Loss of HMAS Armidale and Teddy Sheehan
Ordinary Seaman, Edward (Teddy) Sheean was only 19 when he died.
After the surrender of the bulk of the Allied garrison on Timor in February 1942, some 470 Australian Commandos carried on a guerilla war against the Japanese and were supplied and equipped through Naval communication.
The first naval run from Darwin to Timor was made in may 1942 by a former patrol vessel, the 55 ton HMAS Kuru. Kuru was joined in this task by Vigilant, Kalgoolie, Voyager, Armidale and Castlemaine.
On 23 September when engaged on one of these missions Voyager went aground at Betano Bay, on the southern coast of Timor and was then attacked by enemy bombers, which dropped high explosive, incendiary and anti personnel bombs. Later Voyagers crew fired demolition charges in the ship's engine room and set fire to the ship so that nothing salvageable was left to the enemy.
Next day the corvette Warranambool sailed from Darwin to rescue Voyagers crew. All were embarked on Warranambool and Kalgoolie, which arrived at Darwin on 27th September. Not a man had been lost, although some were wounded during the air attacks.
The difficulties of the commandos in Timor increased as the year wore on and in November Kuru, Castlemaine and Armidale were sent to bring the 2/2 Independent Company back to Australia. On the afternoon of 1st December, whilst on this mission, HMAS Armidale was attacked 560 Kilometres from the Australian coast by 9 bombers and 4 fighters.
HMAS Kuru was also attacked over a period of 7 hours by over 50 Jap aircraft, but suffered only shrapnel damage to her engine.
The following was contributed by Steve Williams of Western Australia:
THE LAST HERO
His ship, H.M.A.S. "Armidale", a Royal Australian Navy Corvette, survived two days bombing by the Japanese Air Force, but on the third day, 1st December 1942, she became the victim of a Japanese aerial torpedo and sank in the Arafura Sea, about ninety miles off the Timorese Coast.
When the second torpedo struck, the ship began to sink and listed to Port. Captain Richards, recognising the critical situation, gave the order to "abandon ship".
The Japanese Air Force gunners continued their strafing and more of the crew were killed or wounded as they took to the water. Teddy Sheean was one of the wounded. He went to the Port side of the ship as if to go overboard, but instead, turned and dragged himself to the abaft Oerlikon Gun, which had been his action station. No doubt, he’d seen his mates in the water, being strafed by the enemy aircraft and wanted his revenge - he wouldn’t be kicked while he was down.
Informal photograph of ARMIDALE's Ship's Company.
Teddy strapped himself to the gun and immediately opened fire on the aircraft which were continuing the onslaught. At this time, the ship was going down by the head and with heroic determination, he continued his attack, until the "Armidale", taking a second torpedo slipped quietly under the water, taking the gallant gunner with her.
As the Arafura Sea closed over the stern, the gun was still firing. Teddy Sheean had given his life for his country and his mates in true Australian tradition.
During the short action, which lasted possibly three minutes, Sheean shot down one bomber observers credit him with damaging two others. For his incredible and unselfish action, he was posthumously "Mentioned In Despatches"! The action had passed almost unnoticed. In later years, an endeavour was made to have this award replaced with a "Victoria Cross granted posthumously, but to no avail.
Those of us who survived, well remember Teddy’s action, for, who knows, we too may have perished at the hands of the Japanese gunners except for his bravery.
At the time, the "Armadale" was on a mission to take Australian troops off Betano, Timor. When she sank, half of the compliment was lost, as were sixty Japanese soldiers who were to have been put ashore on Timor. Great courage and endurance on the part of those involved, reflected credit on the Royal Australian Navy.
Many members of the Royal Australian Navy Corvettes Association, from all parts of Australia, gathered at "Shropshire Park", Ulverstone Tasmania, to participate in the unveiling and dedication of the "Teddy Sheean Memorial" - a fitting tribute to a gallant shipmate. This took place on 1st October 1987.
There will be six new submarines commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy during the 1990’s. Three Tassie heroes will be honoured when three of the subs will be named after them.
The first was named HMAS Collins. Vice Admiral Collins was born in Deloraine 1899, and became the first Australian to become Admiral and the first Australian born to become Chief of Staff.
HMAS Dechaineux will be named after Captain Dechaineux who was commanding officer HMAS "Australia" and died in action in the Philippines.
HMAS Sheean will be named after Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean of HMAS "Armidale". Teddy was born at Barrington, Tasmania, and later moved to Latrobe.
This is a great honour bestowed upon Sheean by the RAN and will be the first naval ship to be named after a member of the 'Lower Deck'.
A ship mate, Ordinary Seaman R.M. Caro, described Sheean's actions:
"During the attack a plane had been shot down and for this the credit went to Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean. Teddy died but none of us who survived, I am sure, will ever forget the gallant deed that won him a Mention-In-Dispatches. he was a loader number on the after oerlikon gun. When the order 'abandon ship' was given, he made for the side, only to be hit twice by the bullets of an attacking zero (survivors at this stage were being strafed in the water by the Japs) None of us will ever know what made him do it, but he went back to his gun, strapped himself in, and brought down a Jap plane, still firing as he disappeared beneath the waves."
Eye witness accounts state that tracer rounds could still clearly be seen firing skywards after the ship had completely disappeared beneath the waves.
Rex Pullen of Tasmania Survived the HMAS ARMIDALE Sinking - Read "A Survivor's Story" his harrowing account of survival at sea in an open boat. You can read it here on this website by clicking on the link.
To this day The 'Sheean Award' for the most outstanding trainee at the Seamanship School, HMAS CERBERUS is named in honour of Teddy Sheean. Also one of the navy's Collins Class submarines is named in his honour. HMAS SHEEAN.
HONOUR DENIED - By Dr Tom Lewis (Published June 2016)
Teddy Sheean honoured with book launch - June 2016
Written by noted Tasmanian military historian and naval officer, Dr Tom Lewis OAM, and launched by Tasmanian Premier, the Hon Will Hodgman MP, the book explores the story of Teddy Sheean, one of Tasmania’s best known wartime servicemen.
Many in the community believe that Teddy’s sacrifice, courage and dedication to his fellow crew members deserves better.
Along with Sheean’s family, I have helped campaign to have Teddy’s courage reconsidered and recognised with a Victoria Cross. It is worth noting that of Australia’s 100 Victoria Crosses, none have yet been awarded to a RAN member.
Last year I tabled a petition with 4271 signatures calling for Teddy’s bravery to be appropriately recognised in Tasmanian Parliament last year. The campaign team also intend to write to the British Admiralty asking for reconsideration of Teddy’s actions for more appropriate recognition.
The Tasmanian Government has helped promote Sheean’s memory through the annual Teddy Sheean Memorial Grants Program, which offers small grants to RSLs and ex-serving organisations for minor capital works.
Above: The Sheean Brothers WW2