Australian Z Special MIAs fate determined after 68 years
The Search for the Missing Z Special Operatives from OPERATION COPPER, April 1945
"It is our duty to all who've served and to all who serve in the future, to recover those who have fallen on foreign soil and bring them home."
Lest We Forget
14 December 2013
All four commandos who went missing on the Muschu Raid have now been found. The final two, Lance Corporal Walklate and Sapper Eagleton have been identified after extensive DNA testing of remains found near the Japanese HQ location on Kairaru Island.
The soldiers' bodies had been dismembered and their remains burned then buried in an effort by the Japanese to cover the unwarranted torture and mutilation of these men. Accordingly DNA reclamation and testing after such a long period has been a difficult process.
The full story will be forthcoming soon.
Australian MIA Group conducts privately funded investigation and search on Kairiru Island. As a result of this search the fate of the missing four commandos from Operation Copper has now been determined.
A detailed report from the investigation and expedition has been passed on to the Australian Government who will conduct further investigations into the feasibility of recovering the remains of these men.
View the sequence of events below.
Background to the Search
During the mission, on the night of the 13 April 1945, four members of the patrol escaped Muschu Island using palm logs for flotation. Their intention was to drift out to sea and use signal mirrors to attract the attention of Australian aircraft scheduled to search the area in the event of the patrol failing to rendezvous with HDML 1321 for extraction.
These men were:
The four men were never seen again.
Until recently there have been no clues as to their fate.
In November 2008, a contact from the USA, looking for a relative shot down while flying in an American light bomber near Muschu in February - March of 1945, contacted the author to advise that Japanese records held by the US Navy describe how two Australian soldiers came ashore on Kairiru Island to the north of Muschu in mid April 1945.
Oddly one man was reported to be naked, while the other was reported to be wearing only his trousers. Checks of Australian records reveal that no military personnel (Army, Navy or Air Force) were missing in the area during that period other than the four men from Operation Copper
One of the men who came ashore on Kairiru was described as being in good condition, the other's as "poor". Both men were reported to have "sickened and died" soon after they landed.
There is no record of their identities other than being listed as "Australian soldiers". Several Japanese soldiers interviewed in 1947 by the Australian Army investigation team, stated that one of the men claimed to be from an RAAF transport aircraft that crashed near Kairiru due to "mechanical problems". Examination of the 6 Division HQ War Diaries from the AWM, and an interview with a Beaufort pilot stationed at Aitape at the time, indicate that no Australian aircraft were lost in this area during the period in question.
It is clear from discrepancies in the Japanese stories that the Australians were using this explanation as a cover to help conceal their true identities as Z Special Operatives. Subsequently the Japanese conspired to create their own cover story to conceal the truth about these executions - they had almost two years while remaining interred on Muschu and Kairiru to do this. ( See PDF file describing one execution )
Execution was the mandatory sentence laid down by the Japanese High Command for all captured Z Special Commandos. This may account for the lack of uniform worn by both men, although for the mission they would not have worn any insignia or carried any documents (or they would have ditched any essential documents such as code books, maps etc) that could have identified them as belonging to Z Special.
Could these men have been from the ill fated Z Special patrol?
Preliminary inquiries with islanders in the area confirm that stories are told by elders about two Australians coming ashore and being taken prisoner during April 1945. Inquiries are now also underway with the US Pacific Command to verify whether these Japanese records do exist and to determine if any other evidence is available that may help us establish the identity of the men concerned. Ideally if we find that these reports are true, their resting place can be found and their identities determined using DNA samples.
Relatives of these men have been waiting for many years for closure on the fate of their loved ones. Several have made contact with us and are now assisting in the search.
On the night of 13th April 1945, four men of the Z Special "Operation Copper" set out on logs from the eastern tip of Muschu Island in an attempt to signal patrolling aircraft at daybreak. They were never heard of again - until our investigating team uncovered records dating back to 1947 reporting three of the men coming ashore on Kairiru Island two days later.
A check of currents and tides in the area indicates that was possible for the men to have covered the distance shown in the above animation during the time involved. Tides and currents in the area are extremely swift and the distance traveled would probably have been considerably more.
