Battles and operations
The following note was provided by Captain Sean Andrews, RAN Director of the Sea Power Centre -Australia. Thanks also for the link to a short film made by the Sea Power Centre – Australia’s history team on our Navy in WWI. It was made for ANZAC Day 2020 which is being commemorated by Australian in a very non-traditional manner due to the pandemic gripping the World. The mission of the SPC-A, like the Naval Historical Society of Australia, is the preservation and promotion of the Royal Australian Navy’s history and heritage. Supporting this mission is an official YouTube Channel which provides a wonderful collection of Navy’s great stories.
On 4 August 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany the ships of the Royal Australian Navy were at sea and proceeding to their war stations. The Navy’s immediate tasks were to seize Germany’s regional possessions and counter the threat posed by the German East Asiatic Cruiser Squadron based in China. The presence of the RAN’s new battle cruiser HMAS Australia (I) was sufficient to convince the German Squadron Commander, Vice Admiral Maximillian von Spee, to relocate his squadron to the Eastern Pacific where it defeated a British naval force before itself being destroyed by Royal Navy ships in the South Atlantic.
On 11 September 1914 the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force landed at New Britain where, in a brisk action against German colonial forces, a predominantly naval landing force defeated the enemy and captured the Bitapaka wireless station. During that action Able Seaman William Williams became the first Australian serviceman to be killed during World War 1. Further tragedy followed when HMA Submarine AE1 failed to return from a patrol outside Rabaul. A succession of searches revealed no trace of the vessel or her 35 man crew. The RAN had nevertheless proven to be an effective instrument of national power establishing maritime security in the immediate region and securing important lines of communication.
In November 1914 the light cruiser HMAS Sydney (I) won for the RAN its first single ship battle honour when it engaged and defeated the German cruiser SMS Emden in a fierce action off the Cocos Keeling Island group in the Indian Ocean. That action cleared the way for Anzac troop convoys to traverse the Indian Ocean, without loss, for the duration of the war.
At the time of the Anzac’s landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, HMA Submarine AE2 had penetrated the Dardanelles and entered the Sea of Marmara where it executed orders to ‘run amok’. The submarine spent the next five days operating as widely as possible giving the impression that more than one submarine was active. She fell victim to a Turkish gunboat on 30 April and the vessel was abandoned without loss of life. Her crew was taken prisoner and four of its number died in captivity.
Ashore at Gallipoli on Suvla Bay, engineers of the Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train provided valuable service building pontoon piers on the beaches enabling vital supplies to be landed from the sea and the wounded to be evacuated. They also undertook a wide variety of additional tasking including salvage work and maintaining water supplies. To them went the distinction of being the last men to be evacuated from the peninsular when the campaign was abandoned in December 1915.
In the years that followed, RAN cruisers and destroyers variously assisted with the blockade of German East Africa, patrolled North American and Far Eastern waters and performed anti-submarine duties in the Mediterranean. From 1915 the RAN Flagship, HMAS Australia (I) operated with the British Grand Fleet in the North Sea. She was later joined by the cruisers HMAS Sydney (I) and HMAS Melbourne (I).
On 11 November 1918 the signing of the Armistice brought the fighting in Europe to an end. When the German High Seas Fleet steamed across the North Sea to surrender, HMA Ships Australia, Sydney and Melbourne were present. On leaving England to return to Australia the Admiralty expressed its appreciation of Australia’s contribution as follows:
Their Lordships state that Australia may well feel pride in the record of its navy newly created in the years prior to 1914, but shown by the test of war to be in all respects ready to render valuable service to the Empire in the hour of need.
By Dennis J Weatherall JP TM AFAITT(L) LSM – Volunteer Researcher
HMAS Assault, also known as the Amphibious Training Centre to American personnel, was a combined operations establishment for training Allied personnel in all aspects of amphibious warfare. It also provided operational and logistics support to amphibious units of the Royal Australian Navy. During its short three-year commission (September 1942 to August 1945) more than 22,000 personnel undertook training which was essential for the successful repulsion of Japanese forces from the Pacific Islands. This paper provides insight into its establishment, roles, challenges confronted and personnel who played a significant role in contributing to victory in the Pacific.
In 1942 Australian Forces were heavily committed to the War against Germany and its Allies in Europe then in its third year. As in WWI, RAN units were under the command of the Admiralty and employed against Italy in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. The Japanese had entered the war in Australia’s own area of interest with the invasion of South East Asian countries and the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Following the rapid Japanese conquest by the Japanese of Malaya and the “Fall of Fortress Singapore” on 15th February, Australia found itself threatened for the first time since British settlement. The subsequent Japanese advance through the Dutch East Indies and islands in the South-West Pacific basin brought WWII to the Australian mainland on 19 February 1942 with the bombing of Darwin.
However, by early 1942, the Allies were already planning for the invasion of Europe and had successfully established a “Combined Operations Command”. Australian planners then urged the Australian Government to seek British assistance with information and expertise to establish a similar Australian Directorate. This was essential if Japanese forces were to be repelled from the Pacific Islands. Fortuitously service by many Australians in all three British Services meant there was a pool of experienced Australian available to return home with a small number of British Officers for the task of establishing an indigenous amphibious capability.
The officers seconded to establish an Australian “Combined Operations Base” were; Commander T. W. Cook RAN (ex CO HMS Tormentor British Combined Operations School) , Lieutenant Colonel M. Hope – Royal Artillery, Lieutenant Colonel T. K. Walker – Royal Marines, Wing Commander A.M. Murdoch – RAAF, Lieutenant Commander H. George – RANVR, and Lieutenant D. Richardson – RANVR. All had “Combined Operations” experience and understood the importance of an amphibious capability to push the Japanese out of New Guinea, Borneo, Bougainville and occupied islands between Australia and Japan.
In June 1942, the Defence planners made a strong recommendation for the formation of the Australian “Combined Operations Directorate” to be set up in Melbourne. On 5 June, 1942 the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, Captain Frank Getting RAN, Commander Cook and Lieutenant Colonel Hope met with General Macarthur’s Brigadier Chamberlain in General Macarthur’s Headquarters, then located in Melbourne. They were informed that any such “Combined Operations” in Australia would come under the command of Macarthur. There was agreement on an immediate start to train three Divisions – one Australian and two American – in amphibious warfare. The RAN was also to produce one third of the total number of crews required and also provide all naval means (craft and crews) for soldiers undergoing training.
An immediate task for CMDR Cook and LT COL Hope was to find a suitable location to establish the training base. They took to the air and eventually decided that Fly Point in Port Stephens, NSW as an ideal location. A ground inspection confirmed the decision. Then followed the construction from scratch of a shore base in the scrub country away from prying eyes. Training for all facets of amphibious operations (sea, land the air) could be conducted in the immediate vicinity. From a security perspective, Port Stephens being a small fishing village with little other activity in the area, the location was ideal.
No time was lost awaiting the building of the base. The Auxiliary Merchant Cruiser HMAS Westralia was loaned as an accommodation vessel from 21 August, 1942 and on 1 September, 1942 HMAS Assault was actually commissioned in Westralia with 24 Officers and 280 Seamen Trainees. HMAS Westralia was then designated as a Landing Ship Infantry when she arrived in Port Stephens on 3 September 1942.
