Fremantle submarine base a major factor in Pacific war

November 7, 2012

A Murdoch University professor is researching the history behind Fremantle’s submarine base during the Second World War – the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

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.

A third memorial can be found near the Ovens submarine at Fremantle’s Western Australian Maritime Museum, where a Remembrance Day ceremony will be held at 10.45am on Sunday, November 11.

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.

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Comments (One response)

Andrew July 22, 2014

I'm looking forward to reading your book. I must admit, as a Perth born 48-year-old WW11 history enthusiast, I've always been inspired and proud of the US Navy subs' war patrols out of Fremantle.

I love the black and white images of the subs tied-up together alongside their tender at the quay.

I also have, as a much prized bookmark, a two striper USN torpedoman's badge of rank passed on by an aunt of mine by a then boyfriend who died on a Freo war patrol.

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