- Wright, Ken
- Biographies and personal histories, Naval Intelligence, WWII operations, History - WW2, History - Between the wars
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Figgis, Williams, Wright and the four natives boarded the USN submarine Greenling commanded by Lt Cmdr J.Grant just after dawn on 21 February 1943 and departed from Brisbane for their journey northward to Baien Bay at Cape Orford. It was agreed that for the first night, Peter and Sama, whose village was closest to the landing point, go ashore in one folboat. Malcolm and Simogan went in another folboat to establish contact with the Baien villagers to ensure the coast was clear and no enemy were in the area. If everything went to plan, two fires would be lit on either side of the bay for the submarine to get as close to shore as possible and unload the supplies using the folboats, any native canoes available and a small boat with an outboard motor. No fires alight meant that Japanese forces were in the village or nearby.
On 1 March, the men went ashore at Baien Bay just before dawn and established contact with the villagers. Fortunately, no enemy forces were in the area and the villagers were prepared to help. The following night, the two fires were lit and with the assistance of the natives two tons of supplies were landed from the submarine, enough to last six months. They hid most of the supplies and, relying on local knowledge, established a camp in the mountains about three miles from the nearest shore line where they could see miles out to sea as well as inland, with the added advantage of running water nearby. The natives assured the group that they would be warned well in advance of any approaching Japanese forces in the area.
With the help of some of the native mountain tribesmen of the area who brought building materials, a proper camp was established with the emphasis on camouflage to avoid detection from patrolling enemy aircraft, as enemy held Rabaul was only eighty miles away. A second ‘emergency’ camp was built further inland and stocked with supplies in case the first camp was discovered. The observation platform was constructed in a large tree on the top of a bluff. The wireless, the most important part of their equipment, was an AWA 3 B2 teleradio. It was simple to use, could take considerable punishment, was transportable and suited to tropical conditions. The ‘Rhombic’ aerial they were using would not only give the signal direction but make it difficult to be pinpointed by the enemy’s directional finding equipment. Using the call sign, ‘BUM’ the first transmission to GHQ via Port Moresby was made on April 1.
Supplies were dropped by Royal Australian Air Force or United States Navy Catalinas on nights of a full moon.
In June, Wright received a transmission that, due to reorganisation of the Coastwatching in New Britain, a group from Independent Company (commandos) and additional native volunteers would be arriving on 28 September and were assigned to his party. The commandos were to set up their own Coastwatching operations independent of Wright’s team while Wright himself had been ordered to take up a new position to cover Talasea area on the north coast of central New Britain.
From the time of their arrival in New Britain, seventy Japanese submarines, numerous barges and aircraft had been observed. Anything that moved was reported to GHQ in Moresby. It was thought the sea traffic making regular runs were possibly supplying Lae and it was frustrating that a reply advising that any had been sunk was never received. One event that was to brighten up the situation took place in mid July. About 7 am one day, a small three hundred ton Japanese freighter entered Baien Bay and a signal was immediately sent GHQ as to its location. Two hours later three US Air Force Mitchell bombers appeared and sank the freighter. The prestige of the Coastwatchers went up amongst the natives and it was the first visual victory for everyone.
The night of 28 September was stormy with heavy seas but the American submarine USS Grouper arrived on schedule, and sixteen Europeans and twenty-seven natives came ashore without any mishaps, but unfortunately much of the supplies had been ruined by seawater en route. The radios had not even been waterproofed and only one of five was working. All the groups were under orders to be in position by 1 November and one group required to be at Nakanai had to leave almost straight away, but the other three could not leave until the replacement supplies arrived. In the meantime, the change in command meant breaking up the great seven month partnership between Wright, Figgis and Williams. Peter Figgis would stay and operate the existing observation post under the command of a commando Major.
Talasea, Bismark Sea
Lt Wright’s party, which now included Lou Searle, was assigned to an area around Talasea, and to reach their destination a march of one hundred and fifty miles through some of the worst country in the Territory had to be made. The replacement supplies duly arrived and the long trek began. The remaining two commando groups accompanying Wright left his party at various locations en route to establish their own positions by the ordered time schedule. It was almost a month later when Wright, Williams and Simogan and the native bearers finally arrived at their new destination. The new position was established on a spur at the western end of the mountains overlooking the valley of the Kapiura River near the small village of Kupi. From this spot they had an excellent view of any sea traffic in the Bismarck Sea. In addition, they could observe any aircraft movement from the Japanese airstrip near Cape Hoskins.