Craig Monahan, Australian film maker
This podcast on the wartime sinking of HMAS Armidale and the subsequent search for survivors is an epic of leadership and resourcefulness that was little known some 50 years after WWII owing to a veil of secrecy over the security classification of the ships mission.
Inspired by the story of Armidale in the 1980s, Craig embarked upon a mission to find and interview as many of the survivors as possible, recording each account for posterity. Years of searching official records was, to put it mildly, difficult but gradually, the true story of the mission to land allied Dutch Army troops in Timor was revealed and the role of the RAN, RAAF and AIF personnel became clearer.
The story of the sinking of Armidale was in truth just the beginning of one of the most incredible feats of human endurance and survival in Australian military history. The men who survived the sinking were amazing in their determination to salvage what wreckage they could and though with very little in the way of rations and water, their ingenuity helped many survive a vicious machine gun strafing from their attacker’s aircraft and then seek rescue.
The podcast highlights much of the search being conducted from Darwin, itself being attacked almost daily from Japanese aircraft. Scarce resources from the RAAF and RAN were tasked and performed brilliantly in what was a search for a needle in a watery haystack and in areas dominated by enemy aircraft and superior strength in warships.
Leadership and the courage to overcome fearsome odds – sharks, poisonous sea snakes, hunger, thirst, the sun – is brought to life by the survivor personal accounts that are frank and indeed brutal. Split into three groups, the raft, a whaler, and the motorboat, all heavily damaged and literally sinking, their story is truly extraordinary. The motorboat was rescued after being at sea five days, the whaler after an incredible eight days. As for those left on the raft at the scene of the sinking, although they were spotted and a very famous photograph of them was taken, they were never seen again.
The podcast has an introduction from Vice Admiral Mike Noonan who supported this project whilst still serving as Chief of Navy and Craig Monahan who has managed this entire project on a not-for-profit basis (funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs) and deserves high praise for this revealing epic of history.