- Dowle, Ron
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
We discovered we were to be attached to Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet (USN) and modifications were carried out onboard while in dock. With our approval – for operating in tropical waters – iced water fountains were installed, together with a real commercial-type laundry, necessary as we would need many clean white uniforms. We also had opportunities for rest and recreation, swimming on the beach. We thought we were in paradise for almost three months.
Next stop Sydney and Cockatoo Island. Shore leave in Sydney appeared to be no different to England in peacetime. Plenty to do, restaurants and cinemas. Less men evident than usual. We liked to get out of central Sydney so we would hop on any train and get out anywhere we liked the look of. There seemed to be lots of girls from various church groups who would whisk us away to their dances and parties, specially organised. After five days we unloaded all the wooden furniture from the wardroom and Captain’s day cabin (he also had a sea cabin next to the bridge). We knew we were getting down to something serious.
After calling into Townsville for fresh supplies we were on our way north to the islands. Our destination was Hollandia, New Guinea. We had a couple of days to enjoy the shore canteen facilities and then off to the islands (we never got to know their names). We finally managed to lay the mines we had carried all the way from England. Our next load was picked up in Geelong, Victoria.
This was another paradise for sailors down from the war zone – estimated 40 girls to every man. We thought Geelong a much nicer place to visit than Sydney. The public bars only opened until 6 pm and to get near the bar between 1700 – 1800 you needed an army tank!
I have no recollection of how many mines we laid around various islands, 500 at a time was a lot of explosives. It was having an effect, shipping losses by the Japanese were increasing. There was one island I will never forget. We arrived offshore just on midnight, engines slowly turning the propellers to carry us close inshore, so close in fact, that from my position in the wheelhouse we could hear either Japanese sentries or gunners shouting across to each other. I heard the Captain order the signalman to send a signal by infra-red light to our escorts, two USN destroyers, to cause a diversion by firing over the top of our ship in order to cover the noise of dropping mines. We were able to lay the mines and sneak away, not thinking the Japanese were any the wiser.
By this time I had received promotion to Leading Seaman and we seemed to be on continuous roundabout, so little sleep, all day alert for ships and planes, at night at action stations while laying mines. My job as quartermaster kept me on the wheel, during Action Stations and when entering and leaving harbour. The captain’s sea cabin was in the bridge superstructure so that he was readily available at all times. My sleeping berth was directly below the bridge on the mining deck. In rough seas the mines on their little carriages would be creaking and groaning.
Soon I was to be thankful for my previous aircraft identification programme. I explain this because it certainly saved the ship and probably most of our lives. All orders from the bridge to the wheelhouse were passed down a voice pipe, right alongside my ear at the wheel. The OOW (RNR) was chatting to his offsider, a midshipman, when the masthead lookout reported aircraft on the starboard bow. The lieutenant on watch must have picked up his binoculars, while the middy said:
“American”. The wheelhouse was fitted with a large square viewing port forward and on either side were two round scuttles, so my own view covered a large area ahead of the ship.
As the planes came into my sight I was able to identify them as Japanese. I called the bridge and reported them as enemy bombers, but was told that I did not know what I was talking about. The next thing was the aircraft changing position. Having seen enough of German bombers, I knew what was coming next. At the time we would have been steaming at 28-30 knots. Without orders I swung the wheel hard-a-port. The ship answered the helm instantly and too late for the bombers to change course and they all fell harmlessly down the starboard side. The Captain came racing up to the bridge as the OOW normally reported any change of course and speed.