HMAS Perth
HMAS Perth

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MIKE CARLTON: We're between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. 70 years ago, a sea battle bloodied these calm waters. 353 brave young Australians were lost. The story of what happened here is close to my heart.
And close to Matt Grant's - his great-grandfather was one of the survivors.

Matt Grant: Even if you read it in a book, I think you would think it would
be definitely be fiction.

MIKE CARLTON: What do you think you might do when you see the ship for the first time?

Matt Grant: I don't know. Just probably shock and awe just being down there, touch it, just bringing me that little bit closer.

MIKE CARLTON: Right here, which is exactly where we are now. We are sitting right on top of her. The 'Perth' was the pride of Australia's young navy - 7,000 tonnes, eight 6-inch guns. In her final battle, against impossible odds,
she took on an entire Japanese invasion fleet until she ran out of ammunition. This is a story that needs to be told for generations to come.

Matt Grant: And bang, there's the Perth right there.

Men: All the best, fellas. Chin, chin, down the hatch, mate.

MIKE CARLTON: These are some of the few men still left who lived the incredible but true story of HMAS Perth.

Man: May I reach 100.

Man: Well, it won't be long.

Man: 93. 7 to go.

MIKE CARLTON: They get together every month at the Sydney Bowlers Club. Time has changed each of them but not their mateship. It was forged under fire
on Australia's bravest warship.

Basil Hayler: Although we were a very small part in a very big war, we were fighting for freedom for our country, for the Empire, for the world, really.

Man: Its life span was so short, I think she achieved so much.

MIKE CARLTON: The Perth began life as an English warship but in 1939, she was made an Aussie.

Queen Elizabeth II: I rename this ship Perth and God bless and preserve all those who sail in her.

MIKE CARLTON: Her crew was young and untested, many were teenagers, most out for an adventure and they soon got one - World War II. The first big tests were sea battles in the Mediterranean. Six months, 257 air attacks, the Germans and Italians threw everything at them. But the crew of Perth
was up to the challenge. They shot down bombers, sank a German transport ship, were hit themselves and 13 men were killed.

MIKE CARLTON: She survived such a lot in the Mediterranean, didn't she?

Oh, yes.

When you see a ship going through being bombed by hundreds of bombers at times and you see a ship sink over there, another ship sinks over there, another ship sinks over there, five in one...five in two days.

MIKE CARLTON: In February 1942, the Japanese seemed an unstoppable force. Their navy was formidable and heading south towards Australia. Perth was called to action as the Japanese entered the Java Sea near Indonesia. Among the young men on board was John 'Tubby' Grant. He'd signed up as a boy of 15.

Matt Grant: Got this real sense that he was a good bloke, a real character.

MIKE CARLTON: Tubby's story lives on in his great-grandson Matt. They were close. Tubby died in 1999 but inspired Matt to join the navy. Now Matt has come to Indonesia to get as close as he can to the resting place of his
great-grandfather's famous ship.

Matt Grant: It's quite personal for me. But you know, not only just myself but for everyone else that served and all their families.

MIKE CARLTON: So I guess that's 600 or more families.

Matt Grant: So in a way you are representing them?

Matt Grant: Yeah, absolutely, I feel a little bit of weight on the shoulders.
Yeah, can't wait. Let's get it under way. I can certainly sympathise for everyone else that was lost.

MIKE CARLTON: Perth had proved brave beyond her size but now her job was
to stop the unstoppable.

Frank McGovern: Mid afternoon we sighted a forest of ships or a forest of masts, I should say, and it was the enemy force.

MIKE CARLTON: In a terrible battle, Perth and an American cruiser, the USS 'Houston', were the only ships left in the fight. They'd delayed the Japanese
for an afternoon. That evening, they sail. They're told the coast is clear,
that there should be no Japanese in the way. So they head off and Captain Waller makes an announcement - "I believe the coast is clear." Tragically, an Australian pilot had spotted another invasion force of more than 60 enemy ships but his warning was never relayed to the Perth. She and her crew sailed
into the night and once more, against hopeless odds.

Frank McGovern: We ran into the Japanese invasion fleet. They were everywhere.

Gavin Campbell: Even before we started, we didn't stand a chance.

