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Cocos Islands during World War II

The Territory of Cocos Islands; (including Keeling Islands) (14.4 sq km) consisted of two coral atolls, lying in the Indian Ocean some 650 miles south of Sumatra (Indonesia), 1,760 miles south-east of Ceylon, 1,040 miles south-south-west of Singapore and 1,330 miles from western Australia. They were annexed in 1903 and administrated by Singapore, as part of the Strait Settlements, nearly 1,200 miles away. Main products are copra and coconuts. The population numbered about 1,150 persons in 1931. Today they are administrated by Australia (since 1955).

The islands became ''famous'' for the first time on 9 November 1914, when the Australian HMAS cruiser Sydney managed to surprise and sink a German raider SMS cruiser Emden, near North Keeling Island.

During World War II the cable station on Direction Island in the southern atoll continued to function as a vital link between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. To lessen the risk of drawing the attention of the Japanese to it, the sea-plane anchorage between Direction and Horsburgh Islands was not used.

The garrison consisted of a platoon of the King's African Rifles located on Horsburgh Island, with two 6-inch guns to cover the anchorage. The local inhabitants all lived on Home Island. Despite the importance of the islands as a communication centre the Japanese made no attempt either to raid or to occupy them and contented themselves with sending over a reconnaissance aircraft about once a month.

In May 1942 fifteen soldiers of the Ceylon Defence Force, prompted by pro-Japanese and anti-European beliefs, mutinied by trying to take over their gun battery on the Cocos-Keeling Islands. They failed, but one loyal soldier was killed and a British officer was wounded. Seven of the mutineers were sentenced to death. Four of the sentences were commuted but three of the guilty were hanged.

On 25 December 1942 the Japanese submarine I-166 bombarded the Cocos Islands, causing no damage whatsoever.

It is interesting however that during this period, although the garrison were equipped with radio transmitters and receivers, these were not used except in emergencies as they did not wish to give the impression to the Japanese that the islands were garrisoned.

The islands were also noted as a rest area for German raider cruisers, which operated in the Indian Ocean.

Later in the war two airstrips were built and three bomber squadrons were moved to the islands to provide support during the reinvasion of Malaya and reconquest of Singapore, which of course was pre-empted by the Japanese surrender.

Note The 321st (Dutch) RAAF Squadron (the leftovers from the Naval Air Service after the Dutch East Indies Campaign) stationed several B-24 bombers on the Cocos Islands to conduct search and destroy missions to places like Sunda Strait, Tjilitjap etc.

Bibliography . Article List
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942
Copyright Klemen. L. 1999-2000