codes (Paragraph 14). There is no evidence to suggest that the Rimau crew navigated according to Japanese traffic conventions. (Annex E)
101. In many ways World War II British and Australians lacked the kind of sympathetic understanding of ‘natives’ traditional culture. to expect the locals to believe that the p,mau Servicemen would look like ‘natives’ because they were wearing sarongs and body make-up reflects an over-confidence and a profound misunderstanding of other cultures. As noted, some of the Rimau men were bared to the chest, a behaviour :clays regard as improper and not done in front of women. (=aragraph 15) It is tempting to suggest that had the Rimaus received adequate briefing on this aspect they may not have been spotted as readily. Another suggestion which comes to mind is the Rimaus lack of flexibility when seeing the barge approaching. Assuming that there was another linguist on board, it might have been easy to negotiate with the Malay crew. it needs to be noted that the Rimaus’ reaction was puzzling, in that their training for the Operation should have catered for such an unexpected emergency.

102. In addition, Merapas Island believed to be unoccupied by SRD planners was in fact used by a few fishermen. Upon this realisation, and with the beginning of Monsoon influencing, it was too late to carry out a search for another base. This problem was identified by LCDR Davidson who wrote the following in the submarine’s official log:
‘As ideal a place as can be expected. Very few islands are entirely uninhabited, and of those that are inhabited Merapas is as good a hideout as could be hoped for.’
(in H. Lander’s Document ‘A’, 1984:12)

103. A Committee of enquiry was conducted in 1946 comprising of General Blarney, General Northcote, Brigadier Lloyd and Colonel Chapman-Walker. For reasons best known to the Committee of investigation, it was determined by them not to recommend any posthumous honours or awards to any of the members of the ill-fated Operation Rimau.

104. In the final analysis it seems appropriate to mention that 1943 to 1945 was a period when Allied Forces had drawn up new offensives against Japanese on many fronts in Southeast Asia and Micronesia. It was a time where US troops were making great progress toward bombing Japan out of the war. The US Forces achieved this through a series of low level strikes at night, using napalm fire bombs on Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Yokohama, Okinawa and Toyama from October 1944 culminating in March 1945. By May 1945 the Japanese knew they were beaten, they desired peace but at the same time did not want to yield to the Allies’ justice and mercy’ – the Unconditional Surrender dictated by the Allies. (65)

105. Certainly the Japanese seem to have conducted a murderous purge of prisoners perhaps in an effort to diffuse their growing tension given the increased Allied encirclement of their strongholds. However, Western understanding of Bushido’s ideological perspective becomes increasingly significant when, in order to conceal violence Japanese officers sought the advice of their superiors. The advice came from an intercepted radio message revealing to both the Allies and the Knights of Bushido: ‘….the known orders from the Japanese Government at the time of the surrender that all documents referring to acts of violence were to be destroyed and anyone connected with such acts was to lie low or make himself scarce.’ (66)

106. Japanese reaction to Operation Rimau must hav been dramatic in the sense that it was the second time that the enemy had penetrated their shipping and Defence establishments. Moreover, the operation would have caused the Japanese High Command grave concern at a crucial time, and clearly had an impact on the way they deployed precious resources. Added to their existing problems at home and overseas, the thought of this new intrusion may have brought on boundless feelings of humiliation, a loss of face as it were, as it demonstrated to them and the Allies alike that there was a weakness in their administrative and security system. As noted, some of the Rimaus fought to the death or committed suicide rather than surrender, such bravery resulted in the widespread belief among the Japanese that the men were no ordinary soldiers. It became a matter of emergency to capture the rest of the Rimau crew in a bid to discover the secret of Operation Rimau.

107. In the final theme of this paper the fact that the men of Operation Rimau managed to manoeuvre through tides and currents in Japanese-occupied territory commanded super navigational skills, abilities and great courage. Irrespective of the outcome of the mission, it is to be recognised that these men were not only well-trained but strongly motivated heroes. It is probable that there will never be a full explanation, but it is hoped that this paper will provide the primary basis upon which students of History will generate further questions.

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