AN AUSTRALIAN TAKEN PRISONER
BY THE JAPANESE
IN AUSTRALIAN WATERS
OFF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY
ON 22 JANUARY 1943

"THE KENTISH AFFAIR"

 

Early on 13 January 1943, HMAS Patricia Cam left Darwin carrying stores and personnel headed for several outlying stations. The passengers on board were Reverend Leonard N. Kentish, Chairman of the Methodist Northern Australian Mission District and five natives. She departed Millingimbi on 22 January 1943 headed for Elcho Island.

At 1.30pm on 22 January 1943, a Japanese float plane of the 734th Kokatai, attacked the HMAS Patricia Cam from out of the sun, with its engine turned off, dropping one of its large bombs. It passed over the ship from stern to stem at less than 100 feet and landed its bomb amidships. The explosion ruptured the bottom planking and the HMAS Patricia Cam sank within a minute. The HMAS Patricia Cam was located at 11 19' South, 136 23' East headed for Wessel Island at the time of the attack.

The 734th Kokatai, was a Japanese floatplane squadron of the the Japanese Naval Air Arm. (Can anyone confirm what type of floatplane the 734th Kokotai used?)

 

Japanese Aichi E13A Float Plane (codenamed "Jake)".
One of a number of types of Japanese float planes.

 

One crew member went down with the ship. The two rescue boats on HMAS Patricia Cam were destroyed in the attack. A rescue raft remained intact and was used by the survivors.

The Japanese floatplane returned and dropped the second bomb amongst the survivors in the water, killing one more crew member and two of the natives. It then machine-gunned the survivors in the water for the next 30 mins without managing to inflict any new injuries. It then flew away to the north, but soon returned and landed on the sea near the survivors. It then approached Mr Kentish and one of the natives who were sitting on a floating hatch cover.

The Japanese pilot then signalled for Mr. Kentish to swim over to his aircraft and after a brief discussion, he ordered Mr Kentish to climb aboard the float plane. The float plane then took off and disappeared to the north. This incident is possibly the only case of an Australian being taken prisoner by the Japanese in mainland Australian waters during WW2.

18 survivors landed on a small rocky islet about 2 miles west of Cumberland Strait. Two died from their injuries shortly afterwards. They were spotted on 27 January 1943 by an aircraft of 7 Squadron RAAF from Horn Island flown by F/Sgt Len Gairns. They were all rescued by HMAS Kuru on 29 January 1943.

It was not until four years later that Mrs Violet Kentish discovered what had happened to her husband. She discovered that the Reverend Kentish was subsequently executed by the Japanese.

Mrs Kentish, now living in Brisbane, wrote many Letters to the Editors of various newspapers in an attempt to find out what had happened to her husband. Eventually a Mr. Alfred Wilson was sitting on a train on 14 February 1946, when he read Mrs Kentish's letter in the "Argus" newspaper. Alfred Wilson was familiar with the incident as a result of his time as an Intelligence Officer based at Horn Island during WW2. Shortly after this incident, Alfred Wilson was transferred to General Douglas MacArthur's top secret intelligence group called Central Bureau. He reported to General Akin.

Alfred Wilson contacted Mrs Kentish. It is possible that Alfred Wilson was the Intelligence Officer that F/Sgt. Gairns reported to when he returned from his flight on 27 January 1943 after spotting the survivors on the small island. 

Wilson contacted a friend of General Douglas MacArthur's staff in Tokyo, to try to determine the eventual fate of Leonard Kentish. Through his research and his knowledge of the 734th Kokotai float plane squadron he was able to determine that Leonard Kentish was taken to the Japanese-held island of Dobo in the Aru Islands, which are now part of Indonesia. He was beheaded there on 4 May 1943.

Former Sub-Lieutenant Sagejima Maugan, who had ordered the execution was arrested as a War Criminal and sentenced to death. He was subsequently hung in Hong Kong's Stanley Gaol on 23 August 1948. Hoyama Kenzo, and Kohama Shozuke both received a sentence of Life Imprisonment for their part in the execution of Leonard Kentish.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Ric D.T. Wilson, the grandson of Mr Alfred Wilson, for his assistance with this home page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

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 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 17 September 2003

This page last updated 02 March 2017