Throughout world War II the Allies came together at times. The SBS were leaders in conducting sabotage and disruption missions and the British special forces unit had different types of new equipment including a motorised submersible canoe (MSC) that was used by Special Operations Australia (SOA).
Special Operations Australia
Special Operations Australia (SOA), had placed an order for three different types of canoes from British forces. The order included Chariots, Welmans and Sleeping Beauty’s, the nickname of the MSCs. The SOA put to good use the portion of Sleeping Beauty’s they requested and received.
Experts designed the MSC for a single occupant to conduct reconnaissance or attacks against enemy vessels. For example the pilot could exit the canoe to plant limpet mines and return to the vessel to make his escape.
It was September 1943 when Operation Jaywick took place. In the crowded port of Singapore, Japanese ships were piled many deep and therefore a prime target for the Allies. The Special Operations Executive 136 Force were planning a mission. Led by Lieutenant-Colonel Ivan Lyon, attached to the Special Operations Executive 136 Force from the Gordon Highlanders, Lyon and three canoeists captured a native fishing boat. The guys nicknamed it the MV Krait after the Asian snake that is small but deadly.
The Special Operations Australia team converted it and camouflaged it, using it to conceal themselves. They were careful about the trail of rubbish they left to avoid leaving European clues in Asian waters. They darkened their skin to give them a more foreign look so it would reduce the chances of standing out like they would do on a normal day in this part of the world.
On the night of the attack Lyon and his companions used two canoes to conduct the attack. They paddled 31 miles to establish a base in a cave. The base was on a small island near the harbour to enable them to start the mission quickly when the time was right. Taken from SBS: The Inside Story of the Special Boat Service….
They paddled through the filthy waters of this bustling port, unnoticed amid the conflicting smells of diesel and spices and the cacophony of noises and activity all around them. The two canoes moved SILENTLY towards their targets on single paddles so as not to kick up any phosphorescence. Unseen, they passed Japanese sentries patrolling the harbour walls.
Lyon and his team attached limpet mines to four of the vessels in the port. They returned to their boat and made the journey through more than 1000 miles of waters patrolled by the Japanese to get back to Exmouth Sound, off the coast of Australia to the north-west.
After the limpet mines had exploded, there were more than 40,000 tons of damaged Japanese shipping left behind by the mission. They left seven ships either sunk or with serious damage. The patrol didn’t get spotted on the way home but did have a near miss by a Japanese fishing boat. The journey home was uneventful.
The Japanese were unaware that a raid like this could be conducted from Australia. They accused Chinese guerrillas. The Japanese secret police conducted mass arrests of local civilians in an attempt to uncover the truth but never got anywhere of course. The Chinese civilians didn’t know anything about the SOA.
The Allies didn’t admit that they were responsible for the attacks. This led to some questions about whether the attacks were worth it. The SOA caused some damage that put the ships out of action for a few months. With the Japanese thinking the Chinese guerrillas were responsible it didn’t result in a large disruption of enemy troops to more valuable areas to prevent further possible attacks.
Special forces units often conduct small scale sabotage attacks purely to tie up enemy troops by defending more areas so if a pair of SBS canoeists can successfully cause some damage and make their escape maybe the enemy could potentially move more troops to cover their valuable bases. This will tie up a number of soldiers, more than the sabotage team so they can cause a massive disruption in the big picture of the battle.
A Slight Downside
The men caused damage which was good but they didn’t cause a large scale movement of troops. SOA continue to use the tactics and techniques. Other special forces also use the same ones but at a more advanced level. This is mainly due to technology more than anything. The mission helped the skills of our SBS remain as the best in the world in maritime sabotage.