HMAS Kuru was an auxiliary patrol boat operated by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) during World War II. Constructed in 1938 for the Northern Territory Patrol Service, Kuru was requisitioned by the RAN following the Japanese declaration of war in December 1941. The ship operated from Darwin, and was one of the vessels used to keep Allied troops in Timor resupplied following the Japanese invasion. Kuru operated until 1943, when she was damaged beyond repair in an accident.
HMAS Kuru was a 75ft - 55 ton Patrol Boat 78 for the NT Administrator's launch. She was to have been built in Singapore but as a Government contract there was the usual political pressure with the usual result. She was built in Balmain by Gordon Beattie in 1938despite his lack of experience in such vessels.
She had a maximum speed of 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph), and was armed with a single three-pounder gun. In RAN service, her armament was increased to an Oerlikon 20 mm cannon, a 0.50 calibre M2 Browning machine gun, and several lighter machine guns.
Following the outbreak of the Pacific War, 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 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 otherships, 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.
Echoing 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 Islandafter Japanese aircraft destroyed her in the run up to the first bombing of Darwin.
Sheran 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')
HMAS Patricia Cam
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 diedas 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.
HMAS Patricia Cam
734th Kokatai, Aichi E13A ('Jake') attacks 'Patricia Cam'.
At 1330 (22nd January), when the ship was in position 11 degrees 19 seconds South, 136 degrees 23 seconds East on a course for Wessel Island, a plane was seen and heard by several of the ship’s company when just on the point of releasing a bomb. The plane which had dived from out of the sun with engines shut off passed over PATRICIA CAM from stern to stem at an altitude of not more than 100 feet above the mast. The bomb which landed amidships exploded in the bottom planking causing the vessel to sink in about one minute.
Several members of the ship’s company were sitting on the forward hatch when the explosion occurred and were thrown down the hold but were almost immediately washed out again by the inrush of water. Both ship’s boats were destroyed but the raft remained intact. One seaman went down with the ship.
When the vessel sank and while the survivors were bunched in a small area the plane returned and dropped a second bomb killing one seaman and two natives in the water. It then continued to circle for about half an hour machine gunning the survivors without scoring any hits, when it flew away and disappeared to the northward. Shortly after wards, however, it returned and alighted on the water close to where Mr Kentish and a rating were sitting on hatches. The pilot then ordered Mr Kentish to swim over and after a brief conversation he was taken on board and the plane thereupon took off and finally disappeared to the north.
After the departure of the plane the injured were placed on the raft with some uninjured personnel, while most of the remainder, using improvised rafts, attached themselves. Two ratings, however, using hatches as rafts, remained at some distance, and were not seen after nightfall of that day when they were one cable distant from the main body. At 0330 on 23rd January eighteen survivors landed on a small rocky islet about two miles west of Cumberland Strait, two of whom (one stoker RANR, and one native) died shortly afterwards from the effects of bomb blast.
The surviving natives succeeded in lighting a fire which was kept going to attract attention on the mainland. there was ample fresh water but the only food was provided by shellfish and edible root found growing on the island. On 25th January natives discovered the party and took the commanding officer (Lieutenant Alexander C. Meldrum RANR (S) ) by canoe to the mainland to seek aid. Food and first aid kit reached the survivors the following day and they were rescued by HMAS KURU on 29th January.
The Rev Kentish was subsequently executed by the Japanese’ (Navy Historical Section 1991).