The Krait’s Remarkable Career

MV Krait anchored at Darwin. Courtesy AWM.

The small fishing vessel MV Krait holds a special place in Australian maritime and military history.   Named after a small deadly snake, it played an import part in Operation Jaywick’s which sank several Japanese ships anchored in Singapore Harbour in September 1943.   This is the Krait’s story.

The MV Krait started life as a Japanese fishing vessel launched in 1934 and named Kofuku Maru.   The vessel measured 20m in length, had a draught of 2 metres, a displacement of 23 tonnes and was configured as a motorised gaff-rigged ketch. By the outbreak of war, she was based in Singapore ferrying water, food and other supplies to fishermen in the Rhio Archipelago and returning with their catch for the city’s seafood markets. 

When Japan entered the war the Kofuku Maru was seized by the British authorities.   As Japanese troops advanced down the Malay Peninsula an Australian merchant mariner, Bill Reynolds, used the boat to evacuate over one thousand civilians to Sumatra in what was then the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).

Singapore shortly before the Japanese landed on the island. Photo Central Queensland Herald, 26 Mar 1942, p. 20.

Then, in January 1942, when it was clear that Singapore would soon fall, he escaped to Colombo in present-day Sri Lanka on the Kofuku Maru.   It was soon realised by officers from the Allied Intelligence Bureau that they were now in possession of a fishing vessel that could, with some luck, traverse enemy waters without raising suspicion.   The Krait was then sent to Australia to begin its clandestine career.

She was the prime candidate to undertake Operation Jaywick, a plot to destroy enemy shipping moored in Singapore harbour.   The plot was not without significant risk. However, before Reynolds fled from Singapore, he had noticed Japanese aircraft had ignored the vessel as they sought out targets to attack.   With any luck, they would not suspect it was anything other than one of the many small fishing vessels plying Malay and Indonesian waters.  

A 14-man team was selected for the operation under the command of Major Ivan Lyons, a British Army officer attached to the Z Special Unit (also known as Z Force).   They were a mix of Army and Navy personnel from Britain and Australia.   After completing specialised training and rehearsals at Refuge Bay north of Sydney, the Krait then made the long voyage around the top of Australia to Exmouth Gulf.  

A group on board MV Krait enroute to Singapore during Operation Jaywick. Courtesy AWM.

The passage was not without problems.   The engine quit off Fraser Island and the Krait had to be towed to Townsville where it remained until a replacement could be found and installed.   Further repairs had to be made by the time they arrived at Exmouth Gulf further delaying the operation.

Nonetheless, on 2 September 1943 the Krait left Exmouth Gulf with the Z Special Unit men on board.   They comprised six commandos who would undertake the raid in folding canoes and eight Naval personnel who would sail the vessel to within striking distance of Singapore.   

The Krait motored north, passing through the narrow Lombok Strait four days later with the Japanese ensign flying from their mast.     Once clear of the strait they bore west through the Java Sea towards their intended destination.   To disguise themselves from cursory examination, the men stained their skin brown to appear more like the local fishermen and were scrupulous about what rubbish they threw overboard.   

MV Krait’s route from Exmouth Gulf to Singapore. Courtesy Google Maps.

Towards the end of September the Krait had made it to the small island of Pulau Panjang just 30kms away from Singapore Harbour.   The six commandos then set off in three two-man canoes and island-hopped north to a small island where they could observe the entrance to the harbour.   Meanwhile the Krait made for safer waters near Borneo but not before agreeing on a rendezvous point with the commandos for the night of 2 October.

On 26 September the six men paddled into the harbour and planted magnetic “limpet” mines on seven Japanese ships.   The early morning quiet was shattered by a series of loud explosions as the mines went off.   One failed to detonate, but six ships were sunk or badly damaged.     By then the commandos were long gone and hold up on a small island to await the return of the Krait.

The Japanese had not considered that the attack had come from the sea rather thinking it was the work of local saboteurs.     A number of local Chinese and Malays along with POWs and European civilian internees were suspected of undertaking the plot and were rounded up by the Japanese Military Police.  Many were tortured and some were executed in the aftermath, an unfortunate consequence of the raid.  

Meanwhile, the commandos rendezvoused with the Krait as planned and two and a half weeks later they were safely back in Exmouth Gulf.

 Major Lyons would lead a second similar raid on Singapore Harbour the following year but Operation Rimau would end in disaster.

MV Krait in Brisbane 1943. Courtesy AWM.

After the success of Operation Jaywick, the Krait was based in Darwin and used to support coast watchers and other intelligence operations reporting on Japanese activities to Australia’s north.    Commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in 1944 she was renamed HMAS Krait and in September 1945 was present for the local Japanese surrender at Ambon. 

After the war the Krait was employed by the British administration in Borneo until it was sold to a British-owned timber sawmill and renamed Pedang meaning Sword in Malay.   In the late-1950s a pair of Australian businessmen recognised the Krait for what she was and began fund-raising to purchase the vessel and have it returned to Australia.

In 1964 the Krait made it back to Australia where it was operated by the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol.   In 1984 it was handed over to the Australian War Memorial and berthed at the Sydney Maritime Museum.   It is now maintained and kept on display by the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

MV Krait at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney. Photo CJ Ison.


Australian National Maritime Museum: Articles on the Krait and Operation Jaywick.

Royal Australian Navy: Article on the Krait and Operation Jaywick.

Australian War Memorial: Article on Operation Jaywick.

© Copyright C.J. Ison / Tales from the Quarterdeck, 2023.

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6 thoughts on “The Krait’s Remarkable Career

  1. Hello my father was a special z force his name Eric clark can you inform me of any of kraits crew names and special z force names and rank


    1. Operation Jaywick personnel were:
      Major Ivan Lyon (Mission Commander)
      Lieutenant Hubert Edward Carse (Krait’s captain)
      Lieutenant Donald Montague Noel Davidson
      Lieutenant Robert Charles Page
      Corporal Andrew Anthony Crilly
      Corporal R.G. Morris
      Leading Seaman Kevin Patrick Cain
      Leading Stoker James Patrick McDowell
      Leading Telegraphist Horace Stewart Young
      Able Seaman Walter Gordon Falls
      Able Seaman Mostyn Berryman
      Able Seaman Frederick Walter Lota Marsh
      Able Seaman Arthur Walter Jones
      Able Seaman Andrew William George Huston



      1. Hi Chris these names are they all crew names. We’re there any z force other than the crew names

        Sent from my iPhone



      2. The list includes all the participants of Op Jaywick which included the six men who planted the mines, plus the men who remained with the Krait. They were a mix of RAN and Army personnel. The Australian War Memorial is probably the best source for more information on Z Special Unit. Regards. Chris


  2. Loved the article. Does it still sail the waters of Sydney harbour ? The first photo should be dated 26 Mar 1942 – typo error.


    1. Thanks for picking up the date error. I usually write on 19th Century ships and typing 18xx is done by habit. The Krait had some major work done to it some time back and certainly looked to be seaworthy when I saw it a couple of years ago but you would have to check with the ANMM. Regards, Chris


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