Padre Laite's Diary

Story of submarine 0 20 - as told by Sub Lt Anne Willem Huidekoper. Born Bussun, Holland, Oct. 13, 1918.

On Nov. 20, 1941 we left Sours Baya to join the squadron near Timor. Travelling in that direction we received an order to join a squadron in Paternoster Isles. We lay there for three days.

On Sunday evening (Dec. 7) we received secret warning that there may be a Japanese attack in Malaya. We left the squadron with sister ship 0 19 and travelled back into the Java Sea and in the direction of Singapore where we arrived on Dec. 15th. We refuelled and took on refreshments as well after which we left Singapore on Dec. 16 with the 0 19 and were put under command of the Commander in Chief - British Naval - in Singapore. We received an order to attack every Japanese carrying troops or material and in the night we heard by secret message that we could expect two Japanese battleships, coming Southward.

During the day time we stayed submerged and only after sunset did we travel on the surface. Our speed then would be fifteen knots. Every day we saw the shoreline and on the morning of the 19th we saw a convoy consisting of a few transport ships escorted by two or three destroyers. We sometimes saw a Japanese aeroplane.

We were then off the coast of Kotta-Bareo (meaning New Town). At 1115 hrs on Dec. 19th we heard a few explosions near our submerged submarine. Japanese aeroplanes had discovered our positions and had dropped a few bombs. We dived deeper to avoid more bombs from air. Immediately thereafter we came back to our original depth so that we could see through our periscope.

We did see some destroyers coming towards us. We dived to the bottom. The depth was 120 feet. The destroyers charged with depth charges at certain intervals. With our direction finder we could hear in which direction the destroyers were steaming. When the noise became stronger we knew that they - the destroyers - were coming in our direction.

On board our submarine we had closed our water-tight compartments and had to take off our shoes. We were not allowed to speak above a whisper for fear of the Japanese picking up any noise on our ship by their direction finders. For the same reason every engine was stopped. This means that in a tropical sea the heat would become intense because the motor of the refrigerator was also stopped.

By telephone our commander asked after every attack by the destroyers how the situation was in each and every compartment. Of course, the noise of the explosion of the depth charges made a great impression on the crew, but everyone remained very calm and without thought of panic.

At 1515 hrs we got the last attack. It seemed that a destroyer had found our exact position and he charged a salvo of nine depth charges in thirty seconds, which exploded just above the submarine. To avoid our sticking to the ground we travelled with both electric engines at full power for half a minute. We remained submerged until 2045 hrs. No damage was done our ship apart from a leak in ones of the tubes through which a screw went - tunnel - to the outside and a quantity of water came into the rear compartment. We still heard the destroyers near us.

The Commander later said that we would try and escape by coming to the surface and trying to travel with both electric and diesel engines working. Fifteen minutes before we dived up we heard a noise like rain on our submarine. Later it was confirmed that this was a kind of radio signal sent out by a Jap destroyer to locate our position.

We dived up at a great angle. The gun crew came on deck to be ready to act with the gun. For fifteen minutes we travelled at a speed of nearly twenty knots, but while we travelled there came a flame outside our submarine. It was the gas charges - hence the flame. The Japanese destroyer, which was three or four miles away, saw the flame and saw our submarine as well.

Suddenly we saw a searchlight from a Jap destroyer beaming over the sea, which fell on our submarine and kept her in its rays. They fired shells and we replied with our guns. We, too fired a number of torpedoes which the Japanese destroyers avoided.

We lost seven of our men, including our commander. He had given his last order "To scuttle the submarine and to leave the ship with life belts". We obeyed his order. While we were in the water, we heard two more explosions of Jap's discharges.

At 2130 hrs the thirty-two of us were in the water. Three officers - two of which lost their belts - another officer's belt was wrecked and another - the author of this story - was sick. He lost all his fever after the fight began. The three officers were held up by the rest of the crew. Of course, we did not again fear an attack by a destroyer, but an attack by sharks or poisonous snakes. The sharks however, did not attack because we were in the fuel of the submarine. The weather was moderate and the water comparatively smooth. We hadn't eaten during the day (During our 19 hours submerged most of our oxygen had been used and we were really forced to come to the surface).

