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Kuala file photo [29661]


CountryUnited Kingdom
BuilderCaledon Shipbuilding, Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom
Yard Number223
Sunk14 Feb 1942
Displacement954 tons standard
Length225 feet
Beam35 feet
MachineryOne 3-cyl triple expansion steam engine, one shaft, one screw


ww2dbaseHMS Kuala was an auxiliary patrol boat of 954 gross register tonnage. On passage to Singapore on 12 Feb 1942 she had survived a heavy bombing attack by Japanese aircraft and upon arriving at the port safely on 13 Feb was immediately ordered to re-fuel and assist in the evacuation of civilians from the city. With the docks and Naval Headquarters under constant attack, 500 civilians, half of which were women and children accompanied with nurses and doctors embarked on the Kuala and at 1830 hours the ship under command of Lieutenant Franklin Caithness RNR weighed anchor and headed toward Batavia in Dutch East Indies.

ww2dbaseAt 0600 hours the following morning, 14 Feb 1942, the ship anchored at Pompong island, about 100 kilometers south-southeast of Singapore, where she was joined by HMS Tien Kwang, an anti-submarine vessel with over 300 refugees on board. The two vessels were then covered over with tree branches in an attempt to camouflage and hide the ships from Japanese aircraft.

ww2dbaseAt 1100 hours enemy planes were sighted making their way out to HMS Kung Wo, a river passenger ship pressed into service as an auxiliary minelayer. Kung Wo had been badly damaged earlier yet had not sunk. One of the circling aircraft saw Kuala and immediately a dive-bombing attack took place. Direct hits exploded on the upper bridge, the stokehold and the engine room causing the whole ship to be set ablaze.

ww2dbaseLieutenant Caithness was buried by the collapsed bridge structure but despite this and being wounded, he got free and helped women get off the blazing ship; ordering all that could swim or had life jackets to make for the shore. With no panic, the surviving men, women and children got ashore and were helped by the ship's boats that had been beached whilst crew members collected branches. Sub- Lieutenant T. S. Brand took charge of the lifeboats and brought the wounded ashore where the doctors and nurses that had gotten ashore could move them away from the shore and treat them as the Japanese aircraft, having dropped their bombs were now strafing the rocks and beach killing some of the wounded and children that had become frightened and had got detached from their parents.

ww2dbaseThe nurses and medical personnel were Australian and British from various hospitals in Malaya and with help from crew members and some more able civilians led by the Chief Engineer they constructed a shelter in a small jungle clearing.

ww2dbaseAfter checking that there was nobody else left alive on the burning Kuala, Caithness and Lieutenant George left the ship and tried to persuade Captain Hancock, the Governor of Malayan prisons, that there was no way of extinguishing the fire but he persisted in trying and re-boarded the vessel, never to be seen again. Once all the survivors were ashore and away from the still circling planes, British Officers from the Army and RAF looked for water and helped the more seriously wounded to keep cool.

ww2dbaseAt 1100 hours on 16 Feb 1942 a small Dutch steamer, the Tandong Pinang arrived at the scene and took off two hundred women and children and headed, against advice, for Batavia. The Tandong Pinang was never seen again. It had been captured and sunk by Japanese Naval Forces and all passengers had been taken off as prisoners. 24 hours later, an Australian, Bill Reynolds, who had taken over small Japanese fishing boat Krait, arrived and managed to squeeze seventy people aboard including Captain Lieutenant Caithness who by now was paralyzed down one side of body. Reynolds and the Krait were later to stage an attack on Japanese vessels entering Singapore after the city fell.

ww2dbaseThe Krait, with badly wounded on board being nursed by a Dutch nursing sister got away unseen by the Japanese and made it to Tembilahan in Riau Province of Sumatra, Dutch East Indies. There, they were put into an old schoolhouse before finally arriving at a dispersal camp and Rubber estate hospital. Once fit to travel further they reached Padang where the Palima, a ship belonging to the Dutch shipping firm KPM, which was due to make passage for Tjilatap in southern Java. However, thirty-six hours after leaving the orders were changed as the port was being attacked by Japanese aircraft; the Palima with only four days food on board had to make way to Colombo, Ceylon where they arrived on 10 Mar 1942.

ww2dbaseThose left at the scene of the sinking, just over 200 finally got away in four Chinese fishing junks who refused to drop them off on mainland Sumatra in fear of Japanese reprisals but took them instead to Singkep island to the south and from there they were able to make it to Djambi and hence to Padang.

ww2dbaseSources: Naval Historical Society of Australia
Various newspapers

Last Major Revision: Feb 2020


SS Kuala underway, date unknown

Kuala Operational Timeline

12 Feb 1942 HMS Kuala was attacked by a Japanese aircraft off Singapore, but escaped without harm.
13 Feb 1942 HMS Kuala arrived at Singapore and began embarking civilians. By 1830 hours, with 500 civilians on board, she weighed anchor and headed toward Batavia in Dutch East Indies.
14 Feb 1942 HMS Kuala was sunk by Japanese aircraft off Pompong island, Dutch East Indies. Many survivors made it to land nearby.
16 Feb 1942 Small Dutch steamer Tandong Pinang rescued 200 women and children, survivors of HMS Kuala, an auxiliary patrol boat serving as a civilian evacuation transport and sunken by Japanese aircraft two days prior. Tandong Pinang set sail from Pompong island for Batavia, Dutch East Indies; she would soon be captured by the Japanese while still at sea, and all aboard were taken as prisoners.
17 Feb 1942 Australian Bill Reynolds, an official with the Johore Government Service, captured small Japanese fishing vessel Krait and took on 70 survivors of HMS Kuala, an auxiliary patrol boat serving as a civilian evacuation transport and sunken by Japanese aircraft three days prior. Krait would be successful in delivering the survivors from Pompong island to Tembilahan, Sumatra, Dutch East Indies.
10 Mar 1942 Dutch ship Palima disembarked several survivors of HMS Kuala, an auxiliary patrol boat serving as a civilian evacuation transport and sunken by Japanese aircraft on 14 Feb 1942, at Colombo, Ceylon.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Nigel Broad says:
23 Jul 2021 12:45:42 PM

I've read the account with great interest. My father Gerald W J Broad DJX183669, was one of the ex HMS Prince of Wales survivors on the Kuala. He was assigned with other boy sailors to collect foliage from the island. Back in the seventies on many of our frequent fishing trips for sea bass he would sometimes speak of his experiences in the far East. I quickly learned not to quiz him over the subject as it would cause terrible memories to resurface. I used to get an awful telling off from my mother. I cannot imagine what he witnessed as a teenager. Today I have also learned the name of the Dutch ship that my father sailed from Sumatra to Columbo on. The name of that ship had always escaped him. Thank you.
2. Mrs Ann e cope says:
20 Jul 2023 04:24:15 AM

My dad was in the RAF and swam to shore and survived, but became a Japanese prisoner of ear. At one point, he escaped with two other service men only to be recaptured. Having to give the *** false names, otherwise they would be shot, the families received telegrams they were missing, supposed dead. We owe so much to so many who were lost or imprisoned. My dad wrote an account of his life and their prisoner experiences... It is sickening. In order to survive, they even drank their own urine. I only wish I had known what my dad had been through when I was growing up. I would have been the perfect daughter.

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SS Kuala underway, date unknown

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