The Royal New Zealand Navy
CHAPTER 21 — Battles for the Solomons
Battles for the Solomons
THE Achilles was in harbour at Espiritu Santo during the greater part of January 1943 while temporary repairs were being made to her damaged turret. It had been decided some months earlier that she and the Leander would go to England in turn at convenient times to undergo extensive refits and modernisation of their armament and other equipment. Accordingly, the Achilles sailed on 1 February for Auckland, where she arrived on the 3rd. Captain C. A. L. Mansergh, DSC, RN, who later assumed command of the Leander, was succeeded in command of the Achilles by acting Captain W. G. Davis, DSC, RN.
The Achilles sailed from Auckland on 19 February for England by way of Bora Bora and the Panama Canal. She called at Bermuda to refuel and arrived at Portsmouth on 22 March, having steamed more than 246,000 miles since the outbreak of war in September 1939. The Royal Navy officers and ratings were discharged and a large number of New Zealand ratings went to shore establishments for courses of instruction in gunnery, torpedo, communications, and radar. Nearly two years passed before the Achilles returned to New Zealand.
After a lengthy stay at Auckland, the Monowai spent two months carrying small drafts of Navy, Army, and Air Force details to Suva, Nukualofa (Tonga), Norfolk Island, Noumea, and Espiritu Santo. She then made two voyages, one from Wellington and one from Lyttelton, escorting the Wahine carrying troops to Nukualofa where New Zealanders had relieved the American garrison. The Monowai called at Suva and Noumea on her way back to Auckland, where she arrived on 16 March 1943. This completed her last mission in the South Pacific.
As an armed merchant cruiser the Monowai was of little value in the Pacific; in the Atlantic, where losses of large passenger liners had been heavy, there was an acute shortage of ships of her type suitable for use as fast transports. But in December 1942, when the British Ministry of War Transport first requested that the Monowai be released for that purpose, the New Zealand Naval Board represented that she was ‘unsuitable for use in the Atlantic’ and could ‘best be used in the South Pacific where she is needed page 312 for comparatively short voyages’. Accordingly, the Prime Minister replied that the continual and growing demands for transport between New Zealand and South Pacific bases ‘seem to render it completely essential that the Monowai should be available for these purposes’.
In February 1943 further representations were made by the Ministry of War Transport, which said the Monowai would make an excellent troopship capable of carrying about 2000 men and offered to provide in exchange for her a slower ship of good capacity to meet New Zealand requirements. A complete change of view was now expressed by the Naval Board, which informed the Government that it had ‘always been realised’ that the Monowai was ‘not a very satisfactory ship for New Zealand purposes’ and that, as a result of detailed investigation, ‘it now appears that she is almost useless’ for the purpose of an armed naval transport. New Zealand requirements in the South Pacific could be met by the Wahine (whose fuel capacity had been increased) in conjunction with American vessels, and no ship would be needed to replace the Monowai.
After further discussion it was agreed to release the Monowai, which sailed from Auckland for the United Kingdom on 24 April 1943. Captain Morgan,1 of the Union Steam Ship Company's service, who was in command of the Awatea when she was sunk by German aircraft during the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942 and who was to command the Monowai when she reverted to merchant ship status, took passage in the ship, which also carried a number of Navy, Army, and Air Force details and ten Tahitians who were to join the Free French Forces. The Monowai made the passage by way of Bora Bora, the Panama Canal, and Bermuda. She arrived at Greenock on 2 June 1943 and at Liverpool next day, and paid off on 18 June. Since she was commissioned on 30 August 1940 as a unit of the Royal New Zealand Navy, a period of two years ten months, the Monowai had steamed a total of 149,629 miles.
On 7 February 1943, still unaware that the Japanese were evacuating Guadalcanal, Admiral Halsey ordered the occupation of the Russell Islands, 30 miles north-west from Cape Esperance, as a staging base for the later capture of the New Georgia airfields. On the night of 12 February the Moa left Lunga with a party of three American intelligence officers and thirty Fijian and Malaitan armed scouts who were to reconnoitre the Russell Islands and select landing beaches and sites for airfields. They found that the Japanese had left the islands, which were occupied in force by the Americans on 21 February. Bases for motor torpedo-boats and landing craft were in operation a few days later.
By the middle of March nearly 16,000 troops and large quantities of equipment and stores had been landed on the islands. The first of two large airfields was in use by mid-April and a few weeks later both were supplementing the four airfields in Guadalcanal. New Zealand-made radar sets manned by New Zealand officers and ratings were working with the coastal and anti-aircraft batteries. For their part, the Japanese continued to strengthen their bases in the northern and central Solomons and increased the tempo of their air attacks. The Americans replied in kind, and cruiser-destroyer task forces carried out several bombardments of the enemy's airfields at Munda and Vila, in the course of one of which two Japanese destroyers were sighted and sunk.
Meanwhile the campaign in New Guinea was going badly for the Japanese. In August 1942 they had landed a force at Milne Bay at the tail end of New Guinea to capture the airfield there and support their overland drive to Port Moresby. After suffering heavy losses at the hands of the Australians, the Japanese evacuated part of their force, the remainder of which was gradually destroyed by fighting and disease.
