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The Rock-itt : April 2011
Singapore fell to the Japanese after an in- tense battle lasting from the 8th to the 15th February 1942. The major significance of its fall was that it was the largest surrender of British led personnel in history. Roughly 80,000 British, Australian and American troops became prisoners of war. Add to this figure the 50,000 allied prisoners taken dur- ing the Malayan campaign and you start to see the disaster the Asia campaign became. Singapore was a crucial strategic port and its loss was severely damaging in the fight against the enemy. It became imperative that Japanese shipping be disrupted in any way possible. The month after the fall of Singapore the American General, Douglas MacArthur ap- proved the establishment of an offshoot of the British Special Operative Executive (SOE) in Australia. The SOE were also known as "Churchill's Secret Army" or "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare"! In Lon- don the new organisation was known as Spe- cial Operation Australia (SOA) but it was giv- en a cover name in Australia where it was known as the Inter-Allied Services Depart- ment (ISD). Some SOE British Officers, who had escaped to Australia from Singapore, formed the nucleus of ISD. Australian ser- vice personnel in ISD were administered by a holding company known as "Z" Special Unit. The whole operation was very top secret; let’s hope I don’t get into trouble telling it to you now! In 1943 two members of the special unit, Captain Ivan Lyon of the Gordon Highlanders and 61 year old Aussie Bill Reynolds hatched a plan to attack Japanese ships inside Singa- pore Harbour. Their plan was an audacious one which involved launching collapsible ca- noes and attaching limpet mines to the Japa- nese ships. It was felt that any such attack would have to come from the South East so Australia would be the launching point. There was some doubt that this plan could be pulled off so Z Special Unit decided to show what they could do by launching a similar attack on highly defended Townsville harbour, substi- tuting sand for explosives in the limpet mines! This operation was known as “Operation Scorpion”. The Townsville mission was com- pletely successful being accompanied by much fury from the defenders of the harbour who were ignorant of the trial run! Z Special unit had demonstrated the full might of their capabilities. Co planner of the mission Bill Reynolds owned a battered Japanese coastal vessel (21.3 m x 3.3 m) called the Kofuku Maru, in which he used to take scores of refugees out of Sumatra. It had previously been used as a fish carrier. The Kofuku Maru was moored in India but Bill had it shipped to Australia as deck cargo and later renamed the vessel the Krait after a small but particularly venomous snake. In actual fact Bill Reynolds didn’t actu- ally end up taking part in the attack, instead he returned to Malaya to do undercover work for the Americans. “Operation Jaywick” as it was named, the attack on Singapore harbour was on! The Krait set out from Cairns on August 8th 1943, sailing over the top of Australia making its first landfall at Exmouth in WA. There were 14 in the crew and their ages ranged from 20 to 43, although most were in their 20’s. As members of Z Special Unit they were highly trained in all aspects of clandestine warfare though none of them spoke Japanese. They were four soldiers and ten sailors, two Eng- lishmen, one Welshman, a Northern Irishman and ten Australians from every state except Tasmania. Whilst docked at Exmouth they took delivery of the four special collapsible canoes which had been flown out from the UK, one was a spare. These were equipped with small masts and black silk sails, six metres long and a metre wide. Their hulls were made of seven ply rubber and canvas making them very difficult to hole. The Krait departed Exmouth on September 2nd heading through enemy controlled wa- ters to Singapore. They hoped that the Kraits appearance once she was in Singapore wa- ters would convince the enemy that she was a local boat and to aid the disguise she also flew a Japanese flag. The crew stained their bodies brown, dyed their hair and dressed in Sarongs to give the appearance they were Malay or Japanese. When close to Singa- pore they made sure only one or two men were ever on deck at the same time and were careful not to dump any suspicious rubbish such as Australian cigarette butts which might betray them to patrols. Sixteen days later they slipped into one of the small heavily-vegetated islands near Singa- pore harbour and unloaded the three teams of canoeists and their equipment. The Krait then left them with the arrangement that they meet up at an agreed spot 100 kilometres from Singapore on October 1st. So started a lot of paddling for the saboteurs, they had 12 The MV Krait (the little ship in the right hand corner) as she is today at the Maritime Museum Darling Harbour. A ‘cheeky’ picture of the members of Operation Jaywick on the MV Krait.