March 31, 2023

The Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney has a curious exhibit – a small wooden ship “Krait”. One of the pages of the history of the Second World War in the Pacific is connected with him – a daring operation of Australian commandos against Japanese ships in Singapore.

Group Z covert mission

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. After that, the war in the Pacific became a fait accompli.

The Japanese Imperial Army was successfully advancing south. On February 15, 1942, the British fortress of Singapore shamefully capitulated, whose garrison was about one and a half times the number of approaching Japanese troops. The Japanese received at their disposal a modern seaport, which was actively used during the hostilities. Singapore became one of the priorities of the allied forces.

Doolittle raid: how the Americans got even with Japan for Pearl Harbor

In September 1943, the ship “Krait” delivered Australian commandos to Singapore, who blew up seven enemy ships in the harbor by canoeing close to them. The operation was called “Jeyvik”, none of the saboteurs was injured during its implementation.

“Krait” (krait – a genus of poisonous snakes from Southeast Asia) was formerly called “Kofuku Maru” and belonged to a Japanese fishing company. The ship was equipped with a diesel engine and auxiliary sailing equipment. At the beginning of the war, the Kofuku Maru was captured by the Americans and used to evacuate people from Sumatra. Then the ship left through Ceylon to Australia, where it was handed over to the Directorate of Special Operations, which planned sabotage in the territories occupied by the Japanese.

At the end of 1942, the ship, renamed Krayt, was transported to Sydney, and from there to Cairns. Before being sent on the first raid, it was repaired, the diesel engine was replaced. Additional tanks for fresh water and fuel were installed on the upper deck. To protect against air attacks, the deck was covered with a four-inch layer of cement “armor” weighing about two tons.

Meanwhile, in the secret training camp of the group Z, located north of Sydney, saboteurs selected for the operation “Javik” were being trained. Under the code name was a daring plan to attack Japanese ships in the port of Singapore. It was planned to repeat the method of penetration into the sabotage object successfully used by the British special forces in the Mediterranean theater using collapsible canoes.

Participants of

Members of Operation Jaywick on the deck of the Krayt, 1943

Vostock Photo

Order – do not surrender

Before the start of the operation, the group took an exam. On June 20, 1943, five canoes with 10 men attached training mines to several ships in the Australian port of Townsville. The saboteurs went unnoticed by the guards, thus confirming the high level of their training.

The first stage of the Krayt’s raid towards Singapore was the passage from Cairns (Eastern Australia) to Exmouth (Western Australia) with a length of 2200 miles. It was not without an emergency: the propeller shaft broke, which threatened to disrupt the operation. Fortunately, the American Navy’s floating workshop was based in Exmouth. The problem has been fixed.

Sunset of the Lords of the Seas: British battleships against Japanese aircraft

On September 2, 1943, the Krayt, a wooden ship with 14 members of Special Forces Z on board, left the Australian port and headed north towards the Japanese-occupied East Indies. The squad consisted of 11 Australians and three British. The group was commanded by 28-year-old British Army Major (formerly MI6 agent) Ivan Lyon.

On board were also seven folding double canoes of the Cockle Mk 1 type, 45 magnetic mines, 70 kg of explosives, 200 hand grenades, small arms (machine guns, machine guns and revolvers), radio communications equipment. In case the Krayt was captured by the Japanese, each participant in the raid was provided with a capsule of potassium cyanide.

Particular attention was paid to camouflage – the ship should have seemed like an ordinary fishing schooner. It sailed under the Japanese flag, the crew dressed in sarongs, the sailors even applied brown paint to their bodies and hair. Household items, up to matches, were not supposed to give out the true origin of the vessel.

On the morning of September 9, Krayt crossed the Lombok Strait, entered the Java Sea and headed towards Singapore. Seven days later he reached the Riau archipelago, located south of Singapore. After two days of searching, the secluded island of Pulau Panjang was found, located eight nautical miles from Singapore. Six saboteurs were landed on it with three canoes, a supply of magnetic mines, water and food. After that, “Krait” went to the southern coast of the island of Borneo (Kalimantan).

Canoes go out on purpose

On September 24, a large number of Japanese ships accumulated in the Singapore roadstead. The commandos made an attempt to get close to them unnoticed, but due to the strong tidal current, the operation was canceled.

Planting mines on Japanese transports in the port of Singapore during the operation

Painting by Dennis Adams depicting the laying of mines on Japanese ships in the port of Singapore during Operation Jaywick

Dennis Adams/Vostock Photo

The saboteurs chose a more advantageous starting position and on the evening of September 26 made a second attempt. Three groups (three canoes, six people) with nine magnetic mines each went to the ships in different areas of the huge port.

Despite the fact that one canoe had to overcome the booms twice, and the Japanese tugboat passed only a dozen meters, the enemy did not detect the commandos. They managed to attach magnetic mines to the hulls of seven Japanese ships (three of them tankers) with a total tonnage of about 37 thousand tons.

The operation could fail at any moment. Major Lyon recalled how, halfway to the target, his partner noticed a Japanese who was watching the canoe from the ship’s window: “He continued to look until we passed this ship. Then a light came on in the cabin. No further action followed, and we proceeded to [острову] Dongas, who was 12 miles away.”

On the morning of September 26, 1943, between 05:15 and 05:50, explosions took place. Two ships sank, five were seriously damaged. The Japanese considered the sabotage to be the work of local residents. A wave of arrests, torture and executions swept across Singapore. Suspects were beheaded with a blow of the sword. The massacre took place on October 10 and was called the “Double Ten Massacre.”

“Hong Kong battleship”: how the most unusual ship of the British fleet fought

After the sabotage, the commandos had to row fifty miles to the rendezvous point with the Krayt at Pulau Panjang. They moved mainly at night, and during the day they hid in the dense vegetation of the islands of the Riau archipelago. Early in the morning of October 2, Krayt received the crew of the first canoe, the rest of the raid participants were taken on board only around 21:00 the next day.

On the evening of October 11, Krayt entered the Lombok Strait. Around midnight, the ship noticed a rapidly approaching Japanese patrol ship. It seemed that now he would have to follow the order – to take the poison. However, having approached a hundred meters, the ship lay down on a different course. On October 19, 1943, the Krayt returned to Exmouth after a 48-day campaign, covering a total of 4,000 miles.

Recognition of military merit

A year later, another raid in Singapore (Operation Rimau) turned into a tragedy. The submarine delivered 22 commandos to the enemy base. On the raid, the saboteurs were discovered by the enemy, some of them died in battle, the rest were captured and were executed by the tribunal on July 7, 1945. The Japanese judges cited the fact that “while dressed in non-military uniforms, the brave Australians voluntarily forfeited their right to be considered prisoners of war in accordance with the laws and customs of war.” During this operation, Ivan Lyon, who led it, also died.

“Krait” until the end of the war continued to be used for reconnaissance missions in the region of the islands of the Malay Archipelago. It was then sold to a private company in Borneo. In 1964, the ship was returned to Australia and transferred to the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol.

In the mid-1980s, the Krayt became the property of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, which leased the ship in perpetuity to the Australian National Maritime Museum. Now it is one of the exhibits of a bygone era, reminiscent of the courage of Australian and British saboteurs.

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