Liberation of Tawau from the Japanese (Part 1 of 5)

We’re pretty sure that most of us are watching HBO channel’s The Pacific. It was said that the story in this TV series is not historically accurate but it does give us a glimpse of how terrible and atrocious the war was.

The Japanese took over Sabah in a mere 3 weeks. Tawau was occupied on 24th January 1942. This post is not about Japanese occupation in Tawau but more about the liberation of Tawau after she was under the Empire of Japan for more than 3 years.

The photos you are about to see below were contributed by Sgt. F. A. C. Burke via the Australian War Museum. As far as we know, we have never seen these photos anywhere; not even in our history textbook.

They are now featured here exclusively on We hope that these priceless photos will give you the chance to learn and appreciate Tawau’s untold history. This is the first of 5-part series.

Please remember to leave your comments and feedback! We love to hear from you.

The first 2 photos show Spitfire and Kittyhawk fighter aircrafts in Tarakan, Indonesia getting ready for bombing and attack mission against the Japanese in Tawau.

Tarakan Island, 10 July 1945. A Spitfire aircraft of no. 452 Squadron RAAF, taking off from Croyden airstrip with two 250 pound bombs for a raid on Japanese installations at Tawao, East Borneo.
Tarakan Island, 10 July 1945. One of a group of Kittyhawk aircraft of 75 Squadron, RAAF, taking off from croyden airstrip with two 500 pound bombs for a raid on Japanese installations at Tawao, East Borneo.
Tawao, 1945-10-20. A small party, including a corporal from 23 Australian war graves service unit, and a sergeant from an RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) bomb disposal unit, went out to an area where an RAAF pilot crashed his Spitfire approximately 10 miles from Tawao. The plane was found and the pilot’s body was about 10 yards away. Apparently no attempt had been made by the Japanese to bury him. (photographer Sgt F. A. C. Burke)
About one mile from the wrecked Spitfire was the remains of another RAAF plane and this grave marked Albert Jam was found later to contain the ashes of the RAAF pilot who parachuted from the plane. He had been cremated after his death about one week after he landed. (photographer Sgt F. A. C. Burke)
A barge carrying a landing party leaves *LST 324 and heads for shore.
*LST is Tank Landing Ship – more details can be found here.
On 1945-10-17 four Royal Navy landing ships, left Labuan island with men of the North East Borneo force and arrived at Tawao on 1945-10-20. They were to move all Japanese troops and civilians in the area to Jesselton and to collect all enemy arms and equipment for dumping at sea or return to Labuan. Major Sugasaki, Japanese commander in the area, salutes Lieutenant Colonel J. A. England, commanding officer of North East Borneo Force, as the landing party arrives at a jetty.
Surrendered Japanese weapons and equipment on a jetty with a white surrender flag flying overhead.
Lieutenant Colonel J. A. England, commanding North East Borneo Force, and his party confers with Japanese representatives at the end of a jetty.
The jetty loaded with Japanese weapons and equipment is in the middle distance while two of the LSTs can be seen in the left background.
LST 324 pulling into wharf to unload stores for the landing party and load selected Japanese weapons and equipment.

This is the end of Part I of an impressive pictorial journey of Tawau’s liberation. If you enjoyed this please let us know by leaving your comments below or share this with your friends. Come back soon for Part 2 of this exciting series which will feature more rare photos and untold history about Tawau!