Ceram, Moluccas, Netherlands East Indies'
Oil Field Under Imperial Japanese Navy Control

By Bob Hackett

Ceram's Location in relation to the Philippines, Singapore, Sumatra, Celebes (Sulawesi), Papua New Guinea and Austalia

© Bob Hackett February 2014

Ceram (now Seram) Island is the largest island of the Maluku province of Indonesia. It is located just north of Ambon Island. The Boela (Bula) field, on the northeastern tip of Ceram was discovered in 1897. In 1913, the field was developed by two Royal Dutch-Shell subsidiaries. Its pre-war output from about 500 wells had a rated potential production of 650,000 barrels a year, or 1,800 barrels a day. In 1939, the field reached a peak production of 750,000 barrels. There was no refinery at Boela and the crude was shipped to Balikpapan, Borneo for refining.

Map showing location of Boela on Ceram Island

In January 1942, Boela, one of the oldest oil fields in the Netherlands East Indies, was destroyed by the Dutch before they withdrew.

On 27 March 1942, the Japanese "N" Expeditionary Force under Rear Admiral (later Vice-Admiral) Fujita Ruitaro’s (38) command, assembled at Ambon Island and included a Transport Force consisting of the auxiliary transport HOKUROKU MARU, 2nd Gunboat Division with auxiliary gunboats MANYO, TAIKO and OKUYO MARUs, and auxiliary netlayer SEIAN MARU acting as supply ship. The Transport Force carried the 4th Guard Unit (elements of Sasebo Combined Naval Special Landing Force (SNLF) and the 24th Special Base Unit (about 500 men). Escort was provided by CarDiv 11’s seaplane carrier CHITOSE, CruDiv 16/3’s KINU, DesDiv 16/1's YUKIKAZE and TOKITSUKAZE, torpedo boats TOMOZURU, HATSUKARI, patrol boats Nos. 1, 2, 38 and No. 39, SubChasDiv 54's SHONAN MARU Nos. 5 and 17 and FUKUEI MARU No. 15 and other smaller craft.

On 29 March 1942, the "N" Expeditionary Force departed Ambon for Ceram Island arriving at Boela on 31 March 1942. The town is found deserted. During 1942, the Japanese re-built tanks and drilling rigs and brought the Boela field into production once more. On 7 October 1942, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Lockheed "Hudson" light bombers attacked the new oil facilities at Boela.

From 17, June 1943 through 25 October 1944, LtGen (later General) George C. Kenney’s Allied Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), consisting of both USAAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) units, bombed the Boela oil fields and oil storage tanks on Ceram. During this period, Kenney employed the V Bomber Command’s 43rd Bombardment Group’s (H) Consolidated “Liberator” heavy B-24 heavy bombers based at Townsville on the NE coast of Queensland, Australia and the 90th Bombardment Group’s (H) and 380th Bombardment Group’s (H) B-24s based at Fenton airfield 80 miles inland from Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.

Consolidated B-24 “Liberator”

On 17 July 1944, Douglas A-20 “Havoc” light bombers of the Fifth Air Force’s 3rd Bombardment Group based at Hollandia, New Guinea conducted one its longest raids when it struck the Boela oil fields. In September 1944, RAAF 22 Squadrons' Douglas A-20 “Bostons” and RAAF 30 Squadrons' Bristol “Beaufighters” from Noemfoor, Papua New Guinea attacked Boela's airstrips. That same month, USAAF A-20s, B-24s, North American B-25 "Mitchell" medium bombers, Lockeed P-38 "Lightning" fighter-bombers and Republic P-47 "Thunderbolt" f igher-bombers bombed and strafed airstrips, oil tanks, derricks, ammunition dumps and a radio station on Boela.

(RAAF 22 Squadron Boston and RAAF 30 Squadron Beaufighter)

On 22 October 1944, P-38s of the 12th Fighter Squadron flew the first tactical napalm mission in the Southwest Pacific Area, dropping 75-gallon belly tanks of napalm on oil storage tanks at Boela. The squadron, assigned to the 18th Fighter Group, XIII Fighter Command, was operating from Sansapor, New Guinea.

Boela Oil Field Under Atack
(USAAF 3rd Bomb Group photo by Jack Heyn)

In addition to ground AA, Japanese opposition was generally light consisting mainly of Ambon’s IJN 202nd Kokutai’s A6M “Zeke” fighters, 934th Kokutai’s Nakajima A6M2-N “Rufe” float fighters and the IJAAF 5th Sentai's Kawanishi Ki-45 “Nick” twin-engine fighters.

A6M2-N “Rufe” float fighters and Ki-45 “Nick” night fighters

The Boela Oil Field remained under Japanese control until the end of the war.