The marshy island of Tarakan lies on the east coast of Borneo, near city Tanjungselor. The island was important since the Dutch discovered oil and dotted with oil field pumps and tower rigs.
On 25 December 1941 first air attack on Tarakan Island is made by 4 engined flying boat. On 28 December 1941 occured a dog fight over Tarakan Island between 5 Dutch fighters Brewster Buffalo and 8 Japanese fighters Zero. Two or three Buffalo's and (possibly) two Zero's are shot down. One Dutch pilot is reported dead and one missing. Air attack on the airfield has caused one plane loss and little damage.
On 9 January 1942 minelayer Prins van Oranje (Lt.Cdr. A.C. van Versendaal) is slightly damaged by Japanese air attack. Possibly 1 Japanese plane shot down.
On 10 January Dutch flying boat Dornier Do-24K spotted a Japanese invasion fleet. Dutch Commander ordered to destroy all oil fields on the island. Dutch submarine K-X (Lt.Cdr. P.G. de Back) escaped although attacked by Japanese floatplane while she was sailing through Dutch minefield. At the same day minelayer Prins van Oranje layed the last part of the minefield. Lightship of Tarakan is bombed and damaged. Japanese destroyers came to pick crew up.
The main objective of the invasion of Tarakan Island was the capture of the oilfields, oil refineries and the airfield located on the island. Under the operational plan, landings were to be made on the eastern shore where the Dutch troops concentration was not particularly strong. Considering that west coast of Tarakan Island is more suitable for amphibious landings, the Dutch command expected the invasion will be conducted there, so when the amphibious landings were later successfully delivered on the east coast all were a little bit surprised. It was also planned that after the occupation, the naval units were to relieve the Army units in the defence of the island.
After cleaning operations around the city of Davao, Phillipines, the Sakaguchi Detachment was to leave the securing the city to the Miura Detachment and concentrate its strength in the vicinity of Talomo, Mintol and Daliao in preparation for the invasion of Borneo.
Tarakan Island, January 1942
At sunset on 10 January 1942, the convoy reached 1st anchorage, approximately 30 km east of Tarakan. In the afternoon, Tarakan Island was visible due the smoke caused by the Dutch destruction of the oilfields and other vital installations. By night the flames were so bright that the island was clearly visible in the dark. At 8400 hours on 10 January, the Wing and Left Wing Unit boarded landing craft and started for their landing points. Initially, the Right Wing Unit, mistaking the flames from the Goonoong Tjankool oilfields for those of the Tarakan oilfield, missed its proposed landing point. The Japanese commanders realized their mistake, when the landing boats were already returning back to their ships. The first Japanese troops (Right Wing Unit) hit the shores on the east coast of Tarakan Island exactly at midnight of 11 January, followed by 2nd Kure Special Naval Landing Force thirty minutes later. After reaching a point start ca. 4 km north of the mouth of the Amal River, it recognized the position and proceeded south to the mouth of the river. They soon overwhelmed the small guard patrols guarding this sector. Arriving at the mouth of the river at dawn, the unit made a sudden attack against the Dutch pillbox located there and killed most of the the guards, while some KNIL Indonesian soldiers were captured.
Through interrogation of several Indonesian POWs, the general disposition of the enemy was obtained and the unit proceeded through the jungle to the area north of the Tarakan oilfield which they reached at approximately 1100 on the January 11th. As the Right Wing Unit advanced inland to the area north of the oilfield, they seized one important hill, but the Dutch machine-gun and rifle fire was so severe that any further advance was literally impossible. However, in spite of the Dutch counter-attack that night, the unit launched night raids. They managed to get through barbed wire, to destroy all machine-gun nests and killing almost all Dutch commanding officers with knives. They soon captured the first and second row of barracks. At daybreak the Dutch garrison commander, Lieutenant Colonel S. de Waal, discovered that front line is weak and that all further resistance would be useless. He dispatched a messenger, under a flag of truce, with an offer to surrender. Colonel Kyohei Yamamoto, commander of the Right Wing Unit, immediately wired the commander of the Sakaguchi Detachment, informing him of the enemy's surrender. After the Dutch troops finally surrendered, the 2nd Kure Special Naval Landing Force advanced rapidly to the Tarakan airfield and occupied it by the morning of January 12th. During this advance the unit was bombed by Dutch bombers from Samarinda II airfield and 18 Japanese soldiers were killed. At 1200 hours one infantry company dispatched from the Right Wing Unit also occupied the village of Djoewata with a Dutch coastal battery located there at the north end of the island.
