Operation Battle of Labuan Island

The 'Battle of Labuan Island' was an engagement fought between Allied (largely Australian) and Japanese forces on the island of Labuan off the north-western coast Borneo within the context of the 'Battle of North Borneo' (10/21 June 1945).

The engagement was part of the Australian 'Oboe VI' invasion of North Borneo, and was initiated by the Allied forces as part of a plan to capture the Brunei Bay area and develop it into a base to support future offensives.

Following several weeks of air attacks and a short naval bombardment, men of Brigadier S. H. W. C. Porter’s Australian 24th Brigade Group were landed on Labuan from US and Australian ships on 10 June. The Australians quickly captured the island’s harbour and main airfield. The greatly outnumbered Japanese garrison was mainly concentrated in a fortified position in the interior of Labuan, and offered little resistance to the landing. The initial Australian attempts to penetrate the Japanese position in the days after the invasion were not successful, however, and the area was subjected to a heavy bombardment. A Japanese raiding force also attempted to attack Allied positions on 21 June, but was defeated. Later that day, Australian forces assaulted the Japanese position, and during the following days Australian patrols killed or captured the remaining Japanese troops on the island. A total of 389 Japanese personnel were killed on Labuan and 11 were captured. Australian casualties included 34 killed.

After securing the island, the Allied forces developed Labuan into a significant base. The 24th Brigade Group left from the island to capture the eastern shore of Brunei Bay late in June, and the island’s airfield was repaired and expanded to host Royal Australian Air Force units. While occupying Labuan, the Allies had to reconstruct the island’s infrastructure and provide assistance to thousands of civilians who had been rendered homeless by the pre-invasion bombardment.

Labuan is a small island in the mouth of Brunei Bay with an area of 35 sq miles (91 km). Before the Pacific War, the island was part of the British-administered Straits Settlements and had a population of 8,960 persons. On its southern coast, ihe island had a town, Victoria, which fronted onto Victoria Harbour, with a population of 8,500 and limited port facilities. Aside from a 1,500-yard (1370-m) beach, just to the east of Victoria, the coast was ringed by coral.

On 3 January 1942, Japanese forces took Labuan without encountering any opposition as part of the seizure of Borneo. The Japanese developed Labuan and Timbalai airfields on the island: these were built by labourers who had been conscripted from the Lawas and Terusan regions of mainland Borneo. The island population was also subjected to harsh occupation policies. After Japanese forces had suppressed a revolt, led by ethnic Chinese civilians, in the mainland town of Jesselton late in 1943, 131 of the rebels were held on Labuan: only nine of them survived to be liberated by Australian forces in 1944. Until the middle of 1944, few Japanese combat units were stationed on Borneo.

In March 1945 the Australian I Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Leslie Morshead and whose main combat elements were the veteran 7th Division and 9th Division commanded by Major General E. J. Milford and Major General G. F. Wootten respectively, was assigned responsibility for the recapture of Borneo. Planning for the offensive was undertaken over the following weeks. While invading the Brunei Bay area did not form part of the initial iteration of the plans, it was added in early April after the proposed 'Oboe IV' landing on Java had been cancelled.The main purpose of attacking Brunei Bay was to secure it as a base for Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser’s British Pacific Fleet, and at the same time to gain control of the area’s oilfields and rubber plantations. Labuan was to be developed as an air base and form part of a string of strategic positions which would allow the Allies to control the seas off the Japanese-occupied coast between Singapore and Shanghai.

While the liberation of the Brunei area had been authorised by the US Joint Chiefs-of-Staff, it was not supported by the British Chiefs-of-Staff Committee. The British leadership did not want the British Pacific Fleet to be diverted from the main theatre of operations off Japan and preferred to establish a fleet base in the Philippine islands group. In response to a suggestion from the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff that Brunei Bay could support future operations in South-East Asia, the Chiefs-of-Staff Committee judged that it would take too long to establish facilities there, especially as Singapore might have been recaptured by the time they were complete.

