Australian Embassy

Honouring the War Dead in The Sunda Strait

Media Release

15 June 2016

An Australian Navy ship has held a solemn ceremony in the Sunda Strait to remember one of the most heroic battles in Indonesian waters during World War Two.

On March 1 1942, the cruisers HMAS Perth I and USS Houston confronted a Japanese Naval taskforce. Outgunned and dramatically outnumbered, both ships fought until each was sunk after running out of ammunition. 

375 men died on the Australian warship, with 328 Australians rescued only to spend the rest of the war in Prisoner Of War camps, where many more died.

USS Houston lost 696 sailors and marines with 368 captured, many of those captured suffered a similar fate to their Australian counterparts.

74 years later, The Royal Australian Navy Anzac Class Frigate HMAS Perth III has hosted a memorial service over each site – laying wreaths to honour the memories of those who fought and those who died.

HMAS Perth III Commanding Officer, Captain Ivan Ingham says the sacrifice of those men who died during the battle helped shape Indonesia’s relationship with Australia.

“The crews of HMAS Perth I and USS Houston are just as much part of Indonesia’s story of national struggle as they are part of Australia’s own wartime history,” Captain Ingham said.

Indonesian and Australian authorities are making good progress in ensuring the wrecks are preserved for future generations. The Archaeology Research Centre at the Indonesian Ministry of Defence and Culture is working with the Australian National Maritime Museum to document the wrecks for educational purposes.

Australian National Maritime Museum spokesman Kieran Hosty says the first step will be to organise a dive on the Perth I site.

“Any operation such as this is difficult and potentially dangerous. Timings will depend on the strength of underwater currents. However, we are in talks with our Indonesian colleagues and a dive could occur later this year,’ Mr Hosty said.

The imagery captured during this dive will help authorities establish the condition of the wrecks. The visual evidence could then be used to illustrate the story of HMAS Perth I and USS Houston to future generations. Hopes are high the area could eventually be declared a maritime conservation zone.

“Anything we do needs to be done with care and respect, but as the wrecks of both ships vanish, so too will their legacies – unless steps are taken to protect them now,” Mr Hosty said.

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