- Lewis, Tom, AOM, Lieutenant RAN
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- AHS Manunda, HMAS Mavie, HMAS Kara Kara, HMAS Kangaroo, HMAS Tolga, HMAS Swan III, HMAS Warrnambool I, HMAS Deloraine
- June 2002 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The USAT Mauna Loa was also built in California and was two years older than the Meigs. She featured a single funnel and carried two cranes, one fore and the other aft. In the raid this smaller (5,436 ton) transport was, according to Lockwood “… hit by two bombs in an open hatch, broke her back, caught fire, and began to go down at once.” Five men were killed in the sinking.
On the 19th February, 1942, the Zealandia was perhaps the best known ship in the harbour as far as both soldiers and civilians were concerned. She was distinguished by her single tall funnel, and had become a well known sight on Australia’s eastern coast before the war as she carried passengers and freight. By the day of the attack she was only partially unloaded. On the morning of the 19th the ship’s company had just finished boat drill when the raid began. Men from nearby ships were abandoning their blazing vessels, and Zealandia’s skipper, Captain Kerr, called for volunteers to man the boats and pick up survivors from the water. The ship was then near-missed several times. In the middle of the raid a bomb went through the Number 3 hatch of the vessel, exploding in the hold. The ship was also attacked by the dive bombers and was soon on fire from end to end, despite the efforts of the crew. Zealandia slowly settled as the crew took to the boats. Three of them later died from their wounds on board the hospital ship Manunda – it is known that one of them was Keith Davern, a fireman, but the other names are lost.
An Australian passenger cargo ship of 5,952 tons, the Neptuna – originally christened Rio Panuco -had worked as a general cargo vessel since her launch in 1924 in Kiel. On the day of the raid, the ship was loaded with 200 depth charges and tied to the wharf, itself a target. This seems to reflect bad management on the part of the harbour authorities of the time, as historian Alan Powell has pointed out. Neptuna, the Australian freighter Barossa, moored on the other side of the pier, and the wharf itself made an obvious target and were all bombed heavily by the Japanese aircraft. The pier was badly damaged, its small railway buckled and useless, a locomotive hurled into the water. 19 labourers from the Commonwealth Railways and three from Burns Philp died.
The explosion that sank this vessel dominated the raid and produced perhaps the best known photograph of the attack.
The Port Mar, a US transport, was near-missed, holed and beached near Doctor’s Gully. One man had been killed on board. The corvette Deloraine, after getting her boilers going again, was put alongside and took off a number of troops.
The Tulagi, an Australian coastal trader, was bombed and also beached. One account said the ship “escaped damage by sheltering in the mangroves where it grounded.”
The US freighter Admiral Halstead was near missed and slightly damaged. Escorted into harbour on the afternoon of the 18th February, she had just finished unloading 14,000 drums of aviation spirit.
The Barossa, an Australian freighter, was bombed and then caught fire from the blast, according to John Rothery, a deck cadet from Neptuna. Later she was completely salvaged and towed to Brisbane.
A Norwegian tanker, Benjamin Franklin, was also damaged. Other small vessels that worked in various capacities around the harbour also sustained varying degrees of damage.
Also sunk on the 19th February was the Don Isidro. North-west of Bathurst Island the 3,200 ton supply vessel was also targeted by a separate force from the carriers. North of the Florence D’s position, she sent out distress calls to no avail. The aircraft attacked the Don Isidro and set her on fire. The blazing ship drifted onto a north-west Bathurst Island beach and, according to John Pye’s book The Tiwi Islands, burnt for several days: “…eleven survivors died on the beach. Some had been in the water for ten hours.” 13 of the crew died along with one unidentified US soldier.
North-west of Bathurst Island, Moorer and the crew of his Catalina on board the two lifeboats were eventually rescued by one of the local corvettes – HMAS Warrnambool. The trip back to Darwin saw the ship briefly under attack again, but without damage. Moorer talked to the corvette commander, and commented that he “…was a real salt. He had just come from the Med where he was in the Battle of Crete and thought the Japanese were nothing compared to the Germans.”