- Powell, Brian, RD
- Battles and operations, History - general, RAN operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Off Burma from 3 January 1945 Napier was headquarters ship during the Akyab event. Concurrently she was HQ Ship for the Flag Officer Force W (RADM Martin), also for the Naval Commander Force 64 (CAPT Hill RN) and his staff, and also had the GOC 25th Indian Division (MAJGEN Wood) and his tactical HQ. She also carried the 3rd Commando Bde with BRIG Campbell Hardy RM and, with Nepal and Norman, carried the bulk of the landing forces. These ships also supplied ammunition, food and other supplies to General Slim’s army ashore and gave bombardment support. Napier used its spare resources providing directing duties to the Air Force.
Loss of Sydney
A major tragedy was closer to home with the loss of Sydney in an encounter with Kormoran. Her loss was followed eight days later by the torpedoing of Parramatta off Tobruk. I was a friend of two of the sons of Sydney’s Captain Joseph Burnett RAN, Pat was a shipmate at sea and my supervisor in my specialist studies in Navigation at Watson. Rory was NOIC Melbourne in the 80s.
February 1942 saw the first bombing of Darwin, including several sinkings (with some wrecks still visible in the port and the bay in 1956 as I was heading north in Queenborough on Active Service during the Malaysian Emergency). Vampire was an escort destroyer to Prince of Wales and Repulse. She assisted in picking up survivors. One of several Australian midshipmen in Repulse, Robert Davies, was still firing his Oerlikon gun and shouting abuse as she sank.
Several Australian ships were involved at, and in the aftermath of, the fall of Singapore – Bendigo, Wollongong and Yarra. The corvette Deloraine sank a Japanese submarine off Darwin on 20 January 1942.
Judged one of our greatest captains, Hec Waller RAN was lost in March 1942 in Perth, in the horrific Battle of Sunda Strait which also claimed the Dutch cruisers De Ruyter and Java, USS Houston and some destroyers. Waller, the Commander William H (Pincher) Martin and 362 of Perth’s crew didn’t survive the action and 105 of the 320 survivors died under Japanese incarceration (I served with Tiger Lyons, John Waller and David Martin – RADM Sir David Martin, a close friend as he courted and married Sue Millear from Willaura, whose family has a long tradition in The Australian Club). Vampire was sunk by bombers off Ceylon.
Three days after Perth, Yarra was lost trying to drag Japanese cruisers away from a convoy. Voyager and Armidale were lost, evacuating troops and refugees from Timor. Japanese fighters machine-gunned Armidale survivors in the water. Yarra’s captain, LTCDR Robert Rankin and Armidale’s Ordinary Seaman ‘Teddy’ Sheean, who refused to abandon ship and kept firing until he and his gun were under water, each has a Collins Class submarine named after him. There is a now a new Armidale.
Battle of the Coral Sea
Three Australian cruisers, Australia, Canberra and Hobart were at the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 5 – 11, 1942) which, while a turning point in the war, was a tactical victory to the Japanese, but badly blunted its striking power.
Arunta and Warramunga, new destroyers in 1942, featured heavily in Hollandia and the Philippines. A current snooker opponent of mine at Doncaster RSL was an AB in Warramunga and told me of that ship’s other experiences in the Straits of Hormuz. They ran low on food and a party was sent ashore to see what could be bought. They returned with a donkey with its skin removed, but still largely intact including its hooves!
The Battle of Midway, a wholly US/Japan affair, sealed Japan’s loss of the sea war. The claw back then began at Guadalcanal. The battle of Savo Island started with tragedy with Canberra torpedoed and lost, probably by friendly fire. The Japanese sank three US heavy cruisers. Inexplicably, they then withdrew without attacking troop transports and supply ships, thereby allowing the invasion to go ahead.
Hobart was torpedoed, but survived a Japanese submarine attack in the New Hebrides. Before the end of 1942, Nestor was bombed and lost in the Med while, at home, Kanimbla, Manoora and Westralia were refitted as amphibious landing ships. Quiberon, in operation TORCH – the invasion of North Africa – assisted in sinking an Italian submarine Dessie, a destroyer and a four ship enemy convoy.