- Sullivan, John
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Kalgoorlie, HMAS Armidale I, HMAS Kuru, HMAS Castlemaine, HMAS Vigilant
- September 1983 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
AT 1200 ON 29TH NOVEMBER 1942, HMAS Armidale, in company with HMAS Castlemaine, left Darwin for Betano on the south coast of Timor. Our mission was to land Netherlands East Indies Troops and to bring off about 145 civilian evacuees.
Castlemaine, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Sullivan, RANR (S) was senior ship, and Armidale was commanded by Lieutenant Commander D.H. Richards, RANR (S).
The troops, three officers and sixty other ranks, were embarked in Armidale, and the two ships left Darwin during a red warning. The voyage was without incident until about 0200 the next morning (Nov. 30th) when a Jap recce plane was sighted. This plane dropped four bombs which fell very close to Armidale, and then made off. Some time later, five more Jap bombers appeared and dropped several sticks of bombs. From then on, until darkness fell, the ship was subject to almost continuous attack. We were, for some reason, singled out as the target, whilst Castlemaine was not attacked, except for the last attack of the day, when nine bombers attacked her without result.
In between attacks, about seven bombers were seen to be approaching Armidale, and fire was opened with the four inch gun. A shell was seen to burst very close to the formation, which quickly took evasive action. They were then identified as being our own Lockheed Hudsons returning from a patrol. This incident was to have a sequel several days later.
At nightfall, the attacks ceased and we headed for Betano, which we reached at about 0200 on 1st December. As we had been delayed by the bombing, we were late for our rendezvous, and the motor boat HMAS Kuru, which was to have assisted in landing the troops, had already left. Nothing could be seen of our friends, the Army on the beach, so we turned away without landing the troops and headed again for Darwin.
At about 0800 the same morning, we met Kuru, who had on board all the civilian evacuees, who were transferred to Castlemaine. NOIC Darwin was informed of the situation by W/T, and he ordered Castlemaine to return to Darwin with the evacuees, and Armidale to return to Betano and complete the mission by landing the Dutch soldiers.
Once more the Japs appeared, and the two AMSs and the motor boat parted company. We saw neither Castlemaine or Kuru again until we returned to Darwin several days later. We heard later of the terrific pasting that Kuru was to get that day.
Having left the others, we headed for Betano again, with the Japs still giving us plenty of attention. This time, however, they altered their tactics. On the previous day, the bombing had all been from about four thousand feet, and our Captain had easily avoided every stick. But now they started to dive-bomb, which was rather a different story. However, we were still not hit, although the intensity of the attacks increased with every wave.
At about 1450 that afternoon, we sighted thirteen planes well away on the horizon. They circled us continuously until about 1515, when they all bore down on the ship from five directions – nine bombers, three Zeros and a float plane, attacking simultaneously with aerial torpedoes, bombs and machine guns.
It was impossible to escape and we were hit forward by a torpedo almost immediately, and the ship took a heavy list to port.