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HMAS Armidale Sunk

1 DEC 1942: World War II and HMAS Armidale is sunk. Armidale was sunk by Japanese aircraft near Timor. As the Armidale sank Able Seaman Teddy Sheean fired at attacking bombers until he was lost with his ship.

Armidale was engaged in escort duties in the North Queensland – Port Moresby – Milne Bay area. In October 1942, HMAS Armidale was ordered to Darwin. Arriving on 7 November, she was then allocated to support Australian operations in Timor.

HMAS Armidale and her sister ship the HMAS Castlemaine, were sent to Betano in Timor to effect the withdrawal of the 2/2 Independent Company and to evacuate some civilians. They were also to land replacement forces on the island that was, at the time, in Japanese hands.

Shortly before 2:00 am on 29 November, both ships left Darwin to rendezvous with HMAS Kuru. Seven hours later, about 120 miles from Timor, the two corvettes were attacked by a single aircraft. Instructions from Darwin were that the mission was to proceed but that air cover would be provided. However, before the corvettes reached Betano at 3:00 am on 1 December, they were attacked again. On the second occasion, air support finally arrived.

On the night of 1st-2nd December, passengers from HMAS Kuru (176 Dutch troops, 120 Portugese women and children and some medical evacuees) were transferred to HMAS Castlemaine for evacuation to Darwin.

No sooner had the transfer been effected than the corvettes came under fire again. HMAS Kuru and HMAS Armidale sailed for Betano Bay where the operation was to be completed, while HMAS Castlemaine departed to look for crew missing from a downed Beaufighter some 150 miles south-west of Betano, and then to return to Darwin.

HMAS Kuru and Armidale again came under attack from Japanese bombers. Separating, the Kuru sustained only fairly minor damage. But, in the afternoon of the 1st of December the Japanese attack on the Armidale escalated.

There were now nine Japanese bombers, three fighters and a float plane attacking the ship from four directions, dropping bombs and torpedoes. Shortly after 3:00 pm the Armidale was hit.

In addition to her normal crew of 83, the Armidale was carrying three Australian Army personnel, two Dutch Army officers and 61 Indonesian troops. About two-thirds of the Indonesians were in the forward mess, and were killed, when the ship was first hit.

The ship listed to port, reaching an angle of about 50˚. The order came to abandon ship. Some jumped overboard, others climbed into the motor boat and onto carley floats. The Japanese attack continued with those in the aircraft machine-gunning the survivors in the water.

About to jump overboard, Teddy could see his shipmates being torn to pieces by the gun fire. Some duck-dived to escape the bullets only to be hit when next coming up for breath.

Not yet wounded, Teddy turned from the lottery of the sea, to face certain death attempting to save those struggling below. Making it back to his station, Teddy strapped himself to his Oerlikon gun and began firing 20 mm shells at the attacking aircraft, shooting down one bomber and perhaps damaging two more.

A Japanese fighter zoomed in with guns blazing. Teddy was hit twice, his chest and back torn open. With blood pouring from his wounds, Teddy remained firing, forcing the Japanese planes to veer away. The men in the water tell of the desperate, blood-stained gunner wheeling his gun from target to target, his powerless legs dragging on the deck.

As the Armidale took another hit and sank even faster, the sea rose above Teddy’s waist and chest and then above the gun itself. As the sea closed over the young gunner and his gun, their shots continued to pour forth. Painting: By Dale Marsh depicting Teddy Sheean strapped to Armidale’s aft Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun firing at Japanese bombers. Sheean was observed by his shpmates to continue firing at the enemy as the ship sank. More;

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