- 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)
On 16 July, ten of Ping Wo’s crew were drafted to HMS Bishopdale, one of the Royal Navy Fleet Tankers. They replaced absconding West Indian crew, and the tanker went to Noumea to refuel ships that were engaged in the Coral Sea Battle.
The last two years of war, Alan Proleta served in Fairmiles, and decided that he had his ‘fast, sleek gunboat’ at last, but as he is National Secretary of the RAN Allied Chinese Ships Association, his affection remains with the old Ping Wo.
In January 1945 during refit, the ship was converted to become a working vessel and went back to New Guinea. Then it was a return to Sydney, back in April 1946, she departed Port Jackson and paid off in Hong Kong.
Built in Scotland in 1934, and became a unit of the China Navigation Co. Ltd fleet. Requisitioned in June 1942, she was commissioned in the RAN as an Ammunition Stores Issuing Ship (ASIS).
|Length||299 ft 10 inches|
|Beam||44 ft 21 inches|
|Armament:||One 4-inch gun, one 40mm Bofors, two Oerlikons.
Four water-cooled Lewis guns were added when the ship returned to Sydney for commissioning in the RAN.
The late Bill Clayton served in Yunnan, and had made some pertinent, interesting comments regarding service. ‘I was drafted from Cerberus to be a guard with three others who were already aboard (also about 4 from DEMS) to watch over the older crew,’ he said.
Clayton had missed the ship by two hours, but (along with official mail) he was picked up at Townsville on 18 August, 1943. Initially, there had been some trouble in Brisbane. Most of the crew were Chinese, and objected to taking the ship to Milne Bay. They were gaoled for the mutiny, and since the RAN needed to move quickly, a crew of fifty or thereabouts was taken from the Brisbane Depot. This explains the large number of Queenslanders in Yunnan‘s crew.
‘We sailed for New Guinea as ASIS Yunnan under the red duster,’ (a reference to the ship’s neat and attractive badge) Clayton had noted, ‘with Merchant Captain and Officers; one Chinese ‘Chippy’, a merchant cook and some DEMs crew, with one four-inch gun, and four water-cooled Lewis guns’. Two Oerlikons and one Bofors were mounted when they returned to Sydney for Commissioning.
In October 1944, Yunnan (Lieutenant T. T. M. Hehir, RANVR) and Po Yang (Lieutenant J. W. Edwards, RANVR) took part in Leyte Gulf operations, serving with US Task Force 7 7.7.
‘We were loners. Ammunition ships were not good company.’ The comment was made by Martin Voake who served in Yunnan, and the ship had been visiting Tawi Tawi, a small group of islands at the foot of the Sulu Archipelago.
‘We were to supply ammunition for Australian units of the US Seventh Fleet, but there was little sign of an Allied presence.’
Voake wrote of the island people, the Moros, ‘colourful, and intent on clearing their islands of Japanese’. He referred to lakatois, which ferried some extremely original gifts out to the ship. One day it was a six-foot crocodile lashed to the rigging, rearing and showing formidable teeth as it gaped horribly.
‘What can we do with a crocodile?’ yelled the crew.
‘Good for shoes and purses for your ladies,’ came the answer.
Next time it was a large and very lively orangutan, difficult to control on deck as he roamed and leapt, snarling, round the ship. The men fed him bananas without satisfying him. Then someone remembered Comforts Fund lollies, and he proceeded to shovel them into his mouth by the handful. His teeth were probably formidable too as they crunched down on the hard sweets.
‘Blood pressure on the quarter-deck rose faster than excitement below decks,’ wrote Voake, ‘while the giant ape roamed and leapt snarling still. Everyone slept below decks that night, but next day he was caught in a landing net, and was taken ashore in the ship’s boat.’
Martin Voake comments upon the liking that the Moros showed towards Australians generally. ‘Finding we were Aussies seemed to mean something special,’ he said. ‘They asked us about the Queen and Captain Cook. Later we discovered that they were the people who had sheltered and fought alongside the later legendary commando group led by Jock McLaren and Major Steele’.