Having been a keen follower of your excellent magazine for many years I was disappointed to find that the myth surrounding ‘The Genoa Incident’ involving HMAS Kanimbla has once again been published as a degrading comment on the crew of this fine ship. I was a crew member on duty at the time this occurred and also involved during the subsequent inquiry on board as a typist for the depositions tabled at the inquiry.
The facts are that Kanimbla was attacked by a group of Communists activists who were staging an uprising in the north of Italy and wanted to demonstrate their influence by capturing a British ship docked in the harbour. They had machine guns set up at the viaduct commanding entry to the ship by sailors returning from shore leave and also in the building adjacent to the wharf where they were able to fire on both the ship and the returning sailors. The ship’s First Lieutenant was able to take the ship away from the wharf after a group from the ship armed themselves with hockey sticks and captured the guns at the viaduct and turned them back on the group firing from the buildings.
The ship at the time had no live armament, not even ammunition for the gangway sentry’s rifle. A number of sailors ashore were told by some of the local ladies that an attack was planned and the Captain and Matron were captured by the activists when they went ashore.
The inquiry made no adverse comments about the crew’s actions and in fact commended both the First Lieutenant and the assault team for their actions in preventing the capture of the ship by the activists. All of us onboard were shocked when we found on return to Australia that the media had played up the incorrect story of rioting by Australian sailors and there appears that there has not been any attempt since then to correct the records and restore the integrity and valour of the ships company.
I trust you will publish this letter which I can assure you represent the facts.
Ex-Able Seaman, HMAS Kanimbla
- The only adverse finding by the Tribunal was that the Executive Officer as second-in-command should not have been ashore in a foreign port when the Captain was not onboard.
By Editor:In preparing this article use was made of various sources including a monograph Cry Havoc – The Story of HMAS Kanimbla by Paymaster LCDR(S) Owen E. Griffiths, RANVR. Griffiths, who served in the ship between 1946 and 1949, only relates to the displaced persons embarking at Genoa and does not comment further. A Court of Inquiry into the ‘Genoa Incident’ was held in Australia in October 1948 but as this was ‘in-camera’ we are unable to provide further details. Within the National Archives there is commentary upon this international incident, eventually involving Prime Minister Chifley. In summary the United Kingdom Consul-General at Genoa, who was called upon by then LT Griffiths for assistance, was of the opinion that the Commanding Officer of HMAS Kanimbla failed to appreciate the delicate political situation ashore. When leave was granted in the late afternoon uniformed libertymen were soon indulging in truculent behaviour to the increasing indignation of the local populace. This led to brawls which later became a general melee.
According to these sources a patrol was sent from the ship to help restore order; the officer-in-charge and the petty officer both carried firearms. The patrol was roughly handled by the mob with the officer and two sailors severely wounded. An Italian police report states that they were fired upon by members of the ship’s company and were obliged to return fire. The police arrested about 25 sailors (for their own protection) which included members of the patrol. They also detained the ship’s Captain (for his own safety) who after dining ashore in uniform was attempting to regain his ship. In the early hours of the morning the detainees were provided with an armed police escort back to their ship. The wounded sailor was taken ashore to hospital where he later died.
Thank you for your comments, and please be assured it was not meant to in any way to degrade the crew of that fine ship. I trust this clarifies the situation from the official information we have found.