Chapter 34.


On this operation we had walked without a rest, for a total of sixty-two days and though the distance, as the crow flies, was only about seventy miles from swamp to Hollandia, we had travelled almost twice that far.  This too may sound unimpressive but, when one considers the type of country it was; almost completely unexplored with most of the natives in a primitive state of civilisation, with countless swamps lousy with mosquitoes and leeches and the most rugged mountainous country imaginable, it was a great achievement even without the added risk of contacting the Japanese.

We were informed that our operation had been the only one that had been successful in the area.  Hollandia had long had the name for being a dangerous area for operations and at least two other parties, starting from different locations at the same time as ours, had come to grief.

The main one, an AIB operation, led by Capt. Blue Harris, an original coast watcher, had surfaced in the U.S. submarine 'Dace' at Tanamerah Bay, ten miles to the west of Hollandia.

They had started for the shore in a rubber dinghy but it had overturned in the surf causing them to lose most of their possessions, including both radios.  The loss of the radios was enough to make the operation an immediate and complete failure and they had no option but to return to the submarine.  Unfortunately, a breakdown in torch signals caused the sub to submerge and leave.  They were now on their own with very little gear and only a few weapons.  The Dace was due to return in fourteen days and their chances of staying in the vicinity for that length of time was extremely slight, so Harris decided to move inland as they were almost certain to be discovered and either captured or killed if they did not.

Local natives, living in a nearby hut, were warily approached and asked to supply a guide to get them to a safe camp for the night.  Harris had previously decided that they should make their way south to the Idenberg River where Capt. Miller had his camp.  This was the same Miller who ran our base station at the Idenberg River and Harris' party had intended to use him also as their HQ and base station, and maintain radio contact throughout their operation.

Their lack of communications with base would create a few problems for AIB, who would assume the worst, but there was nothing Harris could do but try for Miller's camp about 70 or 80 miles south.  He knew it was a dangerous and desperate decision but with the enemy strongly entrenched in every other direction they had no option but to head south.  So despondently they gathered what was left of their gear and set off on the long journey knowing the chance of finding Miller was an almost impossible task.

All that day, led by the native, they travelled in rugged hilly country and at nightfall made camp in a dry creek bed.  The guide left them, saying he would look for a better camp, but did not return.

It was an ominous development and they were now sure they had been betrayed.  Later on it was revealed that their presence had been made known to the Japanese as soon as they first approached the natives on the beach!

To cut a long story short, they were attacked by the Japanese and Harris and four others were killed.  Three of them escaped and went into hiding until the Japs left the vicinity and then set off in the direction, they calculated, would bring them to the Idenberg and Capt. Miller.

After five days of travelling they realised the chances of getting to Miller were negligible, as they had become very tired and hungry and unable to continue for much longer.  By good fortune they found some caves in a hillside and went into hiding for the next fourteen days; their only food being palm tops.  On this diet they became very weak and were greatly relieved, in a few more days, to hear the sounds of the U.S. task force landing.  With great difficulty they managed to make their way back and contacted the Americans.

Around about the same time, a Dutch/AIB party, walking in from Vanimo in Australian New Guinea, had all been killed the first day out.  The two Dutch parties that started with us had also failed to get through.

So much had depended on the F.E.L.O. operation and it had come up trumps!


For his part, as leader of the patrol, Bob, was awarded the M.C. and promoted to Captain, and I was awarded the M.M. and promoted to S/Sgt.  That Neville and Sam didn't get the M.M. as well, instead of just being mentioned in despatches, was a great shame. Neville was promoted to lieutenant and Sam to Sergeant.


The following is Bob Cole's summing up of the whole operation and it's effectiveness:-


Concerning the enemy:  From time to time intelligence was obtained by interrogation of natives and this was passed on immediately by signal link to ALAMO FORCE and, after the invasion, also to Task Force.  The greater part of this information subsequently proved to be correct but, as the enemy prohibited any native traffic past GENJEM — either way — it was impossible to obtain information of activities on the coast.

The enemy was found to be using the government road from LAKE SENTANI — GENJEM — BROA CREEK to OENEROM and presumably endeavouring to strike the TOARIM RIVER or SARMI.  It is estimated that at least 1,000 of the enemy passed over this road immediately after the invasion.  They were organised bands up to a few hundred and were armed with mortars and L.M. Guns.  However, those passing later were scattered, disorganised, demoralised and in poor health.  These scattered small bands had apparently travelled long distances for clothing, footwear and equipment was in a poor state and very few carried rifles — although practically everyone carried grenades in their packs and a number carried revolvers.

Concerning the natives:  Comparing the natives met in this area with those previously met to the south-west of AITAPE, very little difference could be detected, physique, dress, bodily decorations, houses, cooking methods, foods and gardening methods were all similar.

All natives carried the bow and arrow and the usual variety of hunting and fighting arrows but no spears were seen.

