Biography

Birth date: 28 December 1923
Birth place: Australia: Tasmania, Barrington
Death date: 01 December 1942
Death place: Netherlands East Indies: Arafura Sea
Final rank: Ordinary Seaman
Service number: H1617 - Second World War, 1939-1945
Unit: HMAS Armidale

Edward "Teddy" Sheean was an ordinary seaman serving on HMAS Armidale whose death during a Japanese aerial attack on his ship has become a well-known episode in Australian Second World War lore.

Sheean was born at Lower Barrington, Tasmania, on 28 December 1923. He received his education in a Catholic school at Latrobe in Tasmania and, having completed his schooling, worked on farms in the area where he grew up. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve in April 1941 and began his initial training in Tasmania. In February 1942 he was sent to the Flinders Naval Depot at Westernport in Victoria to continue his training, and the following May he was posted to Sydney.

At the end of that month, the vessel on which he was billeted, the former ferry Kuttabul, was sunk during the Japanese midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour. Fortunately for Sheean he was in Tasmania on home leave that night. He returned to Sydney 11 days later to begin his service as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gunner on the newly commissioned corvette, HMAS Armidale. Armidale spent her early months on relatively uneventful convoy escort duties along Australia's east and northern coasts.

In October 1942 Armidale's captain, Lieutenant Commander David Richards, was ordered to Darwin and, on 29 November, the corvette began her last operation. Along with two other vessels, she was to undertake a resupply and evacuation mission to Japanese-occupied Timor.

Having been seen by Japanese reconnaissance pilots shortly after leaving the port, Armidale was destined for a dangerous journey. She and the other corvette on the operation, HMAS Castlemaine, missed the rendezvous with the third ship, in Timor's Betano Bay, but met her later some 100 kilometres off-shore. The plan having gone awry, Armidale was ordered to return to Betano the following night. Facing a long day in enemy waters and the certainty of attack, the crew waited.

When in the mid-afternoon she was hit by two aircraft-launched torpedoes, Armidale began to sink fast. Sheean was wounded and, rather than abandon ship, he strapped himself to his Oerlikon and began to engage the attacking aircraft even as the ship sunk beneath him. He shot down two planes, and crewmates recall seeing tracer rising from beneath the surface as Sheean was dragged under the water, firing until the end. He died on 1 December 1942 aged just 18. Only 49 of the 149 men on board survived the attack and subsequent ordeal on rafts and in life boats.

Many consider that Sheean's actions deserved the Victoria Cross, an award for which he was not recommended at the time although he was Mentioned in Dispatches. He has subsequently been honoured in a well-known painting at the Australian War Memorial and by having a Collins Class submarine named after him in 1999 - the only vessel in the Royal Australian Navy to be named after an ordinary seaman.

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Rolls and Awards

  • Rank: Ordinary Seaman
  • Date of Death: 01 December 1942
  • Unit: HMAS Armidale
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: HMAS Armidale
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Collection Items

Digitised Collection

Timeline

Date of birth 1923-12-28 Barrington, TAS.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1941-04-21 Enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve and began his initial training in Tasmania.
Other 1942-02 Sent to the Flinders Naval Depot at Westernport in Victoria to continue his training.
Other 1942-05 Posted to Sydney and later began his service as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gunner on the newly commissioned corvette, HMAS Armidale.
Other 1942-10 HMAS Armidale was ordered to Darwin.
Other 1942-11-29 The HMAS Armidale began her last operation, to undertake a resupply and evacuation mission to Japanese occupied Timor.
Date of death 1942-12-01 Killed during the attack by Japanese aircraft which sank the Bathurst Class corvette HMAS Armidale in the Arafura Sea. As the crew were abandoning ship the Japanese aircraft began machine gunning survivors in the water. When he saw this, Sheean, though himself wounded, manned the aft 20 mm Oerlikon gun and began shooting at the attacking aircraft, shooting one down and damaging two others. Sheean remained at the gun and continued to engage the enemy aircraft as the ship sank.
Date of honour or award 1943-06-29 Posthumous Mention in Despatches for his involvement in defence of the HMAS Armidale and its crew from enemy attack.