Military History

This Week in History | Week 49

By The Cove November 30, 2020

Week 49 | 30 November - 06 December


01 December 1942 | HMAS Armidale Sunk

Note From the Cove Team: This week in History normally is focused on Army events, this was included because many of the survivors that underwent the post sinking ordeal were members of the Army.  

HMAS Armidale was commissioned in Sydney on 11 June 1942. In November the ship was ordered, along with HMAS Kuru and Castlemaine, to resupply and evacuate troops and civilians from Betano Bay, Timor.

Spotted by Japanese reconnaissance aircraft as they left Darwin, Armidale and Castlemaine survived repeated air attacks but reached Betano too late to rendezvous with Kuru, which had already embarked Portuguese refugees and made for open water. The two corvettes found Kuru 110 kilometres off Timor and the refugees were transferred to Castlemaine, which then returned to Darwin. Kuru and Armidale were ordered to continue the operation in daylight. Both came under further attack and Armidale was sunk.

The survivors, having been strafed by the attacking aircraft, constructed a makeshift raft to which they lashed a half-submerged and badly-damaged whaler. The wounded were put aboard a small motor boat that had survived the sinking. When it became clear they would not be rescued, the captain and 21 other men (two of whom died) made for Australian waters in the motor boat, rowing much of the way because the engine was damaged. Two days later, another 29 survivors began the same precarious journey in the whaler, by now salvaged but in need of constant baling.

The remaining survivors clung to the raft and awaited rescue. After harrowing journeys the men in the motor boat and whaler were picked up, but the men left on the raft disappeared without trace. The loss of life on the Armidale was the highest for any corvette in the Second World War. Only 49 of the 149 men on board survived the ordeal.

The story of Able Seaman Teddy Sheean  came back into the spotlight this year. When the Armidale was struck by two torpedoes and a bomb, and began to sink; the order to abandon ship was given. After helping to free a life-raft, Sheean was wounded by two bullets. He made his way to the aft Oerlikon 20 mm cannon and began to fire on the Japanese aircraft to protect those in the water. Sheean managed to shoot down one of the Japanese bombers, but died when Armidale sank. Many of the survivors credited their lives to Sheean and he was posthumously mentioned in despatches.

After a few failed attempts to petition for Sheean to be awarded the Victoria Cross, Prime Minister Scott Morrison MP, commissioned another expert panel to examine whether Sheean should be awarded the VC. On 10 August 2020, Morrison accepted the findings of the panel and recommended the Queen posthumously award Sheean the Victoria Cross for Australia.The Queen approved the award on 12 August.

The Cove Team highly recommends reading the book: HMAS Armidale Lives On, a reprint of HMAS Armidale, the Ship that had to Die by Frank B Walker.


03 December 1914 | First AIF disembarked in Egypt

Though many had expected to go to Britain, Turkey's entry into the war saw the first Australian troops sent to Egypt to protect the vital Suez Canal.


03 December 1968 | The start of the Battle of Hat Dich (Operation Goodwood)

The Battle of Hat Dich (3 December 1968 − 19 February 1969) was a series of military actions fought between an allied contingent, including the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Viet Cong (VC) during the Vietnam War. Under the codename Operation Goodwood, two battalions from 1 ATF deployed away from their base in Phuoc Tuy Province, operating against suspected PAVN/VC bases in the Hat Dich area, in western Phuoc Tuy, south-eastern Bien Hoa and south-western Long Khanh Provinces as part of a large allied sweep known as Operation Toan Thang II. The Australians and New Zealanders conducted sustained patrolling throughout the Hat Dich and extensively ambushed tracks and river systems in the Rung Sat Special Zone, occupying a series of fire support bases as operations expanded.





The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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