I Was There! - How Two V.C.s Were Won Under a Jap Cruiser

The War Illustrated, Volume 9, No. 224, Page 601, January 16, 1946.

Lieut. Ian E. Fraser, R.N.R., of Farnham Common, Bucks., and Leading Seaman James J. Magennis, of Belfast, were each awarded the V.C. For the parts they played in a midget submarine attack on the Japanese cruiser Takao in the Johore Strait, Singapore, in July 1944. They returned to England in December 1945, and this is Lieut. Fraser's story.

We started out to attack the cruiser off Borneo, 450 miles from Singapore. Our midget submarine was towed by another submarine, and what is known as a “passage crew” manned the craft until we were getting close to the area. When we changed crews, the operational crew was passed across in a rubber dinghy and the passage crew went back to the escorting submarine. The tow was slipped and we set off on a 35-mile trip before going up the Johore Strait. We knew there were mines and a listening post – and we went into the minefields rather than chance coming within range of the listening post.

We were approaching the boom on the surface in the darkness when we came on a Japanese ship escorted by a small vessel that passed so close to us that we were forced to dive. Continuing under water, we found, when daylight came, that we had been sitting on a Japanese controlled minefield for more than an hour!

At 10.30 a.m. we passed the “gate” – an old vessel on which I could see Japs running about, although they did not suspect our presence. Ten miles above the boom vessel we sighted the Takao. She was very well camouflaged if one looked at her against the background of the land, and she was very close inshore.

We started our first attack, but it was a failure as the cruiser was in such shallow water that we ran bang up against her side and could not get under her hull. Amidships, there was a hole that registered 24 ft., and out of which it was very difficult to get.

A boat full of Jap sailors going ashore passed within 25 yards of us, but we were not detected. Our craft scraped along the bottom, and Leading Seaman Magennis went out and placed in position six limpets (small mines carrying a hundred pounds of explosives) in half an hour. All the time he was at work his oxygen bag was leaking and sending up a stream of bubbles, which was very disturbing. The water was so clear that I am sure we could have been seen if any Jap sailor had looked over the side. Leading Seaman Magennis returned to the craft, having had to scrape away a lot of seaweed in order to fix his limpets. He was fairly exhausted, but when we had trouble with our mine carrier he went out again to free it in 14 ft. of water.

When we were clear, we broke surface about a mile from the cruiser. Later, submerged, we successfully passed the “gate” again. We found our towing submarine without any trouble. There were two other members of the crew, Sub.-Lieut. J. L. Smith, R.N.Z.N.V.R., who sat on the hydroplanes for 17½ hours, and Engine-room Artificer Reid, of Portsmouth, who was steering the boat for 30 hours. Smith received the D.S.O. and Reid the C.G.M.

The charges went up when we were about fifteen miles from the cruiser. We know that a hole sixty ft. long was torn in the bottom of the Takao. After Singapore was retaken I went on board the cruiser and met some of the Japs who were in her when the explosion took place. They would not tell us how many casualties there were.

To his Commanding Officer's story Magennis, who was one of the crews in the midget submarine attack on the Tirpitz, added:

“What was in my mind all the time I was doing the job was, 'At last, after all the preparation, I have my hands on an enemy hull!'”

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