The sinking HMAS Patricia Cam
On a clear morning in 1943, the HMAS Patricia Cam sailed for Yirrkala, she did not reach her destination.
This week we commemorate the 75th anniversary of a piece of little known World War II history, the sinking of HMAS Patricia Cam.
The Patricia Cam, when built in Brisbane in 1940, was never intended for military service. The wooden vessel began her life as a tuna fishing boat. She was never meant to be used as an auxiliary minesweeper during World War II.
German surface raiders in 1940-41 were increasingly successful in laying mines in Australian shipping lanes, therefore it was decided that minesweeping vessels were required to keep the shipping lanes clear to provide safe passage.
On 3 March 1942, under the command of Lieutenant John Grant, RANR, the Patricia Cam was requisitioned and commissioned as an auxiliary minesweeper.
Five days after her commissioning, HMAS Patricia Cam sailed from Sydney, heading north to Darwin, where she arrived on the 5 April, 1942. She was tasked with carrying stores and salvage from the wreck of American ship Don Isidro that was sunk in the first raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942.
Early on the morning of 13 January 1943, carrying stores and passengers for several outlying missions, HMAS Patricia Cam left Darwin. On-board, in addition to her crew, was Reverend Leonard Kentish, Chairman of the Methodist Northern Australia Mission District along with five Aboriginal personnel, one of whom was a native pilot who regularly assisted with navigation among the uncharted reefs and shoals. Not being equipped with radar, the Patricia Cam relied on the eyes and the ears of the ship’s crew for safe passage and warning of approaching vessels.
At 1.00PM on 22 January, a Japanese, three seater twin-floatplane dived from out of the sun with its engine shut down, passing over the ship from stem to stern – no more than 100 feet above the mast. The Japanese sea plane dropped a 60kg bomb and sprayed her with machine gun fire. The bomb ripped through the cargo hatch and exploded in the bottom planking. It took less than a minute for HMAS Patricia Cam to be inundated and sink.
Ordinary Seaman Neil Penglase, went down with the ship. Some of the survivors bunched together in the water and were hit by a secondary bomb that killed crew members AM Edward Nobes and two of the Aboriginal passengers. For the next 30 minutes the remaining survivors were machine-gunned in the water.
Moments after the attack, the Japanese plane flew off to the north, only to return and land nearby. Reverend Kentish, threatened with a revolver, was ordered to swim over to the aircraft and after a brief interaction, he was taken prisoner (this occasion is possibly the only time an Australian citizen was taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese in mainland Australian waters during WWII).
The remaining survivors were spotted on 27 January 1943 by an RAAF aircraft from Horn Island. They were all rescued on 29 January and returned to Darwin two days later.
An investigation confirmed that Reverend Kentish had been held as a prisoner of war until he was beheaded by his Japanese captors on 4 May, 1943.
A tree commemorating the sinking of HMAS Patricia Cam is located at the Shrine of Remembrance, St Kilda Road, Melbourne.