Little boat, big mission
In this extract from his new book, IAN McPHEDRAN details how an unassuming trawler, the Krait, was used to pull off a stunning WWII raid
LATE on the night of September 26, 1943, six young men with blackened faces paddling three canvas-covered, two-man folding canoes, slid silently into Singapore harbour at the sharp end of one of the most daring and successful special forces raids in the history of warfare.
As the lights of the occupied city blazed defiantly, none of the thousands of Japanese troops in the garrison, nor the hundreds of sailors on board the dozens of ships anchored in the harbour, could have imagined the cunning act of sabotage that was about to unfold.
Singapore in late 1943 was the impregnable heart of the rapidly expanding Japanese empire and a prison island for thousands of Australian and other Allied troops at the infamous Changi prisoner-ofwar camp. Just like the British imperialists before him, the then-prime minister of Japan, General Hideki Tojo, regarded the Japanese-occupied island as “untouchable”.
After attaching magnetic limpet mines to seven ships, the six raiders sneaked out of the harbour at the start of an arduous and exhausting 80kilometre, island-hopping return paddle, hoping and praying that they would be able to rendezvous with their mother ship, the MV Krait, for the long voyage home to Australia.
Reaching their first lyingup position on a tiny island off Singapore several hours later, four of the saboteurs climbed a hill from where they could see the brilliant lights.
They watched and listened in awe as seven Japanese vessels either went to the bottom of the harbour or sustained serious damage from the mines they had attached below the waterline.
Mostyn “Moss” Berryman was a reserve canoeist who, instead of going on the raid, remained on board the Krait with seven shipmates while the vessel prowled around the islands and inlets of southern Borneo, hiding in plain sight disguised as a Japanese fishing boat and waiting to pick up the returning operatives.
Aged 95 and in 2018 the last survivor of Operation Jaywick, Berryman remembered the first time he laid d eyes on the Krait (pictured d right) as if it were yester- day. The young navy volunteer and his mates had spent weeks in training at the secret commando bush camp, known as Camp X, at Refuge Bay on the lower Hawkesbury River north of Sydney when, early one morning, a strange vessel l motored into the bay.
Berryman was taken n aback by the sight of the e ugly, squat, 21-metre timber boat. The keen 18-year-old sailor had expected to be posted to a nice big warship.
Seventy-five years later, at home in a retirement village in Adelaide, the clear-eyed, smartly dressed old gentleman recalled his commanding officer Captain Ivan Lyon ordering the team to paddle out and take a good look at the boat that would be their home for the next few months. “It looked Japanese, it was named Japanese and it smelled Japanese. It was a bit fishy,” Berryman said.
“We climbed aboard and there was nothing there. She was as bare as a baby’s behind; no fridge, no bunks, no toilet, no nothing.”
The men continued training hard and soon became experts at assembling special canvas-covered, two-man folding canoes, or “foldboats”, in double-quick time and paddling them over long distances in a variety of sea states. Around the camp fire at night they would speculate about what their top-secret mission could be and where this rickety-looking boat could possibly carry them.
Not one of the young operatives imagined that the real target for their “strange” boat and her highly trained crew would be the enemy fortress of Singapore. “As it turned out, we broke the world record,” Berryman said with justifiable pride. “Nobody in the history of the world had ever gone that far into enemy territory and come out alive.”
*** [AS the Krait motored towards home in the enemyinfested waters of Lombok Strait the raiders’ worst nightmare unfolded when lookout Joe Jones saw a large vessel closing fast on the Krait.]
Jones had been on lookout duty on top of the wheelhouse at 11.30pm when he spotted what he thought was a sail approaching quite fast.
The “sail” was in fact the bow wave of a very large and fast-moving Japanese warship that was rapidly bearing down on them.
The moment they had all dreaded since arriving in enemy waters almost a month earlier had arrived and their thoughts may well have immediately turned to their weapons drills d and the cyanide pills. p
As the adrenaline surged s the crew went to action a stations and Young switched on his radios for what he was sure would be the last time. He waited for Lyon to draft the text of the fateful final signal, along with their estimated position. As he thought about the very possible imminent end of his life, Young also contemplated the large box of plastic explosives that had spent the entire journey on top of his radio set.
“The amount of explosive would have been probably sufficient to have demolished a battleship,” he wrote in his 2004 memoir.
The plan had always been that if the Krait was about to be captured by an enemy warship she would manoeuvre in as close as possible to the hostile vessel, then Lyon would detonate the charge, sending the Krait, her crew and — they hoped — the enemy ship to “Davy Jones’ locker”.
Berryman remembered being woken up and told to break out the Bren gun and keep his head down.
He also recalled that the box of plastic explosives, which had been terrorising Horrie Young for weeks, was moved to the bow and the fuse set, with Lyon keeping his finger on the “button”.
“If this destroyer got too cheeky with hailing us and putting lights on us, we were going to turn, put our nose right against his midships and blow him and us into a million pieces,” Berryman said. Then, for only the second time during the operation, Lyon broke out the cyanide capsules.
Berryman remembered the boss saying, “Righto boys, if you don’t want to be blown up take one of these pills and bite it and that will kill you.”
Carse identified the enemy warship as a destroyer or corvette-type vessel about 70–80 metres long. Amazingly, when she drew alongside the Krait she did not challenge the boat or even shine a spotlight on her. For reasons that remain a mystery to this day, to everyone’s enormous relief the warship peeled off after several minutes and set a course at high speed towards Lombok Island. Lyon announced with some cautious bravado that the Krait had “won that little war”, with her complement of 14 seeing off a ship with probably 200 enemy souls on board.
In the back ro w (lef t to right) is: Moss The Oper ation J aywick team in Brisbane follo wing their W WII mission.Andrew ‘Happ y’ Huston. In the middle ro w is: Berryman (and inset belo w), Fred ‘Boof ’ Marsh, Ar thur ‘Joe’ Jones,Horrie Y oung, Wally ‘Poppa’ Falls, Ron ‘Taffy’ Andy ‘Pancake’ Crilly, Kevin ‘ Cobber’ Cain, J ames ‘Paddy’ McDowell,Jock Campbell and Bob P age. Pic s: Supplied Morris. In the front ro w is: T ed Carse, Donald D avidson, Iv an Lyon,
The Mighty Krait by Ian McPhedran published by HarperCollins. Paperback RRP $35