It was hoped at the time that Westralia’s sister ships HMA Ships Manora and Kanimbla would also be made available as LSI’s and fitted out with landing craft. Provision was made in planning for these ships to be made available and Flinders Naval Depot made aware of the requirement for trained ratings as they finished their basic training. The Naval Board was supportive and the training pipeline to HMAS Assault commenced.
At the same time, the requirement for landing craft was presented to the Naval Board. It was recommended that these be built locally as they could not be delivered off-the-shelf. Until purpose-built craft were available, training was undertaken in nine motor boats requisitioned from civilian sources. These were referred to by the sailors as the “Hollywood Fleet”. Folding- boats were provided by the Army.
The base was designed from ground up with layout the was first consideration. Accommodation for all personnel, moorings, piers, slipways, maintenance facilities all had to be built in a virgin bushland setting 125 miles north of Sydney.
On 1 October 1943, one year after commissioning ashore it was reported that 100 Officers, 100 Coxswains, 453 Boat Crews, 250 Stokers, 40 Landing Craft Signalmen and 120 Naval Beach Party Commandos had been trained. As it took until 10 December 1942 to complete all buildings the majority many trainees and staff were accommodated in HMAS Westralia for the first three months. Some 90 officers and men were transferred to a Queensland Army Camp at Toorbul following their training. They were then used to train soldiers in certain phases of amphibious warfare. This camp was later taken over by the American Forces and the Australians reposted to Assault.
The roles of HMAS Assault were to train;
- Officers and ratings for boat crews,
- Naval Commandos for beach parties,
- combined operations signal teams, both Naval and Army with spares posted to the LSI vessels,
- act as a base for LSI’s arranging transport, victualling, spares and repairs,
- designated Commanding Naval Officers to also be Naval Officer in Command of a post.
By 1 October 1943 all three LSIs had been supplied with Assault trained Officers and Boat Crews, along with Beach Commandos, with a factor of 25% spare trained personnel.
On 1 October 1943 HMAS Assault commenced a new phase in its evolution. With its training role mature and sufficient personnel trained to commence amphibious landings to re-take Japanese occupied territory the new role was logistics support. This involved;
- operating as a stores depot supplying spare parts for the landing craft carried on the LSI’s,
- operating as a pool depot for a reserve of trained combined operations personnel, and
- assisting with the base’s trained boat crews in training US soldiers passing through the Amphibious Training Centre (ATC).
The ATC was the American organisation responsible for training assault troops and to which HMAS Assault was responsible. Some 22,000 men from various services received amphibious training including 2,000 Australians. The remainder were all US Servicemen.
As expected, trainees who had completed their training at Assault had to wait for postings to the LSI’s and in some cases, subject to their wait time, had to be brought back for various refresher courses. This occurred when such trained personnel had returned to their previous establishments to awaiting a billet on an LSI. As the Assault expanded and more accommodation became available trained personnel were kept onboard Assault and kept in training until posted to sea.
In the early stages of developing HMAS Assault, there was a shortage of actual landing craft until the locally-built Australian craft were delivered. This shortage made training in craft handling difficult. Until December 1942, only two LCA’s (Landing Craft Assault) were actually operational at the base and the requisition civilian craft (nothing like a LCA) were used in conjunction with the two LCA’s. Although not ideal, training continued with what was available. Whilst allowing crews to experience handling twin screw boats, these civilian craft couldn’t replicate running ashore and beaching craft in all conditions of weather and sea states.
On 14 December 1942 sufficient American landing craft arrived for the USN Advanced Landing Craft Base, the name of the American base at Port Stephens. Following delivery of these craft training in all conditions could be undertaken. The Port was an excellent location as within the immediate area and along the coast were steep and shallow, sandy beaches, with or without surf, rock, mud and mangrove areas, all in close proximity to the base.
On 10 January 1943 the Australian-built LCA’s started to arrive. This allowed Assault to return five requisitioned craft to Sydney for deployment to other urgent tasks. On 20 March 1943 19 American landing craft were handed over to Assault control by the American Landing Force Equipment Depot (LFED). Finally there was sufficient craft of various types to provide instruction and gain experience.
In addition to the LSIs, Westralia and Manora, HMAS Assault had on its warrant list several other vessels. These were;
- HMAS Ping Wo, a tender for the transportation of water and stores for the LSIs. She was also used as a training ship. Ping Wo and was an ex Chinese River Steamer of 2,000 tons.
- HMAS Gumleaf, an ex Seine Trawler, 55 ft OA used for escort, patrol and salvage duties.
- HMA Ships Flying Cloud and Kweena, both Auxiliary Patrol Vessels’,
- A variety of landing craft:
- LST – Landing ship tank x 1 (US)
- LCI – Landing craft infantry x 12 (US)
- LCT – Landing craft tank x 4 (US)
- LCM – Landing craft mechanised x 7 (US), 4 loaned to “Assault”
- APC – Auxiliary patrol craft x 2 (US)
- LCV – Landing craft vehicle x 67 (US), 14 loaned to “Assault”
- LCP – Landing craft personnel x 15 (US), 1 loaned to “Assault”
- LCS – Landing craft support x 7 (US)
- LCA – Landing craft assault x 9 (AU)
- Motor boats x 4 (AU), of which 38 were under “Assault’s” control
- Three boat ramps for slipping, scraping and painting
The buildings ashore in HMAS Assault consisted of 67 structures. These were classified as “C” series-type unlined, galvanised iron huts. They were located 800 yards from the landing craft moorings and general pier area. They were described as hot in summer and freezing in winter, but this was nothing new in time of war!
The base was originally designed for 500 officers and men, but as many as 870 were housed, of which 70 were officers and 800 other ranks. As in the British counterpart establishments, roads were named after successful operations and buildings named after military personnel who had achieved success in Combined Operations to date in WWII.
A jetty to suit naval requirements was constructed using as its basis, an existing jetty on requisitioned land. It was altered and extended considerably to reach out 510 feet with a width of 12 feet, and at the end an L-shaped return of 162 feet which formed a boat compound. The outer perimeter of the jetty was enclosed with planking set 3” apart to act as a breakwater. The pier had a depth of 7 feet alongside at low water and could handle 5 ton loads with fuelling points located along its length.
Unfortunately, by late 1943 slipping facilities for the repair and painting of boats were found lacking. This was overcome by the employment of naval divers and by the end of the year the initial work started by civilian contractors was completed. The result was a working slipway and boat shed. Prior to completion, boats had to be slipped at Tea Gardens, some 3 miles distance, and only when the facilities there were available.
The Assault boat shed was 112 feet long x 30 feet wide, set up with a winch to haul boats, along with machinery for general maintenance. The slipway had a capacity of 25 tons but the depth of water limited the size of the vessel that could be slipped. At high water, it was reported only 4 feet 6 inches at the water end, and only 2 feet 6 inches at the shore side. It meant that only boats with an average draft of 3 feet 6 inches could be slipped, and only at high water. The solution would be to extend the slipway another 40 feet at the water end. However, no record could be found of this ever being done.
The slipway came with three cradles which allowed three boats to be lifted out of the water at any one time for maintenance.