By a slow and painful advance through the jungle over the Owen Stanley Mountains, the enemy had reached Ioribaiwa, 32 miles from Port Moresby, about 11 September 1942, but on the 26th the reinforced Australians began driving the Japanese back over the Kokoda Trail. The retreat became a rout and thousands of Japanese perished miserably from disease and starvation. By 9 December 1942 the Australians had captured Gona on the north coast; on 2 January 1943 American troops entered Buna; Sanananda, midway between those places, was taken by the Australians on the 18th.page 314
Alarmed by the Allied threat to the whole of the Huon Gulf area, General Imamura and Admiral Kusaka laid careful plans to move 6900 troops from Rabaul to Lae in eight transports and eight destroyers. In the forenoon of 2 March Allied bombers attacked the convoy, sinking one transport and damaging two others. The slaughter went on all next day and was completed by motor torpedo-boats during the night. Of the convoy of sixteen ships only four destroyers escaped destruction and returned to Rabaul. The Japanese destroyers and submarines rescued 2734 men, but more than 3000 were lost. A few hundred swam ashore, mostly to be hunted down by the natives or to die of starvation.
Shortly after midday on 7 April a task force commanded by Rear-Admiral Ainsworth was standing out of Tulagi harbour on its way to bombard Munda and Vila when warning was received from coast-watchers of an imminent air attack. Sixty-seven bombers covered by 110 Zero fighters were flying southward. The task force was ordered to retire eastward into Indispensable Strait and the Matai, Tui, and Gale of the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla, on anti-submarine escort duty off Cape Esperance, steamed at full speed towards Tulagi.
The assault came about 3 p.m. when a large number of bombers attacked the ships in Tulagi harbour. The Moa was sunk alongside an oil hulk and an American destroyer and a tanker were also lost. Twelve Japanese bombers and nine fighters were shot down. The Moa was hit by a 500-pound bomb which drove through her commanding officer's cabin and exploded below, and she was also damaged by two near misses. She fired a short burst from her after Oerlikon gun and anti-aircraft fire was maintained by the oil hulk. The Moa listed rapidly and sank bow first about four minutes after being hit. Her sea-boat had been lowered and it was assisted by landing craft in recovering survivors.
1 Leading Seaman J. C. O. Moffat; scholar; born Tauranga, 19 Nov 1921. Able Seaman K. Bailey; clerk; born Auckland, 3 Jun 1921. Leading Stoker H. D. Crawford; plasterer; born Darlington, England, 21 Apr 1916. Stoker E. J. Buckeridge; miner; born Waikino, 1 Jun 1916. Telegraphist C. Duncan, public servant (P & T Dept); born Taihape, 19 Jan 1921.
The highly efficient American intelligence service had learned that the Commander-in-Chief Combined Fleet was about to make a visit of inspection to the Japanese bases in the northern and central Solomons. Based on precise information as to the date and actual time of his arrival, plans to waylay him were made by Rear-Admiral Marc Mitscher, commander of the United States Air Forces in the Solomons. Admiral Yamamoto, accompanied by his Chief of Staff, Vice-Admiral Ugichi, and other senior staff officers, left Rabaul in the forenoon of 18 April for Kahili airfield, near Buin at the south end of Bougainville, in two bombers escorted by nine fighters. Thirty-five minutes later the bombers were about to land when they were intercepted and shot down by sixteen fighters from Henderson Field. The Commander-in-Chief's bomber crashed in the jungle and the other in the sea. Yamamoto and five or six staff officers were killed and Ugichi was critically injured. The death of Yamamoto was a severe blow to Japanese morale. Not until 21 May was the news released in Tokyo that he had been killed in ‘air combat’. His body was cremated and the ashes sent to Tokyo, where they were given an impressive public funeral on 5 June. He was succeeded as Commander-in-Chief Combined Fleet by Admiral Mineichi Koga.
HMNZS Leander, commanded by Captain Mansergh, formerly of the Achilles, had returned to active service at the beginning of March 1943 after an extensive refit. She arrived at Espiritu Santo on 13 March and during the next six weeks went to sea on three occasions with American task forces. Then followed seven weeks of convoy escort duty which took her to Pearl Harbour, Bora Bora, and Noumea. On 17 June she returned to Espiritu Santo and reported for duty with Rear-Admiral Ainsworth's Task Force 18. He was soon to be glad of her services.
The main landing was made on 30 June at the north end of Rendova Island, five miles from Munda across Blanche Channel. Troops and supplies were ferried across the channel in landing vessels from Rendova harbour to beaches in Roviana Lagoon, six miles east from Munda. The Americans were to face more than six weeks of fanatical Japanese resistance in the dense tropical jungle before they captured the airfield. Nearly 29,000 troops and 30,500 tons of supplies were landed at Rendova harbour. The New Georgia campaign was punctuated by several fierce naval actions in Kula Gulf.
In the early hours of 5 July some 2600 American troops were landed at Rice Anchorage on the Kula Gulf shore of New Georgia. Their task was to advance southward to prevent enemy reinforcements reaching Munda from Vila. While the troops were going ashore, Ainsworth's escort force of three cruisers and nine destroyers bombarded Vila and Bairoko harbour. Two Japanese destroyers steaming out of the gulf fired torpedoes at long range, one of which sank the destroyer Strong with the loss of forty-eight men.
