HMAS Perth (I) honoured by a new generation

Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author), Unknown (photographer)

Location(s): Jakarta, Indonesia

Boy Scouts of America member, 14 year old Richard Stacpoole, accepts an Australian White Ensign from Australia's Naval Attaché in Jakarta Captain Nick Hart, RAN. (photo: Unknown)
Boy Scouts of America member, 14 year old Richard Stacpoole, accepts an Australian White Ensign from Australia's Naval Attaché in Jakarta Captain Nick Hart, RAN.

The Royal Australian Navy has joined with an American teenager to commemorate one of the most significant naval battles of the Second World War.

On March 1 1942, HMAS Perth (I) and the US battleship USS Houston confronted a Japanese Naval taskforce in Indonesia's Sunda Strait. Outgunned and dramatically outnumbered, both ships fought on until each was sunk after running out of ammunition. 375 men died on the Australian warship, including her Commanding Officer Hec Waller. 307 Australians were saved only to spend the rest of the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp where many more died. US Houston lost 696 sailors and marines with 368 captured, with many going on to suffer a similar fate as their Australian counterparts at the hands of Imperial Japan.

Seventy three years on, 14 year old Richard Stacpoole took it upon himself to honour the courage of those involved. A member of the Boy Scouts of America (Jakarta troop), Richard planned, managed and coordinated the construction of a memorial to both ships in a project that took him several months to complete.

Richard said the decision to create the memorial was a relatively easy one to make.

"My father is in the Navy and he told me the story. They were ambushed, they had to fight a huge battle," Richard said.

"But there is no significant memorial (to mark the battle) in Jakarta."

The memorial contains portals from each ship along with photos of Captain Waller and USS Houston's Commanding Officer Captain Albert Rooks. The carved wooden case sits under a painting illustrating the epic battle.  

The memorial will soon also include an Australian White Ensign which was flown over the wreck site by HMAS Larrakia (embarked with crew Attack Four, commanded by Lieutenant Commander David McPherson) during a US led ceremony with the Indonesian Navy. Australia's Naval Attaché in Jakarta Captain Nick Hart said Navy jumped at the chance to help Richard with his quest.

"The Battle of Sunda Strait was a defining moment for the Australian Navy," Captain Hart said.

"The actions of HMAS Perth's crew highlight all that we stand for today. Even now, we marvel at the extraordinary courage and honour shown by those on board Perth and Houston."   

Captain Hart said preserving both ships remains a priority.

"We continue to work closely with Indonesian authorities," he said.

"We are determined to do all we can to ensure this war grave is properly preserved as a mark of respect for those sailors of all nations who died."