- Gale, Lieutenant Commander M.B. , VRD, RANR (Retd.)
- Ship histories and stories, Naval history, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Platypus
- June 1987 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As we set to planting depth charges all over Darwin, I was reminded of the occasion when doing my JRO’s course at FND when during instruction in demolition the instructor informed us that the calculation of the amount of explosive required to demolish any building or structure was not a hit or miss affair, but that there was a most precise formula. He said that you should look at the structure, estimate in your mind the quantity of explosive required, then double it and multiply by ten. The reason being that the cardinal sin was to under demolish something.
On the occasions when the Japs bombed the RAAF drome, any over shots of bombs always landed in the Naval ammunition storage area which was at the foot of the drome. At that time, in addition to 4”, 6” and 8” ammunition for our Australian ships, we were also carrying 15” ammunition for the British East Indies Fleet and quite apart from the fact that it was on my slop chit I was concerned that one day a lucky bomb could touch off the lot. I voiced my concern to the NOIC and obtained permission to search for a less vulnerable site, and finally I found and recommended an area at Adelaide River which was not too far from Darwin and could be given access by road and rail, and which was located in a depression with an encirclement of hills to contain a blast in the event of an explosion.
I believe that some time after I left Darwin, this recommendation was accepted by Navy Office and that is where the Ammunition Storage Area now is. I must recount however, a rather amusing exchange during the ammunition area deliberations.
As can be expected, there was a considerable exchange of correspondence between NOIC Darwin and Navy Office, and it was NOIC’s practice to minute all official correspondence to all of his staff for their information. On this occasion, Tommy Tucker, Base Signals Officer, commented on one letter ‘I know nothing about the storage of ammunition but it would appear to me that . . . .’ and then followed a lot of observations. Commodore Pope sent it back to Tommy with the further comment ‘BSO by your own admission you know nothing about the subject, therefore your remarks are valueless, please don’t offend again.’
The rules of promotion in the RANR were the same as in the RAN and promotion to acting higher rank was not the norm. The Navy subscribed to the principle that an officer either had or had not the ability to perform a task and rank had nothing to do with it. As an illustration, in Darwin the majority of Naval Base staff officers were Reserve Lieutenants, whilst our opposite numbers in the Army and RAAF generally were Colonels or Majors and Wing Commanders or Squadron Leaders, and this situation was general throughout Australia and also with the RN. I do not believe that Commodore Pope had ever recommended any of his staff for acting promotion, but it must have been happening, for an Admiralty Fleet Order (AFO) was promulgated which read ‘The Lords of the Admiralty are gravely concerned at the growing practice of senior officers of establishments recommending junior officers for acting promotion because their duties require them to have dealings with officers of the other services who are more senior in rank. If such a situation exists the solution is not to promote the officer who feels disadvantaged by his rank, but rather to replace him with an officer who will not feel so disadvantaged.’
I do not remember when it was that the Japs started coming over at night, but I do know that we came to dread a full moon. By this time the radar always gave us plenty of time to turn out, pull on a boiler suit, grab the mosquito spray and head for the slit trenches. The boiler suit buttoned at the wrists and ankles and the spray was to counter the hordes of mosquitoes which inhabited the slit trenches between occupations. It had all become rather a routine affair. Tommy Tucker (Signals), Chris Bennett (Intelligence) and myself would wander over to our slit trenches – everyone had their own – spray them out, then sit down and have a smoke. There was always plenty of time. If they were going for the town and naval headquarters, we would wait until we heard the bombs coming and then hop into our trenches and wait until it was over. My slit trench was under the shade of a large tree so that in the day time it was nice and cool. Then one day the Commodore sent for me and admonished me and pointed out that trees could pre- trigger a bomb and negate the protection of a slit trench. In obedience to such august advice and authority, I quickly found myself a trench remote from the shelter of a tree. Two days later the tree in question received a direct hit and my old slit trench was a gaping hole in the ground.