Professor Michael Sturma said the base is underappreciated for its impact in the Pacific theatre.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of what an important base it was during the war. Around 170 submarines were based there at various times, and they conducted more than 400 war patrols,” Professor Sturma said.
“Historians estimate submarines helped sink about 55 per cent of Japanese shipping by 1945. Some have said next to the atomic bombs, submarines had the biggest impact on the war in the Pacific.”
Professor Sturma said lack of publicity for submarine successes was intentional, because top brass didn’t want to focus attention on their scale and operations, which included clandestine actions by Australians.
“While there weren’t any Australian submarines, the American and British submarines carried a large number of Australian commandos, dropping them behind enemy lines in Borneo, Malaya, Java and the Philippines.
“These commandos were also taken along to covertly engage smaller enemy ships travelling alone – rowing over and interrogating crews or sabotaging supplies and equipment.”
Professor Sturma said the base provided a psychological boost to the local population as well, especially early in the war when Japanese submarines sank a number of ships off the WA coast.
While the base was officially closed in August 1945, its legacy continues. A war memorial for US submariners can be found on Monument Hill and a periscope at its base commemorates British crews.
In total, eight submarines stationed in Fremantle were lost while making patrols, with another ten lost while seeing action at other bases.
Professor Sturma has published three books on submarines in the Second World War and expects his volume on the Fremantle base to be out in 2014. He is a member of the recently formed World Wars Research Group at Murdoch University.