According to official records the men were executed by the Japanese and buried on the island. Their bodies were never recovered nor were relatives informed of their fate.
1 September 2010
Australian Government to Investigate
The Australian Defence Forces, Unrecovered War Casualties-Army, led by Major Jack Thurgar has now taken over the responsibility for further investigation into the location and the feasibility of recovering the remains of the two Z Special Forces men who are now know to have landed on Kairuru Island.
All information from MIA Australia's expedition has been transferred to the department, and MIA members are assisting with the investigation.
Updates will be posted when we are advised.
12 AUGUST 2010
The July MIA expedition has confirmed that at least two of the missing four men, did land on Kairiru Island and were executed by the Japanese. Another man mentioned in reports has been identified as being a US pilot shot down over the island in 1944. The fate of a third Australian who may also have landed on the island is still under investigation.
There is also evidence that indicates that the fourth man may also have landed on Kairiru to suffer the same fate.
Information from the expedition is currently being collated and will be published when next of kin notifications have been finalised and a full analysis of the data is made.
The difficulties in locating the burial places of these men should not be underestimated. Although we have descriptions of the execution and the burial sites, much changes in 65 years. The locations are in thickly overgrown country that is very difficult to reach - anyone who has had experience operating in jungle terrain will appreciate the problems with moving through such tropical areas, let alone conducting a detailed search of the ground.
Even with modern navigation equipment and ground penetrating radar, it will be a difficult task - ironically the most effective aid in these circumstances will probably be the trusty MK I Eyeball.
Due to the efforts of Jim Bourke and Peter Aylett of MIA Australia, progress has been made in compiling and updating maps of the island. This is expected to minimise the search areas and be of invaluable assistance to Major Thurgar and his team.
It is hoped a further expedition will be organised by Unrecovered War Casualties-Army to locate the remains of these two men, but this will be dependent on the availability of funding and an assessment of whether such a search is practical - or even possible.
I will update this website as events progress.
June 18th, 2010
MIA expedition begins 1 July 2010.
After more than four months of meticulous planning, the MIA expedition led by Jim Bourke will depart for Kairiru Island on July 1, 2010. It is anticipated that this initial investigation phase will take approximately 5 days. We will be providing updates as they become available.
Follow the development of this expedition via the updates below (In chronological order starting January 2010)
12 January, 2010
Investigation Team Formed
An investigation group has been formed and searches of records previously unavailable are providing additional information. One source describes the Yokohama War crimes Trials, and copies of these files are being obtained.
14th January, 2010
Vital Evidence Located
Copies of evidence collected between September 1945 and January 1949 compiled for the Yokohama War Crimes Trials is now being examined. These files include statements from Japanese and natives on Kairiru island, indicating that two Australians did come ashore on Kairiru mid April 1945. Whether they were from the Z Special mission is yet to be determined as the documentation does not identify any of the personnel - in fact the Japanese when interrogated, appear to be making a concerted effort to avoid revealing the identities of the captured men, other than to confirm that they were Australian soldiers.
Much of this evidence post dates Major Cardew's investigation into the loss of the four patrol members, and from what we have examined to date, indications are that there is a high probability that the two men were from Operation Copper. Some of the documentation is headed as an investigation into the fate of the missing four men, and the line of interrogation is of a tone that indicates that the investigators believe that the Japanese executed both men who came ashore.
Statements from Japanese officers and NCOs and other witness also support our earlier assumption that both men were executed by the Japanese, their bodies buried on Kairiru Island and subsequently not recovered. One dossier indicates that an attempt was made to pass-off the cremated remains of a Japanese soldier as that of one of the Australians - whom they claimed "sickened and died" several days after swimming ashore.
Other evidence in these records describe the execution of three Australian soldiers on Muschu Island and supports Mick Dennis' assertions that Major Cardews's investigation was flawed and that the Japanese commanders were indeed lying about the fate of the three Australians on Muschu.
