Operation Jaywick By Sacha Bell

March 1942: A Crazy Plan for Crazy Men

The year was 1942 and the month was March, Singapore had just been surrendered. The Singapore Strategy and Britains' shiny new naval fort had all been captured by the very threat it was made to stop, the Imperial Japanese Army.

A significant factor contributing to the Fall of Singapore was the lack of resources put into the strategy. As the war raged on in Europe, Britain began to refocus on the domestic front. Singapore was left vulnerable to the war hardened, jungle fighters that were the Japanese. So when under attack from mainland Malay the defenders mustered up a seemingly futile defence before they inevitably surrendered.

Australia having now been let down by the British at Singapore and the weak directive at Gallipoli decided to take matters into their own hands. Under the guidance of members from the Special Operations Executive, the Inter-Allied Service Department was formed. Quickly, Z Special Force was created, a unit that was to perform secret and unconventional tasks.

A plan then began to come together. A major part of Japan's island hopping strategy formulated around ships, so Z Force were going to sail deep into enemy waters and attack ships in the Singapore Harbour with canoes and limpet mines.

Scottish Major Henry Alastair Campbell and British Captain Ivon Lyon were assigned to the now named "Operation Jaywick". They acquired a ship which was named the "Krait" and began to form a crew. Around 40 men were selected from Flinders Navy Depot and began rigorous training. Campbell and Lyon slowly filtered the group until they had their commandos who had been judged on everything from their combat and operation skills to their compatibility with others. Now with a commando crew volunteers from British and Australian Army and Navy came forward to complete the crew.

The commandos trained in Refuge Bay and when the Krait, the ship that would be taken to Singapore, arrived they met up with the rest of the crew at Z Experimental Station located in Cairns which was nicknamed "House on a Hill". Here they completed their training but were plagued by the Kraits' delays and in early 1943 the operation as a whole was abandoned. This proved short-lived because later on in the year Jaywick was revived.

The Crew of the Krait

Major Ivan Lyon

Lieutenant Hubert Edward Carse

Lieutenant Donald Montague Noel Davidson

Lieutenant Robert Charles Page

Corporal Andrew Anthony Crilly

Corporal R.G. Morris

Leading Seaman Kevin Patrick Cain

Leading Stoker James Patrick McDowell

Leading Telegraphist Horace Stewart Young

Able Seaman Walter Gordon Falls

Able Seaman Mostyn Berryman

Able Seaman Frederick Walter Lota Marsh

Able Seaman Arthur Walter Jones

Able Seaman Andrew William George Huston

M.V. Krait

The Krait is a 70 foot long Japanese fishing vessel originally called the Kofuku Maru. She wascaptured by the navy in early World War 2. After the fall of Singapore, she was used to rescue people from the sunken ships on the coast of Sumatra. Around 1100 people were rescued during this period and renamed Krait, after a small venomous Malayan snake. At the surrender of modern day Indonesia a civilian sailed her to India before coming back to Australia and she was passed into the hands of Z Force.

1932: A Short Trip to Port Moresby

As repairs were underway made rumours spread around the ship about what they would actually be doing. Many were under the impression that they were going to Port Moresby and around the New Guinea area. Suspicion started to arise when McDowell noticed that they were carrying too much fuel for just a trip to Port Moresby, but still no one besides the officers truly knew what was going on.

After setting off from Cairns, the Krait made its way towards Thursday Island then to Darwin and finally Exmouth Gulf. They stayed at the American Submarine base for a few weeks while waiting for the canoes to be delivered from England.

On 1 September 1943 the Krait, stocked with limpet mines and canoes, was ready to leave Exmouth and start its journey. At 5pm the ship set sail, going at a steady pace, until the propeller shaft broke... The ship was turned around and repairs were started from the crew onboard the USS Chanticleer. Then at 2pm on the next day the crew once again set sail.It was at this time Lyon called everyone below deck and explained what was happening. He told them they were to be going to Singapore. The voyage was to go through the Lombok Strait, across the Java Sea, along the coast of Borneo, then heading West to the Lingga Archipelago and the surrounding islands South of Singapore. He then told them the rules:

  • They would be sailing under the Japanese flag
  • Everyone had to stain their bodies black and wear sarongs to be disguised as Malay fishermen
  • Only a few men were allowed on deck at a time
  • Nothing was allowed to go overboard which would alert the Japanese of their presence
  • No smoking.

