The Royal New Zealand Navy
CHAPTER 11 — Protection of Shipping
Protection of Shipping
DURING the next ten months the Achilles was employed almost continuously on convoy escort duties in New Zealand waters and other areas of the South Pacific. In view of the recent depredations of German raiders, whose actual whereabouts were unknown at that time, the policy of the Naval Board was to provide escort not only for the ships carrying Australian and New Zealand air trainees to Vancouver and, later, New Zealand troops to Fiji, but also for the vitally important refrigerated cargo vessels homeward-bound to the United Kingdom via the Panama Canal or Cape Horn. The latter ships, some of which had loaded in Australia, were escorted from the New Zealand coast to positions about two days' steaming to the eastward. From time to time ships arriving from the Panama Canal were met and escorted into harbour.
The position was stated by Commodore Parry, Chief of Naval Staff, in a letter to Commodore J. Durnford, RN, at Navy Office, Melbourne, in May 1941. Referring to the ‘increasing difficulty’ of sparing the Monowai for patrols of the Nauru and Ocean Islands areas, Parry said that the Commander-in-Chief America and West Indies had withdrawn HMCS Prince Robert, armed merchant cruiser, and ‘therefore we must escort the A. V. convoys (Vancouver ships) well out into the Pacific from Suva, which means that every month one ship is employed in this duty for a fortnight. The average number of insulated ships sailing to the eastward from New Zealand ports is now nine a month…. The New Zealand Government are particularly anxious to give as full protection as possible to these ships because our economy depends very largely on exporting the goods they carry. At the same time, it is most undesirable that they should be delayed unnecessarily in New Zealand ports and therefore I have to use our ship rather uneconomically on this duty….’
The escorting of the homeward-bound refrigerated cargo ships, known as AP convoys, was begun on 22 December 1940 by the Monowai, which by 28 January had seen six vessels clear of New Zealand waters. Thereafter, this duty devolved mainly upon the Achilles. On 30 January the Monowai met the Aorangi off Cape Brett and escorted her to Suva and for three days' steaming farther north.page break page 151
At that time the German raiders were far away from New Zealand. Captain Weyher, of the Orion, fearing that the secrecy of his base in the Caroline Islands had been compromised, had decided to go still farther north. On 5 January 1941 the German motor ship Ermland, 6528 tons, arrived at Lamotrek and 183 prisoners from seven ships were transferred to her. Two days later the Orion sailed in company with the tanker Ole Jacob and the Ermland. On 9 January the Ermland left for Europe via Cape Horn. She took on board 148 prisoners from another German ship in the South Atlantic and arrived at Bordeaux on 3 April. The Orion and her tanker arrived on 12 January at Maug, the most northerly but one of the Marianas Islands, and there remained for twenty-five days overhauling her engines and boilers. The Regensburg arrived on 18 January with fresh water from Japan, and on 1 February the Munsterland came in with stores and a Japanese seaplane to replace the unserviceable German aircraft.
Meanwhile, the Komet was cruising in mid-Pacific. Captain Eyssen (he was promoted Rear-Admiral on 1 January 1941) had twice been ordered by the naval staff in Berlin to proceed to the Indian Ocean. His proposal to search for ships about the Galapagos Islands was rejected and he was again ordered to the Indian Ocean. Eyssen considered that ‘in view of the disturbances caused by our successes in Australian and New Zealand waters, it is wiser to make a large sweep to reach the Indian Ocean, rather than to take the shortest route (Tasman Sea)’.1 Accordingly, during the second half of January, the Komet passed between the Marquesas Islands and the Tuamotu Archipelago, round Pitcairn Island, and thence to the south-westward along the Panama–New Zealand route; but no ships were sighted.
