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

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS -

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

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