Located nearby was the Engineers’ Work Shop, a building of 114 feet in length and width of 42 feet. It was well equipped with; lathes, milling machines, drills, shaping machines, a 60-ton hydraulic press, valve grinder, bench drills, punch shears and an electric welding unit.
One of the biggest problems for the base was spare parts for the overhaul of the landing craft engines, as these were mainly of US origin. Lack of the smallest part could keep a craft alongside for weeks and impact practical craft ship handling exercises.
HMAS Assault was well-located with quite a pleasant temperate climate. However, summer heat could make it more sub-tropical. Unlike bases situated in far Northern Queensland, there was little in the way of environmentally induced illness. The base had a capable hospital which treated mainly casualties from vigorous activities. On 24 May 1943 casualties from a PBY-Consolidated Catalina which crashed into Port Stephens were treated on base. Post WWII the base hospital became the Port Stephens civilian hospital.
Men came and trained, then left. The base had ample sporting facilities available to keep the trainees amused; swimming, surfing, fishing, along with cricket in summer and football in the winter months. In 1943, the Assault rugby team won the First Grade Newcastle League.
Like all bases in war time, religious observances were conducted by Navy Chaplains and the YMCA and Australian Comforts Fund people ran the recreation, with regular parties and entertainment.
The entire concept of establishing HMAS Assault was to train Australian and American sailors and soldiers in the art of amphibious warfare, and to get the Army conditioned to working with the Navy, and vice-versa. When the American Training Group was established the two facilities were combined and designated the ATC – Amphibious Training Centre. This took place in February 1943 under the overall command of the Commander South West Pacific Force, Rear Admiral Daniel E Barbey USN, who answered directly to General Macarthur.
This brought all such training in Australia under American command. From this time until training concluded US Marines, RAN sailors and US Army personnel served together on base.
Training at HMAS Assault was, to say the least, intense. It covered every conceivable aspect of amphibious landing operations to face the enemy on inhospitable landing sites. RAN sailors took part in all the courses, from assaulting beaches to coxswaining landing craft and other vessels of opportunity, not only to meet the enemy face on, but to learn clandestine skills for infiltrating enemy lines. The specially selected naval beach commandos were instructed in all makes and models of weapons and explosives, as well as hand-to-hand unarmed combat.
Lieutenant Donald Davidson RANVR was the chief instructor in hand-to-hand combat. No-one knew from where he originated but at war’s end those he trained knew where he’d been. He was training officer for those selected to be “Special Service Beach Commandos” and sailed on MV Krait, the Japanese fishing boat captured before Singapore surrendered. It was known as the “fishing boat that went to war”! LEUT Davidson was 2IC to Major Ivan Lyons in Krait. Before this Davidson had established the “Special Reconnaissance Department” based on Fraser Island, Queensland. He was later a member of the ill-fated ‘Rimau’ raid on Japanese shipping in Singapore. LEUT Davison was severely wounded in this operation and holed up on Tapai Island. So he wasn’t taken prisoner and tortured for what he knew he took his ‘last resort’ cyanide tablet carried by operatives. Major Lyons died in a fire fight on Soren Island, it’s said whilst holding off over one hundred Japanese soldiers.
Many HMAS Assault trainees went to various postings in the three LSIs. There they operated their landing craft in operations to expel Japanese forces from conquered territory. Some were employed in the Special Operations with Lyons and Davidson, others were posted to US Military Small Ships and even wore US Army uniform. They served on these small vessels throughout the South West Pacific theatre as far as Japan until the end of hostilities.
In early March 1944, training at Assault ceased. It had served its purpose well. On 4 August 1944 the base was designated to “care and maintenance” and manning was reduced to just one officer and twenty-four other rates.
After the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Monday 6 August 1945 and three days later the second A-Bomb on Nagasaki the Japanese surrendered and so ended WWII when General Macarthur signed the surrender in Tokyo Bay onboard USS Missouri on Sunday 2 September 1945.
On 7 August 1945 HMAS Assault was decommissioned but not abandoned – it was transferred to the Royal Navy and used as the shore depot for the British Pacific Fleet, known also as the “Phantom Fleet”.
- RAN website HMAS Assault – history
- Sailor & Commando – A.E. Ted Jones, 1942-46, Hesperian Press ISBN 0 85905253 2
- Commanding Officers’ Monthly Reports to the Secretary, Naval Office Melbourne
- Australian War Memorial Canberra – website
- Photographs from various sites – public accessible
- National Archives – Canberra
- Huddart Parker Shipping Company History
The following address was delivered by Captain Ralph T. Derbidge MBE RAN (Retired) at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance to mark Vietnam Veterans Day on 18 August 2010. It describes the commitment of RAN fleet and air units to that War and the variety of essential tasks and services they provided in support of both the ground and air war.
Captain Derbidge concluded his 36 years of service in 1990 as the Director of Facilities Planning-Navy. A specialist Gunnery Officer he served in that capacity in five RAN and RN ships. He had intervening tours as a Staff Officer to the Australian Naval Attache in Washington, as Deputy Director of Surface and Air Weapons and with the Joint Intelligence Organisation. He commanded HMA Ships Stuart, Canberra and Success and the RAN Apprentice Training Establishment, HMAS Nirimba.
Vietnam – tropical, alluring, fun-filled, breathtakingly beautiful, gastronomically exciting and friendly – today, a magnetic attraction for numerous tourists, businessmen and capital investors, many of them Australians, including Vietnam War veterans. Ask my wife about Vietnam. She welcomed me home from the war 39 years ago, but in recent times she enjoyed greatly with friends a group bicycle tour from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. I didn’t go – I get sunburnt!
But it was not always like that.
Vietnam, some 7,500 kilometres to our north west as the crow flies from Melbourne, and three hours behind Australia’s Eastern Standard Time, lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. It is bordered to the west by Cambodia and Laos, and to the north by China. The northern part of the long eastern shoreline sits within the Gulf of Tonkin while to the south the coastline is washed by the South China Sea. The shorter western shore faces the Gulf of Thailand.
The scope of my primary interest covers the period from 1956 to 1975 when the country was divided at the 17th parallel of latitude by the Demiltarised Zone (or ‘DMZ’) into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam or North Vietnam and the Republic of Vietnam, albeit South Vietnam. To understand the Vietnam War, and the Royal Australian Navy’s involvement in that war, it is necessary to have some knowledge of the relatively modern history of Indo-China and Vietnam.
Indo-China had been a sphere of French protectorates and colonisation since the 1850’s but the French influence was interrupted by World War 2 and supplanted by Japanese occupation. The French returned in 1945 to face much turmoil and unrest as the countries of the region sought self-determination as the sun was setting on British and European empires. It is not in my brief to dwell at length on the complex issues and proceedings that spawned communist parties and governments in the region and to the north in China and Korea, as Cold War tensions mounted. It is sufficient for me to note that the Viet Minh forces of northern Vietnam, under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap, comprehensively defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu some 320 kilometres from Hanoi in May 1954 to end the First Indo-China War.