We couldn't swim because of life belts and the three officers, as well as feeling weak because of lack of food. The stars showed us the direction i which we should swim and we knew that shore would be twenty-five miles away. We also knew that there was a current running towards the shore at a speed of half a mile per hour. The most marvellous thing while we were in the water was our spirit. There was no panic whatever. No reference was made to sharks or snakes.

During the night we saw the destroyer and once she was outlined about four hundred yards away. We shouted to her to pick us up, but our voices were too feeble to be heard by her crew, and again, they might not have been willing to pick us up.

At 0300 hrs next day it became very chilly. At -630 hrs - sunrise - we saw the shore fifteen or twenty miles distant. On seeing it we were given new hope. During the night already mentioned, the eldest officer said that he was willing to let go and drop but the crew would not hear of it but kept him afloat until rescue came.

At 0715 hrs we saw a Japanese destroyer moving slowly in our direction. Some of the crew wanted to shout but others did not trust the Japs. We might hear them saw "swim for the shore" or perhaps have them kill us with machine gun fire or run over us.

So we all kept together and waited. The last minute we were in the water we sang our "National Hymn". The destroyer stopped, threw over a rope ladder on which we climbed to her deck. the Japs told us to sit. When we were on board the destroyer increased her speed and went in the directions of Kotta-Saroe (Malayan). We were all ordered to the fo'castle where we were given biscuit and saka (their national gin).

Their paymaster and a Sub Lt came and talked to us. They spoke disparagingly of the British and then they questioned us. They wanted to know of each member of our crew. Soon there came more food, underwear, and blankets. We were allowed to dry our clothes and to make ourselves comfortable. Cigarettes were also given us, and later cigars. Some of our men were exhausted and tumbled to sleep under their blankets. For all of Dec. 20th we remained in the vicinity of Kotta-Saroe. We had a few alarms in which cases we were ordered amidship, but all alarms were false.

In the afternoon we were given rice, Japanese tea, cattle fish, and some biscuit. The oldest officer (Lt) was ordered to give information about our naval strength, army, and airforce, the places from which we came, and information about our own submarine. They also told him that he knew the exact position of the British, U.S.A., and Dutch naval forces operating in the South West Pacific and warned that if that information were not given every man would be shot.

They asked if we were a mine laying submarine - which we were. They asked for positions of mines, and the answer was that he would not divulge. The same answers were given to each question by two other officers. Later the senior officer had to go before a commission. He again refused to give any information relative to any forces in the South West Pacific. Instead of shooting or bullying, they said this amazing sentence - "You will be treated as knights after this war".

I was later questioned and when I reminded them of their oath and mine to our respective rulers, they respected me for my answer and refrained from questioning me and changed the subject altogether. We were well treated after then. The food remained the same. In the night we received more blankets and, if during the night they blew off us, the Jap sentries put them back. On Sunday, Dec. 21st, I collapsed and they gave me milk and a lot of vitamin tablets. Later their paymaster and the Sub Lt talked with us and took photographs of us.

In the meantime a course was set for Cape St Jacques - near Saigon in French Indo-China - where we arrived in the evening of the same day. To the poorest dressed members of the crew they gave a shirt and shorts (Jap). A river craft took us on board at 10 p.m. The two Jap officers P.M. and Sub Lt shook hands with us in farewell.

We anchored in the mouth of the river and were there until morning when we steamed up the river to a small refinery of the Texas Oil Co. - along the river five miles from Saigon. Here we were landed.

The officers were put in the house of the manager, and the crew in another house nearby. The Americans had already been captured and imprisoned in Saigon. We were kept there for a fortnight for questioning, after which we came to Hong Kong. The chief engineer and the senior officer had been taken to Tokyo. The other three officers were here in camp but after four days two escaped and got through to Chinese territory.

The day after our arrival at the house at Saigon a commission of four or five men who spoke perfect French - they were civilian Japs - visited us and tried to learn from us officers what the destroyer officers failed to do. They used their third degree, i.e. every ten minutes during the night we were wakened. On unimportant questions we answered "Yes" but to unimportant ones we answered "No". We had all agreed on certain lies to be told; however they learned that we had been at Singapore, and that we had not dropped any mines. They were very anxious to get secret codes, signal calls, and ciphers. They threatened to shoot two of the petty officers if they did not give the information asked for, and gave them one night to think this matter over, but in the morning they refused to give the required information and were forgiven.