New Zealand ship torpedoed in Tasman Sea

26 April 1943

Crewman Allan Wyllie on the Limerick (Allan Wyllie Collection)

Like many New Zealand merchant ships, the Union Steam Ship Company freighter Limerick undertook military missions during the Second World War, carrying munitions, food and equipment between New Zealand, Australia, North America and the Middle East.

On the night of 25/26 April 1943, the Limerick was sailing from Sydney to Brisbane. Around 1 a.m., it was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-177 off Cape Byron. Two of the crew – a New Zealand engineer and an Australian officer – went down with the ship. The other 70 on board were rescued after spending 10 hours in lifeboats or on rafts.

Although the Tasman Sea was not a major hunting ground for enemy submarines, from 1942 to 1943 up to 10 long-range Japanese ‘I-boats’ operated off Australia’s east coast, sinking 18 Allied merchant ships. As well as the Limerick, New Zealand’s Union Company lost the small freighter Kalingo, which was torpedoed by I-21 110 km east of Sydney on 18 January 1943. Again, two crew members were lost; the remainder were rescued after three days adrift in a lifeboat.