Photograph of Balikpapan under attack

U.S. Army photograph

Balikpapan (116.812E 1.283S), on Sumbir River on the southeast coast of Borneo, boasted a significant oil field (7.4 million barrels a year) and a refinery and a newly constructed port with just enough facilities to load tankers.  It was the largest town of Dutch Borneo. Like most of Borneo, the climate here is hot and wet with little seasonal variation. Sepinggang Airfield with a 5000' (1520 meter) runway was located on the coast while Manggar Airfield was 13 miles (21 km) east of the town. The surrounding country was hilly and jungle-covered.

There was a well-developed road following an oil pipeline to Samarinda that also provided access to the interior oil fields.

At the time war broke out, Balikpapan was protected by two 120mm and four 75mm coastal guns. U.S. Destroyer Division 57 was in the harbor, en route Singapore, and there was a garrison of about 1100 Dutch militia (VI Garrison Battalion) in the town itself.

The First Battle of Balikpapan

Some 5500 men of 56 Brigade (Sakaguchi) and elements of 2 Kure Special Naval Landing Force came ashore to capture the town on 23-24 January 1942. ABDA attempted to contest the landings with the few forces available. Dutch bombers and three American B-17s attacked the Japanese force as it was coming to anchor on the evening of 23 January, sinking one transport (Nana Maru, 6557 tons) and damaging another. Of eight submarines sent to the area, only K-XVIII managed to reach the anchorage and penetrate the screen, sinking transport Tsuruga Maru (7000 tons) just before midnight. The Japanese screen commander raced his ships to seawards to hunt for the submarine, leaving the transports largely unprotected.

In the early hours of the morning of the 24th, an American force of four destroyers slipped into the harbor and raked the anchored transports with torpedoes and gunfire. Four transports and a patrol boat were sunk and two other transports damaged.  This was one of the few successes by forces under the ABDA command, though the American destroyers ought to have scored better against anchored, silhouetted, and largely unprotected transports. However, most of the Japanese assault troops had already transferred to landing craft, and the battle set back the Japanese time table by less than a day. By evening on the 24th the Japanese had the airfield ready for operations.

The Dutch garrison responded by firing the oil wells and retreating into the interior. The Japanese advance on the town itself was slowed by bridge demolitions, but by evening of the 25th the Japanese had taken the town without a fight. A second stealthy landing by a single Japanese battalion (guided by fifth columnists) encountered little opposition and cut off the retreat of a few Dutch stragglers, but failed to secure the oil fields before they were put to the torch.

The Japanese had sent emissaries to the Dutch commander ordering the Dutch forces to preserve the oil fields or "be killed without exception." On 20 February 1942, the Japanese made good on their threat, massacring every European they could find in the vicinity of the city, at least 72 persons, in retaliation for the destruction of the oil fields.

American order of battle

Task Force 5 (Glassford)

CL Boise
CL Marblehead
Damaged running aground
Engineering casualty
Destroyer Division 59     

DD Pope
DD John D. Ford     
DD Parrott
DD Paul Jones

Submarines, ABDA

SS S-40
SS Pickerel
SS Porpoise
SS Saury
SS Spearfish
SS Sturgeon

Air Forces, ABDA

9 B-10 Martin (at Samarinda)
3 B-17 Flying Fortress (at Surabaya)

6 Battalion, Royal Netherlands Army (1100 men)     

Japanese order of battle

Destroyer Squadron 4 (Nishimura)

CL Naka

Destroyer Division 2

DD Yudachi
DD Samidare
DD Harusame

Destroyer Division 9

DD Asagumo
DD Murasame
DD Minegumo
DD Natsugumo

Destroyer Division 24

DD Kawakaze
DD Yamakaze
DD Umikaze

Air Group

AVP Sanyo Maru
AVP Sanuki Maru
1 AO

2 Base Force (Hirose)

PB PB-36
PB PB-37
PB PB-38


Minesweeper Division 11

AM W-15
AM W-16

Minesweeper Division 30

AM W-17
AM W-18

Subchaser Division 31

SC Ch-10
SC Ch-11
SC Ch-12

Army transports
Carrying 56 Brigade (Sakaguchi; 5500 men)

AP Ashiyama Maru
AP Sumanoura Maru (3519 tons)
AP Kuretake Maru (5175 tons, 10 knots)
AP Kumagawa Maru
AP Toei Maru
AP Yukka Maru

