- Werner, Arthur
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1980 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On approaching the narrow Lombok Straits we were compelled to disguise our ship in order to avoid recognition by the local natives in their fishing boats. We erected a dummy fourth funnel made out of wood and canvas which could be hastily erected or dismantled as required. We now bore a striking resemblance to the British cruisers Yarmouth and Newcastle, which were also known to be stationed in these waters. Our Chief Engineer, with great sense of humour suggested sending several stokers, supplied with large pipes and a good supply of tobacco into the empty funnel, so as to set up the necessary smoke required to complete the deception.
At the same time the funnel of our supply ship was painted blue to resemble that of one of the famous Blue Funnel liners.
We succeeded in passing through the Lombok Straits without being sighted during the hours of darkness. During the following days we steamed a distance of about sixty to seventy miles along the coast of Java and Sumatra. The code message ‘QMD’ was being consistently picked up by our signal station but it was some time later before we learned that this was the code being used by the Hampshire.
On the 3rd September we sighted the Isle of Simolur on the north point of Sumatra. We steered into the tiny harbour of Langini and lay hidden for some time. We took this opportunity to refuel with more than 1,000 tons of coal from our supply ship. As this took more than twenty-four hours a Dutch Government boat came alongside and an officer gave us the order to leave the harbour as we had exceeded the time limit as allowed by international law. We immediately left the harbour and took a southerly course. When out of sight of land we changed course immediately and sailed north into the Bay of Bengal. On the 7th September we had reached the Calcutta-Madras main shipping route.
Next morning the lookout cried, ‘Cloud of smoke to the north’. We studied it carefully to ensure that it did not come from a man-of-war, but we soon discovered that it was a merchant ship and as soon as she approached us we gave the order to stop. She dipped her Union Jack, in the belief that we were a British cruiser. A prize-crew was sent aboard to investigate and they discovered that it was the British-India steamer Indus, fully laden with stores for Calcutta and bound for Ceylon where troops were waiting to embark.
We captured six ships within a few days, the crews (both British and Indian) were transferred, with all their personal possessions, to our supply ship Markomannia. As soon as all the ships were empty they were at once sunk. All prisoners were treated as well as possible under the circumstances and, in one particular case, an English seaman was made very happy by being allowed to retain his treasured bicycle. As all possessions were brought aboard, including the bicycle, the seaman was speechless with emotion.
As our supply ship (by now re-christened Rag-Picker) was severely overcrowded, our Captain gave the order not to sink the Kabinga but ordered it to take over all prisoners and set sail for Calcutta. The British captain who was accompanied by his wife and child sent our Captain a letter expressing his sincerest thanks for the joy of being free again, as well as deep gratitude at being allowed to retain his ship. As the ship left and passed the Emden its rails were crowded with men who spontaneously gave three loud cheers to our Captain, followed by three for the crew. We replied with ‘Bon Voyage’ and in a short time the ship disappeared over the horizon.
Hearing certain messages crackling over the wireless we decided that it was high time to leave that particular area and headed for the Calcutta-Rangoon route. Here we sighted several ships and a Norwegian Captain, whose ship was en route from Penang, informed our prize-officer that the two French cruisers Montcalm and Duplex were at anchor there. Our Torpedo Officer Witthoefft, who was also acting as prizeofficer, reported this to the Captain, ‘It may be possible to surprise these two ships at anchor and thereby destroy them’. The Captain replied, ‘I shall consider this matter seriously, but in the meantime another plan will be executed. Madras, the third largest town in India must be shelled. There are large oil-tanks in this port and in destroying these important war supplies it would prove a great blow to the enemy.’