I would like to share some thoughts and images with ex RAN Communicators and anyone else interested in the 1942 Sunda Strait battle. Having served on HMAS Perth II as young sailor in Vietnam (67-68) the diving trip I undertook to the Sunda Strait in August this year to dive HMAS Perth I had special significance for me.
Background reading and research prior to the dive trip included David Burchell’s “Bells of the Sunda Strait”, Mike Carlton’s “Cruiser” and Kathryn Spurling’s “Cruel Conflict” all providing valuable information for me and my dive buddy Greg from Darwin Sub Aqua Club, who joined me for the trip.
The map below gives an indication of the size of the Japanese Java invasion force that the Perth and Houston encountered late hours of 28th Feb 1942. The loss of life sustained by both vessels is difficult to come to grips with, 350 of 681 lost from the Perth, including her Captain “Hec” Waller and on the Houston 681 of 1061 lost including her Captain A. H. Rooks. More were subsequently to die in captivity.
Whilst the diving was exciting and personally rewarding, this loss of life and presence of so many souls lost on these two warships was never far from our minds.
The dives were carried out from the Java based live aboard 18m ketch “Cecilia Ann”, over the period 22nd – 25th August. During the day we drifted near the Perth, with shot line attached to the wreck (strong currents) and at night anchored in the lee of Palau Panjang (depicted in the battle map above).
Life onboard the Cecelia Ann was comfortable, with deck seating and BBQ favorite evening location to share a beer and reflect on the days diving.
S.V. Cecelia Ann at Anchor in Anyer Marina
Breathing gas for the dives was Nitrox (oxygen content 31%) to increase our no-decompression bottom times. Dives averaged approximately 30 minutes, meaning that we had a total of 3 hours to explore the wreck over the three days.
Diving the Sunda Strait can be difficult (especially for novice diver like me!) due to very strong currents, moderate depths and limited visibility - having said that, Perth is an awesome presence in her resting place, guns still menacing, aft 6” turrets “X” & “Y” trained to starboard, forward 6” turret “A” ahead and “B” turret to port. Although the time on the seabed has taken its toll, the evidence of the terrible battle damage she sustained during the Sunda Strait battle is evident everywhere.
Waiting to Go Below – Sunda Strait Descent to the Perth
First Sight of Perth,
Deck House Fwd “X” Turret
The Bridge Area, Gunfire Damage Evident
TG at the Port #2 4” Gun Mounting Greg above the Bridge Area
During the research for the dive, I stumbled across the existence of a 2002 Commemorative coin, issued by the Australian Mint to mark the 60th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Perth and USS Houston in the Sunda Strait battle and this has become my memento I would take below to the wreck of the Perth and now keep as physical connection with a warship so steeped in the history of the RAN.
TG & Greg - Mission Accomplished!
In summary, a lifetime experience for me, always to be remembered
Best Regards to All,