- Rosenweig, Paul A.
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Swan II, HMAS Hobart I, HMAS Moresby I, HMAS Melville, HMAS Tolga, HMAS Australia II, HMAS Coonawarra, HMAS Adelaide I
- September 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
SS Barossa was an Adelaide Steamship Company freighter, which had berthed in Darwin Harbour inside the wharf. On the outer berth was MV Neptuna loaded with explosives and depth charges, with HMAS Swan (sloop) on her seaward side, and moored on Barossa’s seaward side was a naval oil lighter. The first three Japanese bombs landed in the shallow water on the shore side of Barossa, quickly followed by direct hits on the wharf, Neptuna and Barossa. Barossa and Neptuna then became infernos, fed by the ruptured oil pipeline. Neptuna was about to explode, and Barossa was trapped in its position.
On Tozer’s Direction, Warrant Officer Andrew Gibson RANR(S) took the naval tug Wato quickly alongside and pulled the lighter clear, and then attempted to pull the Barossa clear from Neptuna. As Wato took up the strain the line broke, and then Neptuna exploded. Chunks of red hot metal from Neptuna showered down, and fires broke out on Barossa’s decks, although she and Wato survived the massive explosion. Tozer then directed the crew of HMAS Tolga (boom working vessel) in fighting the fires on Barossa, and brought them under control. Due to these prompt actions, no lives were lost on board SS Barossa.
HMAS Melville, 1942-43:
Following the re-establishment of control in Darwin, the Navy took full charge of all facilities between Bennett Street and the port. On 1 October, Naval Headquarters, HMAS Melville, was established in the old stone courthouse and police station buildings on the corner of the Esplanade and Smith Street, overlooking Darwin Harbour. Commander Tozer commanded HMAS Melville throughout 1942, and was present during 49 further Japanese air raids in the Darwin region. He developed a good working relationship with the various other Service elements; of particular interest, on 21 October 1942 the men of the 2/14th Australian Field Regiment commemorated ‘Trafalgar Day’ by calling on Commander Tozer and drinking ‘Nelson’s Blood.’ It is recorded that a salute of two rounds of grapeshot was fired.
By June 1943, medical supplies were arriving in Darwin, more general supplies were also coming through and better meals were available. Because of the incessant threat and inability to respond effectively, men were still losing weight and morale was low or practically non-existent. Towards the end of Commander Tozer’s term as Commanding Officer, in an effort to increase morale, Melville produced a magazine titled ‘The “Buzz.” Doings in Darwin.’ Issued in early August 1943, this inaugural issue carried a ‘Message of Goodwill’ from Commander Tozer.
NOIC Darwin and Commanding Officer HMAS Melville, 1945-46:
Tozer returned to Naval Headquarters in Darwin in 1945, as Acting Commanding Officer from 12 February. He was then Commanding Officer and Naval Officer in Charge, Darwin (NOIC) from 23 March as an Acting Captain. Accordingly, he resided at the NOIC’s Residence (Admiralty House), on the corner of the Esplanade and Peel Street. This historic building was later relocated to the site where it now stands, on the corner of Knuckey Street and the Esplanade.
To Captain Tozer fell the task of co-ordinating the last act of war in northern Australia, the Japanese surrender of Timor. A convoy led by HMAS Moresby left Darwin Harbour and at midday on 11 September, on the quarter-deck of Moresby in Koepang Harbour, the Instrument of Surrender was signed by Colonel Kaida Tatsuichi, commander of the 48th Japanese Division. Captain Tozer recorded in the War Diary Melville’s part in this task, known as Operation Tofo. The 12th/40th Battalion made up the bulk of ‘Timor Force’ under Brigadier Lewis Dyke. The following day, Timor Force went ashore and a Port Directorate was established. Captain Tozer himself disembarked from Moresby on 12 September 1945, returning to Melville on 14 September.
Tozer then represented the Navy in discussions associated with the post-war reconstruction of Darwin, and here came into conflict with the Town Planner McInnis and the Northern Territory Administrator, Aubrey Abbott. Following the evacuation of Darwin, the Navy had taken full control of all facilities between Bennett Street and the port and HMAS Melville had become a major establishment, occupying several premises in central Darwin. Abbott very clearly intended that Darwin should not develop as a garrison town, and McInnis cut across the wartime zones occupied by the military. In the immediate post-war expansion of Darwin, as central real estate became more valuable, the Navy gave up some of these facilities and relocated them to the Transmitting Station Coonawarra. However Tozer insisted that the Bennett Street area should remain allocated purely for naval use.