March 4, 2010
Two men possibly identified as Z Special
A third is still being investigated
More evidence has been found by Jim Bourke of the Australian MIA organisation. It is believed from this that we have two, possibly three Australian Z Special Commandos buried on Kairiru island. The identities of two of these men has been tentatively established from documentation dating back to 1947, with a possibility of the third being known.
His research has revealed that the Japanese went to great lengths between the dates of the executions (April 1945) and the subsequent interviews in 1947 by Australian War Crimes investigators, to conceal the truth about the executions.
While there is still a great deal of work to be done to define probable burial locations, planning is in hand for a preliminary (non-dig) expedition to Kairiru later this year. The team is under no misconceptions about the difficulties in locating the remains of these men.
March 24, 2010
Preliminary expedition planned for June/July
An expedition to Kairiru Island is now in the advanced planning stage. This will have the aim of narrowing down the search areas by matching descriptions of the location of the executions recorded by the 1947 war crime investigation team, with the recorded locations of Japanese installations and headquarters on the island.
The assistance of the Kairiru Mission Station has been obtained and local residents will also be interviewed to determine what "memory" of the Japanese occupation remains and whether this will contribute to our knowledge base.
An expedition such as this must be carried out with due respect to local customs and sensitivities, and the team is well aware of these factors.
We stress that this will be a non-dig reconnaissance and information collecting operation using personnel experienced in MIA recovery. The team will be under the guidance of Jim Bourke from MIA Australia, an organisation that has had considerable success in recovering Australian servicemen - recent examples in 2009 being locating and returning the remains of Australian soldiers and airmen lost in Vietnam during the 1960s and early 70's.
As no Government funding is available for this preliminary investigation - which is vital to obtain the detailed evidence required by Australian authorities before they will consider recovery action - private funding will be provided by the Australian MIA organisation.
However if any organisation is willing to assist or sponsor this operation, their help will be most welcome.
April 12, 2010
MISSION's 65th ANNIVERSARY
Sixty Five years ago to the day, the eight Z Special commandos of Operation Copper landed on Muschu Island. Within a week, only one of these men remained alive on Muschu. He was to fight his way off the Island then swim to the mainland, where he fought his way through enemy territory until he met up with an Australian patrol on the 20th of April.
It seems fitting that during the month of April 2010, planning for the recovery of two, possibly three of the men who went missing during that operation, is nearing its final stages. This will be a non-dig reconnaissance and information collecting operation using personnel experienced in MIA recovery.
The team will be under the guidance of Jim Bourke from MIA Australia, an organisation that has had considerable success in recovering Australian servicemen - recent examples in 2009 being locating and returning the remains of Australian soldiers and airmen lost in Vietnam during the 1960s and early 70's.
Maps have been drawn up of both Muschu and Kairiru islands by MIA Australia marking Japanese occupational areas and possible sites of interest. This has been a detailed and lengthy process, requiring sifting through files obtained from the National Archives and other sources .Typical of the problems encountered have been inaccuracies in reporting by witnesses, including obvious collusion between Japanese senior officers in an attempt to mislead the 1947 War crimes investigation team.
Place names of the period are also difficult to determine as often the same location goes under two or more different names, however the team now has accurate baseline data that will enable them to further refine the areas of interest into manageable sectors once they arrive on the island. This technique has been used succesfully in previous recovery expeditions by MIA Australia.
We have received many letters of encouragement along with some very helpful suggestions. Our team is grateful for all those assisting in this cause and more reports will be forthcoming as the time for departure nears.
The expedition is planned for late June - early July,2010.
Maps by Peter Aylett, MIA Australia
18 June, 2010.
DATE NOW CONFIRMED
Expedition one departs Sydney 1 July 2010.
To understand the politics and the circumstances associated with the conduct of war crimes trials in the Pacific post war era, we recommend viewing "BLOOD OATH " starring Bryan Brown and Russell Crowe. This portrays the war crimes trials conducted on Ambon Island where more than 300 Australian soldiers were captured and executed by the Japanese.
The subsequent politics at war's end undoubtedly also influenced the war crimes investigators on Muschu and Kairiru Island and we believe contributed to the concealment of the truth surrounding the disappearance and subsequent execution by the Japanese of the missing men from Operation Copper.