During this first fightings Japanese managed to capture a group of about 30 KNIL soldiers. When this group refused to tell them how to get to the main city of the island, they were all stabbed to death by bayonets of Japanese rifles. Only one men survived this massacre. He managed to dragged himself to a hospital where he recovered.
The Japanese soldier on guard on Tarakan Island, 1942. The photo was taken shortly after the Japanese occupied the island.
The Japanese warships in front of Tarakan Island, January 1942. The smoke rising above the island comes from the oil fields, which were set on fire by the Dutch.
The Left Wing Unit landed at the prearranged point at 0300 on the 11th and advanced west into the jungle toward the rear of the Dutch coastal battery which it was supposed to destroy. Due to the dense jungle and the steep terrain, the unit was able to advance only 100 meters per hour. After losing its way several times, the unit finally came out in the rear of the Dutch coastal battery around 1700 on the 12th. The Sakaguchi Detachment Headquarters had lost track of the movements of the Left Wing Unit and there had been no report from the officer who was sent out to contact the unit. Therefore, at midnight on the 11th, Lieutenant Colonel Namekata from the artillery unit was ordered to land with one infantry company with the mission of capturing the Dutch coastal battery, which was the main objective of the Left Wing Unit. At approximately 0200 on the 12th Lieutenant Colonel Namekata's unit landed at the same point as had the Left Wing unit, proceeded along the coast and by daybreka reached a position in front of the battery. Initially, it was planned that the Detachment Headquarters was to land in the same area as the Right Wing Unit, immediately after the area was secured and than proceed by land to city of Tarakan. However, because Right Wing Unit had lost it way the Headquarter could not land as scheduled. On the 12th, upon learning of the Dutch forces to surrender, the Headquarter arranged with the Navy to land on Tarakan Island.
On the 12th, the following message was received by the Naval Forces: "Although the enemy has offered to surrender, it is feared that the coastal battery located at the south end of the island is not aware of this and it would be dangerous to proceed to the Tarakan pier, therefore held up your sailing". In spite of this message, the warning was ignored and the movement went on as planned. When the six minesweepers entered the bay, they were fired on by the Dutch coastal battery and two minsweepers W 13 and W 14 were hit by 4.7 inch grenades and sank with most of its crew. This were Japanese only naval losses in this action. The naval commander later promised amnesty for the guncrews and based on this promise the Dutch Island Commander managed to persuade the guncrews to surrender. The Japanese Army Commander on the other hand was to brutal to have the prisoners turned over to him. So he ordered to tie the men into small groups of three. Some time later they were thrown into the water where all 219 Dutch soldiers drowned.
The commander of the Sakaguchi Detachment, Major-General Shizuo Sakaguchi, left his ship at about noon on the 12th and landed at the mouth of Amal River, arriving at the office of the British Petroleum Manufacturor at sunset. On the morning of 13th, he accepted the enemy commander and formally accepted his surrender. Mopping-up the island was completed on the 13th. On the 14th, the entire Sakaguchi Detachment boarded the ships and left the island. Their new objective was Balikpapan.
In the night from 11 January to 12 January 1942 the minelayer Prins van Oranje tried to escape the confines of Tarakan Island but was sunk by a Japanese destroyer Yamakaze (Lt.Cdr. Shuichi Hamanaka) and patrol boat P 38 with heavy loss of life.
The casualties of the Imperial Japanese Army (Sakaguchi Detachment) numbered only 7 men killed on the land and 1 men on the water, while the naval units suffered 47 killed on the land and 200 at sea. Of those 47 killed on land, 18 were killed by the air attack on or near the airfield immediately after the surrender. The Japanese managed to capture 871 Dutch POWs.