The various plans for the invasion and recapture of Borneo evolved considerably during April. Initially, the offensive was to begin on 23 April with a landing of a brigade of Major General J. E. S. Stevens’s Australian 6th Division on the island of Tarakan, off the eastern coast of Borneo. Wootten’s Australian 9th Division would then assault Balikpapan followed by Banjarmasin in south-eastern Borneo. These positions would be used to support the invasion of Java by the rest of the Australian I Corps. After was cancelled, it was decided to employ two brigades of Major General A. S. Allen’s Australian 7th Division at Brunei Bay, and the Australian I Corps conducted further preparations on this basis. However, on 17 April General Douglas MacArthur’s General Headquarters, to which the Australian I Corps reported, exchanged the roles of the Australian 7th Division and Australian 9th Division. Accordingly, the final plan for the attack against Borneo specified that one of the Australian 9th Division’s brigades would land on Tarakan island on 29 April (later postponed to 1 May), with the remainder of the division to invade the Brunei Bay area on 23 May. The Australian 7th Division was scheduled to assault Balikpapan on 1 July. At tis time the Borneo campaign was redesignated as the 'Oboe' phase of the Allied 'Montclair' offensive through the southern Philippine islands group toward the Netherlands East Indies, and the landings at Tarakan, Balikpapan and Brunei Ba were designated as 'Oboe I', 'Oboe II' and 'Oboe VI' respectively.

The Australian 9th Division began to move from Australia to Morotai island in the Netherlands East Indies, from which the Borneo campaign was to be staged, in March. The division had seen extensive combat in North Africa and New Guinea, and its officers and men were well trained for amphibious operations and jungle warfare. However, the division had seen no action since a time early in 1944, resulting in poor morale among its combat units. Many support, logistics and Royal Australian Air Force units were assigned to the division for the operations at Brunei Bay, taking the formation’s strength to more than 29,000 men, which included 1,097 in US and British units.

Final preparations for the landings in the Brunei Bay area took place in May 1945. After shortages of shipping delayed the Australian I Corps' movement from Australia to Morotai island, General Headquarters agreed on 8 May to reschedule the operation from 23 May to 10 June, and the Australian 9th Division’s staff completed its plans for operations in the Brunei Bay area on 16 May. Porter’s 24th Brigade Group was assigned responsibility for the capture of Labuan island, and Brigadier W. J. V. Windeyer’s 20th Brigade Group was tasked with securing Brunei and Muara island. The brigades were to land simultaneously on the morning of 10 June. The landing in the Brunei Bay region was to be preceded by attacks on Japanese bases and transport infrastructure across western and northern Borneo by US and Australian air units, and also by three days of minesweeping operations in the bay itself.

The main coimbat units of Porter’s 24th Brigade Group for operations on Labuan were the 2/28th Battalion, the 2/43rd Battalions, the 2/11th Commando Squadron and the 2/12th Field Regiment. In addition, a squadron from the 2/9th Armoured Regiment, equipped with Matilda II infantry tanks, one company of the 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion and a range of engineer, signals and logistics units formed part of the brigade group. A party of 13 officers from the British Borneo Civil Affairs Unit was also attached to the 24th Brigade Group and tasked with restoring the colonial government on the island and distributing supplies to its civilian population. The 24th Brigade Group’s third infantry battalion, the 2/32nd Battalion, was assigned to the 9th Division’s reserve force. Porter and the 2/28th Battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Norman, had a difficult relationship which generated ill-feeling between the two men and their respective headquarters. Porter considered relieving Norman of command before the landing on Labuan in the belief that he was exhausted and not capable of effective leadership of his battalion, but decided against this after Norman made an emotional appeal.

The plan for the capture of Labuan island specified that the 24th Brigade Group’s two infantry battalions were to land simultaneously on Broen Beach near Victoria 09.15, with the 2/28th Battalion coming ashore on the western side of the beach and the 2/43rd on the beach’s eastern side. The 2/11th Commando Squadron was initially to be held in reserve on board the invasion fleet. The brigade group’s objectives were to secure a beach-head, capture the main airfield (located north of Victoria and designated 'No. 1 Strip' by the Australians), destroy the Japanese garrison, and prepare for further operations on the eastern shore of Brunei Bay. Priority was given to the rapid opening of the port and airfield so that they could be used to support other operations.

