Goolwa, South Australia – 30 odd degrees and rising. Six of us from the museum were heading toward this wonderful town, having flown in from Sydney. After a detour to Port Adelaide to see the hull of the composite construction clipper ship City of Adelaide, we drove south.
This humble fishing trawler led a double life during World War II. In 1941, in Singapore, it evacuated people to Sumatra during the Japanese advance. Renamed MV Krait (after a deadly Indian snake), the boat was fitted out in Australia for Operation Jaywick in 1943. Perfectly disguised as a local fishing vessel, Krait sailed boldly into Japanese-occupied waters with a team of Z Special Unit commandos whose mines blew up and severely damaged seven enemy ships in Singapore harbour.
After the war, Krait worked in the Borneo timber trade, until it was recognised by two Australians on a business trip in 1962. Krait returned to Australia to a hero’s welcome, a testament to Australian sacrifice during war. Krait is on loan from the Australian War Memorial.
The vessel was recently moved to Noakes shipyard on Monday 9th December 2013 for its annual slipping. The work package for this preservation was agreed by the Australian War Memorial and the Australian National Maritime Museum. MV Krait ex-WWII veteran under the care of the ANMM has been slipped for a preservation period of 2 weeks.
I have been a student of history for many years now, and I know the profound feeling of standing in a landscape, an ancient temple, or in front of an object that you have only ever read about. Seeking that visceral connection to a place, time or person confined to a moment in history is where museums and their objects can be so important – to bring reality to the text on the page or the unmoving photograph.
Yesterday morning I experienced something of that feeling when I had the honour of accompanying the Australian National Maritime Museum’s fleet services crew during a maintenance voyage of the historic vessel MV Krait.
At the wharves of the Australian National Maritime Museum sits a small unassuming Japanese fishing vessel. Next to the destroyer HMAS Vampire and the submarine HMAS Onslow, the craft looks even less impressive. However it certainly deserves its place as a historic vessel, as a symbol of one of Australia’s most daring wartime undercover operations and as a reminder of an ill-fated and tragic sequel.
Horrie Young, radio operator on the Krait for Operation Jaywick (1943) whose mission was to sink Japanese vessels in Singapore Harbour, met with students from Amaroo School, ACT, for a Q&A session about his experiences. At one point he recounted how a Japanese patrol came very close to the Krait, but at the last minute turned away, much to the relief of the crew as they had determined they would blow up the boat rather than be captured. The explosives were only 18” from Horrie’s nose. The Krait continued to Singapore Harbour where it successfully attached limpet mines to Japanese vessels, sending seven to the bottom of the ocean.
Students also participated in the Remembrance Day ceremony, doing a Bible reading and placing wreaths. Sean Gallagher, the son of a serving officer, spoke about ‘What Remembrance Day Means to Me’, and Hayley Stensholt spoke about the Krait and its mission.
During the day all students had an opportunity to board the Krait and participate in an educational program produced by the Museum especially for the occasion. ABC1 reporter Geoff Sims reported on Horrie’s role, the history of the Krait, the student visit and the Remembrance Day ceremony. Additionally Sean and Hayley were interviewed separately on board Krait, and the entire news item was aired the same evening on the 7.00pm news.