After rounding the Chatham Islands on 6 February, the Komet (greatly to the surprise of the German Naval Staff) went due south on the 180th meridian to the Antarctic, where she was held up by pack-ice in the Ross Sea about 250 miles east from Cape Adare, the north-east extremity of Victoria Land. She then headed north-west past the Balleny Islands, on a vain search for whaling ships, until 28 February when she shaped course for Kerguelen Island. There the Komet met the raider Pinguin and the Adjutant,2 as well as the supply ship Alstertor, and spent some time taking in supplies and ammunition.
2 On 14–15 January the Pinguin had captured the Norwegian whaling factory ships Ole Wegger and Pelagos, the supply ship Solglimt, and eleven whale chasers. The whaling fleet was taken to France by prize crews, with the exception of one chaser which was renamed Adjutant and retained by the Pinguin as a reconnaissance vessel.
Though it was not known at the time, the raider Orion was refuelling from the tanker Ole Jacob on 25 February in a position about 180 miles north-east of the Kermadec Islands. Orders had been received from Berlin that the Orion was to operate in the Indian Ocean, and on 6 February she sailed from Maug, in the Marianas, in company with her tanker. The ships passed through Bougainville Channel in the Solomon Islands during the night of 15 February. It had been Captain Weyher's intention to sail south through the Coral and Tasman Seas, but in the afternoon of 16 February the ships were sighted by a flying boat which circled the Orion and then reported by wireless to Port Moresby.
The ships separated during the night and the Orion steamed eastward to the Santa Cruz Islands, whence she steered to the south-east, passing between the New Hebrides and Fiji to meet the Ole Jacob at the rendezvous north-east of the Kermadecs. Thereafter the ships steamed in company across the trade routes east of New Zealand, but not a ship was sighted. They passed close by the Chatham Islands on 2 March 1941, and the Bounty Islands a day later, and rounded New Zealand far to the southward of Stewart Island on 5 March.
The Achilles sailed from Auckland on 25 February to rendezvous with the Blue Star liner Dunedin Star, 14,000 tons (AP 13), which she overtook the following afternoon. This ship, which was on passage from Auckland to the United Kingdom via the Panama Canal, was escorted to a position approximately 450 miles northeast of the Chathams, where the Achilles left her. The Orion and her tanker, proceeding south from the Kermadecs, were not very far away at that time and must have crossed the track of the cruiser, which arrived at Wellington on 2 March.
After a short refit the Monowai embarked a small detachment of Australian troops and stores for Nauru Island and sailed from Auckland on 27 February, escorting the Awatea as far as Suva, where they arrived on 2 March. The Monowai, in company with two page 153 Norwegian motor-ships, left Suva next day and arrived off Ocean Island in the morning of 8 March. Leaving the Norwegians there to load phosphates, the Monowai proceeded to Nauru Island, where she found the Panamanian ship Atlantic loading at the buoys. The Monowai landed her troops and stores and spent the next ten days on patrol between the two islands. She took in fuel-oil and fresh water from the British Phosphates Commission's motor-vessel Trienza at Ocean Island and sailed thence on 19 March for Suva.
In the meantime the Achilles had been kept busy escorting AP convoys. She left Wellington on 3 March in company with the Shaw Savill steamer Mahana, 10,950 tons, and the Blue Star steamer Trojan Star, 9037 tons, (Convoy AP 14), both bound for the United Kingdom. They were dispersed two days later from a position about 300 miles south-east of the Chatham Islands. During the next fortnight the Achilles escorted the City of Canberra and the Port Jackson from Wellington to well beyond the Chathams. After calling at Auckland to land a rating who had been operated on for appendicitis, the Achilles went into the Tasman Sea and took over the Aorangi from HMAS Adelaide which had escorted her from Sydney. A day after leaving Auckland the Achilles passed the Aorangi over to the Monowai and returned to the Hauraki Gulf, whence she escorted the loaded refrigerated cargo ships Port Fairy, Tongariro, and Kent in two separate convoys to positions about 400 miles beyond East Cape.
