- Gregory, Mackenzie J.
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Adelaide I
- July 1992 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
After being sunk whilst serving in HMAS CANBERRA on the night of 9th August, 1942, I took several weeks to return to Australia.
Two weeks survivors’ leave followed, then, I was appointed as a watch keeping Sub Lieutenant to the cruiser HMAS ADELAIDE working out of Fremantle, Western Australia.
I had not long joined the ship, when, on the 23rd November 1942, we sailed in the company of the Dutch Light Cruiser JACOB VAN HEEMSKERCK and 3 merchant ships, loaded with oil refining equipment for Abadan.
Two days out, we were joined by the tanker GOLDMOUTH and HMA Corvettes, CESSNOCK and TOOWOOMBA.
To further set the scene, I need to go back in time from pre-war to the time under review.
The German motor vessel RAMSES of 7,983 tons with a top speed of 12 knots had been built in 1926, and left Hamburg on 1st July 1939 for Shanghai, where she arrived on the 25th August. With the declaration of war against Germany on 3rd September, 1939 – the RAMSES was virtually stranded in the Far East, and she remained at Shanghai until 29 March, 1941 when she sailed for Kobe in Japan.
In May 1941 RAMSES left Kobe for Dairen where she loaded Soya beans and rubber, sailing for Valparaiso on the 20th of May.
However, on 27th June, orders were received to return to Yokohama where she arrived on 30th July, and discharged all her cargo.
RAMSES remained at Yokohama, empty, but serving as a prison ship for allied prisoners who had been captured after their ship had been sunk by armed German Raiders prowling the oceans of the world.
In Yokohama, three scuttling charges, each with a time delay mechanism set for eight minutes, were supplied and fitted by the Japanese.
In Japan, 4,200 tons of whale oil, 700 tons of fish oil, 700 tons of lard, 50 tons of coconut oil, and 300 tons of tea had been loaded in lower holds.
FAREWELL TO JAPAN
After being stranded in the Far East for over three years RAMSES finally cleared Yokohama on the 10th of October, 1942 bound for Batavia, via Kobe and Balikpapan in Borneo.
The ship called at Balikpapan to off load about 1,000 tons of mixed cargo, including building materials such as fire bricks, timber fabricated for huts, nails, machinery, coal tar, bleaching powder, lubricating oil and beer.
The call at Batavia was important – the purpose, to load 4,000 tons of rubber – this product in short supply in Germany was given the highest cargo priority, it was to be carried even if other materials had to be left behind.
Finally, about 1,500 cases of quinine were placed on board.
RAMSES sailed from Batavia on 23rd November, bound for Bordeaux, the ship hoped to run the blockade by keeping a sharp lookout.
A constant lookout was maintained by three soldiers, and three seamen in each watch.
These were located, one in the crow’s nest, one on each wing of the bridge, one forward, one aft, and one man as a spare.
All lookouts were provided with powerful binoculars, and there was telephonic connection to both the crow’s nest, and to the aft lookout, and the helmsman always wore a head telephone set.
Armament was only light, comprising two 2cm guns either side of the bridge, two machine guns on the Charthouse, and two British machine guns fitted aft.
On the poop was a large dummy wooden gun and gun platform which had been fitted in Japan.
The crew aboard RAMSES was not naval. Captain Falke was a Merchant seaman, the ship’s company were predominantly German, but there were some Finns.
The only service personnel were the gun’s crew, comprising fifteen Naval Gunners, one Lieutenant and two Petty Officers.
RAMSES’ orders were to proceed from raider to raider in the Indian Ocean (they expected to rendezvous with a German raider probably the KORMORAN on either 29th or 30th November to take on board further prisoners ex. merchant ships sunk by German raiders).
Once reaching the Atlantic, RAMSES would be passed from U Boat to U Boat, and then, when approaching Europe, the large Folke-Wulf Condor aircraft would fly a protective screen for them.