"Z" SPECIAL UNIT
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII
General Douglas MacArthur approved in March 1942, the establishment of Special Operations, Australian Section an offshoot of the British Special Operation Executive (SOE) in Australia. This idea had been proposed by General Blamey. The unit was given a cover name in Australia, where it was known as Inter-Allied Services Department (IASD). This acronym was usually shortened to ISD. It later became known as Services Reconnaissance Department.
On 6 July 1942 a General Headquarters Southwest Pacific Area directive established the Allied Intelligence Bureau. Its role was to "obtain and report information of the enemy ... weaken the enemy by sabotage and destruction of morale and to lend aid and assistance to local efforts to the same end in enemy occupied territories."
The Allied Intelligence Bureau was subdivided into four main sections and Special Operations, Australian Section became Section A of AIB:-
Section A:- Special Operations, Australian Section - Later known as Special Operations Australia SOA
Section B:- Secret Intelligence Service, Australian Section - Later known as Secret Intelligence Australia SIA
Section C:- Combined Field Intelligence Section
Section D:- Military Propaganda Section - Later known as Far Eastern Liaison Office FELO
Some SOE British Officers who had escaped to Australia from Singapore, formed the nucleus of ISD at its headquarters in Melbourne. In June 1942, the Australian service personnel in ISD were administered by a holding company known as "Z" Special Unit. "Z" Special Unit mostly used American equipment rather than British. The unit was sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Z" Force.
"Z" Special Unit Commandos were trained at:-
- Fraser Commando School (FCS) located on Fraser Island off the Queensland coast near Maryborough
- Cairns (Z-ES) (The "House on the Hill")
- Richmond (PTU) - parachute training unit
- Camp Z, located at Cowan Creek, Refuge Bay (Broken Bay), north of Sydney
- Camp Tabragalba (Camp "X") near Beaudesert
- Careening Bay (CBC) near Garden Island in Western Australia. Also called the Special Boat School.
- Mount Martha Research Station ( MMRS)
- Underground Methods School (UMS) - where was this located? Perhaps north Queensland?
- Peak Hill - preliminary training for Timorese
- Leyburn, Queensland (PTU) - parachute training unit transferred from Richmond in May 1945
- School for Eastern Interpreters - Initially at Fraser Commando School, then Mount Martha, then Park Orchards, Melbourne
Z Special Unit established a secret base at East Arm near Darwin in the Northern Territory. It was located about 17 kilometres by road from Darwin and given a cover identity and was known as the Lugger Maintenance Section. In February 2015, Mervyn Fox, 92 years old former Z Special Unit member, visited the site of the former camp. Mervyn's role was to Safe Hand deliver messages by motor bike from the wireless site at Leanyer, about 13 kilometres away to the Lugger Maintenance Unit camp at East Arm.
In February 2015, the site of the former Lugger Maintenance Section camp was under threat as a site for Darwin's proposed new Marine Supply Base. The Wireless Site at Leayner was operated by 66 Australian Wireless Section. The site was also referred to as 66 Wireless Camp Leanyer. The US Army also had a Wireless Station at Leanyer known as 17 Radio Station US Army Signals Leanyer Receiving Station and their other site in the area was the Knuckey's Lagoon Transmitting Station located 1.5 miles off the north south highway near Knuckey's Lagoon.
In 1943 some ambitious officers of the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) wanted to strike the Japanese in their secure strongholds. Twenty eight year old Captain Ivan Lyon of the Gordon Highlanders teamed up with 61 year old Australian Bill Reynolds and hatched a plan to attack the Japanese in Singapore harbour where they would launch collapsible canoes carrying commandos who would attach limpet mines to the Japanese shipping. The Plan was approved by General Wavell.
It was considered too difficult to sneak into Singapore Harbour from the west, hence SOE decided to send Lyon to Australia to develop a plan to come from the south east.
Bill Reynolds owned a battered Japanese coastal vessel (21.3 m x 3.3 m) called the Kofuku Maru, in which he used to take scores of refugees out of Singapore. Reynolds later renamed the vessel the Krait. Lyon's idea was eventually taken up and it was decided by Lieutenant Colonel G.S. Mott, Chief of the Services Reconnaissance Department, to test the effectiveness of the plan by raiding a tightly guarded allied port. He mentioned the idea to Lieutenant Sam Carey, of the AIF, who chose Townsville for the attack.
"Z" Special Unit Supply Bunkers at Mackenzies, Fraser Island
Special Unit Commandos invade Townsville
The Defence of Townsville Harbour
"Miegunyah" - Safe House for "Z" Special Unit Commandos
Ernest Gregg (NX7435, AK157) - "Z" Special Unit Commando
Lorraine Hosie is after a list of all members who were in 'Z' Special Unit in WWII. Her dad was in the RAAF, and his three brothers were in the Army. Lorraine and her husband have been trying to confirm some information given to them by a family member, re one of the brothers. Supposedly he was a member of 'Z' Special Unit.
His name was Robert HENRY and he came from Melbourne.
Stuart Hyde's grandfather was in Z Special Unit and was very reluctant to talk about his time in PNG and particularly his Unit's chance aeroplane landing on spotting lights at Charters Towers in Queensland in a plane doomed to crash (not sure what year). His name is Douglas Kenneth Robbins (Ken Robbins).
In June 2001 Sharon Philp advised she had been searching through various sites looking for information on (her great uncle) Kevin Caine nick named "Cobber" Caine, who was in the Z Special Unit and was on the Krait. He also was on This Is Your Life around 1979/80.
His best mate was a man called Patty who was also on the Krait with him.
If you have any information no matter how small , or of a website with some information on him, it would be greatly appreciated.
Thankyou for your time
Phil Shaw's father was part of the Z Special Unit and is interested in finding out any information. Could you please provide me any link URLs where I may find out detailed information?
In July 2001, 14 year old Dave Foster was wondering if he could find a listing of members of the Z force and any pictures as well.
His grandad Desmond Foster was in Z Special Unit and was in Borneo.
I'd like to thank Graham Shirley for his assistance with this home page.
Former Z Special Unit commando asks for secret base at East Arm to be preserved
"'War By Stealth - Australians and the Allied Intelligence Bureau
1942-1945" (Melbourne University Press, 1996)
by Alan Powell's
"Silent Feet - The History of "Z"
Special Operations 1942 - 1945"
by G.B. Courtney, MBE, MC
"I Didn't Know That"
"Cairns and Districts, Tully to Cape York, 1939-1946,
Service Personnel and Civilians"
By Vera Bradley (1943 AAMWS)
"The History of Townsville Harbour 1864 - 1979"
By H.J. Taylor
"Return Of The Tiger"
by Brian Connell, Doubleday, 1961
Can anyone help me with more information?
"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 30 June 2001
This page last updated 27 February 2020