The armistice and Geneva Conference that followed, and the division of the country at the DMZ, set the scene for future hostilities in the guise of the Vietnam War. At the time of the French defeat, I was a 14 year old Cadet Midshipman in my first year at the Royal Australian Naval College, then located at Crib Point on Mornington Peninsula.
The Vietnam War officially was a Cold War military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to 30 April 1975 when Saigon fell. This war followed upon the First Indo-China War and was fought between the communist North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of South Vietnam, supported by the United State and other anti-communist nations, including Australia and New Zealand.
The Viet Cong, a lightly-armed South Vietnamese communist-controlled common front, largely fought a guerilla war against anti-communist forces in the region. The North Vietnamese Army engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units into battle. US and South Vietnamese forces relied principally on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct search-and-destroy operations involving mainly ground forces, artillery and airstrikes.
The United States entered the war to prevent a communist take-over of South Vietnam as part of their wider strategy of containment. Military advisers arrived, beginning in 1950. US involvement increased in the early 1960’s, with US troop levels tripling in 1961 and tripling again in 1962 when Australian military advisers were first sent to the country. US and Australian combat units were deployed, beginning in 1965. Operations spanned borders, with Laos and Cambodia being heavily bombed. Involvement peaked in 1968 at the time of the Tet Offensive. After this, US and Australian ground forces were progressively withdrawn as part of a policy called Vietnamisation. Despite the Paris Peace Accords, signed by all parties in January 1973, fighting continued in the South. The capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese army in April 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War. North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year.
It can be argued that the first peripheral involvement by the RAN in the Vietnam War occurred between 1956 and 1963 when six Australian naval vessels in successive pairs visited the Republic of Vietnam, beginning with HMA Ships ANZAC and TOBRUK, followed by VAMPIRE and QUICKMATCH and, lastly, QUEENBOROUGH and QUIBERON. Former Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, was primarily the focal point for this ‘showing of the flag’ as it is colloquially known, but demonstrating at the time, in concert with the United States of America, support for the internally and externally hard-pressed South Vietnam regime of the aloof President Diem and his domineering sister-in-law, Madam Nhu.
Politically and militarily, in and around the Capital, in the Highlands and the Mekong Delta, and in the Central Lowlands, the South was opposed by the increasingly worrying Viet Cong, supported by surrogate North Vietnam, and home grown military and religious dissidents. Who can forget the images of self-immolating Buddhist monks.
I first visited South Vietnam in 1963 as the Gunnery Officer of HMAS QUIBERON, then exercising this form of ‘gunboat diplomacy’. It was two years after the Bay of Pigs and Cuba, when the Cold War perhaps was at its most threatening. Memories of the Malayan Emergency and the Korean War were still vivid, confrontation with Indonesia over newly formed Malaysia was under way and the ‘Domino Effect’ of successively falling democratic governments in Asia and South East Asia was the all pervading fear of the free world lead by the United States of America. Australian membership of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation, or SEATO, and the Australia New Zealand and United States, or ANZUS, Treaty both had implications and obligations for our nation. A vigorous stand would soon be taken by the United States and some of her allies in South Vietnam.
But back in 1963, I recall a good will port call at Nha Trang, the riviera of Indo-China, and a flurry of official social and ceremonial activity in once Saigon. All seemed relatively calm and business-like in the South’s capital, but there were disconcerting signs for the keen eyed visitor that not all was well – such as the transit of the scenic Saigon River with overhead escorting aircraft, the requirement to travel in armed convoys up-country and the militarisation of, and midnight curfew in, the city. I was 23 at the time and unaware that I would return to this troubled land eight years hence in far less pacific circumstances as the Gunnery Officer of HMAS BRISBANE. Within three years, the Diem regime had been toppled from within and Australia would soon find itself engaged in active hostilities alongside the United States.
As mentioned earlier, Australian Army advisers were sent to South Vietnam as early as 1962 and an RAAF transport flight, No 35 Squadron, was established at Vung Tau in Phuoc Tuy Province in 1964.
But it was not until 1965 that the RAN was in the front line, so to speak, when the former aircraft carrier HMAS SYDNEY, as a fast troop transport, made the first of her 22 trips to South Vietnam to off-load initially an Australian infantry battalion and supporting infrastructure at Vung Tau. Australian military assistance to the Republic of Vietnam was substantially increased from mid-1966 and it is fitting that I pay tribute to the important logistic role played by the RAN in delivering and returning Australian troops, equipment, ammunition and supplies to and from the war until December 1972.
From June 1966, HMAS SYDNEY was supported in this role by the Australian National Line coastal cargo ship MV JEPARIT, commissioned into the RAN in 1969, and by another ANL vessel, MV BOONAROO, being the first ship commissioned under the new RAN White Ensign in March 1967 for her second voyage to Vietnam. Escorts for this seaborne logistic lift effort to and from Vietnam over the course of the war were HMA Ships ANZAC, DERWENT, DUCHESS, MELBOURNE, PARRAMATTA, STUART, SWAN, TORRENS, VAMPIRE, VENDETTA and YARRA.
Although the logistic ships and escorts had been ferrying Australian troops and supplies to Vietnam from May 1965, the RAN did not enter the war in a combat role until February 1967 when a six man clearance diving team arrived in country to carry out harbour defence, salvage, explosive ordnance disposal and a variety of special operations. This unit, Clearance Diving Team 3, was formed specially for service in Vietnam and eight contingents of the team were to be deployed in-country until May 1971.
In March 1967, the new US built guided missile destroyer or DDG, HMAS HOBART, was deployed for service in Vietnamese waters to join the US Seventh Fleet in operations entailing coastal surveillance and interdiction, shore bombardment of North Vietnamese military targets and similar naval gunfire support of ground operations in the four military regions of South Vietnam. Sister ships HMAS PERTH and HMAS BRISBANE followed in rotation for a total of eight typical deployments of seven months each until this commitment was withdrawn in October 1971. The Australian built Daring Class destroyer, HMAS VENDETTA, complemented this effort with one such deployment.
During these operations, HOBART and PERTH came under fire on numerous occasions. PERTH was hit once during her first deployment and HOBART was struck inadvertently in the dark of one night by missiles fired from a US Air Force aircraft. BRISBANE, during her first deployment, suffered a gunmount crippling inbore detonation of a faulty high explosive shell in the forward 5-inch gun barrel.
When not on typically month-long Gunline operations, the RAN destroyers were employed on escort duties with United States Navy aircraft carriers in the Tonkin Gulf or receiving ammunition, stores, food, spare parts and mail by underway replenishment from USN fleet train supply ships in the South China Sea. Periodic detachments were scheduled for routine one-week-long ship maintenance periods and ‘R & R’ in ports such as Subic Bay in the Philippines and Hong Kong and Singapore. In their five years’ service in the Vietnam War, the four Australian destroyers steamed over 397,000 nautical miles and fired 102,546 rounds of 5-inch and 4.5-inch ammunition amounting to some 2,800 tonnes of high explosive.
The RAN Fleet Air Arm, as a separate entity, was also actively and uniquely engaged in the war from late 1967 when the first contingent of the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam was integrated fully with the US Army’s 135th Aviation Company. Four contingents of the Flight served in Vietnam until June 1971, flying mainly in the Mekong Delta in support of ground operations, a hazardous business at the best of times.
