Battle of the Coral Sea
A display of panels, artefacts, model ships and dioramas tells the story of Townsville’s association with the two world wars at sea, with as focal point the Battle of the Coral Sea (4-8 May 1942), which was fought between Japanese and Allied naval forces only about 885 km (477 nautical miles) north-east of Townsville. The showpieces amongst the models are HMAS Nestor (dedicated to Neville George who sailed on the ship and later founded the Museum) and the aircraft-carrier USS Lexington. A model of HMAS Albatross, an early seaplane carrier, represents the history of the Royal Australian Navy between the world wars. Also on show is a model of the famous (or infamous) World War I German auxiliary cruiser (or raider) Seeadler, probably one of the last windjammers (large steel-hulled sailing ships) used for waging war. Enhancing the display are a series of short video documentaries, courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum, featuring the story of the Australian submarine AE2 and Australian troop transports during World War I.
Also on show are two World War II documentaries, loaned to the Museum thanks to the generosity of the Australian National Maritime Museum. The one documentary, titled Clash of the carriers, features the Battle of the Coral Sea, using original footage and state of the art animation, making the battle through stunning visuals and sounds real as never before. This documentary is part of War and Peace in the Pacific 75, a program of the Australian National Maritime Museum supported by the USA Bicentennial Fund.
The other documentary confronts the visitor with the human side of the battle through interviews with Australian and US Coral Sea veterans, both moving and entertaining.
Women’s War 2
The Women's War 2 exhibition , consisting of display panels and display cases arranged around a mock-up of a typical North Queensland living-room during the war, complete with a piano and blackout curtains.This exhibition tells some of the stories about life in Townsville during the years 1939-1945 from a young woman's perspective. The twelve participating ladies whose experiences are showcased had all worked in different local industries in the defence of the country, many of them associated with maritime industries.
Dark Victory - Operation Jaywick: Singapore: 1943
A humble wooden fishing tender that was part of one of World War II’s most daring and successful raids, MV Krait, will share its story through a pull-up banner touring exhibition, a video documentary and an accompanying Virtual Reality experience. This exhibition will be on show at the Maritime Museum of Townsville, now until the end of September.
Called Operation Jaywick, the plan was for the fishing tender and its 14 Z Special Unit personnel, disguised as a Malay fishing crew and vessel, to sneak into Singapore Harbour and attack Japanese ships.
Established in June 1942, Z Special Unit, consisting of Australian, British, Dutch, New Zealand, Timorese and Indonesian members, was a secret special forces unit with the purpose to infiltrate areas under Japanese occupation, gather intelligence, conduct raids on shipping and other acts of sabotage and rescue Allied military personnel.
Built in Japan in 1934 and named Kofuku Maru (Happiness or Good Fortune), she was a fishing tender that took food and supplies to fishing boats around Singapore and collected their catch. She was seized by the British before Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. Australian captain Bill Reynolds and his crew evacuated over 1,100 civilians during the Japanese attacks before ending up in India, Sri Lanka and eventually Australia. Here the military authorities took over the vessel for transport purposes and renamed her Krait after a deadly snake of the Indian jungle.
In Australia, Reynolds and British Major Ivan Lyon crossed paths and hatched a plan to use a boat as part of a top-secret mission, which would see the vessel disguised as a local fishing vessel leave from Australia, travel to Singapore and there to use folboats (collapsible kayaks) to sneak up undetected to Japanese ships to attach limpet mines and sink them.
The Krait was shipped to Sydney for repairs, before she was moved to one of Z Special Unit's bases on Thursday Island. On its journey north, the engine died near the Whitsundays and she was towed to Townsville for repairs. A new engine was fitted in Cairns.
On 13 August 1943, Krait left Thursday Island for Exmouth in Western Australia. Here, further repairs were made. Eventually, on 2 September, she departed for Singapore with a crew of ten sailors and four soldiers. The unit travelled for three and a half weeks to reach Singapore, disguised as Malay fishermen and flying a Japanese flag.
Leaving the Krait in the safer waters of Borneo, six commandos navigated in three folboats undetected over 100km for three nights until they reached Singapore Harbour on 26 September. They penetrated the harbour unseen and attached magnetic limpet mines to the hulls of Japanese merchant vessels. Seven ships were either destroyed or severely damaged, representing and over 37,000 tonnes of shipping.
The Krait crew was instructed to wait only two weeks to meet the men at the rendezvous point, but after only one folboat its crew made it back in time, they decided to ignore this instruction and waited another few days. Incredibly the other two folboats and their crew made it back to Krait two days later. On 19 October, Krait and her entire complement arrived safely back at Exmouth.
The raid had dark consequences. On 10 October, the Japanese military police arrested 57 civilians on suspicion of their involvement in the raid. They were tortured for weeks and fifteen of them died. Others barely survived. The story of one of them, Elizabeth Choy, is told in the exhibition. This incident later became known as the Double Tenth Massacre.
Produced in 2018, Dark Victory commemorated the 75th anniversary of the daring raid in that year. The Australian National Maritime Museum developed a touring exhibition and joined forces with the National Museum of Singapore to produce the video and the virtual reality experience. Using a headset, the viewer is taken ‘on board’ the Krait for a guided tour to explore the historic vessel.
Operation Jaywick was preceded by a mock attack on shipping in Townsville harbour on 23 June 1943, intended as a training exercise. Z Special Unit commandos members penetrated the port using folboats and attached dummy limpet mines to at least ten ships. The raid had been conducted without informing the local military authorities (on purpose) and caused havoc. Nevertheless, it demonstrated the effectiveness of the planned method of attack on shipping in Singapore. Some of the commandos who took part later participated in Operation Jaywick.
Z Special Unit was disbanded after the war. In May 1992, a commemorative plaque was unveiled during a ceremony at the Museum, attended by four surviving members of the unit. This plaque commemorates the practice raid.
Krait survived the war. Dedicated as a war memorial, she is on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.