Operation Jaywick: reunited 56 years later

In September 1943, Australian special forces undertook a special operation that is considered one of the most daring of the war. The operation was so successful that the Japanese forces did not understand how the ships were sunk. The items acquired in the raid will be reunited and put on display 56 years later in the lead up to Anzac Day.

1941-42 saw continuous Japanese offensives across the pacific, with the Allies firmly on the back foot. It was not until 1943, the Allies, who were heavily committed to the European and Middle Eastern theatres, managed to regroup and launch counteroffensives. However, due to earlier defeats, including the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the war in the Atlantic, Allied naval presence at the time was limited. The Allies were forced to use unconventional tactics to remove some of the Japanese naval threat.

One such operation was Operation Jaywick. The plan was simple: Commandos from the Allied Z Special Unit would raid Japanese shipping in Singapore. The Commandos would be aboard a small vessel disguised as an Asian fishing boat and then would use folboats ( collapsible canoes) to attach limpet mines to Japanese ships. This was not the first time canoes would be used in such a daring raid, as in December 1942, British commandos attempted a similar raid on German ships docked in Bordeaux in Operation Frankton.

Operation Frankton shares many similarities with the Australian mission. British Royal Marines would travel by submarine close to the french harbour and then under the cover night, paddle the rest of the distance by canoe. Out of the twelve who set out, only two survived, with eight being executed by the Germans and two dying from hypothermia. However, these attacks Harbours were vital to winning the war at sea and highlighted by the St Nazaire Raid. In this raid, British Commandos rammed a British destroyer filled with delayed explosives into a dry dock, putting it out of commission till 1948. Commandos poured onto shore destroying machinery and other structures, and forced to fight their way overland until they ran out of ammunition. While only 228 British commandos returned from 612, it is still widely considered the greatest raid in British military history.

While these raids were vital it highlighted the danger facing these special forces, many never returning. This was further reinforced by the war crimes committed by Japanese forces on civilians and PoWs alike. Stories of death marches, forced labour, mass executions and tortures would have reached the commandos ears, adding further danger if they were to fail or captured.

Initially, the operation did not run smoothly as the fishing boat, named Krait after the small deadly Asian snake, needed repairs. Furthermore, the folboats specially ordered for the operation arrived last minute and did not meet the desired requirements. The crew would need to ensure their disguise held up as they were defenceless against any Japanese attack. To do this, the crew painted their skin with brown dye to appear more ‘Asiatic’, and ensured any rubbish thrown overboard was not European products.

Once the crew arrived, they paddled with the folboats to a cave near the harbour under the cover of darkness. On the 26th September, the commandos paddled out of their cave to attach limpet mines on the unsuspecting Japanese ships before returning back to awaiting the commotion caused to slip back to their fishing boat.

The operation was so successful that the Japanese forces were unaware of the Australians and believed it was local saboteurs. While the commandos achieved their goals and sunk several ships, the infuriated Japanese would carry out mass torture and executions on local Chinese and Malay civilians, as well as European PoWs.

The crew of Krait during Operation Jaywick

The Australian National Maritime Museum released a statement welcoming the historical items related to the famous Operation into the National Maritime Collection. The items are a collection of significant objects associated with commander and navigator Lieutenant Hubert Edward ‘Ted’ Carse. The objects were sold recently via auction in London with support of the Australian Government.

The objects, a faux Japanese flag, medals and knife are of great national significance to Australia. This is as Operation Jaywick has unique status among covert wartime operations in Australia, and is considered the only wholly successful mission of its type to be carried out during the Second World War. 

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