Ainsworth's task group1 was passing Tulagi that afternoon when he received orders to return to Kula Gulf to intercept a ‘Tokyo Express’ running troops down from Buin. This force, commanded by Rear-Admiral Teruo Akiyama, consisted of eleven destroyers in three groups, eight of them carrying troops. Shortly before two o'clock in the morning of 6 July the Americans made radar contact with the enemy off Kolombangara. The first transport group had already been detached for Vila, but the second four stayed a while to fight. This high-speed action followed the familiar pattern. The rapid radar-controlled gunfire of the American ships quickly disabled the leading enemy destroyer Niizuki,2 but not before the Japanese had launched more than twenty 24-inch torpedoes, three of which struck the Helena in quick succession. The whole forepart of the cruiser was blown away, her back was broken amidships, and she sank quickly.3 Then the second transport group broke off action and steamed down to Vila at high speed. One destroyer ran aground there and was completely wrecked by American bombers later in the day. The Japanese had got their troops through and sunk a cruiser at a cost of two destroyers.
2 The Niizuki sank about three hours later. Rear-Admiral Akiyama and most of her crew were lost.
3 Some 700 survivors from the Helena were rescued by destroyers. More than 100 landed from boats on Vella Lavella Island and were picked up ten days later.
The Leander, then lying at Espiritu Santo, was now called upon to replace the Helena. She arrived at Tulagi next day and, in the forenoon of 11 July, joined Rear-Admiral Ainsworth's flag at a rendezvous off Savo Island. Replying to his signal of welcome, the Leander said: ‘Hope to help you avenge the loss of Helena and Strong’. Ainsworth's force, which was on its way to Kula Gulf, patrolled the entrance to the gulf that night to cover the landing of supplies at Rice Anchorage. Nothing was seen of the enemy.
The ships returned to Tulagi next morning and, after refuelling, sailed at 5 p.m. for Kula Gulf in expectation of intercepting a ‘Tokyo Express’. Three hours after sailing they were joined by six more destroyers. These ships were from three separate destroyer squadrons, had not worked together with the cruisers, and had not operated at any time as a single tactical unit under the group commander. The higher command ‘fully appreciated the situation but felt that the advantages to be gained justified the risks involved.’
The ‘Tokyo Express’ had left Rabaul at 5.30 that morning with troops for Vila. It consisted of the light cruiser Jintsu, flagship of Rear-Admiral Shunji Izaki, and five destroyers1 operating as a support group for the destroyers Satsuki, Minatsuki, Yunagi, and Matsukaze which were carrying some 1200 troops.
After leaving Tulagi, Ainsworth's task force stood over to Santa Isabel Island and steamed fast on a north-westerly course close along the coast to avoid being silhouetted against the bright moon, which was about three-quarters full and not due to set until 2.15 a.m. At midnight course was altered to about due west and the ships headed toward Visuvisu Point, the northernmost headland of New Georgia. Half an hour later a patrolling ‘Black Cat’ (Catalina flying boat) reported six ships about 26 miles distant, steaming southeast at 30 knots.
The task force increased speed to 28 knots and took up a single-line-ahead formation. The five van destroyers were about three miles ahead and the rear destroyers about the same distance astern of the cruisers, but some of the latter were not properly in station when the action started. The cruisers were about 1000 yards apart, the Honolulu (flag) leading the Leander and St. Louis in that order. The sea was calm and the sky clear, except to the westward, where the moon was setting behind a bank of clouds.
1 Jintsu, 5195 tons; 33 knots; seven 5·5-inch, three 3-inch guns, and eight 21-inch torpedo-tubes. The destroyers of the support group mounted five to six 5-inch guns and six to eight 24-inch torpedo-tubes.
None of the Japanese ships engaged that night was equipped with radar, but some, at least, had been fitted with a radar detection device which was being used for the first time. This instrument picked up and plotted the electric impulses from the American ships' radar. Captain Yoshima Shimai of the Yukikaze reported: ‘We positively determined the presence of the enemy two hours before we met him. Right up to our meeting with him we were aware of the changes in our relative positions and were able to verify the remarkable effectiveness of this instrument which gave us ample confidence in our ability to gain prior knowledge….’1
It was a minute before one o'clock when the enemy ships appeared on the American radar screens. Three minutes later the destroyer Nicholas, leading the van, reported the enemy in sight at a distance of 16,500 yards. Steaming on reciprocal courses, the two forces were closing each other at the rate of a mile a minute. At 1.9 a.m. Ainsworth ordered his van destroyers to attack with torpedoes and the cruisers made two turns to port in succession to bring all their main guns to bear. During the next ten minutes the leading destroyers discharged twenty-six torpedoes, and three in the rear, though badly bunched, got off twenty-five. The Leander fired four from her starboard tubes, but these probably passed south of the enemy.
But before the first American torpedoes had started to run the Jintsu, second ship in the enemy line, exposed a searchlight on the leading American destroyers, opened fire, and discharged torpedoes. Almost instantly she became a target for the rapid gunfire of the Honolulu, Leander, and St. Louis, the New Zealand cruiser opening at a range of 11,000 yards. The Jintsu's searchlight was extinguished almost at once, and thereafter the cruisers used radar ranges and the indications of hits on the enemy's ships and his gun flashes as points of aim. By this time it was intensely dark, the moon being completely hidden behind a formation of dense rain clouds.
1 Japanese Navy Torpedo School publication: Battle Lessons learned in the Greater East Asia War (Torpedoes), Vol. VI (translated by US Joint Intelligence Centre, Pacific Ocean Areas). The Japanese started late in their development of radar. The treatise, which discusses fully the advantages accruing to the Americans from radar, indicates that a few of their destroyers were equipped with it in July 1943.
