- Minto, Thomas, MN, Captain
- History - WW2, WWII operations, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- AHS Manunda, HMAS Swan II, HMAS Platypus
- June 2002 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The hospital ship Manunda arrived at Darwin on 14th January 1942. That day she received instructions that lighting was to be reduced as much as possible, i.e. this so-called `brown out’. An attempt was made to carry this out, but as all the Australian Naval Craft in the Harbour were ablaze with lights each night, it proved impossible, the result being that on 21st January we received a letter from Naval Control protesting about our lights, and instructing us to ‘make a maximum effort to reduce the brilliance of the ship’s lighting.’
The Master then ordered a complete blackout, which was rigidly enforced from the night of 21st January onwards. The Australian Navy continued to be lit night after night, at times brightly.
Various merchant ships arrived during our stay there, and they, after a night or two, followed the example set by us and other merchant ships, and blacked out. American Naval units also were blacked out.
The Darwin Wharf
This was lit each night and the work of the port carried on, night and day. This was an essential condition owing to the limited wharf space available. Despite the urgency, on at least three occasions during our stay in Darwin, one or other of the berths was empty all day through some breakdown in organisation.
On 5th February we doubled off an American ship at the outer berth and took oil and water on board by leading pipes and hoses across her decks.
The American vessel was loading motor transport and I took the opportunity of watching the famous Darwin wharf labour at work.
Their methods were incredibly inefficient. Heavy wires were just rove anywhere, around axles, etc., irrespective of steering controls, hydraulic brake controls or anything else. One lorry proved a bit awkward and they were actually contemplating slinging it by the bumper bars. I could watch no longer.
Much has been written about the wharf itself, but no one has remarked that the only oil and water lines also run along under this wharf. In February 1942, after twenty nine months of war, there was no alternative method of fuelling and watering the vessels in Australia’s advance Naval Base. The alternative is so simple and obvious. Naval Officers I have spoken to tell me that they submitted it to their superiors months ago.
It is a simple matter to float oil and water lines out to a buoy, fitted with a control valve; or they can be laid along the bottom of the sea, safe from enemy action, and brought up to a buoy with control valve. These are not theoretical but actual methods used in many ports of the world – but not in Darwin.
An attempt was made with lightering cargo whilst we were there. The trouble was that the ship discharging the cargo was anchored the farthest away, so that the lighter could only manage one trip a day. She worked under those conditions for over a week before she got the berth. Someone then thought it would be a good idea to bring the ship’s working lighters nearer to the wharf, and that was done with later arrivals.
Then a troopship arrived, laden with Australia’s qualified War Effort, Universal Trainees. They could not be sent out of Australian Territory, so they and their transport had to be discharged over the Darwin wharf, to relieve the A.I.F., who, with their transport, were loaded over the Darwin wharf into other ships. Meanwhile, other vessels with cargo to discharge, were swinging at their anchors waiting for the berths. There was still no sign of the Japanese.
Well, the delay was over, and off the convoy sailed, straight into a heap of trouble from the enemy. Anyway, the escort did a grand job and though they did not get through to their destinations, they brought them safely back. But whatever the Japanese espionage had discovered before this about Darwin, they now had definite information that shipping and troop movements were taking place out of Darwin, and that they had been forced by air attack to return. This was the attack on allied shipping in the Timor Sea reported by the B.B.C.
This brings us into the week of the raids, with the shipping congregated. The Naval Units continued to be illuminated at night, and the merchant ships blacked out. The Navigation Light at Emery Point flashed away throughout the night as usual. Thinking men wondered how much longer we would go without a raid, and I presume, all the services in Australia’s Northern Naval Base were on their toes, awaiting developments.