The Monowai accompanied the Aorangi to Suva and thence to Fanning Island, where the latter ship landed relief troops and stores for the garrison before going on to Vancouver. The Monowai returned to Suva for fuel and then went to Tahiti, where she embarked some 300 local Free French troops for New Caledonia. From Noumea she proceeded to a rendezvous off East Cape where on 6 May she met the Rimutaka, bound from Wellington to Panama, and escorted her a full day's steaming to the eastward.
The Achilles, in company with the Australia and Hobart, sailed from Wellington on 7 April 1941 escorting the transports Mauretania and Nieuw Amsterdam carrying the 5th Reinforcements, 2 NZEF. After an uneventful passage across the Tasman Sea, the Achilles left the convoy and went to Jervis Bay to protect the transport Queen Mary, which was anchored there. The cruiser kept steam at thirty minutes' notice and a defence watch closed up. The two ships left on 11 April and joined convoy US 10 from Sydney. Besides the Queen Mary, Mauretania, and Nieuw Amsterdam, the procession of great liners included the Queen Elizabeth and Île de France, the five ships making a total of 280,383 tons. Escorted by the Australia, the convoy proceeded south and the Achilles went into Sydney for fuel before returning to Auckland.page 154
After escorting the Shaw Savill liner Tamaroa from Auckland to a position about 500 miles south-east of East Cape, the Achilles took the Awatea about 100 miles north of the Equator on her way to Vancouver. The cruiser returned to Suva on 10 May and left next day for Auckland. At noon on the 14th, while steaming down the swept channel in the approach to Hauraki Gulf, she received a report from the Gale, about 10 miles away, that the Puriri had been sunk by a mine.1 The Achilles at once turned back and sent her surgeon to the Gale to attend to the injured men. The uninjured survivors of the Puriri were taken on board the cruiser, which then proceeded at 22 knots for Auckland.
From 20 May to the end of the month the Achilles was employed as escort for the Rangatira, which carried two drafts of troops from Auckland to Fiji. Both ships returned to Wellington on 2 June. During the month of May the Achilles had been at sea on twenty-six days and had steamed 9575 miles.
For the time being the Pacific was clear of enemy raiders, but there could be no certainty. As far as their limited resources would allow the New Zealand, Australian, and Canadian naval authorities co-operated in doing everything possible to ensure the safety of merchant shipping. Whenever they could be spared from other duties, Australian cruisers escorted the Vancouver liners and other important ships across the Tasman. The Canadian armed merchant cruiser Prince Robert spent three months on escort and patrol duties in the New Zealand Station area.
It was not possible to maintain a continuous patrol of the distant Nauru and Ocean Islands but they were visited, whenever an armed merchant cruiser could be spared, to protect ships loading phosphates. The Monowai was there during March, HMAS Westralia spent a week there in April, and HMAS Manoora patrolled the area for a week in May; the New Zealand ship took her turn again in June.-
The Prince Robert escorted the Aorangi from Suva to a position north of the Equator on passage to Honolulu and Vancouver. She returned direct to Auckland to meet the Awatea, which arrived from Sydney on 16 June in company with the Australia, and escorted her to Suva and thence well on the way to Honolulu. The Awatea was the last of the trans-Pacific AV convoys from New Zealand. Both she and the Aorangi were requisitioned in August by the Ministry of War Transport for use as troopships. The Vancouver mail and passenger service lapsed and was not resumed until August 1948.