2 The Jintsu sustained ‘more than ten’ hits by gunfire in her boiler-rooms and broke in two after being hit in the engine-room by two torpedoes. Rear-Admiral Izaki, the captain, and 482 other officers and men perished.
Immediately after the Jintsu opened fire the destroyers Yukikaze, Hamakaze, Kiyonami, and Yugure followed suit and, at a mean range of 6500 yards, discharged twenty-nine 24-inch torpedoes.1 These were well on their way when Admiral Ainsworth passed a signal to his ships by TBS radio2 to make a turn of 180 degrees to port together, but as a result of defects in the system the ‘executive’ order was not received in the Leander and was missed by all the rear destroyers except the Ralph Talbot. All the ships were firing hard and the situation was complicated by the dense smoke from the guns. It was seen through a gap in the smoke that the Honolulu had started to turn to port and drastic action had to be taken by the Leander to avoid collision, and she checked fire after getting off twenty-one broadsides.3 The Ralph Talbot was ‘forced to put her engines full astern, manoeuvre radically and use whistle signals to avoid the other four destroyers which were standing on at 30 knots’.
The cruisers were badly bunched at the turn and, almost as soon as the Leander had straightened up to follow the St. Louis on the new course, she was shaken severely by the violent explosion of a torpedo which hit her on the port side amidships. The engines were at once ordered to be stopped and the Leander was quickly left behind by the Honolulu and St. Louis, which resumed firing and continued the action to the north-eastward. The destroyers on the starboard quarter of the cruisers had ‘manoeuvred violently’ to avoid other enemy torpedoes as they crossed the American line.
1 The Japanese 24-inch torpedo carried a warhead of 1035 pounds of high explosive. It could travel nearly 11 miles at 49 knots, or nearly twice that distance at 36 knots. The standard American 21-inch torpedo with a warhead of 789 pounds of high explosive could travel three miles at 45 knots, five miles at 33 ½ knots, and seven and a half miles at 26 ½ knots.
2 Inter-ship voice radio communication.
3 The Leander fired 160 rounds of 6-inch shell. Between 1.12 a.m. and about 1.30 a.m. the Honolulu expended 1110 rounds of 6-inch and 123 rounds of 5-inch, and the St. Louis got off 1360 rounds of 6-inch and 230 of 5-inch.
The Honolulu and St. Louis, after turning wide, steered northeast for a time and ceased firing about ten minutes after the Leander was hit. They then hauled round to a north-westerly course. At that time the van destroyers were some ten miles away to the westward finishing off the Jintsu. At 1.55 a.m. the Honolulu made radar contact with a group of ships sharp on the port bow at a distance of about ten miles. They were the Japanese destroyers returning to attack, but in the American flagship there was grave uncertainty as to whether they were ‘four of the enemy's vessels retiring or our own van destroyers in pursuit of the enemy after finishing off the cripples’. The position was confused further by a breakdown of the forward TBS radio in the Honolulu. The after radar plot reported that the ships were Japanese, but ‘in such a way that the various stations which received the report did not realise that Radar Aft was positive of their identity…. It was now apparent that whatever the mysterious ships were, they were closing rapidly toward our line’.
At 2.5 a.m. the Honolulu fired star shells and a minute later gave the order to commence firing. But before either cruiser could open fire, the tracks of torpedoes were seen approaching. Three torpedoes passed close ahead of the Honolulu, one passed under her stem, and two cleared her astern by barely 100 yards. The St. Louis was hit on the port bow and forced to slow to eight knots. About two minutes later the Honolulu, which had made a sharp alteration of course, was struck by a torpedo on the starboard bow. The destroyer Gwin was also torpedoed and set on fire. Her rudder was jammed by the explosion and the Honolulu barely escaped a collision by making a drastic turn to starboard. Then the Honolulu was hit on the stern by yet another torpedo which, luckily, failed to explode. This successful attack was made by the Japanese destroyers Yukikaze, Hamakaze, Kiyonami, and Yugure, who discharged twenty-six torpedoes. They then withdrew to the north-westward and, ‘not being able to locate the Jintsu, returned to base at the Short-land Islands’. While the action was being fought the four destroyers of the transport group had landed their troops and withdrawn from the gulf.
The Honolulu and St. Louis made a quick survey of their damage and reported that they could steam at 15 knots. The scattered destroyers were assembled to screen the cruisers. While preparations were being made to take the disabled Gwin in tow, the destroyer page 321 Buchanan collided with the Woodworth, damaging one of the latter's propellers and flooding three compartments aft. The Buchanan was severely shaken by the explosion of one of several depth-charges which were knocked overboard from the Woodworth. Between four and five hours later enemy aircraft made three attempts to attack the returning task group but were driven off by the ships' gunfire and by fighters from the Russell Islands. At nine o'clock the Gwin began to settle and it was apparent that she could not be saved. Ten officers and forty-four ratings, who were all that survived of her ship's company, were taken off and she was sunk by torpedoes. She had lost two officers and fifty-nine men in action. The damaged cruisers and their screening destroyers arrived at Tulagi during the afternoon.
