Remembering HMAS Perth and the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Sunda Strait

Sunday, 27 February 2022

The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

Tomorrow, on the 80th anniversary of the loss of HMAS Perth, we honour the extraordinary service and sacrifice of the hundreds of men killed in the Battle of Sunda Strait, while defending Netherlands East Indies (modern day Indonesia) during the Second World War.

HMAS Perth and USS Houston were far outnumbered by the Japanese fleet they encountered on 28 February 1942, while attempting to pass through the narrow and treacherous Sunda Strait, heading to present day Sri Lanka.

Both ships were sunk after sustaining numerous torpedo hits and shell impact after midnight on 1 March 1942.

More than 350 Navy personnel, Royal Australian Air Force personnel and canteen staff were killed when HMAS Perth went down. Those who survived were taken as prisoners and a third of them had died in Japanese captivity by the time the war was over.

Fewer than 400 of the 1,000 American sailors and marines on USS Houston escaped their sinking ship, and only around 290 survived the Japanese prisoner of war camps in the years after.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee said the Australian and American crews should be remembered for their bravery and determination in the face of impossible odds.

“Our sailors were heavily outnumbered, running low on ammunition and changing course constantly to avoid attacks from every direction,” Minister Gee said.

“They fought gallantly against the superior numbers and firepower of the Japanese flotilla, and managed to inflict considerable damage to a number of enemy ships.

“For those who survived and were taken prisoner, their nightmare would continue as they suffered horrendous conditions in the now infamous Japanese POW camps.

“While the Battle of Sunda Strait was a heavy blow to our nations, the story of HMAS Perth and USS Houston speaks to the longstanding alliance between Australia and the US, and our shared commitment to defending freedom.

“Following the sinking of HMAS Sydney in November 1941, the loss of HMAS Perth and those on board had a significant impact as the threat of Japanese invasion loomed.

“Eighty years on, we remember the courage of all those who served on HMAS Perth and the USS Houston.

“We honour those men who gave their lives and acknowledge the suffering of those taken prisoner.

“And we again reflect on the service and sacrifice of all those who rose to the defence of Australia and our neighbours during the Second World War.

“It is our nation’s duty to never, ever forget them.”

Visit the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ Anzac Portal to learn more about HMAS Perth and the Battle of Sunda Strait

Media contacts

Minister Gee’s office: 0459 966 944
DVA Media: 02 6289 6466
Office of the Hon. Andrew Gee, Canberra ACT.

Poem ‘Memory’ by Bandsman George Vanselow, RAN Survivor of HMAS Perth

In Sunda Straits she fought her fight, Gainst hopeless odds that fatal night, Brave men gave all, so great their worth, and glorified the ‘Fighting Perth’.

 

A huge group of Royal Australian Navy personnel onboard HMAS Perth.

HMAS Perth’s ship’s company in Fremantle, 6 August 1941.

 

A malnourished man named George Vanselow who is sitting on the ground and leaning back slightly. He is wearing a singlet, shorts, socks and boots.

Survivor of HMAS Perth, Bandsman George Vanselow who recalled the night Perth and Houston were sunk in his poem entitled ‘Memory’.

 

A Royal Australian Navy ship named HMAS Perth sailing through the Panama Canal.

HMAS Perth in Culebra Cut, Panama Canal on 29 November 1939.

Images from the Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Perth (I) webpage

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