There were other, smaller, but no less important RAN contributions to the war effort in South Vietnam, such as Fleet Air Arm helicopter pilots serving with 9 Squadron RAAF at Vung Tau, detached medical officers in Australian and US military hospitals and liaison personnel in Saigon. Several sea transport officers were seconded from the Department of Shipping and Transport and commissioned into the Naval Reserve. Back home, a number of dedicated staff in Navy Office and Fleet Headquarters, and in the operational and training establishments, looked to the professional, military intelligence, logistic support and welfare needs of those personnel, ships and aircraft deployed to the war.
The return of HMAS BRISBANE to Sydney from her second deployment on 15 October 1971 marked the end of the RAN’s combat role in the Vietnam War. All told, some 2,800 naval personnel, all male and volunteers, saw active service in Vietnam. Of these, eight were killed while 15 received serious injuries. Eighty naval personnel were honoured with decorations and awards, the majority ‘mentioned-in-despatches’.
Today, Vietnam is united and at peace, but there was a time when we were adversaries of those who sought and gained that unification by a spectrum of ideological and military means. It was a complex and costly war, and the longest to that point fought by the United States and Australia.
To put it into one context, nine million men served in the US military during the Vietnam War, one third of whom went to the Vietnam theatre, and there has been little latter-day recognition of how brutal the war was for those who fought it on the ground. Those who believe the war was fought incompletely on a tactical level should consider Hanoi’s recent admission that 1.4 million of its soldiers died on the battlefield, compared to 266,000 Army of the Republic of Vietnam deaths and 58,000 total U.S. dead. Those who believe that it was a ‘dirty little war’, where the bombs did all the work, might contemplate that it was the most costly war the U.S. Marine Corps has ever fought; five times as many dead as in World War I, three times as many dead as in Korea, and more total killed and wounded than in World War 2.
Significantly, those sacrifices were made at a time when the United States, and to a lesser extent Australia, were deeply divided politically and societally at home over our military involvement in Vietnam, particularly after the Tet Offensive in 1968. Ask any surviving veteran who returned from that war. He will tell you all about that!
By Dennis J Weatherall JP TM AFAITT(L) LSM – Volunteer Researcher
Dennis Weatherall attended the recent 78th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin, also known as the “Battle of Darwin”, by Japanese Imperial Forces on Thursday 19th February 1942. The air raid siren sounded at exactly 09:58 – war had arrived in Australia. He asks why more Australians don’t know about the continuous attacks that started on that day and continued until 12th November 1943 – some 21 months. In this paper Dennis provides and overview of the attacks and naval losses in more detail.
Darwin, has changed much since my last visit some 38 years ago and it is dramatically different to the Darwin of 1942 which bore the brunt of the first ever attack by a foreign power on Australian soil. Why didn’t we know they were coming? Was our intelligence so bad or were we too complacent in 1942?
The Government of the day had anticipated the Japanese would push south but “when” was the big question. Evacuations of civilians had already started by February 1942.
On the morning of the fateful day there were many ships, both Naval and Merchant men, in the Port of Darwin along with a QANTAS flying boat “Camilla” and three Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats of the USN, when 188 Japanese aircraft of various types, 36 Zero fighters, 71 dive bombers and 81 medium attack bombers commenced their first raid. These aircraft were launched from four Japanese Imperial Navy Aircraft Carriers namely Akagi, Kaga, Soryuand and Hiryu from 400 kms northwest of Darwin. In all there would be 64 such raids on the Top End.
For further details on the Japanese air raids across northern Australia, that stretched as far east as Townsville QLD, south in the NT to Katherine and to Exmouth on the WA coast, view the following hyperlink; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_raids_on_Australia,_1942%E2%80%9343 There were another 62 raids, some doubling up with two targets on the same raid, with special interest on the airstrips in and around Darwin and ‘down the track’.
Father John McGrath of the Sacred Heart Mission on Bathurst Island was the first to raise the alarm at 0937 that many aircraft in formation had flown over the Island and six had strafed the Mission. Father McGrath was also an Australian Coast Watcher, he sent the message by pedal radio to the Amalgamated Wireless Station in Darwin. The message was relayed to the Duty RAAF Operations Officer at 0937 but no general alarm was made until 1000 after the sirens sounded. Duty staff had determined that the formation was probably USAAF P-40’s (Kittyhawks) returning to Darwin from patrol. Unfortunately, the message did not get the urgent attention it required and at 09:58 air raid siren sounded as the first of the Japanese bombs dropped on Darwin.
Once the air raid siren sounded, Darwin was never to be quite the place it once was. The Post Office took a direct hit and 12 female workers were killed outright. By the midnight on 19 February, 243 citizens and military personnel were dead and some 300 were injured or missing so the official records state.
Later on the same morning (19 February) at 11:58, 54 land-based medium bombers made the second attack of the day. The flight consisted of 27 Mitsubishi G3M and 27 G4M aircraft. Why weren’t we prepared for the onslaught?
Vessels alongside Stokes Hill Wharf or adjacent to it
The following vessels were in the Port of Darwin either alongside Stokes Hill Wharf or adjacent to it during the initial Japanese attack. A summary of the employment of these vessels prior to the attack and their subsequent history is provided in the Annex to this paper.
|Name||Role||Result of Bombing Raid, 19 February 1942|
|HMAS Kuru||Auxiliary Patrol Boat||Undamaged|
|Lighter of unknown origin|
|SS Barossa||General cargo||Damaged by bomb
|MV NEPTUNA||Cargo motor vessel||Sunk alongside Stokes Hill Wharf. She had been unloading war supplies and ammunition including depth charges|
Vessels Laying at Anchor
The following vessels were laying at anchor in the roads at time of the first and second air raids. A summary of the employment of these vessels prior to the attack and their subsequent history is provided in the Annex to this paper.
|Name||Role||Result of Bombing Raid, 19 February 1942|
|HMAS Warrego II||Grimsby Class Sloop||Undamaged|
|HMAS Swan II||Grimsby Class Sloop||Slightly damaged in the first day raids|
|HMAS Deloraine||Bathurst Class Minesweeper||Undamaged|
|HMAS Platypus I||Base Depot Vessel
|Damage to engine room the result of near misses which sunk Mavie which was alongside at the time.|
|Mavie||Channel Patrol Boat||Sunk by shock from near mises. The crew of 4 escaped without injury.|
|HMAS Katoomba||Bathurst Class Minesweeper||Undamaged|
|SS Zealandia||Troop transport and resupply ship||Sunk by bombs|
|USS Peary||Clemson Class Destroyer||Sunk with the loss of 91 lives.|
|Supply Hulk Kelat||Coal Hulkj||Sank slowly after a near miss on 19 Feb 42 and machine gun strafing several days after the initial attack.|
|USS William B Preston||Clemson Class Destroyer||Suffered damage and lost three PBY aircraft.|
|SS Admiral Halstead||US flagged support ship carrying aviation fuel.||Damaged but did not catch fire.|
|SS Portmar||US flagged cargo vessel||Heavily damaged and run aground to save her from sinking.|
|HMAHS Manunda||Hospital Ship||Minor damage|
|SS Mauna Loa||US supply ship||Sunk|
|USAT Meigs||US supply ship||Sunk|
|Cargo vessel||Undamaged but was beached to save her from further attacks and possibility of sinking. Refloated on 20 February 1942.|
|MV British Motorist||RN Oil Tanker||Sunk by 2 direct bomb hits whilst refuelling USS Perry.|
|HMAS Kookaburra||Boom defence and and examination Vessel||Undamaged|
Other vessels in the Vicinity of Darwin on 19 February 1942
Official records show there was a significant number of Royal Australia Navy minor war vessels (commissioned and non-commissioned in or around the Port of Darwin on 19 February 1942. These are listed in the following table.