Porter expected that fighting for the main objectives would begin soon after the landing, and decided to begin bringing his artillery and heavy mortars ashore with the infantry assault waves just before the tanks were landed. The 2/28th Battalion was initially assigned responsibility for securing Victoria and Flagstaff Hill to its north, while the 2/43rd Battalion was tasked with capturing the airfield. Once these areas were in Australian hands, the 2/28th Battalion would secure the western part of the island while the 2/11th Commando Squadron captured the western shore of Victoria Harbour. As a result of the Australian army’s manpower shortages, all elements of the Australian 9th Division were under orders to minimise their casualties during the Borneo campaign and unit commanders were instructed to place heavy reliance on the available air and artillery support.

The Australians estimated that the Japanese garrison on Labuan island comprised 650 men in the form of 400 airfield troops, 100 naval troops and 150 other lines-of-communications personnel.

As the Allied advance moved toward Borneo, additional units were dispatched from Japan during the second half of 1944, and the 37th Army was created on 22 September 1944 out of Lieutenant General Masataka Yamawaki’s Borneo Defence Army to co-ordinate the island’s defence. In December 1944, Japanese staff officers deduced that it was likely that Australian troops would be landed at strategic points on Borneo’s eastern and western coasts in about March the following year, a time by which they also expected US forces to have liberated the Philippine islands group. Accordingly, several Japanese units stationed in north-eastern Borneo were ordered to march to the western side of Borneo. This movement proceeded slowly as a result of the distances involved and disruptions caused by Allied air attacks.

On 26 December, Yamawaki was succeeded in command of the 37th Army by Lieutenant General Masao Baba.

By June 1945 around 550 Japanese military personnel were stationed on Labuan island. The main unit was the 371st Independent Battalion in almost its entirety less one company located elsewhere, with a strength of around 350 men. This battalion formed part of Major General Yasujiro Akashi’s 56th Independent Mixed Brigade, which had arrived at Tawao in north-eastern Borneo from Japan in July 1944 with six infantry battalions. Early in 1945, the brigade headquarters, the 371st Independent Battalion and three other battalions marched across the island to assume responsibility for the defence of the Brunei Bay area. Many of the 56th Independent Mixed Brigade's men fell sick during the march, and all four combat battalions were considerably below their establishment strengths by the time they reached Brunei Bay. In June 1945 the 371st Independent Battalion was commanded by Captain Shichiro Okuyama.A detachment of about 50 men of the 111th Airfield Battalion was also present on Labuan, along with some 150 men assigned to other small units. In line with Japanese doctrine, the Labuan island garrison did not make preparations to contest the Allied landing force as it came ashore. Instead, it constructed defensive positions inland from the island’s beaches. Documents captured by Australian soldiers during the fighting on Labuan island indicated that Okuyama had instructions to attempt to withdraw his force from the island if the battle went against him.

Australian and US air units began their pre-invasion attacks on targets in North Borneo late in May. The first attack on the Brunei Bay area took place on 3 May, and included a raid targeting the town of Victoria on Labuan island. A large number of further attacks were conducted to suppress Japanese airfields and other facilities throughout north-western and north-eastern Borneo. The plan for the invasion of Brunei Bay had specified that the landings would be supported by aircraft based at Tarakan, but delays in rebuilding the airfield there rendered this impossible and reduced the scale of the pre-invasion bombardment.

US minesweepers began operations in Brunei Bay on 7 June, and a flotilla of four cruisers and seven destroyers, including an Australian light cruiser and destroyer, served as a covering force. The minesweeping operation was successful, although the US minesweeper Salute struck a mine on 8 June and sank with the loss of four lives. Underwater demolition teams investigated all of the landing beaches on 9 June to search for obstacles which could impede the landing craft. The teams assigned to clear obstacles off Labuan island were endangered by an unauthorised attack on the island conducted by a force of US Consolidated B-24 Liberator four-engined heavy bombers. After the landings on 10 June, aircraft of Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith’s US 13th Army Air Force flying from a base on Palawan island in the Philippine islands group provided close air support for the forces on Labuan island until RAAF units based on the island were ready to assume this responsibility.

