MV Mamutu

"Mamutu," built at Hong Kong in 1938 was of 300 tons gross. length 113ft. and beam 25ft. She operated on the Inter Island trade for Burns Philp & Co. and at the outbreak of war she was engaged in the evacuation of civilians ahead of the Japanese Forces.†With the onset of war Mamutu†served as a†Stores Issuing Ship†for ships of the Royal Australian Navy†during 1941,† returning to†customary re-supply duty in†January 1942. On the 7 August she was sunk by enemy action in the Gulf of Papua, with the loss of 114 lives.††Twenty-seven persons were thought to have survived by drifting to the coast on air-delivered rafts, while one was brought back to Port Moresby by a Royal Australian Air Force rescue plane. The attack location, given by British Admiralty records, was 09.11S by 144.12E.

The following recounting of Mamutu's loss is drawn from the book "Battle Surface- Japan's Submarine War Against Australia 1942-1944" by David Jenkins. Published by Random House Australia 1992:-

"On the morning of the 6th of August the Burns Philp vessel Mamutu set out from Port Moresby for Daru on the western shores of the Gulf of Papua. Port Moresby had already been subjected to more than 70 Japanese air raids.

"Mamutu with a crew of 32 (the correct figure is thought to be 39) was transporting 82 (103) passengers including 28 children to safety. From Daru it would be possible to island hop to Cape York and Australia, a better prospect than remaining in Moresby with the Japanese advance imminent.

"In April 1942, the Japanese had placed two submarines R.O.33 and R.O.34 under the direct command of the South Seas Force, to search for convoy routes through the Jomard Entrance, ahead of the planned assault on Port Moresby and thence the Australian Mainland.

"Shortly after 11am on the 7th August Mamutu was about half way across the Gulf, when a submarine was observed several miles astern.

"The submarine trailing Mamutu was R.O.33 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Shigeshi Kuriyama. Mamutuís Radio Officer R.J.Furbank sent an urgent message to Moresby, giving the position of the ship and the presence of the submarine. R.O.33 had a surface speed of 19 knots and was closing fast, as she drew near Kuriyama ordered his crew to man the 3.25inch gun mounted forward of the conning tower. At 300 metres he gave the order to fire. The first shell ripped into the radio room killing Furbank, the second shot carried away the bridge killing Captain J. McEachern. Other shells tore into the hull. Within minutes Mamutu was a scene of carnage with dead and dying littering the decks. Kuriyama then ordered his gunners to open fire with 13 mm gunfire as survivors struggled in the water, men women and children. He then retired leaving Mamutu a sinking hull and most of her complement dead."

Kuriyama had conducted a cold blooded attack on Mamutu, a scene reminiscent of the attack on the fishing trawler Duranbee off the N.S.W. coast at Moruya. Then of the six crew three were killed the others wounded.


While certain overseas records indicate that Mamutu was sunk in possibly late April or early May 1942, Australian archival records affirm the date of 7 August 1942.

Various publications speak of a range of wartime atrocities committed by the Axis powers.† Specifically concerning the activities of the submarines RO-33 and RO-34, the book "Chronology of the War at Sea 1939-1945" by Rohwer and Hummelchen speaks of their patrols in the vicinity of Port Moresby between 20 April and† May†1942,†but reported no sinkings during this period.†† It also states that RO-33 was sunk on 29 August 2023 by HMAS†"Arunta"†, following the submarine's torpedoing of a ship of 3310 gross tons: as it happened, another Burns Philp vessel, the "Malaita".

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