The torpedo that struck the Leander blew a huge, jagged hole in her port side amidships and exploded into No. 1 boiler-room, which was badly wrecked by the blast. All those on duty there were killed. The hole was about twenty feet in depth from the lower deck level and thirty feet in length, with distortion of armour and shell plating and frames extending more than fifty feet fore and aft. There were bad cracks in the ship's side and in the lower deck, which was lifted between three and four feet over the main damage area. The explosion threw up a great column of water, most of which fell on the after part of the ship and swept several men overboard. Blast from the explosion vented up a boiler-room fan casing and blew seven members of a 4-inch gun's crew over the side. Unfortunately the Leander, which was steaming at high speed when hit, had travelled a considerable distance before it was known that the men had gone. The port quadruple torpedo-tube mounting, situated about fifty feet abaft the seat of the explosion, was lifted bodily aft for several feet, leaving the torpedoes lolling over the ship's side.
The Leander took an immediate list of ten degrees to port. Main steam failed to the two after engines (inner shafts) and electric power was cut off everywhere forward of No. 3 boiler-room, plunging the ship into complete darkness and bringing all auxiliary machinery to a dead stop. Very soon, steam was lost on the port forward engine, due to the enforced evacuation of No. 2 boiler-room owing to the intense heat when the air supply fans were disabled by blast. The wrecking of the electrical installation caused a complete cut-out of all communications, except the very limited number of sound-powered telephones, and a total failure of all gunnery fire-control and radio equipment. The Leander was in no condition to renew the action had the enemy returned, and when daylight came there was every likelihood of air attacks.
Many of her ship's company were ‘hostilities only’ men, not long page 322 away from farm, factory, shop, or office in New Zealand: for not a few youngsters Leander was their first ship. ‘The curtailment of Leander's part in the operations was a bitter disappointment to me and to everyone on board’, said Captain Mansergh in his report of the action. ‘There was but a fleeting opportunity for the ship to demonstrate her weapon efficiency, but the conduct and bearing of all hands during the action and the trying passage back to harbour were a source of extreme pride and gratification to me. All behaved like veterans. In particular, the work of the engine-room, damage control, and medical personnel call for very high commendation….’
It has been well said that ‘however perfect the machines, war in the last analysis is fought by men whose nerves must remain steady to direct the machines, whose courage must remain high when they as well as their machines are in danger, whose discipline and training must be such that they work together’. Throughout that long day, officers and men of the Leander laboured resolutely and incessantly to save their sorely-stricken ship. How they succeeded has become one of the damage control classics of the Navy.
When some 600 square feet of her structure was blown open to the sea, five compartments were completely flooded – the forward boiler-room, main switchboard room, forward dynamo room, low-power room, and the transmitting station. Five fuel-oil tanks were wrecked and two others badly contaminated with sea water. There were big leaks through a damaged bulkhead into No. 2 boiler-room and the passage on the port side, as well as into the stokers' mess deck through the splits in the ship's side and the deck above. Major damage had been done to auxiliary machinery and steam, water, and fuel-oil pipe systems. It was found that the ship could steam at slow speed on the two outer engines, taking steam from No. 3 boiler-room. A south-easterly course was set to return to harbour and the Leander gradually worked up to 12 knots. Communication was established with the destroyers Radford and Jenkins, which had been detached by Rear-Admiral Ainsworth to stand by the Leander and which acted as anti-submarine and anti-aircraft screen during the passage to Tulagi.
1 Chief Engine-Room Artificer M. Buckley, RN, m.i.d.; born Northwich, England, 3 Dec 1914; fitter; joined RN 14 Jan 1936; took discharge 7 May 1948.
Commander S. W. Roskill had been injured in the leg and nearly swept overboard by the explosion, but for some hours he directed the work of his damage control parties until incapacitated by his wound. ‘The high standard of organisation and training shown by all hands was largely due to his initiative and leadership’, said the captain's report. Regular drills, lectures, and demonstrations had made all officers and men ‘damage control conscious’ and it was for this reason that, in spite of severe casualties among the senior ratings of one party, correct action on their own initiative was taken by the survivors. The general reaction was: ‘Well, it was just what we had been told it would be like.’ A seaman boy, Mervyn Kelly,4 seventeen years of age, was employed as the commander's messenger. He, too, had been blown over and injured by the explosion, but he stuck gamely to his job, and during the period when all telephones were out of action he carried many important verbal messages speedily and accurately. He neither mentioned nor reported his injuries until long after daylight.
6 Chief Electrical Artificer W. R. J. Jones, DSM, RN; born Pretoria, South Africa, 22 Dec 1905; joined Royal Navy 21 Mar 1927.
The first casualty arrived at the main dressing station six minutes after the explosion occurred, and almost all the fifteen cases were treated there within the next ten minutes. The seriously injured men suffered mainly from a combination of multiple fractures of leg and ankle bones and the effects of blast. All were standing up when they were injured, with the exception of a leading stoker who was seated at a desk. Two ratings standing one on either side of him were killed instantly. The behaviour and morale of the injured men was of a high order both during the action and afterwards, and they were unselfish in their insistence that we should treat ‘the other fellow first’, reported Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander McPhail.3 The sick-berth staff and auxiliary medical parties worked for eighteen hours without a break. The condition of the wounded on their discharge to hospital was evidence of their sound work.