Surprisingly all of the crew didn't really care about going to Singapore. All besides Morris as he had just gotten out of Singapore under surrender circumstances and had no idea why they would want to go back. The crew really didn't care about any of the rules except one which really irked them. No smoking. Everyone onboard was a smoker and Lyon quickly realised how unpopular it was and allowed smoking but only at certain times.

At 7:30am on the 3 September the Japanese flag was hoisted and the operation was officially underway. On the 8 September the crew prepared to enter enemy waters through the Lombok Strait and set off just after noon. Everyone had to be on high alert for enemy patrol ships. Due to the precautions the journey took the entire night. But most importantly they were through the strait without any incidents.

On the 12 September the Coast of Borneo was spotted and for the next two days they travelled along the coastline before heading West across the South-China Sea to the Lingga Archipelago. Once the Archipelago was reached the night of the 16 September was spent anchored off Pompong Island, and the following day featured frantic island hopping in search of a suitable location for the operatives to disembark. Once anchored at this location at 2am on the 18 September 1943 the six operatives, Lyon, Hutson, Davidson, Falls, Page, and Jones disembarked from the Krait.

Journey of the Krait
20 September 1943: Crosshairs over Singapore

The operatives rested for two days at their drop off point in anticipation of what was to come. As the raid was taking place on the night of 24 September and early morning of 25 September a forward observation point was established by the operatives on Dongas Island at midnight on 22 September. They were only 15 kilometres from Singapores' coastline now. For the next two days the operatives prepared for the attack, checking everything to make sure it was in working order. Then the night came. Everyone in their canoes was ready to go, but just before it was time, the raid was called off.

The current was too strong. Circumstances suddenly started to look like a repetition of the mess that was the beginnings of the operation, perhaps an ominous sign that they should turn around and forget about it. But despite the mishaps the operatives moved their observation point to Subar Island now only six kilometres from Singapore and planned to try again the following night. So at 7pm on 26 September the canoes set out and this time current wasn't a problem.

Canoe One consisted of Lyon and Hutson. They were attacking a tanker, putting mines in the engine room and on the propeller shaft. All was going smoothly until half way through Hutson noticed something. He drew Lyons' "attention to a man watching... [them] intently from a porthole 10 feet above." (Gill quoting Lyon, 1968) This was it, there was always going to be a big chance of failure for a mission as daring as this. But by a massive stroke of luck just before the two left he "withdrew his head and lighted his bedside lamp. He took no apparent action." (Ibid) After this close call the two set off into the dark for Dongas Island. Meanwhile in Canoe Two, Davidson and Falls were hard at work planting their mines on three ships. Similarly Page and Jones were at work in Canoe Three.

Then at 5:15am on 27 September, once all operatives were clear of the area the first explosions were heard. Bang, bang, bang. The attack had been a success. All they were waiting on now was the Krait...

20 September 1943: 14 Days Away

After dropping off the operatives in the Lingga Archipelago the remaining crew members, Carse, Crilly, Cain, Morris, McDowell, Young, Berryman and Marsh, began to retrace their path back to Borneo. Now along the South-West Coast of Borneo, the Krait spent its time sailing up and down in the shallows hiding from the larger ships that could come and find them.

On the night of 24 September the crew onboard were anxiously listening to the radio equipment waiting for signs of a raid in Singapore Harbour. They sat waiting and waiting but nothing was ever heard. The days passed and still nothing, so when the Krait began to cross the South-China Sea on 29 September no one knew what they were heading into. Had they been captured? Did they even make it to Singapore? Was a trap about to be walked right into? Some believed the canoe teams would never be seen again.

The rendezvous point was back at Pompong Island at 12am on 2 October but the Krait was running nearly five hours late and at the beach no one was in sight. Eventually Davidson and Falls crept aboard but nobody else followed so as daylight approached the call was made to leave and come back in a couple of days to avoid Japanese patrols.

When the ship turned back after two days there was still some uncertainty, Davidson confirmed the attacks were fine but no one else was sighted on the paddle back. Fortunately when they went back to Pompong everyone was waiting on the beach, it turned out not only were they back safely, albeit extremely worn, they were even on the island the previous time and watched the Krait sail out. Now all that was left to do was to retrace the steps home.

4 October 1943: The Last Leg

With the operatives now safely onboard and the Krait on its way back home, the mood started to lighten. So far everything had followed the plan although with minor mishaps along the way that didn't cause any casualties.