Earlier in the month HMAS Australia had escorted the Largs Bay, 14,182 tons, and Themistocles, 11,231 tons, as Convoy VK 12, from Sydney to Wellington, where they arrived on 9 June. These ships, carrying 300 servicemen and fully loaded for the United Kingdom, were routed via the Panama Canal. As Convoy AP 41 they sailed from Wellington on 10 June escorted by the Achilles, which dispersed them three days later from a position about 230 miles east from the Chatham Islands. The cruiser covered the Port Melbourne, 11,652 tons, homeward-bound from Wellington, while returning to the westward to meet the Brisbane Star, 12,791 tons, from Lyttelton, which she escorted about a day's steaming east of the Chathams. The Achilles then proceeded to cover the Otaio, 10,298 tons, bound from Napier to Panama, until daybreak on 18 June, when course was shaped for Auckland. In the afternoon of the 19th a floating mine was sighted in a position east of Great Barrier Island. The mine, which doubtless had broken adrift from the German-laid Hauraki Gulf field, was sunk by machine-gun fire. The Achilles sailed from Auckland on 23 June with the Wairangi, 12,436 tons, which was escorted to a position about 100 miles north-east of East Cape. The cruiser then covered the eastward passage of the Wairangi and the Dorset, 13,040 tons, from Napier, until daybreak on 25 June when course was shaped for Wellington, where she arrived next day.
Captured German documents have revealed that at that time the raider Komet had returned to New Zealand waters and was cruising in an area 400 to 600 miles east of Wellington from 21 June to 1 July 1941. As related earlier, the Komet had gone to the Indian Ocean in February 1941. There she spent more than two months in fruitless cruising along and across the Australian trade routes. At the end of March she refuelled from the tanker Ole Jacob. On 21 May page 156 she was joined by the Adjutant, a captured whale chaser (Pol IX)1 which had been acting as a tender to the raider Pinguin, and on 1 June they headed away well south of Australia for the Pacific. On 11 June the Komet transhipped to the Adjutant the mines that six months earlier were to have been laid outside Rabaul harbour.
The Komet passed south of Stewart Island during the night of 17 June and carried on to a rendezvous area near the Chatham Islands, where she cruised for ten days on the lookout for merchant ships but sighted nothing.
Nothing was known of the minelaying until more than four years later, when it was revealed by captured German documents. Unlike those laid by the raider Orion in the Hauraki Gulf area, these were a magnetic type of ground mine. Probably they were defective when laid since they have never given any indication of their presence. Thousands of ships have passed safely over the areas in which they were laid and which, during the war, were subjected to routine sweeping by flotillas fitted to deal with magnetic, acoustic, and moored mines.
In his assessment of the Adjutant's minelaying operation, Rear-Admiral Eyssen, commanding officer of the Komet, remarked that ‘at Wellington, all the depths exceeded twenty metres [approximately 65 feet], but a large number of ships of over 10,000 tons put in there, and as this port is very favourably situated in relation to the magnetic zone … the mines, if they work at all, should, according to the data available, also detonate satisfactorily with vessels of 5,000 to 7,000 tons. I do not think the Adjutant was seen during the operation, in spite of the searchlight activity.’ The award of Iron Cross, First Class, was made to Lieutenant Karsten, ‘in recognition of the minelaying operation’, and to Lieutenant-Commander Hemmer, ‘in recognition of his former service as a member of the crew of the Pinguin and latterly of his command of the Adjutant.’page 158
On 1 July the Adjutant rejoined the Komet in a position northeast of the Chatham Islands, but as her engines were then ‘as good as useless’, she was sunk by gunfire after her sea-cocks had been opened. The Komet then steamed away along the New Zealand–Panama route and on 14 July 1941, south of the Tubuai Group, she took 690 tons of fuel-oil and other supplies from the Anneliese Essberger, 5173 tons.
In the focal area of the Galapagos Islands, on 14 August, the Komet intercepted and sank the motor-ship Australind, 5020 tons, a well-known New Zealand trader, which was on passage from Adelaide to England. The ship was shelled ruthlessly when she transmitted a wireless distress signal. Her master and two engineers were killed and forty-two of the ship's company made prisoners. The Australind was the first ship sunk by the Komet for eight months. On 17 August the raider captured the Dutch motor-vessel Kota Nopan, 7322 tons, which, being laden with tin, coffee, tea, and spices from the East Indies for New York, was retained as a prize. Two days later the British India steamer Devon, 9036 tons, formerly of the Federal Line, on passage from Liverpool to New Zealand, was sunk in the same area, her crew being made prisoners. Her presence having been revealed by the distress signals of her victims, the Komet retraced her course to the south-west.
