In Britain the Commando attack on shipping at Bordeaux that was Operation Frankton is relatively well known, largely because of the film ‘Cockleshell Heroes’. A very similar attack by Australian special forces on Japanese ships in Singapore Harbour took place on the night of 26th September.
In both Operations canoes were used to gain covert access to the harbour and then place limpet mines on the target ships. The men in Operation Jaywick were brought relatively close to the attack site by a captured Japanese fishing vessel, the Krait. Even the passage by the Krait through Japanese dominated waters was not without peril, with most of the men dying their skin brown so that they would not appear to be European from a distance. They still faced a long and hazardous canoe journey for the final stage into Singapore.
Horace Young was the radio operator on the Krait and stayed on board when the canoeists left for the attack. In an interview in 2004 he described how they picked the canoeists up, days later:
We were a little bit late getting to the rendezvous on Pompong, because we’d run into a bad Sumatra on the way. That had put us back about 4 or 5 hours I think from our rendezvous time, which was supposed to be round about the midnight time.
When we weren’t too sure what the hell we were going into, we had to sneak past this blessed Japanese observation post and fortunately there was no moon, so we were pretty right. Carse went in and dropped the anchor and everybody’s waiting there with the fingers on the Owen gun triggers and the Brens and things like that, cos they weren’t too sure what the hell was gonna happen.
Then it was Davidson, playboy as he is, tried to sneak onboard undetected. He was a bit lucky he didn’t get a burst from a Bren gun. The blokes were pretty trigger-happy. Davo slipped over the stern and closely followed by Falls. Naturally we were more than delighted to see them. But boy, they were really beat cos they’d paddled 60 miles from Subar down to Pompong. It was pretty stressy stuff. They were pretty beat. We had a little bit of a chat about what had happened. We got the gist of what had happened. We were worried about the other two canoeists, cos they weren’t there. So we hung around till dawn. By that time Davidson had turned in. He was pretty tired. He and Falls had turned in.
Carse said, “We’re not gonna hang around here in daylight with those patrol vessels coming up and down”. So he ordered them to weigh anchor and come back in a couple of days’ time.
He mentioned that 7 ships were reported to be destroyed.
I won’t say they were sunk because I think they floated some of them. They’d probably be sitting with their bottom blown out something like that. Just a description. Davidson and Falls went right in underneath the wharves right alongside Singapore proper. The Japanese guards were walking up and down the wharves whilst they were underneath the wharves under their feet.
They followed a tug through the boom defence to go inside. The whole place was lit up like Luna Park. There was no blackout or anything like that. The Town Hall was chiming the chimes. There were a few ships in there, but nothing big enough to waste limpets on, so they went back through the boom the same way as they came in.
Q: What physical shape were they in?
A: Pretty knocked about. Particularly with hands blistered, blisters on the seat and all that sort of thing. Because you’ve only gotta get a bit of sand or something in those things and it turns it into sandpaper really.
Q: Describe the morale.
A: Pretty high. Very high. They were all elated that everyone had been picked up and the operation had been a success. We suffered no casualties, the morale was really very high.
Q: What had the canoe men heard or seen of the ships being damaged?
A: They were in the harbour when they started going off at 5 in the morning, some of them. They were paddling furiously of course to get out. They heard the explosions. Lyon had a telescope rigged up on one of the islands they went to to make some observations from and there was a very thick pool of smoke over the whole of the Singapore Harbour. There was plenty of evidence of damage there. They were rushing up and down madly, patrol boats rushing up and down. It was a vastly different situation from when they went in.
The whole interview transcript can be read at: Australians at War.