1st RAN VC considered

Discussion in 'The Club House' started by zhuk, Oct 21, 2010.

  1. zhuk

    zhuk New Member

    And WELL overdue! Of the 100 VCs which have been won by Australian military personnel, none have been awarded to Royal Australian Naval servicemen.

    And this...this is a particularly heroic instance:

    Call for navy to award posthumous VC to skipper of HMAS Perth



    Brendan Nicholson

    The Australian

    October 19, 2010

    THE Navy will be asked today whether the captain of HMAS Perth can be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for heroism under fire.

    In the early hours of March 1, 1942, the Australian cruiser HMAS Perth and an American warship, USS Houston, ran into a powerful Japanese invasion fleet in the Sunda Strait in the Java Sea.

    In the battle that followed, the two cruisers inflicted heavy damage on the Japanese.

    Australian captain Hec Waller and his men fought until all their ammunition was gone and their ship was sinking beneath them. Of the 681 Australian crew, only 218 survived the sinking and the years of captivity that followed. Captain Waller went down with his ship.

    It is understood senators plan to ask the Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Russ Crane, during today's estimates committee hearings whether the heroism of Waller and his men can be recognised with a posthumous award. According to the Australian War Memorial, Waller was widely considered the outstanding naval officer of his generation. After the outbreak of war, he was given command of the destroyer HMAS Stuart, and sent to the Mediterranean, becoming part of what the Germans derisively called the scrap-iron flotilla.

    He was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Order and became commander of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla. He fought in the battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941, in operations off Greece, Crete and North Africa, and as part of the Tobruk Ferry, taking supplies into the besieged North African coastal town. He returned to Australia in September 1941 to take command of HMAS Perth.

    A Collins-class submarine launched in 1997 was named HMAS Waller in his honour.

    Call for navy to award posthumous VC to skipper of HMAS Perth | The Australian

    THE Royal Australian Navy has agreed to look at awarding a posthumous Victoria Cross to the captain of the cruiser HMAS Perth.

    The captain went down with his ship during a battle with a Japanese fleet in 1942.

    Liberal senator Guy Barnett argued in estimates committee hearings yesterday for the belated honour to be given to Captain Hec Waller, who was in charge of the vessel when it sank in the Java Sea while fighting alongside American warship USS Houston.

    Captain Waller, DSO and Bar, and his crew of 681 -- of whom only 218 survived the fight and prison camps -- fought until the last of the ammunition was spent and inflicted heavy damage on the Japanese.

    Defence head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said his department would review the situation, although he told Senator Barnett they did not normally consider retrospective awards.

    But calls for Waller to be awarded a VC have renewed demands that Ordinary Seaman Edward Teddy Sheean be given the same award.

    Sheean went down with the corvette HMAS Armidale when it was sunk in the Timor Sea by four waves of Japanese aircraft on December 1, 1942.

    After the Armidale was torpedoed the captain ordered his men to abandon ship but Sheean saw that the Japanese planes were strafing the men in the water. Though wounded, he went back to his anti-aircraft gun and kept firing as the Armidale went down, bringing down a bomber and hitting other planes.

    Waller and Sheean both have Collins-class submarines named after them.

    Navy to consider its first VC | The Australian

    HMAS Perth has a special significance for my rifle club (Royal Aust Naval Reserve) and we have held events where some (now very elderly) survivors from the Perth have travelled all the way from WA to compete in special Service Rifle matches, and were honoured in ceremonies afterwards. We have remembered their sacrifice and also the incredible bravery of Teddy Sheean in our regular military dedications.

    I really hope Air Chief Marshal Houston gives the thumbs-up to this long overdue recognition.

    The story of this ship is really an amazing and harrowing one - please indulge me here, I'd like to put it on record...

    Battle of Sunda Strait, 28th Feb - 1st Mar 1942


    Sixty years ago today the Australian light cruiser, HMAS Perth, was lost in the battle of the Sunda Strait. The loss of the Perth was the heaviest sacrifice made by the Royal Australian Navy during the tragic months of 1941-42 as Japanese forces advanced into south-east Asia. How did this event happen?

    Perth was one of three modified 'Leander' class light cruisers commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy between 1935 and 1939. Its sister-ships were HMA Ships Sydney and Hobart. As we know, only Hobart survived the war. Between them the loss of Sydney (in November 1941) and Perth accounted for just over half of the 1,951 members of the Royal Australian Navy to die in the Second World War. The loss of HMAS Perth was therefore a tragedy second only to the loss of Sydney.