For eighteen hours the engineers and stokers laboured in heat and semi-darkness to keep the ship afloat and steam her more than 200 miles back to harbour. Two-thirds of her boiler power was damaged and out of service. The only two available boilers, all the main and auxiliary machinery, and all the main and overflow feed water tanks were contaminated by salt water and fuel-oil. This caused almost continuous ‘priming’4 of both boilers. Both sets of evaporators were put on to make up feed water and the main feed tanks were allowed to overflow continuously. The boilers were blown down every ten minutes in order to reduce the density, which at one time was three degrees. Subsequent examination of the boilers showed that many of the tubes were so badly coated internally with oil residue that burning-out must have been imminent.
4 The carrying over of water spray with the steam from the boilers to the engines, with consequent danger of damage.
The Leander spent a week in Tulagi harbour, where she was made sufficiently seaworthy to enable her to be steamed to Auckland. Escorted by two United States destroyers, she left on 21 July for Espiritu Santo, whence she sailed four days later in company with the destroyer Radford, arriving at Auckland on 29 July. It was agreed with the Admiralty that temporary repairs to the hull and machinery should be carried out in Devonport Dockyard and that the Leander should then proceed to a United States port for a complete refit and modernisation of armament and other equipment. On 1 November 1943 a memorial tablet placed in the chapel of HMNZS Philomel to commemorate the thirty-three officers and ratings who had been killed in action or had died in HMNZS Leander since September 1939 was dedicated by the Rt Rev W. H. Baddeley, DSO, MC, Bishop of Melanesia and honorary chaplain, RNZNVR.
The Leander sailed from Auckland for the last time on 25 November 1943, passed through the Panama Canal on 14 December, and left Colon four days later in company with two American destroyer escorts for Boston. The temperature was below zero when the Leander and her escorts, thickly coated with snow and ice, arrived at Boston on 23 December.
The ship was visited by representatives of the Anzac Club and Union Jack Club, who arranged for all officers and ratings to visit private homes over Christmas and on later occasions when leave was given. The hospitality shown by these clubs and hundreds of citizens was an outstanding feature of the time spent in Boston.
1 LCI (L): Landing Craft, Infantry (Large), length 158 ft 6 in; breadth 23 ft 3 in; loaded displacement, 387 tons; capacity 205 troops, and 50 tons cargo; crew, 4 officers and 24 ratings; diesel engines and twin-screws; endurance 8000 miles at 12 knots.
The Leander finally paid off on 8 May 1944, thus ending an eventful commission in the Royal New Zealand Navy of just over seven years. Her ship's company were dispersed far and wide on war service, proud in the knowledge that the Leander had upheld her noble motto and the traditions of the four ships of that name which had preceded her in the Royal Navy since 1780.4
After the Battle of Kolombangara the attrition of Japanese naval forces in the New Georgia campaign continued unabated. The capture of Munda airfield on 5 August was a severe blow to the enemy. Nevertheless, he continued to reinforce his garrisons in the Vila area by landing troops and supplies by way of Vella Gulf (between Vella Lavella and Kolombangara) and Blackett Strait.
During the night of 6-7 August 1943, a task group of six American destroyers intercepted a ‘Tokyo Express’ of four destroyers carrying 950 troops and 55 tons of supplies to Vila. In a surprise attack three of the Japanese ships were sunk and the fourth was damaged by gunfire and forced to withdraw. More than 1500 seamen and soldiers perished; 300 survivors managed to reach Vella Lavella. On the following night General Sasaki, the Japanese commander in the New Georgia area, moved his headquarters to Vila, but six weeks passed before the last Japanese pockets of resistance on New Georgia, Baanga Island, and Arundel Island were liquidated.
1 Lieutenant J. R. P. Hopkins, RNZNR; born London, 27 Jun 1901; Merchant Marine officer 1918–24; joined RNZNR Mar 1943; HMNZS Leander 1943–44; HMS Indomitable, British Pacific Fleet, 1944–45; oil sales manager.
After the departure of the Leander in July, the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla were the only New Zealand naval vessels remaining in the Solomon Islands. While the New Georgia operations were in slow progress, these little vessels carried on their monotonous but essentially important duties in the Guadalcanal-Tulagi-Russell Islands area. Their continuous round of anti-submarine patrols and the escorting of supply ships was relieved from time to time as one or other came down to New Zealand for a refit. A more welcome break in the monotony fell to the lot of the Tui when she took part in the destruction of a Japanese submarine not long after her return from New Zealand.
The Tui sailed from Noumea at 6.30 a.m. on 19 August 1943 as anti-submarine escort to the US Navy supply ship Taganak and the liberty ship Wiley Post, bound for Espiritu Santo. Shortly after two o'clock in the afternoon when the convoy was about 55 miles south-south-east from the Amadee light outside Noumea, the asdic operator in the Tui, Able Seaman John Gallon, RNVR,1 reported a ‘contact’ bearing east, at the long range of 3400 yards. The convoy was ordered to make an emergency turn to starboard and commenced zigzagging at full speed. The anti-submarine control officer did not confirm the contact as a submarine, but the asdic operator was insistent that it was a submarine.
The Tui then made a run over the position of the contact, during which no depth-charges were dropped. This was followed twelve minutes later by a second run, but only two depth-charges were dropped. Nine minutes later the Tui ran in a third time and discharged two depth-charges from the throwers. Contact was then lost.
At this stage American seaplanes arrived and assisted in the hunt. The Tui carried out an asdic sweep but did not regain contact, and at 3.55 p.m. she abandoned the search and left to rejoin the convoy which was then hull down on the horizon. Ten minutes later one of the seaplanes alighted close alongside the Tui. The pilot said he had seen what he took to be bubbles and suggested that the Tui should co-operate by making ‘one more run’. The ship then steamed back and swept the area but made no asdic contact. At 4.25 p.m. she again shaped course to rejoin the convoy, which was out of sight.