|Minesweepers||Patrol Boats||Luggers||Boom Defence Vessels|
|HMAS Warrnabool||HMAS Winbah||HMAS Ibis||HMAS Kangaroo|
|HMAS Townsville||HMAS Nereus||HMAS Medic||HMAS Krangi|
|HMAS Tolga||HMAS Coongoola||HMAS Red Bill||HMAS Koala|
|HMAS Terka||HMAS Kiara||HMAS St Francis||HMAS Kompartoo|
|Examination Vessels||HMAS Mako||HMAS Moruya||HMAS Kara Kara|
|HMAS Larrakia||HMAS Vigilant||HMAS Griffioen||Coasters|
|HMAS Southern Cross||HMAS Mako||HMAS Arthur Rose||HMAS Gunbar|
|HMAS Sulituan||HMAS Wato||Mars||HMAS Kalaroo|
|HMAS Chinampa||Plover||Yampi Lass|
War Time Sites in and Around Darwin
An objective of our tour was to visit all the war time sites in and around Darwin. We started in Darwin City visiting the following; the Oil Fuel Tunnels, Stokes Hill Wharf, the Military Museum at East Point and the 9.2” gun emplacements. We then travelled south to the “Charles Darwin National Park” where one can walk through the WWII ammunition bunkers which were the responsibility of the RAAF. Further south towards Batchelor and Adelaide River there are many relics to be seen. These include an anti-aircraft site at what was known as the “Quarantine Battery” with 3.7” guns, a placement of four and the most complete site, 36 miles south. Then came 16 mile camp, the first such named camp using the mileage ex Darwin. This site was used by both the United States and Australian troops. It has been refurbished with a 2.5 km walking track across quite a steep ridge, where you can still view their scraps and trenches in the bush, 17.5 mile camp site is just down the road. Next comes the myriad of war time airstrips, Sattler, Strauss at 27 mile the last surviving and almost intact pursuit fighter base in the Territory, Coomalie Creek, Batchelor, Gould (adjacent Batchelor) and Pell at 65 mile south.
Adelaide River is the site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery where there are 434 military burials. I found 16 sailors’ plaques, two of which were killed in action (KIA) on the 19 February 1942 during the Japanese raids. Coincidentally, they both had the surname MOORE and both served on Darwin’s Boom Defence vessels in Darwin on the first day of the raids.
One was Petty Officer Seaman Frank MOORE RAN (pre-war), official number 9684, aged 42, born 22nd November 1899 in Croydon England, joined the Royal Navy 27th January 1920 at 20 years of age. Served on HMA Ships Tasmania, Melbourne, Cerberus, Platypus, Adelaide, Penguin, Australia, Vampire, Stuart, Brisbane, Sydney, then a second posting to Adelaide, Penguin then onto Melville and finally Kara Kara (Boom Defence Vessel – Darwin) where he served from 13th July 1941 until KIA on the 19 February 1942. It is noted on his Service Certificate he actually passed away on HMAHS Manunda in the Port of Darwin on 19 February 1942.
The second sailor was Cook Norman Richard MOORE, official number S3584, born 3 February 1911. He joined the RANR as a war time enlistment on 6 September 1939 (a very early volunteer), his postings were to Penguin, Cerberus, Penguin for a second time, Melville and HMAS Kangaroo (Boom Defence Vessel – Darwin) between 24 December 1940 to 19 February 1942 when killed in action. His mother was paid 24 shillings per fortnight as a war pension commencing 20 February 1942. He was originally buried in Berrimah Grave C.1 reference 446/201/692 on 2 September 1942 until reburied at Adelaide River CWGC Cemetery.
Rest in Peace my fellow sailors.
- navy.gov.au/history ships details and photographs of same
- CWGC Adelaide River Cemetery plaques and information – credit author
- USS Peary gun Memorial photo credit – author
- Japanese submarine 1-124 by Tom Lewis author of “I-124”
- Military Museum East Point Darwin reference material from displays
- NT Parliament Library Bombing of Darwin – Battle of Darwin display
Details of Vessels in the Port of Darwin 19 February 1942
HMAS Kuru was an auxiliary patrol boat Pennant number 83 – built at Balmain Sydney by J Beattie & Sons in 1938 for the NT’s Administration for Customs & Police duties. Her name in local indigenous language is “The Eye”. The RAN requisitioned her on 8th December 1941 as a tender to HMAS Platypus. Displaced 55 tons and wooden built. Speed 13 knots, armament 2 x 20mm Oerlikons, 1 x Vickers Machine Gun, 1 x Lewis Machine Gun, 2 x depth charge chutes. In May 1943 Kuru was under the command of Lieutenant Joe Joel RANR inaugurated the naval supply run between Darwin & Betano in Timor (Operation Hamburger) delivering men and supplies to Sparrow Force. “Kuru” was the transport for “Z Force” men and supplies (Operation Lizard), she also evacuated many civilians and servicemen off Timor on multi occasions. On the 01st December ‘42 in company with HMAS Armidale she went again into Timor to evacuate troops but got separated from Armidale. They were attacked by a large number of Japanese aircraft (official number states 44). “Kuru” was damaged by shrapnel and lost a boat being towed with a direct hit. She arrived back in Darwin 3rd December 1942, but Armidale was lost in the attack 27th January 1943 “Kuru” proceeded to Wessel Islands and collected the survivors from the sinking and strafing of HMAS Patricia Cam. Decommissioned 22nd October 1943 and spent the war on local patrol and Boom Defence duties. A warrior to the last!
A 4,265 GRT cargo vessel owned by the Adelaide Steamship Co. and built in Dundee Scotland in 1938 – she was damaged in the raid. Post WWII she was renamed “Cronulla” and was damaged in a typhoon out of Hong Kong and was scrapped in Hong Kong in 1969.
MV Neptuna was a 5,952 GRT Cargo vessel motor vessel, originally launched as MV Rio Panuco in 1924, renamed Neptun in 1931 and then to Neptuna in 1935. Built by Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft of Keil Germany and operated by Flensburger Dampfer & Company between 1924-1931. Renamed Neptuna also in 1931 and operated by Norddeutscher Lloyd Line between New Guinea and Hong Kong. Purchased in 1935 by Burns Philp & Company until sunk alongside Stokes Hill wharf on the 19th February 1942 Port Darwin whilst unloading war supplies and ammunition including depth charges.