On 30 August, while transhipping cargo from the Kota Nopan, a ship was sighted steering about south-west. According to the raider's war diary the vessel was ‘recognised as a Port Line ship’. Eyssen decided to get out of sight and go after her after dark, but the ship was not found again – ‘she probably increased speed during the night.’
In the afternoon of 27 June the Achilles sailed from Wellington escorting the Aquitania, which had embarked some 4000 troops, the 6th Reinforcements, for Egypt. On 30 June, in the eastern approach to Bass Strait, the Achilles met the Australian section of Convoy US 11A, which comprised the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, escorted by the Australia. The New Zealand cruiser then parted company with the Aquitania and returned to Wellington.
The great amount of sea time spent by the Achilles since the outbreak of hostilities was shown in a statistical report furnished to the New Zealand Naval Board. From the time she commissioned in England in January 1939 up to 26 July 1941, the Achilles had done 156,151 miles, of which 133,274 miles had been steamed since 3 September 1939. She had steamed 82,679 miles since her last refit in March–June 1940, and 41,937 miles since her last docking in January 1941. From January 1939 to July 1941, the Achilles had page 159 consumed 47,662 tons of boiler fuel-oil. Since 1 December 1940 she had averaged twenty-four days a month at sea and given close escort to thirty-seven ships.
When the Dominion Monarch sailed from Auckland on 22 July she was carrying a full cargo of refrigerated foodstuffs, wool, and other produce for the United Kingdom, as well as 1230 officers and men, mostly of the Royal Australian Air Force, of whom 440 were air trainees going to Canada. They had been brought from Australia in the Dutch transport Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, 19,423 tons, escorted by the Adelaide. As the Achilles was not available, ocean escort for the Dominion Monarch was provided by the Monowai and Prince Robert. They left her well to the eastward of New Zealand at noon on 25 July and were returning in company when the Canadian ship received orders to proceed to Auckland ‘with despatch’. She arrived at 9.25 a.m. on the 28th, about six hours ahead of the Monowai.
The New Zealand Naval Board had received a message from Ottawa that a senior United States Navy intelligence officer had reported that the Japanese ship Heiyo Maru was carrying spare engine parts for a disabled German raider lying at Easter Island. At the same time a signal from the Commander-in-Chief America and West Indies Station requested the New Zealand Naval Board to send the Prince Robert to investigate. After refuelling, the ship left Auckland in the evening of 28 July for Easter Island, where she arrived on 8 August. She reported that there was no sign of a raider at the island and that, according to the inhabitants, no ship had arrived there since November 1940. The Prince Robert proceeded from Easter Island to Talara, Peru, for fuel and thence to Esquimault.
The Monowai arrived at Wellington from Auckland on 3 August and sailed six days later to meet the Rangatira off Kaikoura Peninsula. That ship, which was carrying troops for the relief of the ‘B’ Force garrison in Fiji, was escorted by the Monowai on two voyages to Suva, both ships returning to Auckland on 24 August. In the meantime the Sydney had escorted the Awatea from Sydney to Auckland and thence to a point well beyond Fiji, subsequently returning direct from Suva to Sydney.
About that time another German raider had arrived in the South Pacific and was cruising across the trade routes to the eastward and northward of New Zealand. This was Ship No. 16, otherwise known as the Atlantis, one of the most successful of the enemy raiders. She was formerly the Hansa Line motor-vessel Goldenfels, 7862 tons gross register. The Atlantis, which was commanded by Captain Bernhard Rogge, sailed from Germany on 31 March 1940 and about six weeks later laid about a hundred mines off Cape Agulhas, the page 160 southernmost point of Africa. The raider operated mainly in the Indian Ocean and South Atlantic, where she sank or captured twenty-one merchant ships. From time to time she transferred her prisoners to supply ships. She had a narrow escape in the vicinity of St. Helena during the night of 17–18 May 1941, when she sighted HM Ships Nelson and Eagle on her starboard quarter and managed to alter course away without being seen.