The Australian Services Reconnaissance Department also collected intelligence on Labuan island and other parts of the Brunei Bay area during May. On the first of the month several RAAF Consolidated Catalina twin-engined flying boats carrying Services Reconnaissance Department personnel overflew Labuan island. These aircraft later landed near two native watercraft and questioned their crews, and two of the men were flown back to an Allied base for further questioning. On 15 May two Malays working for the Services Reconnaissance Department were landed in Brunei Bay by a Catalina, and sailed to Labuan island on a local craft. These agents recruited a local civilian from Labuan island, and the party was extracted by a Catalina near the mainland village of Kampong Mengalong on 19 May. The intelligence gained from these operations provided the Australians with a good understanding of Labuan island’s geography and infrastructure. In addition, civilians who had been recruited by the Services Reconnaissance Department’s 'Semut II' party, which had been parachuted into Borneo during April, provided intelligence on the size and movements of Labuan island’s garrison force.

During the last days of May the Australian 9th Division embarked at Morotai island onto the ships for movement to Brunei Bay, and undertook rehearsals for the landing. As a result of a general shortage of shipping, the available vessels were heavily loaded and many soldiers were forced to endure cramped and hot conditions during the 10 days before the landing. The 24th Brigade Group was carried by a variety of landing ships: the two large Australian infantry landing ships Manoora and Westralia, as well US vessels such as the attack cargo ship Titania, dock landing ship Carter Hall, 10 tank landing ships, five large infantry landing craft and seven medium tanding ships. A total of 38 small vehicle sand personnel landing craft and 26 medium landing craft were also assigned to land the brigade group once it arrived off Labuan island. As a result of the coral reefs surrounding the island, the assault waves landed in tracked landing vehicles of the US Army’s 727th Amphibious Tractor Battalion. The convoy carrying the Australian 9th Division departed Morotai island on 4 June and arrived in Brunei Bay before dawn on 10 June. The convoy’s main body anchored off Labuan island while the remainder continued to the Brunei area. A Japanese aeroplane dropped a bomb near two of the transport ships off Labuan at 06.51, but caused no damage.

The assault landing went well. The Allied fleet began bombarding the landing area from 08.15, and seven Australian Liberator bombers dropped anti-personnel bombs in the area behind the planned beach-head. No Japanese forces opposed the two battalions' assault forces as they came ashore in LVTs, and the landing of later waves of infantry and tanks went smoothly. The 2/43rd Battalion advanced rapidly to the north and captured No. 1 Strip in the evening of 10 June. Some Japanese soldiers attempted to defend the airfield area, and the 2/43rd Battalion claimed to have killed 23 Japanese for the loss of four Australians wounded.

One company of the 2/28th Battalion captured Victoria shortly after coming ashore, and the battalion first met opposition at Flagstaff Hill at 10.45. One of the battalion’s companies subsequently captured the hill, while its other companies continued to advance. The 2/28th Battalion encountered increasing opposition as the day progressed, particularly to the west of its area of responsibility. During the afternoon of 10 June the battalion engaged Japanese troops in the area to the west of Flagstaff Hill, at the junction of Callaghan and MacArthur Roads, with the infantrymen supported by tanks and mortars. The Australians counted 18 Japanese dead by the end of the day, and suffered several fatalities and men wounded in this fighting. After civilians reported that no Japanese were stationed on the Hamilton peninsula, which forms the western side of Victoria Harbour, one troop of the 2/11th Commando Squadron was landed in the area during 10 June and secured it without opposition.

During the afternoon of 10 June a group of Allied senior officers, the US MacArthur and General George C. Kenney (commander of the Far East Air Forces), and the Australian Morshead and Air Vice Marshal William Bostock (head of RAAF Command), made an inspection tour of the Labuan island beach-head. MacArthur insisted on seeing Australian soldiers in action, and the party visited a group of the 2/43rd Battalion before departing. The process of unloading supplies from the invasion fleet during 10 June proceeded quickly, and the ships began to depart for Morotai island during the afternoon of 11 June.

