Operation Opossum — The Rescue of the Sultan of Ternate, 1945

The Sultan's Palace in Ternate

The Sultan’s Palace in Ternate

On our visit to the Sultan’s Palace in Ternate we learned of how the family was rescued from the Japanese at the end of the Second World War. Here are the details summarised from an article by Kevin Smith in Sabretache, Vol LIII No 4 — December 2012 (The Journal of the Military Historical Society of Australia) and provided by Kevin O’Donnell whose father, Signaller Walter O’Donnell, was the radio operator for Z Special Unit

Sultan Muzaffar Syah who was evacuated to Australia as a small boy

Sultan Muzaffar Syah who was evacuated to Australia as a small boy

An Australian Z Special Unit was formed in 1945 to extract the Sultan of Ternate with his immediate family and followers from Japanese detention on Ternate. Sultan Iskander Mohammed Jabir Shah under Japanese domination on Ternate since its capture in 1942 had become fearful for his personal safety and that of his family. He secretly sent several of his followers in a prahu to the AIF Headquarters on Morotai, about 200 kilometres to the north-east of Ternate to appeal for rescue.

Ten Australian Z Special Unit commandos were led by Captain Kroll of the Netherlands East Indies Army and joined by a Timorese Corporal from the NEIA.The raiding party left Morotai on two American fast PT boats and landed on Hiri island, just north of Ternate on 8 April 1945. A messanger was immediately sent to the Sultan who was detained in a house on the upper slopes of Mount Gammalama. On receiving the message written in Dutch by Captain Kroll, the Sultan replied that he would try to come out but was surrounded by traitors.
Z Special Unit sent five large native prahus with a loyal crew to a pre-arranged pick up point at the village of Kubala on Ternate. Sultan Iskander Shah and his family managed to elude his captors and walked six hours during the night to reach the village.

The Sultan’s landing on Hiri on April 10 was described by Major Hardwick as “One of the most dramatic scenes I have witnessed in these lands”. The Ternate Sultanate provided a line of Islamic rulers going back for eight centuries and there was great excitement on Hiri as word spread from one loyal kampong to the next that their Sultan was free. Elders came forward to kiss his feet and all his subjects squatted briefly on one knee with their hands pressed to their faces in a traditional gesture of loyal homage. Hardwick found the Sultan to be a man of considerable culture who could speak French, English and Dutch and he describes a local bodygard, dressed in white and armed with parangs, who protected the Sultan and his family while they rested overnight.

Having learnt of the Sultan’s escape a Japanese landing party crossed over from Ternate at dawn the following day, resulting in a firefight which caused Japanese deaths and their withdrawal, but at the cost of two of the lives of the Australian commando force — Lieutenant George Bosworth the Commando Leader and Private Robert Higginbotham.
That same day they all left on the PT boats for Morotai and the Sultan and his family were flown by Catalina flying boat to Brisbane in Australia where they found refuge for the remainder of the war.
Dutch plans for the Sultan to play a role in the post war Netherlands East Indies never eventuated after the declaration of Indonesia’s independence in August 1945 by President Sukarno and Vice-President Hatta, and the Indonesian resistance to the Dutch return to their former colony.

The Sultan's Family outside their Queensland home

The Sultan’s Family outside their Queensland home

The Sultan's young children in Queensland

The Sultan’s young children in Queensland



About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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2 Responses to Operation Opossum — The Rescue of the Sultan of Ternate, 1945

  1. henri giraudel says:

    very interesting

  2. Sia Arnason says:

    Another amazing story about WWII. It is special that so much of the history of the war is still being collected and published. Sia

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