Australia marks 75th anniversary of HMAS Perth sinking

Photo: Royal Australian Navy

Australian sailors aboard Darwin-based patrol boat, HMAS Maryborough, marked the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Perth (I), with a midnight ceremony over the wreck in the Sunda Strait.

The service took on special significance this year, with increased efforts to preserve the wreck over which the ceremony took place at 12:30am on March 1 – the precise time that Perth sank.

Commanding officer of Maryborough, Lieutenant Tom Mobbs said his crew had been honored to undertake the solemn duty.

“We were so proud to have honoured those lost,” Lieutenant Mobbs said.

“The qualities of heroism and leadership demonstrated by those in Perth are as important now as they were during the battle in which she was sunk.”

On 1 March 1942, the Royal Australian Navy light cruiser and the United States warship USS Houston were sunk in a confrontation with the Japanese naval taskforce.

At the time of her loss Perth’s ship’s company totalled 681, comprising 671 naval personnel, six Royal Australian Air Force personnel (for operating and servicing the aircraft) and four civilians (canteen staff). Her Captain, Hec Waller went down with the ship with 349 naval personnel and three civilians. Four naval personnel died ashore without having been taken prisoner. A further 106 men died in captivity.

Houston lost 696 sailors and marines with 368 captured, many of those captured suffered a similar fate to their Australian counterparts.

Wreaths were laid by Maryborough in memory of both Australian and American personnel lost.

The site of the Perth wreck remains vulnerable to local shipping and illegal salvage operations which have damaged the wreck in past years.

However, the future of the site is looking brighter with Indonesian President Joko Widodo acknowledging the 75th anniversary of the Perth sinking.

The President also reaffirmed a commitment to strengthen cooperation in the area of maritime cultural heritage, in a joint maritime statement with Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during his recent Australian visit.

Australian National Maritime Museum experts and authorities from the Archaeology Research Centre at the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture are planning a joint dive on Perth to establish its current condition.

Captain Waller and the men of Perth are also remembered through the naming of an initial entry officers course division ‘Waller’ at the Royal Australian Naval College, at HMAS Creswell.

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