Kellie is a film and travel addict that is always looking for new things to experience.
Published September 30th 2013
An Icon of bravery right in the middle of Darling Harbour
The Krait fishing boat moored outside the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour may just look like an old fishing boat, but the Krait is a bona fide war hero, having pulled off the most daring and successful raid in Australia's war history. Unbeknown to tourists and passers-by, this small fishing boat played a key role in several stories of bravery in World War II, all the more fascinating considering the modest appearance of this plain little boat.
MV Krait outside the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour
The Krait started off as a simple fishing boat called Kofoku Maru and was owned by 60 year old Australian civilian Bill Reynolds. When World War II broke out in Singapore in 1942, Reynolds used the small fishing boat to evacuate refugees out of Singapore and save survivors from vessels attacked by Japanese aircraft. Reynolds and his crew then made his way from Singapore to India in the nondescript vessel through Japanese occupied waters, where the boat was handed over to the Australia military and later shipped back to Australia.
Perhaps inspired by the way he was able to move through occupied waters undetected, Reynolds and a brave British military intelligence officer named Captain Ivan Lyon devised a plan to attack Japanese warships in Singapore Harbour using the inconspicuous fishing boat as a disguise. Lyon headed up the mission known as Operation Jaywick, and the small fishing boat was renamed the MV Krait after a small but deadly snake found in Asia.
On 2nd September 1943 the Kriat left Exmouth Gulf in Western Australia for Singapore Harbour. Lyon led a crew of 14 soldiers from the commando Z Special unit, known for sabotage and for working behind the Japanese lines. The crew dyed their hair and skin, wore sarongs and made sure any rubbish thrown overboard held up their disguise of Indonesian fishermen.
It took 22 days for the small boat to reach Singapore Harbour. Once the men arrived, six of the soldiers left the boat and paddled an additional 50km on collapsible canvas canoes to a small island within the Harbour, which would act as base until the night of the attack. Two days later the soldiers paddled into Singapore Harbour at night and placed magnetic limpet mines on several Japanese ships before paddling back to the island. Seven ships were sank or damaged and all crew were collected safely by the Krait a few days later, without the Japanese ever suspecting the attack had originated from Australia.
A year later in 1944 based on the success of Operation Jaywick, Lyon led another attack on Japanese ships in Singapore Harbour known as Operation Rimau (Malay for tiger). This time the mission did not use the Krait, but set out by submarine to Singapore before transferring to a Malay junk boat. While Lyon and his men were off the boat planning the attack, the vessel was challenged by a Japanese patrol boat and their cover was blown. With a crew of six men Lyon still managed to sink another three boats with limpet mines; however his men were tracked down by the Japanese and killed in battle. Lyon died holding off the Japanese while the injured men escaped, though they all died later.
Following the war the Krait was sold off and used to transport timber around Borneo, when it was recognised by two Australians in the 1950's and a public appeal was formed to bring the boat back to Australia. In 1964 the ship was finally brought home and the vessel was formally recognised as a war memorial. The Krait is now owned by the Australian War Memorial and has been cared for and on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum since 1987.
The Krait is visible in Darling Harbour and from the Pyrmont Bridge, so you don't necessarily need to go into the Maritime Museum to see it from the outside - though there will be some more interesting information about it inside the museum. For more information specifically about the Krait's war mission the excellent book 'Krait: The Fishing Boat that Went to War' by Lynette Ramsay Silver is a recommended read. The Krait also features in the 1982 television movie The Highest Honour.