Personal info

  • Name: John Bernard MACKEY
  • D.O.B: 16th May, 1922
  • D.O.A: 12th May, 1945
  • D.O.D: 12th May, 1945
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Corporal, 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion 9th Division, 2nd Australian Imperial Force
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
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Sources & Acknowledgements

The Battle of Tarakan 1945

1 May – 21 June 1945

On 1 May 1945 the Allies launched their attack on the Japanese in Borneo. Australian forces landed on Tarakan Island off the north-eastern coast of Borneo. Tarakan boasted two oilfields and a strategically important airfield. The airfield, in the south of the island, was captured on 3 May and the Australians then secured Tarakan town to its south-east. However, the Japanese had retreated to high ground behind them. In the next week the Australians advanced east from the town towards the eastern coast of the island. The track along the Amal River was overlooked by a number of Japanese positions of which one of the strongest was ‘Helen’. The Australians mounted a succession of attacks on this over the following days but all were beaten back and it was only after ‘Helen’ had been pounded by Liberator bombers that on 15 May it was found to have been abandoned. The east coast was reached on the next day but Japanese resistance in the north of the Island continued until August.


 For most conspicuous bravery in the face of strong enemy resistance in the attack on the Helen feature at Tarakan on 12th May, 1945. Corporal Mackey was in charge of a section of the 2nd/3rd Australian Pioneer Battalion in the attack on the feature known as Helen, East of Tarakan town. Led by Corporal Mackey the section moved along a narrow spur with scarcely width for more than one man when it came under fire from three well sited positions near the top of a very steep razor-backed ridge. The ground fell away almost sheer on each side of the track making it almost impossible to move to a flank so Corporal Mackey led his men forward. He charged the first Light Machine Gun position but slipped and after wrestling with one enemy, bayoneted him, and charged straight on to the Heavy Machine Gun which was firing from a bunker position six yards to his right. He rushed this post and killed the crew with grenades. He then jumped back and changing his rifle for a sub-machine gun he attacked farther up the steep slope another Light Machine Gun position which was firing on his platoon. Whilst charging he fired his gun and reached within a few feet of the enemy position when he was killed by Light Machine Gun fire but not before he had killed two more enemy. By his exceptional bravery and complete disregard for his own life Corporal Mackey was largely responsible for the killing of seven Japanese and the elimination of two machine gun posts which enabled his platoon to gain its objective, from which the Company continued to engage the enemy. His fearless action and outstanding courage were an inspiration to the whole battalion. 

(Supplement to The London Gazette of 6 November 1945. 8 November 1945, Numb. 37340, p. 5431)

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