April 9th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Euthanasia: A truly counter-cultural perspective from history

CANBERRA OBSERVED Harsh realities a bridge too far for this election

EDITORIAL Malcolm Turnbull's election strategy emerges

FAMILY AND SOCIETY SSCA sets mines to basic building blocks of society

DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Never mind the issue: this is the agenda

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS Taiwan, China find rapport over South China Sea

ART AND CULTURE Beauty and the beholder

OPINION Labor's princeling class licks dole plate clean

SEX ABUSE ROYAL COMMISSION Truth takes a back seat: scapegoating Cardinal Pell

POLITICAL HISTORY The Labor Split spillover

MUSIC Minimalism more than the sum of Arvo Pärt

CINEMA More like home than utopia: Zootopia

BOOK REVIEW Retrieving meaning

BOOK REVIEW Midget submarine op

BOOK REVIEW A Jewish view of universal ethics


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Midget submarine op

News Weekly, April 9, 2016


THE SEA DEVILS: Operation Struggle and the Last Great Raid of World War Two

by Mark Felton

(Icon Books, London)
Paperback: 290 pages
ISBN: 9781848319943
Price: AUD$27.99


Reviewed by Michael E. Daniel


As a boy I was enthralled by the story of a group of commandoes who sneaked into Singapore Harbour in September of 1943, and successfully sank a number of Japanese ships, and a subsequent raid in 1944 that ended in disaster.

The Sea Devils tells the story of a successful raid in July 1945, one of the last major covert operations of World War II. This raid is the subject of war historian Mark Felton’s latest book.

Operations Struggle, Sabre and Foil were conducted using midget submarines. Previously, the British had used them in raids against German targets, for example, against the Tirpitz in 1943. Following this raid, the British developed a new model of midget submarines, the XE class.

Training for future operations utilising XE submarines was initially conducted in Scotland, before the submarine crews and submarines were shipped to the Pacific field.

However, U.S. commanders were initially reluctant to conduct operations with midget submarines, due to previous problems with them in raids against German targets. They finally agreed to use them in what became operations Struggle, Sabre, and Foil. In the wake of the defeat of Nazi Germany, British forces in the Far East, led by Lord Louis Mountbatten, were planning to liberate Malaya, and wanted Japanese battleships Takao and Myoko in Singapore Harbour, sunk prior to a landing in Malaya.

Following the authorisation by U.S. President Harry S. Truman of the use of the atomic bomb, the U.S. wanted telecommunication cables between Saigon, Hong Kong, and Singapore disabled, so that the Japanese would be forced to communicate by radio. The U.S. had already cracked Japanese codes, and could thereby listen to and gain valuable intelligence from radio transmissions.

On July 30, the submarines left on their respective operations: Operation Struggle to destroy the Myoko and Takao; Operation Sabre to cut the Saigon–Hong Kong telecommunications cable near Saigon; and Operation Foil, to cut the Singapore–Hong Kong cable near Hong Kong.

XE1’s mission, was to sink the Myoko; XE3’s the Takao. Both submarines entered Singapore Harbour. On more than one occasion, they came close to being detected. XE3 successfully mined the Takao; however, XE1 was unable to place limpet mines on the Myoko, instead placing mines on the Takao. XE4 successfully destroyed the cable near Saigon. But XE5 encountered severe difficulties in trying to sever the cable near Hong Kong, and abandoned its mission uncertain as to whether it had been successful – they later learned that they had been.

The Sea Devils is a very engaging read. The account of the raids is organised chronologically. The raids on Singapore almost ended in disaster. For example, at one point, XE3 was trapped under the hull of the Takao. Among the challenges the crews faced were the cramped conditions and unbearable heat in the submarines.

Perhaps the most dangerous parts of the missions were when crew members, such as James Magennis, had to leave the vessel wearing diving equipment, and lay mines on the enemy ships. He and another crew member, Ian Fraser, were to be awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions in the operation.

As with Felton’s other works, such as Zero Hour, previously reviewed by me, The Sea Devils is a thoroughly researched, well-written, and highly engaging book. Felton brings to the modern reader an account of an heroic raid that has been all but forgotten. I found this book hard to put down.

Michael E. Daniel is a freelance writer.

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