Military Wiki

Coordinates: 3°21′0″N 117°34′0″E / 3.35°N 117.566667°E / 3.35; 117.566667

Location map of Tarakan

Tarakan is an island off the coast of North Kalimantan, Indonesia. It is a marshy island situated in the eastern Celebes Sea, off the northeastern coast of Borneo. The island occupies an area of 117 square miles (300 km2).


Oil storage tanks and a pier at Tarakan photographed between 1905 and 1914

Dutch explorers noted oil seepages in 1863. Oil extraction began in 1906.[1] Tarakan oil field produced a light, sour crude oil with an unusually low pour point. By 1940 the island had an oil refinery with four petroleum loading piers,[2] and was one of the five largest petroleum processing centers in the East Indies.[3]

World War II

Japanese oil fields in Sakhalin and Formosa provided only about ten percent of the petroleum needed to sustain Japanese industry.[4] Reserves of California crude oil at Japanese refineries would have been exhausted in less than two years at the rate of consumption when United States terminated exports to Japan on 26 July 1941. Japan initiated hostilities against the United States and the United Kingdom four months later in preparation for seizing alternative sources of petroleum in the East Indies.[3] Japan declared war on the Netherlands East Indies on 10 January 1942; and Japanese troops landed on Tarakan the following day. Dutch forces had declared war on Japan a month earlier, and sabotaged the oil field and refinery prior to surrender.[5]

Japan had captured the Miri oil field in December, and proceeded to capture oil fields and refineries at Balikpapan in January, Sumatra in February, and Java in March. Oil technicians accompanied the invading troops in attempts to maintain production at captured facilities. A team of one thousand additional petroleum engineers and technicians sailed from Japan aboard the Taiyo Maru, but nearly 800 drowned when the ship was sunk southwest of Kyushu by the USS Grenadier on 8 May 1942.[6] Despite this loss, Tarakan crude oil (mixed with lesser quantities of Manchurian oil shale distillates) became the primary feedstock for Japanese diesel fuel in 1942 while reserve supplies of California crude oil remained the primary feedstock for Japanese gasoline and residual fuels until 1943.[4]

Tarakan oil field production reached 350,000 barrels per month by early 1944, but Japan no longer had enough oil tankers to transport this volume to Japanese refineries. Without adequate supplies of refined residual fuel oil for the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Japanese aircraft carriers refueled with unrefined Tarakan crude oil in June 1944. This un-desalted crude oil damaged boiler tubes, and the un-removed naphtha fraction volatilized to form explosive atmospheres contributing to the loss of aircraft carriers Taihō, Shōkaku, and Hiyō.[3] The last Japanese tanker left Tarakan in July, 1944; allied bombing raids damaged the oil field facilities later that year; and Australian troops ended Japanese occupation in June, 1945.[7]

See also

  • Islands of Indonesia


  1. European foreign investments as seen by the U.S. Department of Commerce. United States Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. 1977. 
  2. "The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia". Kent G. Budge. Retrieved 2011-02-17. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Wolborsky, Stephen L. Choke Hold: The Attack on Japanese Oil in World War II (1994) United States Air Force
  4. 4.0 4.1 Grimes, C.G., CAPT USN Japanese Fuels and Lubricants in U.S.Technical Mission to Japan (1946)
  5. Dull, Paul S. The Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945) (1978) Naval Institute Press p.66
  6. Dunnigan, James F. & Nofi, Albert A. Victory at Sea (1995) William Morrow & Company ISBN 0-688-14947-2 pp.360-361
  7. Cressman, Robert J. The Official Chronology of the U. S. Navy in World War II (2000) Naval Institute Press ISBN 1-55750-149-1 p.316

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