A few weeks later the Atlantis headed away for the Pacific. She rounded Tristan da Cunha on 8 July 1941 and, after a long and stormy passage across the Southern Ocean, entered the Pacific about the middle of August. She passed between the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island on 17 August and well to the eastward of the Chatham Islands and East Cape from the 21st to the 25th.
For the remainder of that month and during the first half of September the Atlantis cruised at easy speed in an area eastward of the Kermadec Islands. On 10 September she intercepted and captured the Norwegian motor-vessel Silvaplana, 4793 tons gross register, bound from Singapore and Batavia with a cargo of 8000 tons of rubber, sago, tin, and spices for New York. The Silvaplana was the raider's last victim and brought her total captures and sinkings up to twenty-two ships totalling 144,384 tons.
The Komet and her prize, the Dutch ship Kota No pan, returning from the Galapagos Islands, arrived at a mid-Pacific rendezvous west of Rapa Island on 20 September and met the Atlantis and the Silvaplana. The supply ship Munsterland arrived from Japan next morning. Four days were spent in refuelling and transhipping stores, after which the ships went their several ways. The Komet and her prize started their homeward passage round Cape Horn on 24 September, the Silvaplana, in charge of a prize crew, following them on the 27th, and the Munsterland leaving for Japan next day.
The Atlantis spent the next fortnight cruising through the Tubuai Islands and the Tuamotu Archipelago, some of her crew landing on Banavana Island in the latter group. From 14 to 18 October the raider patrolled the area between Pitcairn and Henderson Islands, a landing from rubber dinghies being made on the latter island. The raider's seaplane made several reconnaissance flights, but no ships were sighted. On 19 October the Atlantis headed away to the south-east, Cape Horn being rounded ten days later. In the South Atlantic on 13 November the raider supplied fuel to submarine U.126 and on the 22nd was about to fuel U.68 when she was intercepted and sunk by gunfire by HMS Devonshire.
The prize ships Kota Nopan and Silvaplana arrived at Bordeaux about 17 November. The Komet was met near the Azores by two U-boats which escorted her to Cape Finisterre; thence she hugged the European coastline all the way to Hamburg, where she arrived page 161 on 30 November 1941 after a cruise of 515 days during which she covered 86,988 miles. Eleven months later the Komet, when setting out on a second cruise, was intercepted and sunk by British destroyers off Cape de la Hague, in the English Channel.
The raider Orion, which left the South Pacific in March 1941, had spent nearly three months in fruitless cruising in the Indian Ocean when she received orders to return to Germany. Three supply ships, one of which was a tanker, had been sunk in the Atlantic in June and the Orion, therefore, was compelled to load 500 tons of fuel from the Atlantis, which was met on 1 July, shortly before that raider started on her passage to the Pacific. On 29 July, four days after crossing the Equator, the Orion sank her last victim, the British steamer Chaucer, 5792 tons. This was the only ship sunk by the raider in the period of eight months since she was off Nauru Island at the beginning of December 1940. The Orion arrived at Bordeaux on 23 August, after a cruise of 510 days, during which she had steamed 112,337 miles.
In the course of their cruises which covered a period of twenty months, the Orion and Komet accounted for seventeen ships, totalling 114,118 tons, all but two of which were sunk or captured by them in the Pacific. Only four were sunk by them in New Zealand waters over a period of six months. One ship was captured by the Atlantis in the South Pacific, and three were sunk and one badly damaged by the Pinguin's mines on the Australian coast. Considering the great volume of valuable shipping at stake in the South Pacific, that was a relatively small toll taken by the enemy raiders. It was also sound evidence of the protective value of evasive routeing of merchant shipping in time of war.
