Search the Register
Advanced Search
Image Not Available

MV KRAIT

Extensive archival and primary source research has been undertaken by author Lynette Ramsay Silver for her publication 'Krait: the fishing boat that went to war'. Her research has established that KRAIT was most probably built in 1934 at the Hamagami Shipyard, Nagahama on the island of Shikoku, Japan for the Fujisawa family, as the Japanese fishing boat KOFUKU MARU (Happiness or Good Fortune). Designed as a fish carrier and part of a large fleet, the KOFUKU MARU (registered number 2283) picked up fish from fishermen and ports around the Rhio Archipelago areas and returned to Singapore for sale. It took food, water and other supplies to the other fishing boats in the fleet.

Along with about 40 other Japanese fishing vessels, it was confined to port early in World War II but lay idle in Singapore Harbour. At the fall of Singapore to the advancing Japanese forces, the boat was commandeered by Australian Captain Bill Reynolds to evacuate hundreds of civilians from nearby islands, wreckage and rafts to Sumatra. After this Reynolds returned to Indraghiri and renamed the vessel SUEY SIN FAH - and called it a privateer. Armed with Lewis guns, Thompson machine guns and rifles, Reynolds sailed from Indraghiri on 12 March 1942 to Bengkalis in Sumatra. He was one step ahead of the advancing Japanese troops and daily reconnaissance flights by the Japanese. From Sumatra, Reynolds sailed to Negapatam, India arriving there 31 March and was ordered directly to Madras.

There he met up with Major Ivan Lyon of the Gordon Highlanders where it was proposed that the vessel be used as part of a covert operation against shipping in Japanese-occupied Singapore. The now renamed MV KRAIT (named after a deadly species of snake) left India as deck cargo on the SS BALLARAT, arriving in Sydney on Christmas Day, 1942. Thus began a new phase in the life of KRAIT in special operations. Its most famous hour came during a daring commando raid on shipping in Singapore Harbour in 1943.

The use of KRAIT in this way placed heavy demands and a certain level of theatre on the ship and crew, if they were to remain unnoticed and effective. This involved refitting the below-deck areas for stores and equipment. A 14-strong company of volunteer British and Australian army and naval personnel undertook extensive training in Broken Bay. The vessel was subsequently prepared, stored and departed northwards from Sydney.

Significant delays were experienced due to mechanical breakdowns of the engine and gearbox. At Brisbane the foredeck had been coated with a bitumastic compound in an attempt to make it impervious to attack from the air. This had been undertaken on the advice of the Commanding Officer Major Lyon who had experienced aerial bombardment on a timber vessel. This material was later removed as its increased weight badly affected stability and seakeeping. The main propulsion engine (a Deutz 4-cylinder diesel) had failed off Fraser Island en route to Townsville, prompting the need for a new engine to be fitted. A British-made Gardner 6L3 was eventually located in Tasmania. Additionally an auxiliary engine was also fitted driving an air compressor (to start the main engine) and a generator for charging batteries, all of these being driven from belts.

KRAIT then sailed for the United States naval base in Western Australia via Torres Strait. On 2 September they set out from Exmouth Gulf on a difficult and dangerous mission. KRAIT's role was to insert three pairs of operatives in their folboats (folding canoes), a task which up until this time had been carried out by submarine.

Codenamed Operation Jaywick, KRAIT was disguised as a Japanese fishing boat and successfully taken to within 20 miles (32 kilometres) of Singapore itself. The three pairs of operatives in their folboats attached limpet mines to and blew up or damaged seven Japanese tankers and freighters totalling some 37,000 tonnes. The vessel and its crew made a successful but nonetheless harrowing return journey to Australia.

The men who took part in the operation were:
Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Lyon (Gordon Highlanders) *
Lieutenant Commander Donald Davidson (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) *
Lieutenant Hubert (Ted) Carse (Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve)
Captain Robert Page (Australian Imperial Force) *
Corporal Ron Morris (Royal Army Medical Corps)
Acting Leading Seaman Kevin Cain (Royal Australian Naval Reserve)
Leading Telegraphist Horrie Young (Royal Australian Naval Reserve)
Leading Stoker James (Paddy) McDowell (Royal Naval Reserve)
Corporal Andrew Crilley (Australian Imperial Force)
Acting Able Seaman Moss Berryman (Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve)
Able Seaman Walter Falls (Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve) *
Able Seaman A W G Huston DSM (Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve) *
Able Seaman Arthur Jones (Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve)
Acting Able Seaman Fred Marsh (Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve) *
* killed in action or died on Operation Rimau 1944

KRAIT continued World War II service operating out of Darwin with the Lugger Maintenance Unit (LMU) as a coastwatch and intelligence support vessel in Indonesia. Commissioned HMAS KRAIT in 1944, the vessel was at Ambon (in the Moluccas, Indonesia) in September 1945 witnessing the Japanese surrender. In a further mission KRAIT was used in an attempt to evacuate a small team dropped into Timor. Though KRAIT made the distance, the operation was not a success with the ship returning to Darwin. The run-down condition of the ship, arrival of the Snake class vessels and the end of the war ensured that this was the last period of active service involving KRAIT. All SRD vessels were handed over to the British Borneo Civil Affairs Unit (BBCAU) and KRAIT, along with other ships, made the voyage to Morotai (Indonesia), the recent Headquarters of SRD. KRAIT payed off in Labuan (Malaysia) on 12 December 1945.

KRAIT was apparently later used for illicit trafficking in the South China Sea area until captured by Interpol. After a period being laid up, KRAIT was bought by a British sawmiller for the Borneo timber trade - where it was renamed PEDANG (Sword). In 1962 two Australians recognised KRAIT whilst on a timber-related business trip in Borneo. A public appeal followed and the Krait Trust Fund was formed to purchase the vessel and return it to Australia - which it did successfully in 1964. The vessel was operated by the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol in patrol, search and rescue, practical instruction in seamanship, boat handling, coastal navigation and celestial navigation. It was also used for safe boating courses and by many groups including school visits, Boy Scouts, Sea Scouts, Girl Guides, Rotary, Legacy, Lions and Apex clubs and by the Sydney and Seaforth Technical Colleges for seamanship and navigation courses.

KRAIT was passed into the care of the Australian War Memorial in 1985 and has been on loan to ANMM since 1987. The Sydney Maritime Museum (now Sydney Heritage Fleet) was responsible for the major restoration works undertaken in the 1980s.

KRAIT is a timber vessel with a straight stem and counter stern, propelled by a single screw driven by a Gardner oil engine. It has a mainmast forward, wheelhouse mid-ships with aft engine casing fitted with a fixed awning. The vessel was built largely of Burmese teak and is steel fastened. An early example of a motorship, the vessel was originally fitted with a Deutz 75 hp diesel engine of German manufacture.

It has the following principal dimensions:
Length: 21.33 m
Beam: 3.35 m
Draught: 1.50 m
Displacement: 35.27 tonnes
Speed 8.5 knots
Engine 6-cylinder Gardner diesel 85 kW

The original vessel was a flush-decked fishing boat with a wheelhouse amidships, hatches forward and a long engine house aft with canopy. The hull is constructed from timber, mainly teak. Most fastenings appear to be ferrous, either iron or steel. The vessel is fully framed, each frame being doubled and very heavily built. No bulkheads remain though evidence suggests that some were fitted presumably in way of each hatch. Deck beams are likewise very heavy, supporting a laid teak deck.