- Nesdale, Iris
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Whang Pu, HMAS Ping Wo, HMAS Poyang, HMAS Yunnan
- December 2007 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
This article is an extract taken from the book entitled The Royal Australian Navy – Small Ships at War by the late Iris Nesdale. It is published here with the kind permission of her relatives.
Very early in 1942, shortly before Singapore was taken, ships that were to become known as ‘The China Fleet’ entered the Allied service. These were HMA Ships Ping Wo, Whang Pu, Po Yang, Yunnan, and HM Ships Changte and Taiping.
Ping Wo and Whang Pu were passenger steamers that had plied along the Yangtze River until requisitioned. Changte and Taiping carried Royal Navy crews, some Australian, and it has been estimated that altogether some 1,000 RAN sailors served in the six ships of the China Fleet.
|Length||299 ft 8 inches|
|Armament:||One 12-pounder, two 20mm Oerlikons.|
Ping Wo’s wartime pennant number was FL150.
Requisitioned in December 1941 by the Royal Navy, Ping Wo paid off on 19 May 1942, but was commissioned into the RAN three days later (22 May 1942). Lieut. D. M. Clark, RANR, was Commanding Officer.
As a river steamer Ping Wo had plied between Chungking and Shanghai, but experience at sea was found to be vastly different, and crew have been quoted as insisting that the ship (if ever given the opportunity) would probably ‘roll in a bucket of water,’ calling to mind a somewhat similar accusation that was leveled at corvettes by crew battling typhoon seas in the Pacific. ‘They would roll on wet grass,’ said corvette sailors.
After heavy fighting in the Mediterranean service in convoy escort and rescue, the destroyer HMAS Vendetta had been stripped for an urgently needed refit at Singapore. Then, with war flaring as the Japanese moved south so swiftly, and with the need to get Allied ships out, Vendetta was in no condition to sail. She was taken in successive tows by HMS Stronghold, the tug St Just and HMAS Yarra.
From somewhere off Tanjong Priok the tow was taken by Ping Wo, and at three knots and despite enemy activity, she brought the destroyer to Fremantle, then towed her some further distance towards Melbourne. By the end of the second month Vendetta was safely at anchor in that port.
With basic training completed, Alan Proleta left Flinders on 24 June 1942 with his draft to Ping Wo. He had been told by someone that she was a Chinese River Gun Boat, and expected to see ‘something sleek and fast,’ but admits to quite a shock with the actuality.
‘I don’t think my enthusiasm for the Navy ever recovered from the trauma of coming face to face with this rusting old heap of crap,’ was a rueful comment, but not so long afterwards he was feeling annoyed with someone else who made a disparaging remark. By then, of course, it was his ship.
Ping Wo had a gun mounted on the foredeck, but ‘we were advised not to use it as the shock might cause the ship to fall apart,’ said ‘Doc’ Proleta.
Caught in a really bad storm en route from Newcastle towards the north, the ship was taking a battering, and it was then perhaps that the Captain is thought to have placed the responsibility upon the Lord’s shoulders with his comment, ‘I have done all I can. It is in God’s hands now.’
At that point, evidently the ship was heading straight for the cliff, when backwash from the cliff swung the bow around, another wave whacked Ping Wo in the stern, and she was through, surfing her way into the bay and shelter. The battering had left the ship with ‘damage to the upper deck, and sheets of armour plating badly buckled’.
Ping Wo was commissioned as a tender to HMAS Assault, Port Stephens, and whilst there, carried stores and water. The ship’s complement was mixed, two RN officers, RANR ratings and 16 Chinese seamen. Until December 1943 she was busy with training exercises, etc. and was then sent to New Guinea. The following year, with Commander Perry RNR, Ping Wo was mainly running stores between Milne Bay and Buna.