- 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)
Another torpedo on the port side and a bomb on the starboard side followed in quick succession, and in three to four minutes from the start of the attack, Armidale had sunk. Short though the attack was, our Oerlikons brought down a plane, and two more jettisoned their bombs and made off, obviously in grave difficulties. During the morning, a plane had been brought down and another damaged.
Ord. Seaman Ted Sheean was responsible for one plane in the last attack. He was a loading number at the after Oerlikon, and when the order was given to abandon ship, he made for the side, but was wounded by a machine gun bullet. He returned to his gun, and started firing again, bringing down one plane, but was again wounded and went down with the ship. Sheean received a ‘Mention in Despatches’.
By this time, the ship had a terrific list to port, and after the third hit we made for the side. I managed to climb on to the starboard side, but the ship went from under me and I found myself swimming. As I came to the surface, I realised that the Japs were strafing and that I’d have to dive for it, so I took off my Mae West and did my best to reach the bottom of the Timor Sea, about a thousand fathoms below. The strafing was kept up for about twenty minutes, after which the planes made off.
When I looked about me, I could see only one man near, a signalman. Together we swam to a french float about a quarter of a mile away, collecting several more of the boys as we went. It was at least half an hour before I could trace the Captain. He had got to the motor boat and was engaged in picking up the wounded. We were spread over such a large area of sea that it was quite two hours before all the survivors had been collected in one place, and it was possible to check up our losses in killed and wounded. We found that 10 of the ship’s company had been killed, including the Engineer Officer, and 17 had been wounded. Forty of the Dutch troops had been killed.
We searched the area until we were sure that no one had been missed, and then set about building a rough raft on which to make ourselves ‘comfortable’ for the night. The motor boat, although holed by machine gun fire, was still seaworthy, and held the wounded.
The whaler was badly strafed and was waterlogged and useless. In addition to the boats, we had one Carley raft and two french floats. From these latter we made our raft, using any bits of timber that had floated clear. It was a pretty miserable night, but we were sure of being sighted next day, and somehow we got through it. Fortunately, the water was warm – about 80°.
At daylight the next day, we strengthened our raft, gave each man a tiny ration of bully beef and water – and waited. Throughout the forenoon we saw nothing, and about 1100 the Captain called me to the motor boat and told me that he proposed to take the six strongest men and all the wounded, and try to make Bathurst Island. He had petrol for about ninety miles, but the motor refused to start in spite of all the efforts of the motor mechanic.
At about 1200 he sailed away, and I didn’t feel terribly happy. The motor boat was the only floating thing on the ocean, and we felt just a bit lonely when it left us. My new command consisted of Sub-Lieut. Buckland, 53 ratings, 3 AlF men, 3 Dutch officers, and 17 Dutch native troops – 77 in all. The Dutchmen just fitted the Carley raft, and as sharks were beginning to appear, those of us who could not be accommodated on the raft made from the french floats were put into the sunken whaler, where they floated on their blimps. We changed rounds frequently so that all of us in turn could experience the doubtful comfort of a spell on our home-made raft. There, at least, we were only waist deep in water.
By four o’clock the motor boat was just a speck on the horizon, and soon after disappeared. Sharks now reappeared and we were never to be entirely free from their attentions, although no one was taken, and they could be scared away by violent splashing. I was more worried by the occasional sea snakes that came near us. However, these too could be easily frightened away.
Our raft gave us a lot of trouble. It consisted of two french floats, across which we had lashed any wreckage we could find, but rope was scarce, and the raft, overloaded as it was, started to break up every few hours. Our food too was severely rationed. About a teaspoonful of bully beef and a mouthful of water per man was all I could allow. Fortunately the weather remained calm and the water warm, so our spirits were reasonably high. All were thickly coated with fuel oil, and that, I think, saved us from severe sunburn.
On the second night, one of the Dutch soldiers, who had contracted pneumonia, died, and soon after, Leading Cook Williams collapsed in the water and was drowned. It was not a pleasant night. Our nerves were beginning to wear a bit thin, and the raft kept up its reputation for disintegrating every few hours.