- Rosenweig, Paul A.
- History - WW2, Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Tolga, HMAS Coonawarra, HMAS Australia II, HMAS Melville, HMAS Moresby I, HMAS Hobart I, HMAS Swan II, HMAS Adelaide I
- September 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Tozer’s final appointment was as Chief Staff Officer to the Flag Officer in Command HMAS Sydney (1946-48), and he was transferred to the Retired List on 27 May 1948. The following year he was granted the War Service rank of Captain, and in 1956 his name was removed from the Navy List. After the war, Tozer lived in Perth, and died in the Repatriation General Hospital at Hollywood, WA, on 15 May 1978 at the age of 76. A private service was held in the Crematorium Chapel in Fremantle on May 18th, and he was buried in the Anglican Section of the Fremantle Cemetery.
HMAS Melville, 1941-42:
Commander Tozer first came to Darwin on 11 December 1941 as Commanding Officer of HMAS Melville (Naval Headquarters), at which time Captain Edward Penry Thomas OBE RN was Naval Officer in Charge (NOIC) in Darwin. Tozer had as his Secretary Pay Lieutenant Trevor Rapke RANVR, who some years later became Judge Advocate General of the Navy. In his recollections of life in Darwin, one of Tozer’s Petty Officers refers to Tozer affectionately as ‘the Captain’ and as ‘our Captain’.
Tozer’s first responsibility, in response to the attack on Pearl Harbour and expectations of a similar attack on Darwin, was to facilitate a Cabinet Direction for the immediate evacuation of women and children from Darwin. Commander Tozer was then present in Darwin when the town and harbour were targeted by Japanese bombers on the morning of 19 February 1942, while in the follow-up raid at midday the RAAF base was specifically targeted. Seven naval personnel were killed and, out of 47 ships present, fifteen were damaged and nine were sunk (seven within Darwin Harbour and two outside). Despite some early criticisms of the Navy, the Royal Commissioner Mr. Justice Lowe subsequently reported: ‘Captain Thomas, the Senior Naval Officer in Darwin, anticipated that such an attack would take place. The Navy, in my opinion, had taken all proper steps in preparation for such an attack’.
Tozer was no stranger to enemy air attack – he had been Executive Officer of HMAS Hobart on duty with Red Sea Force in 1940-41, when she had suffered bombing attacks by Italian aircraft while she shelled port installations in Berbera in British Somaliland and bombarded the vanguard of the Italian invasion force. In Darwin on the afternoon of February 19th, Tozer addressed his Petty Officers and told them that the Navy would remain in town while the Army would dig-in at the 14-mile, and that the care of all ships in the port had been turned over to the Navy. Tozer further gave his Petty Officers clear direction on their tasks for the next 24 hours:
‘No army personnel or civilians at the Army base will be allowed to leave the camp so the town should be deserted. The code word will be ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and every person encountered by the patrols will be challenged. The Gunner’s Mate will detail three patrols of four men, with a PO in charge, and state the challenge procedure. These patrols will move out at 1800 (6.00 p.m.) and return to base at 0600 (6.00 a.m.). Tomorrow, unless the situation changes, working parties will commence to clean up the town and arrange the burials of those persons killed.’
Tozer detailed one patrol to the hospital, to patrol from the centre of town towards the harbour. Another patrol would be responsible for the rest of the town area, and a third patrol would secure the docks area and the signal station. He directed that rifles were to be fired to summon assistance.
Commodore Cuthbert Pope RAN arrived in Darwin on the 20th as the new Naval Officer in Charge (NOIC), and the following day the Navy took full control of all facilities between Bennett Street and the port. Another veteran later recalled that lower deck was cleared at Naval Headquarters in Mitchell Street and Commodore Pope addressed the men regarding the expected invasion of Australia:
‘As RAN personnel defending your native land, you are as of now expendable. You will defend this The Fortress Area to the last man. As NOIC HMAS Melville this is an order, as the invasion of Australia is deemed inevitable. The Army has withdrawn to a defence position known as the Brisbane Line. The Navy is all that is between that line and the forces of the Imperial Army and Navy of Japan.’