The 24th Brigade Group’s goal for 11 June was to secure the airfield area. The 2/43rd Battalion patrolled to the north and west of the airfield during the day, meeting only light opposition, but the 2/28th Battalion, tasked with advancing into Labuan island’s interior, encountered entrenched Japanese forces, and it became clear that this battalion was facing the main body of the island’s garrison. Norman manoeuvred his companies to push the Japanese back, but the advance was slow. The airfield engineers of the RAAF’s No. 62 Wing were also landed during 11 June to begin work on returning No. 1 Strip to service, and reconstruction of the airfield began during the next day.

On the basis of the fighting on 11 June, Porter judged that the Japanese were withdrawing into a stronghold position located to the north of Victoria and about 1,100 yards (1005 m) to the west of the airfield. On 12 June he directed the two battalions to patrol around this stronghold area. The 2/43rd Battalion patrolled the interior of Labuan to the west of No. 1 Strip, but located only a single Japanese position, which was attacked and destroyed on that day by the 2/43rd Battalion’s 'C' Company supported by three tanks. The 2/28th Battalion sent patrols toward the stronghold area, with one company supported by one troop of tanks meeting heavy resistance as it pushed to the west along a track toward MacArthur Road. The 2/11th Commando Squadron also advanced to the north, and linked with elements of the 2/43rd Battalion near the centre of Labuan island late in the afternoon. The 371st Independent Battalion's main radio was destroyed during an air attack on 12 June, and this isolated the Japanese unit from the 37th Army's headquarters. As a result of the patrolling, by the end of 12 June the location of the Japanese position was fairly well known, The 24th Brigade Group’s casualties up to this time were 18 men killed and 42 wounded, and the Australians believed that at least 110 Japanese had been killed.

The 2/32nd Battalion was landed on Labuan island during 12 June, but remained in divisional reserve.

On 13 and 14 June the 24th Brigade Group continued operations aimed at compressing the Japanese garrison into the stronghold, or 'The Pocket' as it was dubbed by the Australians. The 2/43rd Battalion secured the emergency airstrip at Timbalai on Labuan island’s western coast on 13 June, and elements of the 2/28th Battalion continued to push to the west into 'The Pocket' along MacArthur Road. One company of the 2/28th Battalion made another attack into 'The Pocket' on the next day after the 2/12th Field Regiment had fired 250 rounds into the area, but was forced to withdraw after being unable to overcome heavy resistance.By the end of 14 June the Australians judged that, aside from 'The Pocket', the island was now secure. Porter decided that an attack on this position would need to be made in co-ordinated strength. This task was assigned largely to the 2/28th Battalion, with the 2/43rd patrolling the island.

Following the landing, the British Borneo Civil Affairs Unit and the 24th Brigade Group were faced with a significant humanitarian challenge. Allied air and naval attacks had destroyed almost all of the buildings on Labuan island, rendering large numbers of civilians homeless. Within days of the invasion, about 3,000 civilians were housed in a compound within the beach-head. The British Borneo Civil Affairs Unit was unable to assist so many civilians, and the 24th Brigade Group had to allocate men to support the unit and transport supplies. Local civilians who had worked for the pre-war British colonial government joined the new administration.

The Japanese stronghold position was about 1,200 yards (1095 m) long on its north/south axis and 600 yards (550 m) wide on its east/west axis. The terrain within this area comprised a series of small jungle-covered ridges, and the position was bordered on its western and southern edges by swamps. The main terrain features within 'The Pocket' were three areas of high ground named Lushington Ridge, Norman Ridge and Lyon Ridge by the Australians. There were only two practicable routes into the area. The first was a track which led to the south into the position along Lyon Ridge and Norman Ridge: this was passable by tanks but was heavily mined. The second was a track which ran into the eastern side of 'The Pocket' from MacArthur Road along Lushington Ridge and joined the other track at Norman Ridge. It is probable that some 250 Japanese were initially stationed within 'The Pocket'.