MIKE CARLTON: It is a calm moonlit night and HMAS Perth and the American cruise Houston are expecting no trouble, they've been told the coast is clear. Suddenly, in front of them on the horizon, they see the dark shape of a ship. It can only be the Japanese and the cry goes up, "Jap destroyer" and all hell begins to break loose. At first, the Japanese panic and they let off a swarm of torpedoes which run past the Perth and Houston into that bay over there where they sink two transports full of Japanese soldiers for the invasion. But they quickly get their act together and the Japanese cruisers and destroyers now start to swarm in on Perth in a hail of shells, torpedoes - bang, they are firing, they're hitting and men on Perth are beginning to die. As Perth makes her defiant charge towards the enemy, she's hit by a torpedo and then another in quick succession. On the bridge, Captain Waller knows the end is near and he gives the order to abandon ship. Men now begin to save their lives. Tubby Grant somehow struggles up from his action station in the bowels of the ship. Frank McGovern jumps overboard. Gavin Campbell is blown overboard by yet another torpedo. Other men die in the water from the force of 1,000 tonnes of TNT as torpedoes strike the ship. But for all of those men who still live in the water - some of them injured, others covered in fuel oil - a new struggle is beginning - the battle to survive.

MIKE CARLTON: More than 350 men died that night. Perth's captain, Hec Waller,
was last seen standing on the bridge as the ship went down.

Gavin Campbell: Last I saw it was the stern disappearing and that was it and I thought "There it goes."

MIKE CARLTON: Matt's great-grandfather Tubby was among the 320 survivors. A third of them would die in prisoner of war camps, many on the infamous
Burma-Siam Railway.

Men: There she is. There's the depth, 18 metres. Anchors away.

MIKE CARLTON: What do you think you might do when you get down there?

Matt Grant: I haven't even contemplated it. I mean, I sort of dreamt about going around and through it and what it would have been like. But yeah, I dunno. Probably just shock and awe being down there, touching it, just bringing me that little bit closer.

MIKE CARLTON: This is a seriously dangerous dive. There's a strong current sweeping south, the same current that carried so many Perth sailors to their deaths and visibility below is not good. So we've got with us two of Australia's most experienced deep sea divers to help keep Matt safe. And they've got special re-breather gear which allows them to go deep inside the hull.

MIKE CARLTON: There are a lot of brave men down there. You're doing it for Tubby. It's 30 metres to the bottom and for Matt, a journey back in time.

Heading down that little guide rope and then around 20m, 25m, you see a big dark shadow and then 28m, 30m, it just sort of pops up.

Matt Grant: And then bang - there's the Perth right there. It's just unbelievable, you know. Heart's racing a million miles an hour, you know...just.....it's right there, right in front of your face, so much history, you know. It's just really great to get down there and touch it. I just feel that I was a part of it. I was really a part of Tubby and a part of the ship, you know. So many people went down with this ship. There's damage and torpedo holes and damage from shells, it was just incredible to be looking at these gaping holes. We got down to the gun turrets as well and they were pointing up at the sky and it's, you know, it's as if they're still shooting at the Japanese fleet there. It was great to be amongst it and swim up and down them and have a look, you know. Absolutely incomprehensible what the guys would have gone through.

MIKE CARLTON: Our divers go deeper inside the Perth than anyone has ever been.
There is a peace in the far reaches of the ship that suggests this is more than a wreck - it is a hallowed place.

Diver: Well done, mate.

Matt Grant: Fantastic.Been looking forward to this day for so long and I'm just so glad that it brought me closer to Tubby.

Matt Grant: Fantastic.

MIKE CARLTON: Was it good?

Matt Grant: Absolutely awesome.

MIKE CARLTON: Was it what you expected?

Matt Grant: Oh, it was better than I expected. I couldn't believe it.

MIKE CARLTON: Really?

Matt Grant: Absolutely.

MIKE CARLTON: So many, so young, died on the Perth and those who survived and meet each month never thought they'd ever see their mighty ship again.

Matt Grant: What you're about to see now is just coming up to 70m, 80m inside the hull where TV cameras have never been before.

Man: It's great to see the old girl again and, um, ah, it's a bit different. But you've done a remarkable job. It's so good to see what you've done.

MIKE CARLTON: And her story is never forgotten.

Matt Grant: This is for you, Tubby, and for all the sailors that have been lost.

MIKE CARLTON: 353 men went down with this ship or lost their lives. That's for them.


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