Areas or villages made up of scattered houses had their own language, which varied as the patrol moved, but interpreters were common for these "talks".  Malay was spoken by isolated natives only until the KARTEBI village was reached, and here probably twelve of the inhabitants could converse in that language.  KARTEBI village was the nearest to the enemy in which bush natives were found and even these, like all others contacted, were shy and needed much persuasion to walk freely into our camp.

Contacting and establishing goodwill and confidence with the local bush natives was more difficult than previously experienced.  Undoubtedly their natural shyness was furthered with contact with the enemy and their use of forced native labour.

The whole area was trade hungry and showed eagerness in acquiring such articles as knives, tomahawks, beads, cloth, salt and tobacco.  They had only limited supplies of native food to offer in exchange but, on several occasions, they were persuaded to act as carriers.  Twice, however, for unknown reasons such carriers fled without being paid.  Apparently their shyness needs very little encouragement to outweigh their desire for trade articles.

Another method of establishing goodwill was found in treating the natives' sores.  The whole area is pitifully in need of medical patrols and there was plenty of scope for using bandages and adhesive plaster carried for the purpose.


The whole area covered was of a most uninviting nature, generally swampy or mountainous with no happy medium.

REES LAKE (the swamp) was a most depressing feature for it is bounded by long grass flats with no firm foundation. Islands float on the water at the will of the wind, making navigation a danger.  Merging into a vast sago swamp it extends to the foothills of the mountains, which bound it on three sides.

Native tracks undoubtedly follow the easiest terrain but these lead over strenuously steep mountain ridges, from one to four thousand feet — the valleys being swamps or, at least mud flats.

Undoubtedly the uninviting type of country is the reason for the dearth of native population.

Trouble was not experienced in finding suitable running streams for campsites, but animal and bird life is almost non-existent, as was experienced south-west of AITAPE.

Because of the scarcity of natives gardens were few and native foods rare.  Sago grows abundantly in the swamp areas and the usual Limbongs (pith of tree) and native Kabiaks (nuts) are to be found.


Throughout the patrol each member carried his own pack, with the FELO natives in addition carrying radio, medical and surplus rations.  This, and because of the difficult nature of the country through which the patrol was travelling, was very fatiguing.  It caused some concern at the end of the patrol when contact was made with the enemy as alertness was undoubtedly affected.  On three occasions local natives were used to carry from one base to another but twice these carriers fled into the bush without payment.  No satisfactory explanation can be given for this behaviour.


Some difficulty was experienced in getting goods at the times required and at the sites most convenient.  Possible reasons for this will be found in the delay in signals but, with the scarcity of native carriers, it seriously affected movement of the patrol and made planning almost impossible.

In all nine drops were received and generally cargo arrive in good condition — the most serious damage being to rescue kits.


Very few natives were contacted during the patrol and none within six days walk of GENJEM, which was the nearest outpost to where our patrol was operating.  Explanation of this is that natives had been forced to work for the Japs so they adopted themselves the action, which we had hoped to achieve, if they were found to be co-operating with the enemy.  Undoubtedly this position inconvenienced the enemy — at least during their escape.  It is known that, on one occasion, a party of Japanese required a guide from OENEROEM village but found it deserted and could not induce any natives to assist them.


All members co-operated splendidly and it is certain that the patrol would have experienced greater difficulties if it had to work with a lesser number.

KAKI and ARAM, left with the Dutch party because of sickness, eventually reported at FINSCHAFEN on the 28th May. Lt. de Bruine, O.C. Dutch party, spoke glowingly of their assistance to his party.


Generally, little trouble was experienced except for a period of one week when one of the N.C.O.s experienced severe headaches accompanied by fits of vomiting.  Treatment was given for malaria and chill.

All members were required to give continuous attention to their feet as boots were never dry.  This problem caused the Dutch party considerable trouble.


The area allotted for the operation of this mission did not allow very much scope for FELO activities.

The native population was very scattered and did not live in villages.  Making contact was very difficult and natives who did approach the patrol were very reluctant to accompany it in any direction towards the enemy.

Communications with natives was quite satisfactory as usually a Malay speaking native could be found and the FELO's interpreter's experience was invaluable on these occasions.

Stress is made on the importance of adherence to all supply requirements.  In country unknown to the patrol requirements cannot be forecast accurately.  Therefore, it is necessary to have a full range of supplies available at Base before the patrol commences.  Further strict adherence to the requests of the O.C. party must be kept to permit planning and mobility, for there are innumerable difficulties known to the party which cannot be fully made known to Base.  Also, full co-operation by Air Force is required to ensure drops being made at the requested sites at the required time.  Otherwise, as was experienced by the O.C. of this party on his last two missions, supplies dropped at the wrong site not only delayed the patrol but also exhausted the supplies dropped in an endeavour to bring them forward to the required positions.  Further, contact may be lost without any intelligence or propaganda work being undertaken at the same time.