In our last issue we featured the first year in the career of HMAS Bendigo. The corvette’s multifarious duties earned the title of ‘Maid of all Tasks’. Between June and December 1942, Bendigo operated in New Guinea waters and, like her sister-ships, bore the brunt of the Japanese drive to the south. This extract from the diary of G. Richardson is the story of all the corvettes.
1.6.42. At anchor in Port Moresby. Yankee freighter Coast Farmer is alongside unloading by nigger labour. Between 1030 and 1100 about 26 Airocobras took off and yellow warning was hoisted. The alarm bells aboard rang, so we closed up at Repel aircraft stations. Four Zeros appeared at a great height and left trails of vapour over the harbour as a guide to the bombers (an old Jap. manoeuvre). Over our heads we saw two Zeros attack a lone Cobra and bring him down in flames. The pilot baled out, but his chute caught fire and he raced his plane down. A rescue launch raced out to pick up the pieces. Suddenly some bright bloke spotted 21 heavy bombers coming in from another angle right over us, and just then they released the bombs. When I recovered enough to crawl out from under my tin hat, I saw the bombs hit all round the wharf, and the freighter came tearing out in a cloud of smoke. If she ain’t hit she oughta be. No, she only had a few small holes and scars on her. The enemy lost six bombers and two Zeros to our loss of two fighters, and of course my ten years growth they scared me out of. This is our first air raid since leaving Java fourteen weeks ago, and the nerves are jittery. Went alongside and oiled and proceeded with our charge at 1730. We are bound for Cairns. Sounds nice!
2.6.42. At sea. Passed the Colac and the Townsville with transports. George Johnson is going to give us a big write-up in the papers. He says he was amazed at our coolness and calmness under fire. (I was so cold that my knees were knocking!) But I’m blowed if I know how he could be watching us, as he was flat on his face with the rest on the bridge. Boy, I miss my daily tot of rum.
3.6.42. Passed through Grafton Passage at 1330 to the Coast Farmer. Headed for Townsville, while we secured alongside at Cairns in the dogs. Sure is a pretty little town entirely surrounded by mountains.
4.6.42. Alongside Cairns. Had a trip up to Kuranda to see the Barron Falls today. Something I reckon I’ll never forget in a lifetime.
5.6.42. Catalinas and Short Empires come and go all day, as this is their base. Ormiston and Dana Nati arrived escorted by the Warrego, who went on to Townsville, poor cows.
6.6.42. Still alongside this home from home called Cairns. I wouldn’t mind living here, never saw so many pretty girls in all my young life.
9.6.42. Finished our boiler clean, worst luck. Slipped at noon and bound for Townsville.
10.6.42. Anchored in Cleveland Bay during the forenoon. Oiled alongside the naval tanker Kurumba then shifted berth alongside the Townsville. There are six corvettes here, surely one is our relief. Bendigo, Ballarat, Cessnock, Colac, Townsville and Warrrnambool.
11.6.42. At 0400 (some time) we slipped and proceeded with a large Liberty ship bound for New Guinea again. There’s a buzz that this is the last trip. Passed through Grafton Passage in the dogs.
12.6.42. At sea, the weather is wicked, we’re rolling badly and a heck of a lot of water is sluishing around the decks. (Oh, the romance of the sea!)
13.6.42. Arrived at Port Moresby about 1730, there always seems to be a haze overhanging this place, and visibility is bad. The freighter tried to go alongside the wharf two or three times, but the strong wind foiled her, so she anchored. We went and oiled and then proceeded out the reef again. The Warrego has been taking transports up past Samarai to Milne Bay.
14.6.42. At sea and she is rough, but we like it!
15.6.42. Made rendezvous with the Warrnambool and her ship about two o’clock and turned around again.
16.6.42. Heading for Port Moresby. We are escorting a Panamanian ship, the Carola, and she’s laden with explosives. The Colac and her charge passed on the skyline about 1600. Hudson bombers are doing a constant day patrol.
17.6.42. Anchored in Port Moresby harbour in the first dogwatch. The Ballarat is now on the Samarai run, and is anchored by Manubada Island. The Macdhui is alongside. She got a direct hit in the forward hold in today’s raid, several men killed.