From the later end of 1944 concern about the safety of the PoWs at Sandakan was being voiced. Paul Muir was informed at a ‘Top Secret’ meeting with his commanding officer Major Roderick O’Loan that the safety of the 2,500 PoWs at Sandakan was to be taken very seriously and a rescue attempt should be put into operation. This rescue attempt was to be code named ‘Kingfisher’ but had to be approved.
By the end of 1944 intelligence was underway with the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD) gathering valuable information, but paperwork was holding up operation ’Kingfisher’ which now had been given the go ahead.
Intelligence reports in January 1945 relayed the seriousness of the prisoners plight, with reports of prisoners being starved and in the more extreme cases murdered.
Evacuation craft, planes and paratroopers had been organised but the operation waited for final intelligence from the SRD before ‘D’ day could be finalised. Photos requested in October 1944 were still not available, after chasing them it was found they had not been taken.
The advance party of seven boarded USS Tuna, a US submarine, on January 16th 1944 bound for Borneo, unfortunately without the intelligence photos requested in October 1944. On reaching Bisa Island it was evident the Japanese had complete control of the area and the party returned to Australia.
By this time reports of Japanese massacring prisoners made the speed of the operation of vital importance.
The party set out again on February 24th 1944 in USS Tuna. On 3rd March at 7pm the submarine surfaced 9 km from the Tagahan River and the men left in a 7 man rubber boat, towing another behind. The folboats made their way into the mouth of the river and followed it upstream for about 4 km, where they made camp. On 7th March they made radio contact. On 27th March a radio message requested an air strip be made for planes but without more labour this was thought to be impossible.
May 22nd a report stated that all the prisoners at Sandakan had been moved to Ranau, thus Allied bombing of the Sandakan area could now take place and this began on the 27th May. In fact the report was misleading as some prisoners were still at Sandakan Eight Mile Camp.
After all the work on Operation Kingfisher it never materialised, the ‘Top Secret’ operation was a full scale blunder, which until being released recently, was not known to exist.
Operation Kingfisher documentation are detailed below.