Operation OBOE remembered 75 years on

Nicola Rosenblum, Australian High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam

Seventy-five years ago today, the area around Muara Beach shook under a massive naval and aerial bombardment. As bombers buzzed overhead and the ground shook, Australian Forces were landing on Muara Beach.

It was June 1945, the closing months of the World War II, and Australian Forces had launched a series of assaults on Japanese occupied Borneo. Codenamed OBOE, the operations began at Tarakan in early May 1945, followed in June by landings around Brunei Bay, and finally in July with an assault at Balikpapan.

In the months before, the Australian Services Reconnaissance Department had launched Operation Semut to gather intelligence and train the local population in guerrilla warfare. Operating behind enemy lines, deep in the jungles of Borneo, Australian soldiers worked with local forces to prepare for the landings at Brunei Bay.

From Muara, they began a three-day advance to Brunei town and continuing southwards under the smoke of burning oil wells at Seria.

When the fighting was over, the Australians turned their thoughts and their hands to rebuilding and providing for the civilians displaced by the fighting. Australia’s 9th Division worked to establish hospitals and schools. Houses destroyed in the bombardment and fighting were rebuilt.

His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah ibni His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, aboard Australia’s HMAS Dechaineux. PHOTOS: INFOFOTO & AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL
Troops from Australia’s 2/17 Infantry Battalion approach Muara Beach on June 10, 1945

The OBOE operations were the last Australian campaigns of World War II. Some 75,000 Australians participated in the campaign and in each locale they prevailed, but the Borneo campaigns cost the lives of many Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen, including 110 here in Brunei.

On the anniversary of Operation OBOE VI, I look forward to visiting the Brunei-Australia Memorial at Muara Beach to remember and commemorate the sacrifice of all those who lost their lives in Brunei, including many civilians.

It is also a chance for us to celebrate the close defence ties between Australia and Brunei which have evolved since those landings on Muara Beach 75 years ago. Together we have built an effective security partnership focussed on improving security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australian and Bruneian Special Forces have been sharing knowledge and expertise, particularly in jungle warfare, for 25 years through Exercise Night Leopard.

Australia welcomed 55 soldiers from the Royal Brunei Land Force to Queensland Last year for a two-week exercise focussed on training in urban environments with mechanised vehicles and reconnaissance for Operation Mallee Bull.

Since 1986, the Royal Brunei Navy and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) have shared experiences through Exercise Penguin, and the RAN continues to welcome opportunities to visit Brunei.

I was honoured to welcome His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah ibni His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office aboard HMAS Dechaineux earlier this year. Australia’s HMAS Dechaineux was the first submarine to conduct an official port visit to Brunei and demonstrated our shared understanding of the importance of protecting maritime security in the region.

Our bilateral cooperation is complemented by the work we are doing with Brunei in the region. Australia and Brunei are working together to strengthen security and defence cooperation among regional countries in the field of military medicine.

In 2005, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam visited Australia. At Parliament House in Canberra, His Majesty said, “Our people… regard Australia as one of our closest friends and partners in the Asia Pacific region. There are strong emotional reasons for this, of course. It was the arrival of Australian forces that signalled the end of World War II for us. This has inevitably created a very special bond of affection and respect between us.”

Seventy-five years on from Australian Forces landing on Muara Beach and His Majesty’s words still resonate. Brunei is a friend of Australia, and we look forward to many more years and friendship and cooperation.