    Perth had had a busy war up to 1942. It had served as part of the Mediterranean Fleet, taking part in the battle off Cape Matapan in March 1941 and in the evacuation of Crete in May 1941. Perth's captain was Hector Waller, a distinguished Australian officer who had started the war in destroyers.

    By February 1942 Perth was one of all-too-few major Allied warships in what was known as the ABDA area, that is, the combined Australian, British, Dutch and American theatre in south-east Asia. Hastily formed in a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stem the Japanese advance, the ABDA forces were a motley assemblage. The available naval forces in the waters of what was then the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) included warships from all four nations. They included two Dutch cruisers (de Ruyter and Java), the British Exeter, the American Houston and the Perth. They were under the command of the Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman.

    As Japanese invasion forces approached Java late in February 1942 the ABDA squadron steamed from Surabaya in eastern Java to intercept and oppose them.

    This led to the battle of the Java Sea, on 27 February. This was a running fight as the Allied and Japanese forces steamed westwards during a tropical afternoon. Beginning with exchanges of gunfire at long and then close range, the engagement later saw Japanese destroyers racing to make torpedo attacks. Perth covered a Dutch destroyer hit by a torpedo until it blew up and then moved to support the damaged HMS Exeter. By nightfall three Allied destroyers had been lost and the damaged Exeter had withdrawn. Admiral Doorman drew away from the Japanese force but then turned to renew the attack.

    In the dark the battle resumed. Both of the Dutch cruisers were hit by torpedoes and sank, taking Admiral Doorman with them. No Japanese ships had been lost. The costly action had delayed the Japanese invasion by a day.

    Captain Waller of the Perth took command of the USS Houston - all that remained of the Allied squadron - and headed to the port of Tanjong Priok on Java's north coast. The following day, 28 February, Waller re-fuelled and at evening left port to make course through the Sunda Strait, around Java's west coast toward Tjilatjap, on the island's south coast.

    Late that evening, as the two ships entered the Strait, Waller encountered warships. He was in fact steaming toward the main Japanese invasion convoy, lying at anchor in Bantam Bay. The warships he saw were not (as he had expected) Allied, but were the Japanese covering force. He ordered the ships to action stations and opened fire.

    In a night battle, under fire from Japanese cruisers and destroyers, Perth and Houston steamed in a great semi-circle nearly ten miles or sixteen kilometres across. All the while they were under fire from torpedoes and shells. At about midnight a shell holed Perth's hull near the waterline and other hits followed. Waller decided to try a dash for the Strait. Just as he ordered 'full ahead' a torpedo struck, followed by a second a few minutes later.

    Waller ordered his crew to abandon ship. Twenty minutes later the Perth heeled over and sank. The Houston too fought on until it sank after hits by torpedoes. In two battles over three days Allied sea-power in the Netherlands East Indies had been all but destroyed. Nothing could now prevent the Japanese from invading Java, and the Allied navies' task would be to evacuate as many servicemen and civilian refugees as possible. In the course of this effort more ships and lives would be lost. The casualties would include the Australian sloop HMAS Yarra, sunk while fighting off a Japanese squadron a few days later.

    Of Perth's complement of 680 men some 357 were lost during or just after its brief final action. They included Captain Waller. Survivors described how he how last seen 'standing with his arms on the front of the bridge, looking down at the silent turrets'. One of the Royal Australian Navy's new 'Collins' class submarines commemorates Waller.

    Those who survived were gradually picked up by Japanese warships and became prisoners of war. They were held at first in Java, then were sent north to labour on the Burma-Thailand railway. Of the 320 who were captured 105 - almost exactly one man in three - died before they were liberated in 1945. The Houston's survivors also laboured and died as prisoners of war in Java, Thailand and Japan, the two main groups of Allied naval prisoners of war in south-east Asia.

    Speech given 1 March 2002 beside the Roll of Honour at the Aust War Memorial, Canberra

    Remembering 1942 [Australian War Memorial]

    Lest We Forget.
  2. AusLach

    AusLach Active Member

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together Z. These men deserve all the recognition they can get and a VC will certainly help to preserve their story and our memory of them.

    Indeed, Lest We Forget.

  3. CA357

    CA357 New Member Supporter

    Thanks for posting this. The Australian military hasn't received nearly the recognition it so well deserves.