- Harris, Fred E.
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2001 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Alchiba is a hard act to follow.
Three sets of official records neither agreeing with the others and much left unmentioned. (The first record called it a New Zealand cargo ship.) The same dates describe different events. The second account has a single torpedo hit on the port bow then a few days later another on the same side. The third account has two torpedoes striking this same port side, same date. A few days following, a conning tower was spotted and two torpedoes were fired, one passing under the stern and the other striking the port side (again) near the engine room and the first mention of casualties – three dead and six wounded.
I did get a piece of the Alchiba action and if this sees the light of day it will be for the first time. I actually thought it was sort of singular – how many Marines ever stood within arm’s length of a Jap sub and watched it torpedo an American ship. The Alchiba was already on the beach from a torpedo in the port side bow.
`There were about half a dozen of us and we had been on the Alchiba that morning cleaning up the mess from the fire and firefighters’ efforts and were now tossing off barrels of aviation gas from a flat barge which stood 3 feet above the surface. Close enough to jump on the sub which suddenly rose some two feet above the surface and some one-and-a-half feet out from the barge.
My memory goes back to this eventful morning on Guadalcanal. I had been assigned to a working party and was on my way from Kukum to Lunga Roads. After a short walk, our attention was directed to a massive torpedo which we were told was first heard whizzing in the sand by the beach defence during the hours of darkness. After a good look at the thing we continued on down to Lunga.
(A US Navy publication at the time stated that this torpedo was one of a pair fired at the Alchiba – a NZ cargo ship. The other torpedo hit near the bow on the port side. Possibly the first error of the story.)
As we approached Lunga, we passed through a similar sized group – some of whom packed 10-pound cans of Armour hams which they said came from the Alchiba which we could see pushed up in the sand. We were told it had been struck with a torpedo the night before. This being the case, the ship had not survived “five days of raging fire” and would have only received one torpedo hit at this point in time.
There was not even a wisp of smoke as my group climbed aboard about mid-morning to finish the work started by the just departed cleanup team. We were dismissed about noon and were assigned to complete the unloading of a flat barge – towed through the Jap Navy – with red painted barrels of aviation gas now reduced to a dozen or so stacked two-high on the ocean end and on the corner facing the port side of the Alchiba and not a single sailor was visible. No activity visible aboard or on boats.
The work in progress was to ease the top tier barrels down to the deck level then tumble them into the water for the natives to float to the beach then load on trucks. If we raised our eyes from the barge deck we would have most likely been looking in the direction of the Alchiba. At one such glance, we noticed a single sailor with a white undershirt lean on the handrail near the stern which was directly over the impact point of the torpedo. Other ships were in the area. One even had the guts to drop anchor (which he was soon trying to spin away from).
The consensus on the scene was the sub in focus had lain in the same spot since it had torpedoed the Alchiba the night before and the gas barge had been shoved in over it. The sub surfaced noiselessly – the water flowing gently over the edge of the forward deck. The bow was pointed straight at the Alchiba. The port side was no more than one-and-a-half feet out from the barge. We noticed a puff of vapour and water mist about 12 or 14 feet from the sub bow on the side next to the ocean.