- Ruegg, R.A.
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1974 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
HMS Papua is one of the lesser known vessels of the Royal Navy. Her active life covered a period of less than one year and her greatest claim to fame was to share the sinking of a U-boat in the Atlantic. Papua-New Guinea member R.A. Ruegg has written this story because so little is known of the vessel and not one photograph has been found despite a wide search.
HMS Papua was built and engined by the Walsh Kaiser Company of Providence, Rhode Island. USA. She started life as the United States Ship Howett (PF.84). The following were her basic particulars:
- Laid down: 7 September 1943
- Launched: 10 October 1943
- Completed: 26 July 1944
- Length overall: 304 feet
- Beam: 37 feet 6 inches
- Draught: 12 feet
- Displacement: 1,436 tons (2,280 tons full load).
- 3 x 3in. (50 cal.) HA/LA single-mounted guns
- 4 x 40mm Bofors AA on twin mounting
- 4 x 20mm Oerlikon AA on single mounts
- 2 rails and 4 Depth Charge Throwers (DCT)
- 64 depth charges carried
- 1 x ATW Hedgehog
- Engines: 2 shaft reciprocating VTE, HP – 5,500, giving 18 knots full speed
- Complement: 120 (as a Western Approaches Escort Vessel)
- Pennant Number: K.588
With 20 other ships of her class (the ‘Colony’ Class), she was allocated to the Royal Navy under Lend-Lease. She commenced her service in the Western Atlantic on escort duties between St. Johns, Newfoundland, and Bermuda. On 10 October 1944 she left St. Johns for the United Kingdom, arriving on the Clyde on 29 October 1944.
For a time she was not allocated to any specific flotilla, and was engaged upon local defence and escort duties out of the Clyde. In December 1944 Papua served for a short while with the 20th Escort Group, based on Londonderry, then she joined the newlyformed 23rd Escort Group which was also based on Londonderry. The 23rd Escort Group comprised: HM Ships Monserrat (Senior Officer), Barbados, Nyasaland, Papua, Loch Gorm and Loch Scàvaig.
On 4 February 1945 Papua, together with Nyasaland, joined Loch Scàvaig in attacking U 1014 which had been located by Loch Scàvaig at the entrance to Lough Foyle. (Loch Scàvaig was on her way to Londonderry from Tobermory. She was completing her working-up gunnery trials before joining the 23rd Escort Group.) The target-towing tug and a large ship, probably Gripsholm, carrying repatriated prisoners-of-war, were in the vicinity. The time was 1600 and the Watch was changing. The Asdic operator, Able Seaman Beer, insisted that he was in contact with a submarine, and the captain, Lieutenant Commander C.W. Hancock, RNR, attacked immediately. The initial attack with Squid and Hedgehog, in which Papua played a prominent part, was probably decisive, but the U-boat proved stubborn and tough. The attack went on all night and eventually the 23rd Escort Group ships proceeded to Londonderry to replenish ammunition, leaving HMS Loch Shin from the 19th Escort Group to clean up the mess.
Later in February, Papua, together with other ships of the 23rd Escort Group, carried out anti-submarine patrols in the St. George’s Channel.
In May 1945 Papua was an escort to one of the convoys which sailed for the relief of Norway. On 3 June 1945 she left Oslo in company with HMS Monserrat, escorting six U-boats which had surrendered on their way to the United Kingdom.
Papua arrived at Lisahally, Northern Ireland, on 9 June 1945, and was placed in reserve. In April 1946, in company with HMS Tobago, she sailed for New York, arriving there on 30 April. On 13 May 1946 she was paid off and handed over to the United States Authorities at that port.
Papua was awarded the Battle Honour – Atlantic 1945.
Lieutenant Commander C.W. Leadbetter, RNR, who joined Papua at Greenock in January 1945 as her new Commanding Officer, and who assumed command of HMS Loch Scavaig six months later, wrote in November 1972:
‘She (Papua) was a good ship with a better gun-armament than the British-built frigates, though her Hedgehog was less successful than the Squid (the ATW fitted in the ‘Loch’ Class). Her internal equipment was very good indeed, but the American ideas of fire-prevention made her somewhat uncomfortable to live in until we had introduced a few amenities such as curtains and carpets. Everything in her except the chartroom pencil was made of metal – chair, tables, doors, the lot, in order to cut down the fire risk.
We very quickly earned our keep by helping in the destruction of U-1014 in February 1945′.
(Cdr. Leadbetter then recalls U-1014’s sinking, adding that although ‘evidence’, such as a German sailor’s hat, was produced from the wreck, the attack was not officially confirmed as a ‘kill’ until a diver identified the submarine later in the year. This U-boat was used for years afterwards by the joint Anti-Submarine School at Londonderry as a target in exercises).
‘VE Day found us somewhere around Scapa Flow,’ continues Cdr. Leadbetter, ‘and we were sent down to Rosyth to do a couple of interesting trips over to Norway, one with LSTs (Landing Ships Tank) to Stavanger and Oslo, and then back again to gather up the Type 21 U-boats and escort them back to Londonderry. As we sailed from Oslo we passed King Haakon returning to his country in the cruiser HMS Norfolk and, on leading our flock in line ahead past him, he signalled back – ‘A very fine sight’. Shortly after that, of course, I joined you in Loch Scàvaig.’
Papua’s former commander adds that whilst his predecessor in command was fond of a drink and the good life, he found that the First Lieutenant was an austere type who held regular Bible classes in his cabin. The RNVR sub-lieutenant, the commander recalls, ‘was a mighty hunter of Wrens’.
In 1946 Papua was sold to Egypt and taken over by the Khedival Mail Line who renamed it SS Malrouk. Some years later it was acquired by the Egyptian Navy, rearmed and commissioned as Misr. The vessel sank after a collision in the Gulf of Suez on the night of 16/17th May 1953.