The group crossed the South-China Sea and back down the coast of Borneo, crossing the Java Sea before they needed to go through the Lombok Strait; the most dangerous area of their return home.

At 4:30pm on 11 October the Strait was sighted and, as night fell, the Krait was going at full throttle under the light of a full moon. All was going well until at 11:30pm Page and Jones spotted a boat - a Japanese destroyer around 90m in length. As the ship came closer everyone was woken and prepared for a fight or an evacuation. The ship came closer and closer, trailing the Krait 100m away. For five agonising minutes the crew waited for all their hard work to come to an end but, by some miracle, the ship veered off and quickly sailed away. Everyone was in shock. The ship hadn't challenged or questioned them nor had a searchlight even been used.

After this close encounter, the rest of the voyage went smoothly. The Lombok Strait was exited at 5:45am on the 12 October and later that day at 7pm the Japanese flag was brought down for the last time. On the morning of 19 October 1943 Carse made his last log entry docked aside the USS Chanticleer back where they had started. Operation Jaywick was now complete, the mission, a success.

The Aftermath

Nothing really happened on the return home. The Krait was taken to Darwin and Z Force had their celebrations but outside that nothing. No telling their families what they had just been through, no parades or large welcomes. Operation Jaywick was still very much a secret that was being kept even after the voyage was completed. To keep the identity of the Krait secret, so it could be used for further operations, Australia never claimed responsibility for the attack.

Back in Singapore the Japanese could not believe what was happening and refused to believe it was an outsider who could've completed such a daring raid. So as a result the authorities went after the local population; Local Chinese and Malays from Singapore, POWs, Europeans. What followed was a wave of arrests, tortures, and executions which became known as Double 10 after the date, 10 October. One person to be caught up in this was Yong Su-Moi Choy (Elizabeth Su-Moi Choy) who was a Malay woman living with her husband in Singapore. During the Japanese occupation they opened up a canteen in Miyako Hospital which quickly became a hub for inmates inside Changi Prison to get access to the outside world. After authorities learnt of this in Double 10 both were arrested and Mrs Choy endured 193 days of torture which included beatings, forced bulk water consumption, and the worst of all, electric shocks.

Double 10 was not the only repercussion for Operation Jaywick; a sequel was being planned called Operation Rimau. This operation was going to be much the same but with a larger crew and a submarine taking them there and back. Many of the original Jaywick members returned but, little did they know it would be their last operation. After capturing a boat in Singapore, and preparing for the mining raid, the Rimau crew was challenged by a patrol boat where by a misunderstanding an Australian sailor fired. A firefight ensued and the crew quickly abandoned ship and went to the surrounding islands. Over the next couple of days the Japanese went from island to island capturing and killing all the men. Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Lyon, Lieutenant Commander Donald Davidson, and Able Seaman Frederick Marsh were killed fighting. Captain Robert Page, Able Seaman Walter Falls, and Able Seaman Andrew Hutson were executed. They are now all buried inside Kranji War Memorial with a memorial dedicated to the operation at the entrance.

So was Operation Jaywick really successful? While a few ships were attacked, were there any noticeable impacts shown on the Japanese war strategy? Was any propaganda was ever made? Was not claiming responsibility which resulted in a night of arrests and horrific torture, and then the follow up raid which resulted in the death of 23 men the right thing to do? In the grand scheme of things can we really call it a success?

What is learnt?

While the plan ran so smoothly in this commando operation, the quality of outcome is difficult to evaluate: On the one hand, the story is amazing with bravery and camaraderie to celebrate and admire; on the other, however, negative outcomes suggest that lessons learned may be bitter sweet.

This is the main problem with retelling this story, we focus too much on what we learn where we could be entertaining. Far too often you hear about how there are not enough youth partaking in commemorative services or recognising the repetitions of the past. So when all history is presented as a medium to constantly learn about the bad decisions that had bad results and the good decisions that had good results we lose the stories, like Operation Jaywick, even though we are told we need to remember, we lose the engagement of youth, and we begin to lose the meaning of Anzac Day.

Entertainment with stories such as Jaywick can provide the bridge for youth to investigate history so they can learn about our successes and learn about our failures. But also be there to commemorate and remember the stories from the dwindling population of war veterans.

And so when the baton is passed and the stories of these men and women live on; They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

Lest We Forget


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Created with an image by Stijn Swinnen - "Lost in the wilderness"