- Cassells, Ken
- History - general, Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Conditions on this leg were easier but there was still a long swell to contend with. At Noumea we were officially handed over to the Commander South West Pacific for forward area duty. During our thirteen days in Noumea we had our for’d 40mm Rolls Royce gun replaced by another 20mm Oerlikon with the promise, which never eventuated, of another 40mm. Our 20 depth charges remained as supplies were maintained in the Solomons for the units of the RNZN’s 25th M/S Flotilla which had been there throughout the campaign. An additional refrigerator was provided and ventilation to the new oil stoves improved. Officers and telegraphists were briefed on USN procedures. We thoroughly enjoyed our many runs ashore and I was fortunate enough to be able to make a weekend trip 100 miles up the coast to the NZ Army camp at Bourail where I had friends. The Army had been involved in the recapture of the Solomons and this was its base.
When the time came to sail, a USN rear admiral, representing Admiral Halsey saw us off and we proceeded, this time without “Scarba” which was a coal burner unable to refuel further north.
We used the Savannah Passage to avoid the long haul around New Caledonia and the four hour transit in a swift current was full of interest. The run to Espiritu Santo was uneventful. At one stage we passed a westbound convoy comprising a towed floating dock and two escorting U.S. destroyers. We carried out a continuous A/S watch. At 0800 on 29 February we were off Santo awaiting permission to pass through the boom gateway. This soon came and as we proceeded we passed the bombed wreck of the liner “President Coolidge”, and a small US submarine going out on patrol. Berthing at a buoy alongside a U.S. sub chaser gave us the opportunity to make comparisons. They had a larger crew of 20 in spite of their similar size, had showers which we didn’t and even a washing machine on the fantail. Our washing had to be in a bucket and the only supply of hot water on board was from a small ten gallon tank behind the galley stove. For showering we relied on shore facilities, any larger ship we secured alongside the good old “Hughie”. It used to be a beggar when the rain came, you soaped up only to have the shower stop prematurely.
Before nightfall we moved to secure alongside the fleet tug “Pawnee” which we were to escort to Guadalcanal the following day. “Pawnee” allowed us to shower and we joined the crew viewing a movie screened in the stern. Seating was wherever you could perch without getting a sore backside.
By 0900 next morning we were under way, ML 404 and ourselves escorting “Pawnee” towing three barges and two smaller attendant tugs. Speed was set at the diabolically slow 9 knots. Of course we rolled and rolled zig zagging by day and steering straight by night. Adding to our discomfort was the failure of the authorities at Santo to supply us with bread and potatoes. Nothing was available, they said which seemed quite incredible. So we heeded Marie Antoinette’s injunction to the poor people of France and ate cake – my 20th birthday cake to be more precise and ships biscuits! Helping escort our little convoy was USSC 1047. During the day a large convoy comprising seven Liberty ships and an LST overtook us and who should be escorting them and laughing all the way? Our flotilla mates!
At dawn on Saturday, 4 March Guadalcanal came in sight and all morning we steamed up its north eastern coast. I was surprised at both the size and mountainous nature of the island. At Lunga Beach, the main landing, we joined the other MLs and proceeded across the strait to Tulagi where instructions were obtained to go on to the Russell Islands where we were to be based. Our home there was Landing Craft Repair Base No. 2, a busy establishment with all facilities including a floating dock. From there the RNZN Fairmiles undertook a miscellany of duties including screening, particularly off Guadalcanal, convoy escorting as far as Bougainville and Green Island, air sea rescue and the occasional submarine search. We carried several attacks on suspected contacts but nothing conclusive ever emerged. The great value of the NZ contribution was that it released destroyers for duty further forward when islands began running out and longer distances needed to be steamed. The six boats of the 81st Flotilla and ML 405 of the 80th reached Guadalcanal on the 23 March 1944 and in the fifteen months the twelve craft served in the Solomons averaged 2400 miles a month.
After being transferred to the flotilla leader ML 403 in May I returned to NZ at the end of October in the US transport “Musa” for leave and redeployment. Three of us had received C/W recommendations and I elected to train as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm. Hence I went to the UK instead of returning for further duty in the Solomons. All boats returned to NZ in July 1945 to be paid off the following month. Disposal followed with only two, after a brief period of external service, returning to the Navy for liberty boat service.