The Ships: HMS Li Wo
I feel I must mention the Li Wo, it looked to me like what it was, not a ship that would go into action with the battle ensign flying against such odds, I had never heard of the action described below and I am sure not many other people have.
HMS Li Wo was sunk on 14th February 1942 (77 died; 7 Prisoners of War; her Commanding Officer was awarded the VC)
VC Won in Naval Action
The Times, Wednesday December 18, 1946
RNR Officer’s Valour
The King has approved the award of the Victoria Cross to: The late Temporary Lieutenant Thomas Wilkinson, RNR.
On February 14, 1942, HMS Li Wo, a patrol vessel of 1,000 tons, formerly a passenger steamer on the Upper Yangtze River, was on passage from Singapore to Batavia. Her ships company consisted of 84 officers and men, including one civilian; they were mainly survivors from His Majesties Ships which had been sunk, and a few units of the Army and R.A.F. Her armament was only one 4 inch gun, for which she had only 13 practice shells, and two machine guns. Since leaving Singapore the previous day, the ship had beaten off 4 air attacks, in one of which 52 machines took part, and had suffered considerable damage. Late in the afternoon she sighted two enemy convoys, the larger of which was escorted by Japanese naval units, including a heavy cruiser and some destroyers. The commanding officer, Lieutenant T. Wilkinson, gathered his scratch ships company together and told them that, rather than try and escape, he had decided to engage the convoy and fight to the last, in hope that he might inflict damage upon the enemy. In making this decision, which drew resolute support from the whole ships company, Lieutenant Wilkinson knew that his ship faced certain destruction, and that his own chances of survival were small.
Straight for the Enemy
HMS Li Wo hoisted her battle ensign and made straight for the enemy. In the action which followed the machines guns were used with effect upon the crews of the ships within range, and a volunteer gun’s crew manned the 4 inch gun, which they fought with such purpose that a Japanese transport was badly hit and set on fire.
After a little over an hour HMS Li Wo had been critically damaged and was sinking. Lieutenant Wilkinson then decided to ram his principle target, the large transport, which had been abandoned by her crew. It is known that this ship burnt fiercely throughout the night following the action and was probably sunk. HMS Li Wo’s gallant fight ended when her shells spent and under heavy fire from the enemy cruiser, Lieutenant Wilkinson finally ordered abandon ship. He himself remained on board and went down with her. There were only 10 survivors, who were later made prisoners of war. Wilkinson’s valour was equalled only by the skill with which he fought his ship. The Victoria Cross is bestowed upon him posthumously in recognition both of his own heroism and self sacrifice and of that of all who fought and died with him.
Lieutenant Wilkinson, who was 44, was the youngest of five sons of the late Captain William Wilkinson, of Widness. His VC is the 181st awarded in the war, and the 22nd won by the Navy.
HMS Li Wo became the most decorated small ship in the Royal Navy, the awards were as follows:
Temporary Lieutenant, Thomas Wilkinson, RNR
Distinguished Service Order
Temporary Sub Lieutenant, Ronald George Gladstone Stanton, RNR
Conspicuous Gallantry Medal
Acting Petty Officer, Arthur William Thompson
Distinguished Service Medal
Leading Seaman, Victor Spencer
Distinguished Service Medal
Able Seaman, Albert Spendlove
The Kedah, after disembarking those of us it had brought from Singapore to Batavia (Jakarta), Java, was not repaired but sent to Tilijap on the South Coast, the same port we were told to make for on the 6th March, nearly a month later, to evacuate the staff of General Wavell to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). It had a charmed life as it was bombed again, en route, this time it proved too much and it came to a halt, it was then towed to Colombo, and repaired, it then did patrol duties until the end of the war. At Singapore it was part of the allied fleet which entered the harbour after victory.
The Dia Nichi Maru
Recent research has shown that the name plate on the deck stated that the ship started as the Eskdale built by Charles Connell & Co, Glasgow, Scotland, 1893. It was launched 25th November 1893, and was built for R. Mackhill & Co., she was sold to a Japanese company in 1912 became the Dai Nichi Maru. Records show that she ran aground of Japan at Omai Saki 21st 1931, later written off by Lloyds.
Ibuku Maru was completed by Mitsu & Co. Japan 5th April 1922 for Kyuei Shoka & Co then sold on to Italya Shosen & Co. on the 15th June 1935 and renamed the Dai Nichi Maru, she was one of the first oil fired power ships. I have endeavoured to find out if the Japanese Navy salvaged the original Dai Nichi Maru, when the war with China had started and put into war service. I thought the condition of the ship I travelled on was very poor if, as stated, just twenty years old at that time.
Dai Nichi Maru II could have been converted to coal as Japan was short of oil during the war, was the nameplate therefore a souvenir from the old ship. A Dai Nichi Maru was torpedoed and sunk southwest of the Island of Luzon in the Philippines, with the loss of over 2000 Japanese soldiers and crew