- Bevan, Captain R.H. , RN
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Canberra I
- June 1984 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
AT 1636 ON 4 MARCH 1941 an emergency report was received from HMAS Canberra’s aircraft of two unknown ships to the south-west steaming north.
HMS Leander’s aircraft was at that time about to return and after recovery the ship proceeded in the direction indicated. At 1740 an enemy report was received from HMAS Canberra herself followed shortly by a message that the strangers were a tanker and a merchant vessel and that she was engaging the latter.
At 1752 the smoke of the burning vessel was sighted right ahead, at what was later shown to be a distance of 33 miles. The ship was seen to sink at 1850. At the request of HMAS Canberra who was standing by the tanker, HMS Leander closed the two boats of the other ship and embarked five Norwegian officer survivors of the tanker, Ketty Brovig, and 15 German officers and 33 men prisoners from the merchant vessel Coburg. The boats were then sunk, while HMS Leander’s boats examined the floating wreckage for anything of value; nothing was found.
Meanwhile HMAS Canberra had decided that the scuttling action which had been taken in the tanker Ketty Brovig had effectively rendered salvage impossible, and at 1940 she therefore fired a few rounds in to the floating fore part, and left the ship in a sinking condition. HMS Leander and HMAS Canberra then proceeded in company to the eastward.
On the morning of the 5th, course was altered to the south-west in preparation for the next day’s flying operations. HMAS Canberra proceeded towards the position allocated to her, while HMS Leander flew off at 0800 and recovered at 1100, nothing having been sighted. HMS Leander then proceeded to her flying-off position for the afternoon flight, passing to the southward of HMAS Canberra.
HMAS Canberra catapulted at 1200, and at 1451 an emergency report of a Pocket Battleship steering 180 was received from her aircraft. The position of the aircraft did not agree with the patrol track ordered, and pending clarification of the situation HMS Leander proceeded at full speed towards the direction in which it appeared most probable that the enemy had been sighted and in which HMAS Canberra herself was operating.
At 1511 HMAS Canberra’s 0942/5 was received, giving her position, course and speed; a few minutes later her aircraft appeared in sight and reported that the emergency signal had been a false alarm; she had mistaken HMS Leander for the Scheer.
HMS Leander then proceeded as necessary for carrying out the air search as originally planned, but nothing was sighted.
During the night both ships proceeded to the west at medium speed, south of the BANK.
At 0145 HMAS Canberra reported having heard an unknown station on 153.8 Kc/s, bearing 330, 3rd class, sense determined, strength 7. In view of the Commander-in- Chief’s 0802/5 it was decided to proceed at once in the direction indicated as it was calculated that with the use of aircraft it would be possible to search to a depth of 400 miles from the cruisers 0200 position during the daylight.
HMAS Canberra’s aircraft accordingly flew off at 0800 on an extended search ahead of the line of advance, it being the intention that both aircraft should carry out similar searches again in the afternoon. On the receipt, however, of Commander-in-Chiefs 0514/6, stating that the transmitting ship was probably an Italian submarine well to the north of Seychelles, the earlier plan for the afternoon as reverted to, HMS Leander flying off at 1500.
The track of this search was arranged to cover the scene of the encounter of the 4th with the object of verifying that Ketty Brovig had sunk and of detecting any enemy vessel which might be, in ignorance attempting to make a rendezvous with her in that area. On her return the aircraft reported that two large patches of oil marked the spots where the tanker and Coburg had disappeared; nothing else was sighted.
During the night of the 6th-7th the cruisers proceeded in company to the south in compliance with the instructions contained in Commander-in-Chiefs 1210/5.
HMAS Canberra catapulted at 1000 on the 7th from a position at the corner of Nazareth Bank and covered the area before recovery at the south-east corner at 1300. The ships then proceeded so as to pass to the eastward of Cargados Carajos, and HMS Leander flew off at 1600, returning after 1½ hours flight, having drawn blank.