HMAS Canberra: Kathryn Spurling’s book retells a tragic tale


HMAS Canberra
Casualty of Circumstance
By Kathryn Spurling

Published by New Holland
RRP $32.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781742578859

In the early hours of 9 August 1942, Sub Lieutenant Mackenzie Gregory looked through his binoculars and was horrified to see six Japanese cruisers and one destroyer bearing down on his ship, HMAS Canberra.

Caught unawares, the cruiser was hit by 28 shells in less than three minutes and thus her participation in the Battle of Savo Island was over before it had begun, resulting in the loss of 84 young men.

On the face of it, the men of HMAS Canberra were unfortunate, the recipients of a surprise Japanese offensive but Kathryn Spurling believes that they were also the “victims of a litany of archaic, misguided policies, standards and beliefs promoted by the British Admiralty and successive puppet RAN Flag Officers”.

Strong words indeed but Spurling backs up her assertions with sound reasoning derived from extensive research.

The Japanese fleet was sighted by a RAAF Hudson surveillance aircraft and the crew risked their lives in breaking silence to report the sighting.

Upon landing they again reported their findings but inexplicably this information was not reported to the fleet until after the attack.

There was also a wide-held belief that the Japanese “would not have the audacity to attack by sea at night”.

Combined with inadequate radio communications it is clear that the odds were stacked against the crew of the HMAS Canberra.

A truly revealing account of a tragic event in our naval history.

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