KINGFISHER: SRD bungle or American reluctance?
...If the AGAS report is to be believed, and there is no apparent reason to doubt its veracity, why then was no attempt been made to effect the planned rescue of the Sandakan POWs – that is, implement Operation KINGFISHER? KINGFISHER, conceived sometime in mid-1944, proposed a rescue plan of POWs in Sandakan by a paratroop unit.The probable reason for aborting KINGFISHER has been hotly debated, with arguments ranging from a conspiratorial cover-up that implicated Australia's military elite to MacArthur's non-cooperation in providing vital support for the operation.
Blamey's speech at the Second Annual Conference of the Australian Armoured Corps Association in Melbourne on 19 November 1947 apparently "let the cat out of the bag". Lieutenant Colonel (later Sir) John Overall's 800-strong paratroop battalion which had been training at the Atherton Tableland for a covert operation that never came through knew nothing of the details of their mission until Blamey's address.
"We had complete plans for them [paratroopers]. Our spies [AGAS and its local agents] were in Japanese-held territory. We had established the necessary contacts with prisoners at Sandakan, and our parachute troops were going to relieve them. ... But at the moment we wanted to act, we couldn't get the necessary aircraft to take them in [emphasis added]. The operation would certainly have saved that death march of Sandakan."
... Lynette Ramsay Silver argued that Blamey blamed MacArthur as an excuse to cover-up an SRD bungle in the gathering of accurate intelligence.The Blamey-MacArthur relationship had never been cosy, each accusing the other of attempting to undermine his authority. Blamey, she claimed, told Air Vice-Marshal George Jones, the Chief of the Air Staff, that "while he [Blamey] had not submitted his rescue plan to the Australian government or other authorities, he had raised it with MacArthur, 'who did not favour it'".
Silver denounced Blamey's claim about "getting the necessary aircraft" as utter nonsense which was not supported by evidence. First, she said, it was absurd to blame MacArthur and the American reluctance to supply the necessary air transport. No such request was made to MacArthur, who evidently then had at his disposal 600 C-47s. If the Americans were reluctant as was claimed, the RAAF had in its own pool of 71 C-47s. According to KINGFISHER, only 34 aircraft were required. Secondly, and more conclusively, there was no need of American planes or that of the RAAF, as SRD itself had its own exclusive Air Section, codenamed 200 Flight, which had been established in February 1945.
....Although Silver argued rather convincingly that there was a cover-up of SRD failings (translated into Blamey's blunder) and putting the blame on the Americans, it is difficult to dismiss the evidence from the AGAS operational report of February-May 1945. From my own research I tend to agree with Powell that the rescue of POWs was low in the priority of the AIF. Preparations were in earnest for the launching of the OBOE operations, and it would have been a diversion of effort to mount a rescue attempt in the midst of the overall invasion plan. Furthermore, as pointed out, there was a genuine fear that an attempted rescue operation might effectively sign the death warrant for all POWs and civilian internees. History, however, did not witness a Japanese massacre of POWs but during the momentous months prior to the landings, a Japanese vindictive backlash was a real possibility. "The bitter irony of this concern," Powell pointed out, "is that when some might have been saved, all were left to die."