- Thomson, Max
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I
- March 1988 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
HMAS PERTH SURVIVORS probably never got to hear about it! Even today, they are probably still unaware. But they were the subject of a special request tabled to authorities when Changi prisoners of war were released in Singapore following Japan’s surrender in 1945. The Australian warship despatched to Singapore to escort home transports carrying Australian prisoners-of-war from Changi arrived in Singapore on the day Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten accepted the formal surrender of the Japanese there from Lt. General Itagaki.
The warship’s Commanding Officer made a special request to the authorities seeking permission for the HMAS Perth men to be allowed to travel back home to Australia on the RAN warship, following their years of privation after the cruiser’s sinking in Sunda Straits in a memorable action against overwhelming Japanese forces.
How it all came about is a fascinating chapter in our naval history. After a year of endless long-range convoy escort assignments that took the ship to many parts of the Philippines, Borneo, the Celebes, the Marshalls, Palau and a host of other places, the 2200-tonne RAN frigate HMAS Hawkesbury was ordered south for a refit. She entered Sydney Heads on the day ‘Enola Gay’ dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. But instead of a Sydney stopover, the warship’s refit was switched to Williamstown and Hawkesbury was off the Victorian/NSW border when radio news was received that Japan had surrendered. Shortly afterwards, the frigate was ordered to return to Sydney.
Back in Sydney, Hawkesbury retrieved her 4-inch ammunition and much other equipment that had been put ashore ready for the refit. And truckload after truckload of special stores were taken aboard. Rumours were rife – but no-one was quite sure of what lay ahead. On August 27, HMAS Hawkesbury raised steam and slipped from the Cruiser Wharf at Garden Island. Straightening up on a course that would take the ship up the east coast again, Lt. Cdr. I.K. Purvis RAN (later Commodore Purvis, OBE) cleared lower deck and told the assembled ship’s company of the memorable assignment that lay ahead: to escort the relief ship Duntroon to Singapore, to be present at the surrender of the Japanese; then to escort home the transports bringing home 8th Division AIF prisoners of war, the HMAS Perth survivors and also released civilian internees. Steaming hard, Hawkesbury overtook Duntroon which had left Sydney a day ahead of her. She took up station ahead of the transport and course was set for Darwin, where immense amounts of stores and other equipment were added to those already loaded onto Duntroon. The whole of Darwin seemed to turn out on September 4 to farewell Duntroon and HMAS Hawkesbury on their relief mission.
With some degree of uncertainty as to whether all Japanese units knew – or would observe – the surrender settlement, Duntroon and Hawkesbury assumed wartime status, steaming at night without navigation lights and with the frigate’s 4-inch crews closed up and ready for emergency.
Using its acoustic gear, Hawkesbury led Duntroon through the minefields approaching Singapore – through a passage blasted open by minesweepers of the Royal Navy.
Anchoring in Singapore Roads, HMAS Hawkesbury found herself surrounded by much of the might of the Royal Navy. HMS Cleopatra flew the flag of the Commander-in- Chief, East Indies Station (Admiral Sir A.J. Power). The battleship HMS Nelson flew the flag of Vice Admiral H.T.C. Walker, (Commanding the Third Battleship Squadron) and the French battleship FS Richelieu flew the flag of Rear Admiral Holland, Senior Officer of Force ‘N’. The warships Sussex, Royalist, Ceylon and a host of destroyers and frigates were ships of the Royal Navy that had won battle honours in many of the war’s engagements.
The fleet was dressed for the occasion – and the ‘Voice of Singapore’ radio gave credit to the arrival of HMAS Hawkesbury and Duntroon, in Singapore. But amid all that, 8th Divvy ex POW’s commandeered small craft and anything that floated to get out to the Aussie warship until Hawkesbury’s own boats began a regular ferry service from Clifford Pier that brought 200 aboard every morning, 200 of an afternoon and many more than that each evening.