HMAS Kuru story
HMAS Kuru story echoes a familiar Defence acquisition story, Haultain in “Watch off Arnhem Land” writes that in April 1939 – ‘On her maiden voyage she had been forced into Townsville on her way to Darwin, with the hull ‘hogged’ so badly that she was put on the ‘slips’ for extensive repairs; the cost of these exceeded her building costs, and she never achieved the speeds for which she had been designed……However, when the Navy took her over she redeemed herself, and had her days of glory.’
She went on to have a fabled war assisting with boom defence on Darwin Harbour, she took part in the response to the sinking of the Don Isidro which grounded off Bathurst Island after Japanese aircraft destroyed her in the run up to the first bombing of Darwin.
HMAS Kuru story includes Z Force after the outbreak of the Pacific War. HMAS Kuru was commissioned into the RAN in December 1941 as an auxiliary patrol boat. HMAS Kuru played an important role in the Battle of Timor from May 1942 and completed numerous supply trips to the island.
In late November 1942, the RAN was called on to evacuate the commandos of the 2/2nd Independent Company after ten months of guerilla warfare against the Japanese in Timor (an evacuation attempt in September had failed when the destroyer HMAS Voyager grounded, then was destroyed by Japanese aircraft).
A contingent of Dutch troops, and over 100 Portuguese civilians, while delivering a relief contingent of Royal Netherlands East Indies Army and Australian soldiers.
Kuru ran Z Special commandos into the Japanese occupied islands on what was known as the Timor Ferry Service………”Kuru was the first to be sighted by searching enemy aircraft – forty-four of them dropped over 200 bombs as well as strafing her. Grant threw her violently from side to side and by some extraordinary dispensation of fate all the bombs missed.
One stick of bombs fell so that Kuru fitted neatly between them. The bomb which fell astern scored a direct hit on the barge which she was towing. The concussion set off a chiming clock in the wheelhouse prompting the quartermaster to yell defiantly, ‘Good on you, Tojo; you rang the bloody bell. Give the man a cigar.” (John Leggoe – Trying to be Sailors’).
Kuru and the Bathurst class corvettes Armidale and Castlemaine were assigned to the operation: on 30 November Kuru was to reach Betano Bay two hours before the other ships, offload her cargo, and take on the civilians, then meet the corvettes as they arrived and shuttle the fresh troops ashore, with personnel evacuated on return trips. Kuru sailed early on 29 November, and arrived without incident.
After offloading the supplies and taking on 70 women and children, the vessel waited for Armidale and Castlemaine to arrive, but after they failed to appear by 02:00 the next morning, sailed for Darwin. The corvettes, which had been delayed by air attacks, found Kuru after dawn, and the civilians were transferred to Castlemaine, with Armidale and Kuru ordered to return by separate routes and attempt the operation again that night.
During the day, Kuru was attacked by Japanese aircraft; despite the dropping of over 260 bombs, the vessel suffered only minor damage.
At 20:00, the operation was called off as Japanese cruisers had been sighted in the area, and Kuru returned to Darwin on 3 December. Armidale was not so lucky; she was attacked and sunk by Japanese aircraft on 1 December.
Kuru was damaged beyond repair by an accident in October 1943. Kuru was awarded the battle honours “Darwin 1942-43” and “Pacific 1942” for her wartime service.
Following the evacuation of Timor, Kuru operated in Northern Australian waters and rescued the survivors of HMAS Patricia Cam in January 1943.
Following the Japanese bombing & sinking of HMAS Patricia Cam in 1943, just north of Elcho Island – HMAS Kuru recovered the 14 survivors and brought them safely back to Darwin.
Three Yolngu men and four crew died as a result of the sinking whilst the Reverend Len Kentish was plucked from the water and taken aboard the flying boat to the Aru Islands where he was beheaded by his captors in a war crime for which the principal offended was hanged. Two of the casualties, Stoker Percy Cameron and a Yolngu from south of Yirrkala, Gitjbapuy, are buried side by side in the Wessels.