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On 6 August 1942, the Burns Philp ship "Mamutu" (300 tons) with a crew of 32, set out from Port Moresby headed for Daru on the western shores of the Gulf of Papua. On board were 82 passengers which included 28 children, who were escaping the more than 70 Japanese bombing raids on Port Moresby. 


The Burns Philp ship "MV Mamutu"


"Mamutu" was about half way across the gulf when just after 11am on 7 August 1942 the ships crew spotted a Japanese submarine several miles astern. 

It was Japanese submarine RO-33, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Shigeshi Kuriyama. RO-33 had left Rabaul in April 1942 to reconnoitre Port Moresby. RO-33 and RO-34 were both later ordered to blockade Port Moresby and guide Japanese shipping into the area. 


Japanese submarine RO-33


The Wireless Operator on "Mamutu", Mr. R.J. Furbank sent a morse code message to Port Moresby to advise of the submarine's presence. RO-33 closed in at about 19 knots and caught up with "Mamutu". RO-33 opened fire with its 3.25" (80mm) gun.  The first shot hit the radio room and killed Mr Furbank. The second shot wiped out the bridge killing Captain J. McEachern. Others shells hit the hull. Many people were killed or injured in the accurate barrage from RO-33.

Kuriyama then ordered his gunners to fire their 13 mm machine guns upon the survivors in the water. They killed as many as they could which included many women and children. RO-33 then left the scene of destruction. There was only 28 survivors from the total complement of 120 persons. One man, a European Engineer, Bill Griffin, escaped death at the hands of the ruthless machine gunners by pretending to be dead.

A B-17 Flying Fortress search aircraft dropped life rafts to the struggling survivors who eventually made it to shore. The Army signal ship "MV Reliance" which was used by the Coast Watchers, was sent from Murray Island to try to pick up the survivors. They were unable to locate the survivors.

On 29 August 1942, RO-33 torpedoed the Burns Philp ship "Malaita" (3,310 tons) as she left Port Moresby. "Malaita" was being escorted by the destroyer HMAS Arunta (1870 tons). While "Malaita" was towed back to Port Moresby, Commander J.C. Morrow, the captain of HMAS Arunta made an asdic contact on RO-33. The Japanese submarine was sunk 10miles SE of Port Moresby (09-36S, 147-06E) with all hands lost as a result of a series of depth charge attacks by HMAS Arunta.


Japanese Submarine RO-33 lands a party
on Murray Island in north Queensland



"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