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MV Krait, the Japanese fishing ship that was used against the Japanese

If you want to raid the enemy’s harbour and blow up their ships without getting caught, what better way to do it than using one of the enemy’s own vessels?

MV Krait is a wooden-hulled vessel that was used in a raid against Japanese ships anchored in Singapore Harbour during the Second World War (WWII).

Codenamed Operation Jaywick, the mission was carried out by a special task forced called Z Special Unit.

They are mainly made of British and Australian soldiers who had escaped Singapore before its surrender.

The history of MV Krait

After the Fall of Singapore in 1942, civilians made their escape from the island on all kinds of boats and ships.

In the middle of the chaotic scene, an Australian master mariner named Bill Reynolds managed to salvage a little Japanese fishing boat.

The ship’s name was Kofuku Maru. Reynolds used her to rescue civilians fleeing the island and at one point evacuating over 1,100 people from ships sunk along the east coast of Sumatra.

Kofuku Maru eventually reached Australia and was handed over to the Australian military. The Allied forces then renamed her Krait after the small but deadly snake.

MV Krait and Operation Jaywick

Major Ivan Lyon, whom Reynolds came across with during his rescue work, became very interested in the Japanese vessel.

He conceived the idea of raiding Singapore Harbour using Kofuku Maru. Both Lyon and Reynolds realised that if the vessel could get out of Singapore unnoticed then she could get in unnoticed as well.

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On Sept 2, 1943, eleven Australian and four British army and navy personnel as part of the Z Special Force went on board MV Krait left Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia heading to Singapore.

Today, blackface is considered rude and offensive since it was used to mock enslaved Africans. However, these operatives dyed not only their hair black but their skins as well for their disguise. The skin dye later caused many skin problems for them causing irritation and reactions to sunlight.

The crew even flew a Japanese flag and wore sarongs to look like the local fishermen.

MV Krait finally arrived off Singapore on Sept 24. There, six of them left the boat to paddle 50km to a small island near the harbour.

Then on the night of Sept 26, the men used folboats to paddle into the harbour and placed limpet mines on several Japanese ships.

The mission was successful, sinking six of the Japanese ships. The raiders waited until the commotion to die down before returning to Krait on Oct 2.

In the meantime, MV Krait spent two weeks circling in the South China Sea to avoid suspicion and waiting to return for the pre-arranged pickup.

On their way back to Australia, MV Krait was almost approached by a Japanese auxiliary minesweeper who was on patrol. Lucky for them, nothing happened and the Japanese did not suspect a thing. On Oct 19, the Krait arrived safely back at Exmouth Gulf.

Crew of the MV Krait during Operation Jaywick, 1943. Credit: Public Domain

The price of Operation Jaywick

The raid had caught the Japanese with their pants down. They never thought the Allied forces would attack Singapore.

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Hence, their suspicion laid on the locals. The price for the successful Operation Jaywick was unfortunately paid by the blood of civilians and civilian internees who were captured and tortured by Kenpeitai (Japanese military police).

It went down in history as the Double Tenth Incident or Double Tenth Massacre since it occurred on Oct 10, 1943.

The Kenpeitai arrested altogether 57 civilians and civilians internees suspecting them to be involved in a raid on Singapore Harbour.

However, none of them had participated in the raid or even had any knowledge of it. In the end, 15 of them died in Singapore’s Changi Prison.

MV Krait after Operation Jaywick

After the success of Operation Jaywick, MV Krait was used continuously by the Australian military throughout WWII.

When the Japanese official surrendered on Ambon, Indonesia in September 1945, she was there to witness the historical event.

After her service, she was sold to the British Borneo Company at Labuan and operated off Borneo for few years.

In 1964, MV Krait was purchased as an Australian Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol vessel. In the same year, she was dedicated as a war memorial.

Since 1988, she has been displayed to the public at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney.

Since the success of MV Krait on Operation Jaywick, the Australian Commando Unit traditionally used the names of venomous snakes for their vessels.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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