Having completed her refit, the Achilles left Auckland on 29 August 1941 and off Cape Palliser two days later met the Rimutaka, which was on passage from Wellington to the Panama Canal. It was not known at that time that the raider Atlantis was cruising in New Zealand waters. She had passed northward across the Panama route less than a week earlier. The Rimutaka, which was carrying a full cargo and 180 servicemen to the United Kingdom, was escorted to a position about 250 miles south-east from the Chatham Islands. The Achilles left her on 2 September and proceeded to cover the Federal liner Cornwall, also homeward-bound from Wellington, which was met the following afternoon and escorted till after dark.
The Achilles left Wellington on 15 September as ocean escort to Convoy US 12B, comprising the Aquitania and the Dutch motor-vessel Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, which were carrying the 7th Reinforcements, 2 NZEF. In the morning of 18 September, about 130 miles off the south coast of New South Wales, they met the Adelaide and the Dutch transport Sibajak, 12,236 tons, on passage from page 162 Sydney to Bass Strait where the Sydney, escorting the Marnix van St. Aldegonde from Melbourne, was to take charge of the convoy. Having delivered her charges, the Achilles proceeded to the northward and off Sydney that evening met the United States steamer Monterey, which was ‘trailed’ to Auckland and subsequently to Suva and Pago Pago, and thence as far as the Equator. The Achilles then returned to Suva, where she arrived on 3 October.
During September and October 1941, while the raiders Komet and Atlantis were cruising in mid-Pacific on or about the Panama Canal route, twenty-four loaded ships sailed from New Zealand ports homeward-bound to the United Kingdom. It was not possible to provide close escort for more than a few of these ships and this duty devolved upon the Monowai. She sailed from Auckland on 5 September in company with the Union-Castle liner Capetown Castle, 27,000 tons, which was carrying 152 servicemen and 100 merchant seamen and was escorted to the eastward for three days. The Monowai then returned to Auckland for the Akaroa, 15,130 tons, which was similarly escorted, ‘cover’ being given during the period to the Waiwera from Timaru, the Port Sydney from Wellington, and the Port Wyndham from Gisborne. After refuelling at Wellington, the Monowai met the Sussex off Napier and escorted her beyond the Chatham Islands. On 24 September the Monowai met the Athlone Castle, 25,564 tons, homeward-bound from Lyttelton, off Cape Palliser, and, after taking her to the eastward of the Chathams, returned to Auckland on the 29th. The Adelaide had left Melbourne on the 25th in company with the Lanarkshire, 9816 tons, which was homeward-bound via the Panama Canal. This ship was escorted south of New Zealand to a position well to the south-eastward of the Chatham Islands. The Australian cruiser arrived at Wellington on 30 September.
The first inkling of the presence of enemy raiders in the South Pacific at that time came in an Admiralty message of 30 September. It reported a wireless direction-finding ‘fix’ of a ship at 5.18 a.m. (GMT) on 28 September within 300 miles of position, latitude 40 degrees South, longitude 155 degrees West – about 1300 miles east of Napier. The longitude corresponded closely with that of the position in which the raiders Komet and Atlantis and their prizes had been fuelling and storing from the Munsterland from 14 to 28 September, when they were actually about 300 miles north of 40 degrees South. It was a remarkably good ‘fix’.
