- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I, HMAS Australia II
- December 2007 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Sailing, Fishing, Visiting
Good days they were, when afternoons could be spent playing football or swimming and men picnicked with billies on the beach; when there were coconuts to eat and villages and mountains to explore. Friends were made with the inhabitants. There were even white women to speak to. The aboriginal children came to recognize each person and in the evenings under the palm trees they sometimes danced. There were also afternoons sailing and fishing, there was frequent visiting between ships when Americans and Australians made many enduring friendships. There was fishing from the side of the ship (an occupation which usually produced much more laughter than fish). And there was oystering: oysters three inches across with shells twice that width, oysters in unlimited profusion and a high premium on chipping hammers with which to prise them up. A happy, lazy time, yet it was one of intense boredom, broken only once by a memorable trip to the New Hebrides – memorable not for action but for games of softball at Espiritu Santo and for the hospitality of American ships and a never completed boat-pulling regatta in Havannah Harbour. It was memorable also for a lucky escape for Australia when a submarine missed her target, Australia, and hit another ship.
In October 1943, a concert was held on Australia‘s quarterdeck. According to tradition the last item needed to be spectacular and serious. So it was, when a sailor in his neatest rig bore on to the stage a placard with the words ‘HMAS Sydney, Mediterranean’, and another brought a placard ‘HMAS Perth, Java Sea’. Then came the climax, the most tiddly sailor of them all, with his placard ‘HMAS Australia, Palm Island’. The men of Australia laughed at themselves, the best joke of the evening, for fully two minutes.
But the lazy days had ended. China Strait, for so long the goal of ambition, was passed. The war was carried forward. The time of waiting was at an end. Action was nearly met in the Solomons, but hopes were dashed again. Our land forces with destroyers took Lae and Finschhafen. When Finschhafen fell the cupboard was unlocked. The Bismarck Sea was opened and with it a rich store of prizes for the task force and the amphibious forces. Cape Gloucester, the Admiralties, Hollandia, Wakde, Biak, Noemfoer, Aitape – the list will go on. At Cape Gloucester the teamwork of warships and landing ships was established which before long became almost a routine. Guns long silent were habitually barking and the three-funneled station-ship of Palm Island became a familiar and ill-omened sight off Japanese-held coastlines. The results of bombardments are rarely seen, but twice they were vividly demonstrated: once when with a first salvo a house disappeared in dust and once (when the firing had appeared most ineffective) our troops near Aitape reported immense havoc among the Japanese.
Nearly three years of the war in the Pacific have gone. Few who sailed from Sydney are in Australia now. Few who sailed in her in the Coral Sea and at Guadalcanal would have predicted that the old Australia would still be afloat in 1944. Yet the flagship is still afloat and helping to carry the war forward. Many thousands have been added to her immense score of sea miles. Australia which saw the first landing at Guadalcanal, also sailed with the vaster armada which went to Hollandia and could measure the amazing advances made, not only in distance, but in techniques and equipment. It is a far cry from the Suva-Noumea patrol to the Equator and Western New Guinea – not such a far cry perhaps from Tokyo. Maybe ‘Australia will be there.’ ‘The Three-funnelled *****’ her men call her, but all who have served in her have an intense affection for her clumsy ways and many hearts will sail with her.