In order to minimise his brigade’s casualties, Porter decided to isolate 'The Pocket' with two infantry companies while a heavy artillery barrage was fired into the area over several days. An attempt to capture 'The Pocket' would be made only after it was judged that the Japanese were no longer capable of offering any effective resistance. As part of this plan, the 2/12th Field Regiment eventually fired 140 tons of shells into 'The Pocket; between 15 and 20 June.

The 2/28th Battalion probed into 'The Pocket' on 16 June. On the previous day a patrol of the 2/11th Commando Squadron had reported that the track along Lyon Ridge would be passable by tanks if a bomb crater was filled, and on the morning of 16 June 'A' Company of the 2/28th Battalion accompanied by a troop of three tanks and a bulldozer began to move to the south along this track. After the bulldozer had filled the crater, the force continued along Lyon Ridge but became pinned down by heavy Japanese fire from Eastman Spur to the south-east of the ridge. One of the Australian tanks was damaged. A subsequent attempt by a section from the 2/11th Commando Squadron to advance toward Eastman Spur to the east of 'A' Company was also beaten back, with two Australians killed and another wounded. 'A' Company resumed its advance during the afternoon with the support of a fresh troop of tanks. The three tanks moved ahead of the infantry, and killed eight or 10 Japanese, but one of the tanks was damaged by a bomb and another became bogged. By the end of the day, 'A' Company had lost five men killed and 23 wounded, and in overall terms 150 men were admitted by the 24th Brigade Group’s attached medical units during 16 June, stretching these units capacity.

As a result of the losses his brigade had suffered on 16 June, Porter now decided to continue the artillery bombardment before undertaking any further attack. On 18 and 19 June the bombardment of 'The Pocket' was intensified when the Australian heavy cruiser Shropshire fired her 8-in (203-mm) guns into the area. Infantrymen supported by tanks undertook another probe into 'The Pocket' on 19 June, and killed 10 Japanese; three Australians were wounded. On 20 June the 2/12th Field Regiment fired a particularly heavy bombardment and six Allied bombers attacked 'The Pocket'. Porter judged that this would have been sufficient to suppress the Japanese defenders, and ordered that 'The Pocket' be attacked by two companies of the 2/28th Battalion supported by tanks (including Matilda Frog flamethrowers) on the following day.

In the early hours of 21 June a force of about 50 Japanese slipped out of 'The Pocket' and attempted to attack Australian positions on Labuan island. Different groups of Japanese troops attacked a prisoner of war enclosure, dock facilities and No. 1 Strip, but all were defeated by Australian and US logistics personnel and engineers. Some 32 Japanese were killed around Victoria, and another 11 were killed at the airfield. Three Americans and two Australians were killed in these engagements.

The Japanese attack did not delay the Australian assault on 'The Pocket'. At 10.00 on 21 June, 'C' Company of the 2/28th Battalion began to advance to the west along Lushington Ridge, and 'D' Company moved to the south from Eastman Spur. 'D' Company was supported by a troop of three Matilda gun tanks and two Matilda Frog flamethrowers. 'C' Company advanced about half of the way into 'The Pocket' before being halted by Norman who was concerned that they might be accidentally attacked by 'D' Company, which was also making good progress. The force built round 'D' Company subsequently completed the occupation of 'The Pocket', with the flamethrower tanks playing a key role. The Japanese who had survived the artillery bombardment offered little resistance to the Australian forces. The 24th Brigade Group assessed that 60 Japanese had been killed in the final assault, and another 117 killed by the artillery bombardment which had preceded the final assault.

From 21 June, the 2/12th Commando Squadron patrolled the outlying areas of Labuan island to clear them of any Japanese: up to this point the squadron had formed part of the Australian 9th Division’s reserve. Each of the squadron’s troops was assigned a different sector of Labuan, and by the middle of July the squadron had completed its task, in the process killing 27 Japanese, mainly as part of repelling a raid on the British Borneo Civil Affairs Unit’s compound on 24 June, and taken one man prisoner. One British soldier, three local police and two civilians were killed in the raid on the British Borneo Civil Affairs Unit’s compound. The 2/12th Commando Squadron subsequently undertook topographical work in order to improve the quality of maps of the island. The 24th Brigade Group’s total combat casualties in its operations on Labuan island were 34 men killed and 93 wounded, and the Australians counted 389 Japanese dead and took 11 prisoners.

