'M' Special Unit The Coastwatchers

About This Unit

'M' Special Unit 

One of two 'special units' Australia raised during World War Two (with  Z Special Unit (/explore/units/581) being the other,) 'M' Special Unit was an Allied special forces reconnaissance team under the command of the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD.) It was the more formally structured successor to the highly successful Coastwatchers unit which had played such a key role in the early stages of the SW Pacific campaign, culminating in the Battle for Guadalcanal. 

The Coastwatchers were initially comprised largely of plantation managers, government officials (often Post Office personnel with Morse Code  / Telegraphy skills, and some military personnel who stayed behind in the Pacific Island Territories, when the majority of Australian personnel evacuated. Many of these men were commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RANVR), ostensibly to protect them in the event of capture by the Japanese.  It didn't.  Numbers were captured and 38 were executed by the Japanese.

Led by Commander Eric Feldt (/explore/people/982908), a visionary leader who was able to consolidate manage and support his disparate group of people and their networks among the native population, he had all of his detachments equipped with powerful (but very heavy and bulky) AWA 'teleradio' sets.  He supplied, reinforced and evacuated them as required with the support of RAAF Catalina flying boats.

Their most valuable role was in providing early warning of incoming Japanese air raids on Guadalcanal, enabling the US Defenders to get their aircraft in the air and in a position to inflict maximum casualties on the raiding formations.  This they did with great effect.

Admiral William 'Bull' Halsey, Commander US Naval Forces in SWPA, famously said of them "The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific".

Following the success of several commando raids in Europe, General Blamey, commander of the 2nd AIF suggested that Australia form its own version of the British Special Operation Executive (SOE), which had been charged by Churchill to 'set Europe ablaze'.  Blamey saw the utility of usch a force operating in the SW Pacific.

With general support in the senior Defence hierarchy, the new organisation was established in March 1942 and became known as the Special Operation Australia (SOA) with the cover name of Inter-Allied Services Department (IASD), usually shortened to ISD. In 1943, the official name of Special Operation Australia was changed to the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD.) Both 'Z' and 'M' Special Units fell under its command.

'M' Special Unit was not a 'hit and run' overt action force.  'Z' Special Unit, which comprised 81 members, was.  They were generally inserted into their Area of Operations via small boat, submarine or airplane and conducted quick sabotage and intelligence gathering operations against the enemy before retreating.

'M' Special Unit on the other hand, was tasked with covert reconnaissance and intelligence gathering carrying on the work refined by the Coastwatchers earlier in the war, which saw them operating behind enemy lines for extended periods of times to collect intelligence undetected and as such rarely tried to engage the enemy.

After training on Fraser Island in 1943, 'M' Special soon deployed where they operated in both the Solomon Islands and New Guinea conducting intelligence operations against the Japanese. The late 1943 the unit was split into smaller units code named ‘Whiting’ and ‘Locust’ where both units continued to collect intelligence. Generally, a very successful unit, the consequences for those captured by the enemy were severe, as was the case for the most well-known member of 'M' Special Unit, Sergeant Leonard Siffleet.  An image of him being beheaded by his Japanese captors was widely publicised after the war.

When the war was won in late 1945, 'M' Special Unit was disbanded.

Please Note:  Not all Coastwatchers are as yet named on this site becasue of the variable status of their recorded service.  We intend to remedy that.  It is a 'Work in Progress'.


We would particularly like to encourage individual historians researchers or members of unit associations to contribute to the development of a more detailed history and photographs pertaining to this unit and its members.

Please contact [email protected] (mailto:[email protected])  for details on how to contribute.