Prompt precautionary measures were taken by Navy Office, Wellington. The Monowai was sailed from Auckland on 1 October under orders to patrol to the eastward of Cape Brett to a maximum distance of 400 miles. She was informed of the courses and approximate positions of five merchant vessels approaching New Zealand page 163 from the Panama Canal and that an enemy raider could have reached a position 50 miles east of East Cape by 4 p.m. on 1 October. Air patrols were being carried out daily at dusk and dawn. Instructions were also issued that minesweepers should patrol the entrances to Wellington and Lyttelton harbours at night to detect and report possible minelaying activities.1
The Achilles had sailed from Suva for Auckland on 4 October. At 1.30 p.m. the following day speed was increased to 25 knots, and four hours later course was altered to proceed direct to patrol in the Tasman Sea in accordance with instructions from Navy Office. The Achilles, Adelaide, and Monowai were informed that, according to a direction-finding ‘fix’ at 4.36 p.m. (GMT) on 4 October, a German raider might be within 180 miles of Awarua wireless station. The Achilles passed the Three Kings Group at 12.55 p.m. on 6 October and steamed thence south-west to patrol an area covering the western approaches to Cook Strait, where she relieved the Adelaide, which met the steamer City of Delhi from Wellington and escorted her to Sydney.
Meanwhile the Matai, Gale, and Muritai of the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla were patrolling and sweeping off Farewell Spit and air patrols were being carried out off the west coast of the South Island, over the western approaches to Cook Strait and areas of 100 miles radius from Great Barrier Island, Cape Reinga, Cape Palliser, Akaroa harbour, and Foveaux Strait. The Monowai had returned to Auckland on 5 October and sailed the following day escorting the homeward-bound ships Surrey, Port Saint John, and Melampus, which were dispersed beyond the Chathams. She then proceeded to ‘cover’ the Dutch ship Tjibesar from Auckland and the Columbia Star on passage from Sydney to the Panama Canal. After rounding the Chatham Islands, the Monowai returned to Wellington on 15 October.
Nothing suspicious had been sighted in any of the patrol areas, and on 8 October the Achilles shaped course for Auckland, where she arrived two days later. On the 14th she sailed for the Tasman Sea and took over the liner Stirling Castle, 25,550 tons, from the Adelaide, which then turned back for Sydney. The convoy arrived at Auckland on 16 October.
In the absence of the Achilles, and with the Leander under refit, the Monowai was called upon to escort two large homeward-bound liners which were carrying full cargoes and 1150 Australian and New Zealand servicemen. She left Auckland on 25 October in company with the Stirling Castle for a rendezvous off Cape Palliser, where they met the Shaw Savill steamer Ceramic, 18,713 tons, from Wellington. The convoy was dispersed east of the Chatham Islands on 29 October. The Monowai returned to Wellington to pick up the homeward-bound Dorset, 13,040 tons, which was escorted to the eastward for two days.
When the Achilles arrived at Suva on 31 October, she had spent twenty-five days at sea and had steamed 8916 miles during the month. She found in harbour the Free French destroyer Le Triomphant and armed merchant cruiser Cap des Palmes,2 as well as the Netherlands cruiser Java,3 the last-mentioned acting as escort to a convoy of five Dutch merchant vessels and a naval tanker from Cairns, Queensland.
1 Achilles' war diary.
2 Le Triomphant, 2569 tons displacement; five 5·4-inch guns and four light anti-aircraft guns; nine torpedo-tubes; speed 37 knots. Cap des Palmes, motor-vessel, 3082 tons; six 4-inch guns. These ships and the minesweeper and patrol vessel Chevreuil arrived in the Pacific in September 1941 to protect French interests. From time to time they worked in loose co-operation with the Allied naval forces, but they spent long periods of inactivity in harbour.
3 Java, 6670 tons displacement; ten 5·9-inch guns and fourteen light AA guns; two aircraft; speed 31 knots. The Java was sunk in action with a Japanese naval force in the Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February 1942.
The Achilles then headed for Cape Brett, off which, at midnight on 27 November, she met the Wahine, carrying troops from Auckland to Lautoka, Fiji. This ship was escorted to a position 240 miles from Navula Passage, and at daybreak on 30 November the Achilles joined company with the Leander which was trailing the Mariposa from Suva. The Achilles left Auckland on 5 December to escort the Wahine on another voyage to Fiji.