HMAS Warrego II
HMAS Warrego II a Grimsby Class Sloop U 73 built at Cockatoo Dockyard Sydney, laid down 15th May 1939, launched 10th February 1940 by Mrs Pattie Menzies, wife of the Prime Minister. Commissioned 22nd August 40, decommissioned 15th August 1963. First CO Cmdr R V Wheatley RAN, displacement 1,575 tons fully loaded, speed 16.5 – 17 knots, crew 135, armament 4 x 4” open gun mounts, 4 x QF 3 pounders, 2 x depth charge throwers, 7 x 20mm Oerlikons, 2 x twin tube 21” torpedoes. She was sold on 2nd June 1965 to Metal Traders Australia Pty Ltd and broken up in 1966 in Sydney – undamaged in the raid.
HMAS Swan II
HMAS Swan II was a Grimsby Class Sloop U 74, built Cockatoo Dockyard Sydney, laid down 01st May 1935, launched 28th March 36, commissioned 21st January 1937, decommissioned 20th September 62. First CO Cmdr Roy R Dowling RAN, displacement, speed, complement, armament similar to HMAS Warrego II her sister ship – slightly damaged in the first day raids.
HMAS Deloraine was a Bathurst Class (Corvette) – Minesweeper J 232 built at Morts Dock & Engineering Co Ltd Sydney, laid down 10th March 1941, launched 26th July 1941 by Dame Mary Hughes, the wife of the then Minister of the Navy. Commissioned 22 November 1941, decommissioned 30th June 1948, displacement 650 tons, speed 15 knots, armament 1 x 4” Mk XIX gun, 2 x 20mm Oerlikons, 1 x 40mm Bofor plus Machine Guns for the use of!, complement 85. She came through the first bombing raid undamaged. “Deloraine” was also one of four ships (USS Edsall, HMAS Lithgow, Katoomba) which were credited with sinking the Japanese Submarine I-124 on or around 20th January 1942 off Bathurst Island, north of Darwin.
HMAS Platypus I
HMAS Platypus I had no pennant number allocated at its commissioning. It was originally a Submarine Depot Ship for our six J Class in the late 20’s. Built by John Brown & Co Ltd Clydebank Scotland, laid down 14th October 1914, launched 28th October 1916 by Mrs Fisher, the wife of the Australian High Commissioner to the UK. Displacement 3,476 tons, commissioned 25th March 1919, speed 15.5 knots, armament 1 x 4” low angle and 1 x 4” high angle gun, . In 1929 when ships were being paid off, “Platypus” became a Depot ship at Garden Island but also acting as Depot ship for the J Class submarines that were still operating (x 4 as 2 had been returned to the RN). She was paid off on the 15th August 1929 and recommissioned the next day as HMAS Penguin, and continued to serve as a Depot Vessel until 26th February 1941, when recommissioned back to her original name of “Platypus”. In May 1941 she proceeded to Darwin and on the 19th February 1942 took three near misses, whilst the “Lugger Mavie” that was alongside was sunk. “Platypus” took damage to her engine room and was inoperative for some time until repaired. She remained Base Depot ship until 01st January 1943 when she sailed for Cairns where she resumed Base Depot ship duties until May 1944. Platypus was decommissioned on 13th May 1946.
Mavie was a Channel Patrol Boat, 19 tons auxiliary of wooden Lugger structure, built in 1903 in Fremantle. As she was owned by a Japanese national, a Mr Jiro Muramats, it was requisitioned in December 1941. “Mavie” took a near miss whilst alongside Platypus, the crew of 4 escaped without injury. In 1959-60 along with the MV Neptuna was salvaged by Fujita Salvage Company. Yes by the Japanese who actually sunk both vessels…….such is life !
HMAS Katoomba was a Bathurst Class (Corvette) – Minesweeper J 204 built by Poole & Steel Ltd at Balmain Sydney, laid down 9th September 1940, launched 16th April 1941 by a Mrs Lloyd Deputy Mayoress of Katoomba NSW. Commissioned 17th December 1941, decommissioned 2nd August 1941. Her other specifications are similar to HMAS Deloraine, she came through day one’s air raid undamaged.
MV Zeelanda was owned and operated by Huddart Parker Line Melbourne, built by John Brown & Co Clydebank Scotland, launched 20th November 1909, completed May 1910, nicknamed “Zed” or plain “Z”, 6,683 Gross tons, speed 15 knots, could carry 800 troops and 1,800 in war supplies. She served as a troop transport in both wars and carried the Australian 8th Division at one deployment early in WWII. Her crew were the last to see HMAS Sydney before she was lost in the engagement with the raider Kormoran HSK – 8 with all hands. Zeelanda was sunk.
USS Peary DD 226 was a Clemson Class Destroyer USN, named after Rear Admiral Robert Edwin Perry USN (6th May 1856 – 20th February 1920) an American explorer of the Arctic, he’s best known for claiming to have reached the geographic North Pole on 6th April 1909. USS Perry was built by William Cramp & Sons of Philadelphia, laid down 9th September 1919, launched 6th April 1920, commissioned 22nd October 1920, of 1,190 tons, speed 35 knots, complement 101 Officers and men, armament 4 x 4” guns, 1 x 3” gun, 12 x 21” torpedo tubes. The USS Peary was in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked, she was also attacked by Japanese aircraft on the 10th December 1941 in Philippine waters whilst alongside and took a direct hit forward in the superstructure that killed 8 crew. “Peary” was towed out of her berth and the fires caused by the hit extinguished by the USS Pillsbury (DD 227) as sister ship and AM-35 Whippoorwill. The CO Cmdr H H Keith was wounded by an exploding torpedo and relieved by Cmdr J M Berringham. “Peary” eventually made it to the safety of Port Darwin only to be sunk in the Japanese raid of Thursday 19th February 1942. There are 91 names on the Roll of Honour attached to a salvaged 3” gun from this “Four Funnelled Flipper’ as they were referred to by those that served on similar lend lease ships in Royal Naval service during WWII.
Supply Hulk Kelat
Supply Hulk Kelat was an 1849 tons, iron hulled, fully rigged three masted sailing ship, built in Stockton-on-Tees England in 1881, builder Richardson Duck & Company, launched 31 March 1881, completed May 1881, requisitioned into RAN service in 1941. Originally she sailed the London-Australia route until damaged in a severe storm and was condemned in Melbourne on the 9th July 1914. Sold to Mcllwrath McEachern Property Ltd who converted her into a coal hulk. Sometime after, she was renamed her original given name “Kelat”. In February 1942 she was towed from Fremantle to Darwin fully loaded with coal. Sunk on the 19th February 1942, she went down slowly after a near miss and machine gun bullets from strafing Japanese aircraft a few days post the initial attack.
USS William B Preston
USS William B Preston DD 344/AVP-20/AVD-7 was of the same Class as USS Perry a Clemson Class Destroyer and named after the then Secretary of the Navy and Senator, William B Preston. She was known by her crew as the “William B”. Built at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, laid down 18th November 1918, launched 9th August 1919, commissioned 23rd August 1920, decommissioned 6th August 1945. Displacement 1,308 tons, speed 35 knots, complement 221 Officers & men. Armament 4 x 4” guns, 1 x 3” gun, 12 x 21” torpedo tubes, The “William B” received the same punishment as the “Perry” days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was designated and being used as a Seaplane Tender, and lost two PBY’s (Catalinas) at anchor in one attack. The remaining PBY’s were sent ahead and the “William B” made for Darwin. On the morning of the 19th the CO Lt. Cmdr Etheridge Grant USN was ashore visiting the US Consul when the Japanese struck, he made it back to his ship but she suffered damage. Also two PBY’s were lost and a third at anchor outside the port at East Point.