1 Able Seaman J. Gallon, RNVR, m.i.d.; born Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, 11 Jan 1921; glass-blower; reverted to RN, Feb 1945.
At 5.15 p.m. what looked like the conning tower of a submarine was sighted. It was well out of range and making away at speed under much brown, oily smoke. The Tui opened fire with her 4-inch gun at an estimated range of 8000 yards, but the shot fell far short of the target. At 5.50 p.m. she scored a hit at 10,200 yards, and seven minutes later a second hit was observed. She ceased fire after twenty rounds, and three American aircraft then attacked with depth-charges. The submarine was seen to up-end and sink vertically, and three minutes later two heavy underwater explosions were heard in the asdic 'phones and felt throughout the ship. The Tui picked up six Japanese ratings, the only survivors of the submarine's complement of more than ninety officers and ratings. She received orders to return to Noumea, where she arrived next morning.
Interrogation of the prisoners disclosed that the submarine was the I-17,1 commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Hakue Harada. The I-17 left Truk on 25 July to make an aircraft reconnaissance of Espiritu Santo and Noumea and raid shipping. According to the prisoners, I-17 was the submarine that shelled the oil tanks near Santa Barbara, California, in February 1942. She was the seventeenth Japanese submarine destroyed in the South Pacific since January 1942.
Able Seaman Gallon was awarded a mention in despatches in recognition of his having by ‘good operating, attention to duty and alertness, detected the presence of a Japanese submarine….’ Replying later to the Prime Minister, who asked to be informed of the circumstances, the Naval Secretary said that ‘due to doubt by the commanding officer and the anti-submarine control officer whether the contact obtained was a submarine, the depth-charge attacks made by HMNZS Tui were not properly carried out, since only two depth-charges were dropped in each attack. It appears also that had it not been for the insistence of Able Seaman Gallon, the asdic operator, that the contact was a submarine, no attack would have been made.’ The Naval Board considered that ‘had the proper procedure been followed and a full depth-charge pattern fired in the original attack, there is little doubt but that the submarine would have been destroyed then and there.’
1 I-17, 2200 tons displacement; speed 20 knots; one 6-inch, two 20-mm anti-aircraft guns; eight 21-inch torpedo-tubes (20 torpedoes); one aircraft; launched at Yokosuka, July 1939.
Barrowclough took over full command on the island on the 18th and a week later Brigadier L. Potter, commanding 14 Brigade, had established his troops in forward areas, 35 Battalion at Matu Soroto Bay on the north-west coast, and 37 Battalion at Paraso Bay on the north coast. The Japanese resisted stubbornly in the dense forest, and progress from bay to bay was arduous and slow. By the evening of 6 October the surviving Japanese had been herded by the converging New Zealanders on to the headland between Marquana Bay and Warambari Bay.1
The Japanese withdrawal from the central Solomons was now almost completed. Early in September 1943 they had abandoned their seaplane base at Rekata Bay on the north coast of Santa Isabel. After the loss of Horaniu on Vella Lavella, they set up a barge staging base at Sumbi Point, on the south coast of Choiseul, to handle the evacuation of Kolombangara. Task groups of American destroyers failed to check the Japanese, though they sank a number of barges and the submarine I-20. The evacuation was completed on the night of 3-4 October, 5400 troops having been lifted by barges and some 4000 by destroyers in five days for the loss of twenty-nine barges, a submarine, and less than 1000 men. According to Japanese records, 12,435 troops from Kolombangara and Choiseul were landed at Buin, in Bougainville.
While the operations in New Georgia were proceeding, Admiral Halsey's South Pacific Command was planning the seizure of a bridgehead on Bougainville, northernmost but one and largest of the Solomon Islands, to provide an advanced air base for future operations against Rabaul, the enemy's main stronghold in the South Pacific. It was decided to occupy the Treasury Islands, 25 miles from the Shortland Islands, as a preliminary to the seizure of a beachhead at Cape Torokina on the north side of Empress Augusta Bay, about half-way up the west coast of Bougainville, thus bypassing the enemy strongholds. The Americans were learning to appreciate the ‘flexibility and baffling nature’ of amphibious power. They were to exploit it to the full in the near future.
The Japanese forces on Bougainville and nearby islands totalled some 40,000 Army troops and 20,000 Navy personnel, of whom the majority were in the southern area. Empress Augusta Bay was defended by from 2000 to 3000 troops. Between the Americans' northernmost airfield at Barakoma on Vella Lavella and Empress Augusta Bay, the enemy had well-developed airfields at Kahili and Kara and on Ballale Island, 13 miles south-east from Kahili. There was a seaplane base and an uncompleted airfield at Kieta, on the east coast, 28 miles from Kahili. At the north-west-end of Bougainville was Bonis airfield and across the narrow sea passage there was an airfield on Buka Island, both of them less than 200 miles from Rabaul, the key point of the Japanese defence perimeter in the South Pacific.
These airfields were largely neutralised by constant heavy bombing by American aircraft. At the same time long-range bombers of the South-West Pacific Command intensified their attacks on the airfields and shipping at Rabaul but with no commensurate result. Toward the end of October Admiral Koga, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, who was then at Truk flying his flag in the Musashi,1 reinforced the Eleventh Air Fleet at Rabaul by sending down all the aircraft from the carriers of the Third Fleet.
