- Wright, Ken
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Japanese were never in a position to seriously disrupt the flow of war material and other essential goods between America and Australia as they lacked the resources, material, skill and proper direction. If the Imperial Japanese Navy High Command had adopted the German High Command’s priority of sinking merchant ships, the disruption of cargo between America and Australia might have had an effect on the ability of the Allies to conduct the war. Certainly it would have made it much more difficult to keep the supply lines open. Japan sent more than 24 submarines to operate in Australian waters during 1942-44, and of the 49 merchant vessels attacked, only 24 were actually sunk (a total of 117,000 tons). The overall Japanese submarine warfare campaign was not all that impressive.
What was impressive was the contribution by the volunteers of the Air Observers Corps who, in the overall picture of Australia’s military involvement in WW2, has been all but been forgotten. The VAOC peaked in manpower at 24,000 members in 1944, manning 2,656 observation posts and 39 control posts. Between January 1943 and August 1945, the organization had `definitely’ saved 78 aircraft, `substantially’ aided 710 and `assisted’ a further 1,098. Assistance given ranged from supplying tea and biscuits to downed airmen to advising their bases of their whereabouts and guarding aircraft. When one adds up the ship spotting and naval co-operation tasks, the corps has an honourable record. They were officially disbanded on 10 April 1946.
Lorna, now Mrs Waterston, lives in Kalaru near Tathra. To honour her contribution to the war effort and her part in the events of 22 July 1942, a small memorial plaque was placed in Tathra’s memorial park by the local Lions Club. A fitting tribute, not just to one single VAOC volunteer but to them all and to those brave men who lost their lives in SS William Dawes.
The Australian Government also paid a tribute to the men who lost their lives on the William Dawes, but 62 years later. An Australian diving expedition called the Sydney Project Diving Team had been planning for over six months a dive on the William Dawes. The wreck’s location was established 10 miles from where she was torpedoed and 12 miles from the coastal town of Bermagui. On 25 October 2004, two divers not only found the wreck upside down in 135 metres of water but broke the existing New South Wales diving record at the same time.
The wreck has remained untouched since its sinking and is a virtual time capsule. The Australian Government declared the site to be a ‘historical shipwreck’, which will enable divers to visit the ship but not to remove or disturb relics without a permit. An official government communique stated; `The William Dawes deserves our protection as it may be a war grave of the five lost crew.’ May they rest in peace!