Australian Navy marks loss of WWII auxiliary minesweeper

Almost 150 officers and sailors from HMAS Coonawarra commemorate the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Patricia Cam. Photo: Royal Australian Navy

Royal Australian Navy and Northern Territorry community marked the 75th anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Patricia Cam in World War II.

Nine lives were lost when, on 22 January 1943, a Japanese seaplane bombed and sank the auxiliary minesweeper as it sailed from Milingimbi to Elcho Island on a supply run.

In addition to her crew of 19, the auxiliary minesweeper was carrying a missionary and five Yolngu men.

After the opening barrage, the seaplane returned to drop its second bomb and strafe survivors in the water with machine gun fire. It then landed, captured the missionary at gunpoint and flew off.

Commanding officer of HMAS Coonawarra, Commander Viktor Pilicic, said the attack and subsequent story of survival is an extraordinary piece of Northern Territory military history.

“This is a story of mateship, bravery and sacrifice, and of pulling together when times are at their toughest,” Commander Pilicic said.

“The story of the brave men of Patricia Cam demonstrates the best in human character and continues to shape our values and identity as members of the Navy and as Territorians today.”

The survivors were rescued by HMAS Kuru on January 29.

Post-war investigations found the missionary had been held prisoner at Dobo, Indonesia, until 4 May 1943, when he was killed by his Japanese captors.

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