The Murray Island elders speak of a Japanese submarine captain who used the islands close by as a means of evading detection from anti-submarine patrols. There are eyewitness accounts of the crew coming ashore to collect fresh water from the wells and fresh fruit from the islanders gardens. Apparently the captain utilised the island for quite some time.

In April 1942 Japanese submarines RO-33 and RO-34 were placed under the direct command of the Japanese South Seas Force  to search for convoy routes and suitable anchorages prior to the planned assault on Port Moresby. RO-33 left Rabaul in April 1942 to reconnoitre Port Moresby. Both submarines were later ordered to blockade Port Moresby and guide Japanese shipping into the area. 

Manuel McAuley from Murray Island on the eastern side of Torres Strait believes that it was Japanese submarine RO-33 that put a landing party ashore on Murray Island during World War 2. Vanessa Seekee (curator of the Torres Strait Heritage Museum) told Manuel that RO-33 was credited with sinking the Burns Philp ship "Mamutu" (300 tons) on the 7th August 1942 north of Murray Island. 


Japanese submarine RO-33


RO-33 was a small but well armed submarine of 940 tons with a crew of 42 officers and men.

It is estimated in that in late July 1942, or some time after the sinking of the "Mumutu", the submarine surfaced beside "Dauar" Islet (one of the 3 volcanic islands that make up Murray Island). They landed on "Dauar" Islet to take on fresh water from the wells at the Sardine Factory and to obtain intelligence on the area. In another instance a submarine (presumably the same one - dates need to be confirmed) cruised the length of Murray Island on the surface at about 4 knots.

Australian signals personnel based on the island at this time logged the reports and according to Vanessa Seekee a signaller who was based on Murray Island was still alive in August 2001. Manual McAuley was due to interview an islander who remembers the landing. A crew member of the submarine knew his father before the war. This fellow was called "Ottosun" (we assume Otto San, as in the Japanese form of respect). He was a Beche-de-Mer boat skipper in the Torres Strait before the war. He was also a trusted friend of GeeDee Williams, the manager of the sardine factory located on Dauar Islet prior to the war. It is believed that Otto (nicknamed "Black Otto") by the Torres Strait Islanders, was an officer of some sort on the boat.

On 29 August 1942, HMAS Arunta sunk the RO-33 10miles SE of Port Moresby (09-36S, 147-06E). All hands were lost..



I'd like to thank Manuel McAuley from Murray Island on the eastern side of Torres Strait for his assistance with this home page.



"Battle Surface - Japan's Submarine War against Australia 1942 - 44"
By David Jenkins

"Torres Strait Force - Cape York, Thursday Island, Merauke, 1942 - 1945"
By Reg A. Ball


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This page first produced 12 August 2001

This page last updated 14 January 2020