Thomas John WELLER , 1907–1943 (aged 35 years)
His military record shows that he was born in Islington, NSW.
At the time described as 5 feet 8½ inches tall, 154 lbs, brown eyes, light brown hair, tip of left middle finger missing, an appendectomy scar and a scar on the left loin.
He joined the merchant navy
Working as a fireman on the SS Iron Knight.
SS Iron Knight was a Broken Hill Proprietary iron ore carrier of 4,812 tons with a beam of 17.12m and a length of 123.3m, which was sunk during World War II off the coast of New South Wales.
On 8 February 1943, Iron Knight was part of a convoy of ships travelling from Whyalla, South Asutralia up the east coast of New South Wales to Newcastle, New South Wales. At 2:30 am, a torpedo fired by Japanese submarine I-21 at escorts HMAS Townsville and HMAS Mildura passed under the bow of Townsville and struck Iron Knight, which was at the head of the convoy.
Iron Knight sank within two minutes bow first. Out of the crew of 50 only 14 survived after climbing on board a single lifeboat. The convoy steamed ahead and the survivors were picked up by the French destroyer Le Triomphant 10 days later.
On 4 June 2006, the wreck of the Iron Knight was discovered in waters off the New South Wales town of Bermagui at a depth of approximately 125 metres. Local fishermen had snagged their nets on the wreck over the years, unaware of the ship lying deep in the waters. Families and descendants of the crew travelled to the site and laid a wreath and poppies on the waters above the wreck. The sole remaining survivor of the sinking, John Stone, was unable to make the journey from his home in Southern Victoria.
Iron Knight History
The Iron Knight was torpedoed at 2.30am, allegedly 20 kilometres from Montague Island, on 8 February 1943 whilst in wartime convoy. The vessel was on a passage from Whyalla, South Australia, to Newcastle, NSW with a cargo of iron ore. Out of a crew of 50, 36 lost their lives including the captain, D. Ross. The vessel was of the ‘Chieftain’ class.
Owned by BHP, the 4812-ton steel screw steamer was built by Lithgows Ltd., Glasgow, in the United Kingdom during 1937. The vessel had a length of 123.3 metres, beam of 17.12 metres, and was powered by a quadruple expansion engine generating 553 nhp. The registration number was ON159568.
Iron Knight was reputedly torpedoed by Japanese I-class submarine I-21. The vessel sank in 2 minutes with the other nine vessels of the convoy escaping. The escort vessels HMAS Mildura and HMAS Townsville were in attendance, the torpedo passing under HMAS Townsville. Survivors stayed in a raft for 10 hours before being picked up by the French destroyer Le Triomphant.
I-21 was one of the 5 mother submarines involved in the midget submarine attack at Sydney on 31 May 1942, shelled Newcastle on 8 June 1942, and is credited with sinking the Iron Chieftain (3 June 1942), Kalingo (18 Jan 1943) and Starr King (10 Feb 1943). The submarine also damaged the Mobilube (18 Jan 1943) and Peter H Burnett (22 Jan 1943).
An armed shipwreck was inspected in 125 metres by The Sydney Project dive team on 27 May 2006 and 17 June 2006, eight miles east of Bermagui. The wreck was initially identified as Iron Knight and sits upright on sand, nets obscuring the bridge area, but substantially intact. A visually imposing element is the stern deck gun (4-inch), standing proud of the rails. On 29 July, the Heritage Branch supported a wreath laying ceremony over the wreck with relatives of the crew.
Subsequent dives by the club have raised questions on the identification as the deck arrangement, rudder, and size of the vessel seems at odds to Iron Knight's design. Additional research by the Heritage Branch suggests Iron Knight was torpedoed further out to sea in this general area. The wreck site might retain evidence of War Dead and should be treated with respect and care.
Few other armed merchant ships are suspected to have been sunk in the area, raising concerns about its ultimate identification.