Navy transports
Carrying 2 Kure SNLF

AP Tatsugami Maru (7070 tons, 15 knots)  
AP Tsuruga Maru (6987 tons)   
AP Nana Maru (6557 tons)

7 other AP

Elements, 21 Air Flotilla (Tada)

The Second Battle of Balikpapan

Balikpapan was retaken by the Australian 7 Division (reinforced to 33,000 men) on 1 July 1945 (Operation OBOE VI) in the last amphibious assault of the Second World War. The defending Japanese troops numbered about 3100 men from 71 Independent Mixed Brigade and 22 Special Base Force heavily armed with artillery and antiaircraft guns, plus another 1100 service troops and potential reinforcements of 1500 troops at Samarinda. The Australian landings were preceded by twenty days of heavy air attacks and the most massive prelanding bombardment ever conducted in the Southwest Pacific. This ignited many of the oil storage tanks. U.S. underwater demolition teams cleared many of the Japanese obstacles from 26 June onwards.

The prolonged bombardment was prompted by intelligence indicating strong fortifications in the area, and, one speculates, a desire to minimize Australian casualties this late in the war. The fortifications were no illusion: The Japanese had built a number of pillboxes, tunnels, and obstacles some 400 to 1000 yards (360 to 910 m) inland and had excavated tank traps up to 14 feet (4 meters) wide near the beaches. Log barriers had been constructed 70 to 100 yards (64 to 90 meters) offshore, and the area was heavily mined, including large numbers of Allied acoustic and magnetic mines dropped from aircraft earlier in the war. The shallow water (less than 10 fathoms deep as much as 6 miles or 10 km offshore) meant that small minecraft would have to be employed and would be difficult to provide with gunfire support. Furthermore, the nearest functioning Allied airfield was at Tawi Tawi, which meant that fighter cover would be badly stretched.

Sweeping commenced on 15 June 1945 and continued until the landings on 1 July 1945. Three minecraft were destroyed by mines and another damaged, and three more were damaged by Japanese coastal guns. Some 27 mines were swept, but since it was known that 93 Allied mines had been dropped (and none were set to self-deactivate) a considerable number of mines were thought to be still in the area. However, no other ships or boats were lost during the landings.

Underwater demolition teams arrived on 24 June to begin demolishing the obstacles. Over 300 yards (270 meters) of obstacles were destroyed before the landings.

Following a Japanese air attack on 25 June, three U.S. escort carriers were detailed to assist the landings. These had been operating off Kyushu, but arrived on 1 July 1945, the day of the landings, and provided three days' air cover. Opposition was initially light but stiffened as the Australians moved inland. Some 10,500 men, 700 vehicles, and 1950 tons of supplies were brought ashore the first day. Sepinggang Airfield was seized on the second day and Balikpapan town on the third. Manggar Airfield fell on 5 July. Because the war was winding down, the Australian commanders were under orders to minimize casualties and the advance towards Samarinda was very cautious. However, the area was considered secured by the end of July, with the remaining Japanese retreating towards Banjarmasin and Kuching. Australian casualties were 229 killed and 634 wounded while the Japanese lost at least 1800 killed and 63 taken prisoner.

Ammunition was expended lavishly in the preinvasion bombardment. Some 23,764 shells of 4.7" (120mm) caliber or greater were expended up to 1 July; another 11.884 on 1 July; and 11.158 more by 7 July. Another 114,000 rounds of 20mm and 40mm automatic weapons rounds were also expended. This exceeded by a considerable margin the ammunition expenditure of any other division landing during the war.

Photo Gallery

Coast Guard LSTS in the Balikpapan invasion

U.S. Coast Guard

Coast Guardsmen land Australian troops in the
                Balikpapan invasion

U.S. Coast Guard

Climate Information:

Elevation 23'

Temperatures: Jan 85/73, Apr 85/73, Jul 83/73, Oct 85/74, record 92/60

Rainfall: Jan 14/7.9, Apr 13/8.2, Jul 11/7.1, Oct 9/5.2 == 87.7" per annum

Road connections


Pipeline connections



Bradley et al. (1992) (accessed 2009-9-15)

Morison (1948, 1959) (accessed 2009-9-15)

Pearce and Gordon (1990)

Rottman (2002)

"The Balikpapan Raid" (accessed 2009-9-15)

The Netherlands East Indies 1941-1942 (accessed 2009-9-15)

Van Royen and Bowles (1952)

Willmott (1982)

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