Z Special Unit, Gavin Mortimer

Z Special Unit, Gavin Mortimer

This book looks at three of the operations carried out from Australia by SOE and later by its offshoot Special Operations Australia (SOA). We start with Operation Jaywick, a successful long range raid on Japanese shipping in Singapore, then look at its successor, the tragic Operation Rimau, before moving on to SOA’s operations on Borneo. Z Special Unit is the name that was generally adopted post-war by veterans of Special Operations Australia, and that name has been adopted here for all of these units.

After a brief introduction we move onto Operation Jaywick, one of the wars most impressive special operations missions. The team sailed from western Australia to Singapore, most of the way through Japanese occupied waters, then used canoes to carry limpet mines into Singapore Harbour where they sank several ships, before safely returning to Australia without being detected.

This is inevitably a rather downbeat book. Although we start with the triumph of Operation Jaywick, when most of the same team tried to repeat the attack a year later in Operation Rimau it ended in disaster with the loss of the entire team. This second mission gets at least as much space as the first one, including two very valuable chapters that trace the fate of the Rimau team. Tragically most of the team was actually captured and survived into 1945 before being murdered by the Japanese after a rigged show trial.

The chapters on Rimau and its aftermath are split by four chapters looking at the unit’s involvement on Borneo, which began with small teams inserted into the island to gather intelligence and ended with open warfare between local guerrilla armies raised by Z Special Unit and the Japanese garrison. This was a very different type of mission to the daring raids covered earlier, requiring the teams to integrate themselves into local life, win the trust of a series of different tribes and then spent months on the island intelligence gathering, organising resistance and preparing for the upcoming Allied invasion.

Despite the downbeat mood of parts of the book this is still a compelling read, telling the story of some remarkable men and their remarkable activities.

1 – Lyon Hearted
2 – Operation Jaywick
3 – An Old Krait
4 – ‘Good Luck and God’s Speed’
5 – Singapore Struck
6 – The Wizards of Oz
7 – Another Crack
8 – Sleeping Beauties
9 – Pirates and Porpoise
10 – Tiger Hunting
11 – ‘A Blow to us All’
12 – Jungle Challenge
13 – Allies and Headhunters
14 – Guerrilla Army
15 – Victory in Borneo
16 – Savage Revenge
17 – The Elusive Truth
Epilogue – War’s Pretty Grim

Author: Gavin Mortimer
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2022

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