Edward “Teddy” Sheean (28 December 1923 – 1 December 1942) was a sailor in the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War. Born in Tasmania, Sheean was employed as a farm labourer when he enlisted in theRoyal Australian Naval Reserve in April 1941. Following training at HMAS Derwent and the Flinders Naval Depot, he was posted to Sydney, where he joined the newly commissioned corvette HMAS Armidale in June 1942. Sheean served aboard Armidale as she initially took part in escort duties along the eastern Australian coast and in New Guinea waters, before he transferred with the ship to Darwin in October, where Armidale was tasked with assisting Australian operations in Timor.
On 29 November 1942, Armidale set out for an operation to Betano, Timor, along with HMAS Castlemaine. The two ships were attacked by Japanese aircraft along the way, and were subsequently late in arriving at their destination, missing a planned rendezvous with HMAS Kuru. While returning to Darwin, the pair encountered Kuru south of Betano and it was decided byCastlemaine’s commanding officer—as the senior officer—that Armidale andKuru should voyage to Betano. The two ships undertook different routes to Betano, during which both vessels came under aerial assault.
During a subsequent confrontation with thirteen Japanese aircraft on 1 December, Armidale was struck by two torpedoes and a bomb, and began to sink; the order to abandon ship was given. After helping to free a life-raft, Sheean was wounded by two bullets. He made his way to the aft Oerlikon 20 mm cannon and began to fire on the Japanese aircraft to protect those in the water. Sheean managed to shoot down one of the Japanese bombers, but was killed when Armidale sank. Many of the survivors credited their life to Sheean and he was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches. In 1999, the submarine HMAS Sheean was named in his honour, and efforts have been made to have Sheean retrospectively awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia.
[…] at approximately 13:00 Armidale was attacked by a party of five Japanese bombers; the explosives, however, fell wide of their target. At 13:58, Armidale reported that she was under attack from “nine bombers, four fighters” over the Arafura Sea.
Armidale undertook evasive action, manoeuvring frantically to avoid the aerial attack. However, at 15:15, the vessel was struck by two air-launched torpedoes, one hitting her port side and the other colliding with the engineering spaces, before a bomb exploded aft. Armidale listed sharply to port at this stage, and the order was given to abandon ship. As the crew leapt into the sea, they were strafed by the attacking aircraft. Sheean—after assisting to free a life-raft—was hit by two bullets from one of the aircraft, wounding him in the chest and back. Scrambling across the deck, he strapped himself into the aft Oerlikon 20 mm cannon and began shooting at the fighters in an effort to protect some of the sailors already in the sea. Subject to the fire from Sheean’s Oerlikon, the Japanese aircraft were kept at bay and were unable to effectively strafe those in the water.
With Armidale rapidly sinking, Sheean continued to fire and managed to shoot down one of the Japanese bombers. He damaged a further two aircraft before Armidale’s stern was engulfed by the sea. Despite this, Sheean maintained his fire as the water rose above his feet, and remained firing as he “disappeared beneath the waves”. Sheean’s crewmates later testified to witnessing tracers rising from beneath the water’s surface as Sheean was dragged under.