The process of bringing No. 1 Strip back into service went well in the hands of Nos 4 and 5 Airfield Construction Squadrons. An unsurfaced temporary runway, 4,000 ft (1220 m) long by 100 ft (30.5 m) wide, was constructed at a 5 angle to the existing strip, and the first RAAF aircraft, two Curtiss Kittyhawk single-engine fighter-bomber of No. 76 Squadron, landed on this strip during 17 June, and began operations on the next day. No. 457 Squadron, which was equipped with Supermarine Spitfire single-engined fighter-bombers, arrived on 18 June, but two of its aircraft crashed on the still-unfinished runway and had to be written off. The units based at the airfield assumed responsibility for the provision of air support for the army units on Labuan island during that day, and flew their first close air support sorties over the island on 19 June. No. 86 Wing’s two flying units (Nos 1 and 93 Squadrons) arrived on Labuan island late in July, but conducted few operations from this base before the end of the war. The wing had originally been scheduled to move to Labuan island late in June, but it took longer than expected to extend No. 1 Strip’s runway to the length needed by No. 1 Squadron’s de Havilland Mosquito twin-engined light bombers.

To reconstruct No. 1 Strip’s existing runway as an all-weather strip, it was first necessary to pump water out of the bomb craters and then to fill these with clay. Sandstone from a quarry in the northern part of Labuan island was placed over the clay and sand sub-base, and the runway was topped with crushed coral from the island’s western coast before being sealed with bitumen. The 5,000-ft (1525-m) runway had 70 hardstandings for aircraft and, with 70 also on the dry-weather strip, the base could thus accommodate 140 aircraft. The Australian 9th Division’s engineers also undertook a wide range of construction projects on Labuan island, these including the construction of 356,000 sq ft (33100 m) of storage, new port facilities, bridges and oil tanks as well as surfacing 29 miles (47 km) of road. A wharf for Liberty ships was begun on 18 June, allowing the first ship to berth on 10 July. A fuel jetty was in operation by 20 June, and a fuel tank farm with seven 60,000-Imp gal (270000-litre) tanks was completed on 12 July, as was a 600-bed hospital. Work then began on a 1,200-bed general hospital. The 2/4th and 2/6th Australian General Hospitals were transferred from Morotai island to Labuan island during July, although the latter’s hospital facilities were not completed until 17 September.

Once Labuan island had been secured, the 24th Brigade Group was ordered to capture the eastern shore of Brunei Bay. On 16 June, the 2/32nd Battalion was transported from Labuan island to Padas Bay, and on the following day the battalion captured the town of Weston. The rest of the 24th Brigade Group was transported across the bay during the last weeks of June, and the force advanced inland to capture the town of Beaufort, which was defended by a force of between 800 and 1,000 Japanese. After some heavy fighting, the town was secured on 28 June. The brigade group then advanced farther inland to Papar early in July. Later in that same month, the Australian 9th Division’s commander, Wootten, relieved Norman from command over an incident in which he had lost control of the 2/28th Battalion during the fighting on Labuan island. Following the announcement on 15 August of Japan’s surrender and the formal surrender ceremony on a US battleship in Tokyo Bay on 2 September, Baba surrendered to Wootten on 10 September at a ceremony at the Australian 9th Division’s headquarters on Labuan island.

After the war, Labuan was one of several locations at which the Australian military conducted trials to prosecute suspected Japanese war criminals. A total of 16 trials was held on the island between 3 December 1945 and 31 January 1946, during which 128 men were convicted and 17 acquitted. The Labuan War Cemetery was also created as the burial place for all commonwealth personnel killed on or near Borneo. It includes 3,900 graves, most of which are for prisoners of war who died while being held by the Japanese.