SS Admiral Halstead
There’s little information on SS Admiral Halstead in open source other than she was built in 1921 and was a merchant US flagged ship carrying 14,000 drums of aviation fuel. US Army volunteers were able to unload its cargo and although damaged in the raid miraculously didn’t catch fire – someone was looking after her crew and volunteer unloaders.
SS Portmar: A United States flagged merchantman originally named “Centaurus”, built by North West Steel in 1919, changed name to “Portmar” in 1930, launched 17th November 1919, completed in December 1919, GRT 5,551, DWT 8,800. She was chartered by the US Department of War to carry supplies to the Philippines but found herself retained in Australia when the Japanese invaded the Philippines and used to carry reinforcements from Darwin to Timor. The vessel was attacked by Japanese aircraft enroute to Timor on the 18th February 1942 and turned back to Darwin, so found herself at anchor in Darwin on the morning of the 19th. The “Portmar” was heavily damaged and run aground to save her from sinking. After the attack the ship was refloated 6th April 1942 and towed to Sydney for extensive repairs. The US Army then purchased her and placed it back in service as an Army transport. In June 1943 she sailed in Convoy GP 55 and was torpedoed off Smoky Cape along with another convoy vessel LST-469 by the Japanese submarine I-174. Because of her highly explosive cargo she was abandoned and sunk quickly (within ten minutes of the hit), the Portmar was the last ship lost to any Japanese submarine action (they say) in Australian waters during WWII.
Hospital Ship – HMAHS Manunda: Originally named TSMV Manunda (TS-twin screw) owned by the Adelaide Steamship Company (ASS) Melbourne, built by William Beardmore & Co. Dalmuir Scotland. Launched 27th November 1928, completed 16th April 1929, GRT 9,115 tons, speed 15 knots, could carry 312 passengers and designated a passenger-cargo ship. When war was declared “Manunda” was fitted out as a DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship), she was converted to a Hospital Ship and entered service in that role on the 22nd July 1940 under the command of Merchant Captain James Gordon the pre-war Commodore of the ASS fleet. She received some damage in the initial raids on Darwin. Post WWII she was sold to a Japanese Co. “Okadagumi Line” and scrapped in 1957 in Osaka Japan.
SS Mauna Loa
SS Mauna Loa was originally named “West Conob” when laid down in 1919 for the United States Shipping Board (USSB) part of the West series of ships, steel hulled cargo ship built on the West Coast USA for the WWI effort. She was the 14th such ship built by the Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. at San Pedro California, GRT 5,899 tons. She was owned by a number of companies, Pacific Mail Steamship Co, and circumnavigated the world twice by 1921, then to South America for Swayne & Hoyt Lines in 1925. In 1934 Swayne & Hoyt was absorbed into Oceanic & Oriental Navigation Co. And was name changed to the “Golden Eagle”. Eventually this Company was also absorbed by Matson Navigation Company and operated between the West Coast USA and Hawaii and then came another name change to “Mauna Loa” to give her a Hawaiian-sounding title. Before the US entered WWII the US Department of War chartered the vessel to carry supplies into the Philippines, the vessel was part of the convoy en-route to Timor that turned back to Darwin on the 18th February 1942 and found herself in Port Darwin on the 19th – unfortunately she was sunk.
USAT Meigs was originally named “West Lewark” (1921-22), laid down 30th July 1920, launched 24th February 1921, acquired by the US Army in 1922 and renamed “Meigs”. Like the Mauna Loa she was built for the United States Shipping Board (USSB) at GRT 7,358 tons and was one of the few merchant ships retained between the war years. Before WWII she was designated number AK-34 but never sailed under that pennant number due to the US governments change of mind? This vessel was part of the “Pensacola Convoy” to reinforce the Philippines but was held in Fiji when it was clear the Japanese were already invading the Philippines. Despite the US military endeavouring to re-route the convoy back to the US, the President made the decision to send it on to Australia and to try and resupply the Philippines ex Australia. “Meigs” was escorted to Darwin by the USS Houston (later to be sunk in company with HMAS Perth). She was also used to try and resupply Timor, but was sunk on the 19th February 1942. Much of her cargo lies in Port Darwin, munitions, railway tracks (rails), Bren Gun Carriers, trucks of various varieties – all intended for “Sparrow Force” on Timor.
MV Tulagi was owned by Burns Philp and registered in Hong Kong, launched 30th March 1939, completed July 1939, she was a basic cargo vessel, built by Hong Kong & Whampoa Dockyard of Hong Kong, displacement 2,550 DWT. She survived the Darwin bombing on the 19th February but was beached to save her from any further attacks and the possibility of sinking, refloated on Friday 20th February 1942. “Tulagi” was also part of the turned back convoy on the 18th February. Unfortunately, her luck ran out on 28th March 1944 at 00:10 when torpedoed by the German submarine U-532 under the command of Kapitan Ottoheinrich Junker whilst enroute between Sydney and Colombo under the command of Captain Leonard (Dusty) Millar. She was carrying 1,800 tons of flour and 380 bags of mail. Her total crew was made up of 15 Officers, 26 Indian Seamen, 7 Malay and 5 RANR gunners = 54 in total, only 15 out of her crew survived the sinking. They were 11 Australians, 3 Malays and 1 Indian.
MV British Motorist
MV British Motorist was a tanker of 6,891 Long tons, built by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson at Newcastle upon Tyne UK, for the British Tanker Company. Launched 14th August 1924, crew 61, on the morning of the raid (19th Feb 42) she was on charter to the Royal Navy. She was hit by two direct aerial bombs whilst refuelling USS Perry. Her master Captain C Bates and 2nd Radio Officer were killed in the blast. In 1959-60 the Fujita Salvage Co, raised the fore and aft sections leaving the engine room below as it was too heavy to lift, they then welded both sections together and towed them back to Japan where they were broken up for scrap. The engine room lies at co-ordinates 12 degrees 28 minutes 96 seconds South and 130 degrees 50 minutes 33 seconds East.
HMAS Kookaburra: Modified Net Class Boom Defence vessel A 331 built at Cockatoo Dockyard Sydney, laid down on 4th April 1938. Launched 29th October 1938, commissioned 28th February 1939, decommissioned 3rd December 1958, 533 tons, speed 9.5 knots, complement 32, armament 1 x 3” HA/LA gun, 2 x .303” Maxim machine guns. On the 9th April 1940 proceeded to Darwin and assumed the dual role of both a Boom Defence Vessel and Examination Vessel. Other than for a refit in Brisbane between September 1942 and February 1943 she served out the entire war in Darwin and was declared for disposal on 24th June 1965. As a Naval League Cadet, the author served onboard her at TS Australia which was then Boom Defence Waverton, commissioned as HMAS Waterhen on the 5th December 1962 with the arrival of the six Ton Class Minesweepers joining the Royal Australian Navy.