Kill the Major: The True Story of the Allied Guerrilla Hunt for the Last Japanese Forces in Borneo tells the story of the Australian, British, and New Zealand guerrillas dropped behind Japanese lines in Borneo in World War II to gather intelligence on the Japanese and assist the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landings on the island-the largest amphibious operation in Australia’s history. After parachuting into the remote central mountains, the guerrillas ventured alone, or in pairs, into the jungle to recruit, train, and arm native warriors. The traditional head-hunting local tribesmen readily joined the cause, attacking small Japanese outposts and ambushing Japanese patrols. By war’s end, the force of only 42 men had taken control of 41,000 square kilometers of Borneo, killed over 1,000 Japanese, and forced the surrender of the last company of 400 Japanese combatants, two months after the war’s official end.
All 42 members of the Special Operations unit, led by British Major Tom Harrisson, survived their jungle ordeal. But rather than revere Harrisson for his vision and leadership, many of the ‘Z’ Specials came to hate him and three planned to kill him. The men’s harrowing personal stories tell us much about why they came to this view.
The Japanese occupation was ruthless, with many atrocities committed against the locals-contributing to their willingness to join the guerrilla cause. In fighting back, the tribal warriors and guerillas did not comply with the international rules of war. No holds were barred. Japanese heads were taken by the warriors under Australian command and in one case AIF Officers sought to Court Martial a low-ranked guerrilla whose warriors had beheaded a captive collaborator in front of them.
The AIF decided to sharply wind-up its operations immediately after the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945. Tribal allies were to be left to the whims of roaming Japanese troops who refused to recognize the Surrender. Interior villages and longhouses were to be ravaged and pillaged. The Semut guerrillas would not tolerate this. A small number of guerrillas. enthusiastically supported by tribal warriors, pursued and ambushed the enemy until finally on 30 October, ten weeks after the war’s end, Major Harrisson took the surrender of the last renegade companies.