1 Musashi, battleship, 73,000 tons; nine 18-inch guns; sunk by aircraft, Philippine Islands, 24 October 1944.
The capture of the Treasury Group was entrusted to 8 Brigade of the 3rd New Zealand Division, commanded by Brigadier R. A. Row, under whom also were American specialist units including a construction group. The assault force, totalling 3795 all ranks, embarked at Guadalcanal with 1785 tons of equipment and supplies in 31 landing craft and arrived off Blanche harbour in the early hours of 27 October 1943. Landings were made on Mono and Stirling Islands, and organised enemy resistance was quickly broken. Two radar stations set up on Mono Island were working by 31 October. An airfield with runways of 7000 feet was constructed on Stirling Island and in regular use by the end of December, as was a naval base for small craft in Blanche harbour between the two islands.
The landing of the 3rd United States Marine Division at Empress Augusta Bay on 1 November was preceded by cruiser and destroyer bombardments of the enemy airfields at both ends of Bougainville, those at the northern end also being well bombed by aircraft from the carriers Saratoga and Princeton. The convoy of eight transports and four store ships, escorted by eleven destroyers, four minesweepers and two tugs, arrived off Cape Torokina at daybreak. By the afternoon more than 14,000 troops and 6200 tons of supplies had been landed at a cost of 70 killed and 124 wounded.
When the Japanese naval command at Rabaul learned of the landing, Rear-Admiral Sentaro Omori, commanding the Fifth Cruiser Division, was ordered to escort a counter-landing force of 1000 troops embarked in five destroyers and break up the American amphibious force. He sailed at 8.30 p.m. and an hour later was sighted by an aircraft which dropped a bomb close by one of his cruisers. Omori then decided he could not make the landing that night, sent his troop-carriers back, and stood on at high speed to attack the American transports which he wrongly assumed were still at Empress Augusta Bay. He did not know that Task Force 39, commanded by Rear-Admiral A. S. Merrill,1 who was accurately informed of his coming, was steaming north to intercept him. Omori's force consisted of the heavy cruisers Myoko (flag) and Haguro, the light cruiser Agano (flagship of Rear-Admiral Ijuin) and three destroyers, the light cruiser Sendai (flagship of Rear-Admiral Osugi) and three destroyers.2
1 Task Force 39: cruisers Montpelier (flag), Cleveland, Columbia, and Denver, each of 12,000 tons, twelve 6-inch and twelve 5-inch guns, speed 33 knots; and eight destroyers each of 2100 tons, five 5-inch guns and ten torpedo-tubes, speed 35 knots.
2 Myoko and Haguro, 12,700 tons, ten 8-inch and six 4·7-inch guns; eight 24-inch torpedotubes; 33 knots. Agano, 7000 tons; six 6-inch guns; eight 24-inch torpedo-tubes; 35 knots. Sendai, 5900 tons; seven 5·5-inch guns; eight torpedo-tubes; 33 knots. The destroyers mounted six to eight 5-inch guns and eight 24-inch torpedo-tubes; speed 34 knots.
At 1.30 in the morning an American aircraft dropped a bomb on the Haguro which reduced her speed. In the ensuing action the Sendai was disabled by gunfire and sunk by torpedoes and two destroyers were forced to withdraw after a collision. The Myoko collided with the destroyer Hatsukaze, which was sunk by gunfire soon afterwards. The Haguro was hit by six 6-inch shells. The American destroyer Foote had her stern blown off by a torpedo. The cruiser Denver was hit by three dud shells and the destroyer Spence slightly damaged. Admiral Omori broke off the action and retired at best speed to Rabaul, where he was at once relieved of his command. At eight o'clock that morning the American ships, aided by sixteen aircraft which included four New Zealand fighters, fought off an attack by 100 Japanese carrier aircraft from Rabaul, many of which were shot down.
Three days later nearly a hundred aircraft from the carriers Saratoga and Princeton struck at a group of heavy cruisers and other ships which had just arrived at Rabaul from Truk. Four heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and two destroyers were damaged, some of the former so badly that they were sent back to Japan for repairs and were out of service for five months. In a second attack on 11 November the destroyer Suzunami1 was sunk and two cruisers and three destroyers more or less badly damaged. In the early hours of 25 November five American destroyers intercepted a like number of Japanese destroyers which had landed 950 troops at Buka and were evacuating 700 others to Rabaul. In a high-speed action that ended 33 miles from Cape St. George, the Onami, Makinami, and Yugiri were sunk with heavy loss of life.2
1 Suzunami, 2100 tons; 34 knots; six 5-inch guns and fifteen 24-inch torpedo-tubes.
At the beginning of March 1944 the Americans were holding an area at Empress Augusta Bay extending about seven miles along the coast and five miles inland. The two airfields carved out of the jungle swamps about Piva were within range of Japanese artillery fire, but the whole area was well served by a network of roads and defence in depth was carefully organised. During March some 15,000 Japanese troops made great efforts to take the perimeter, but five successive attacks were defeated with a loss of 5500 killed. HMNZS Matai took a small but effective part in the final operation when she bombarded Japanese positions near the mouth of the Reini River in Empress Augusta Bay. A month later the Matai covered the landing of American tanks in the same area. At that time the ships of the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla were working on anti-submarine escort and patrol duties as far north as the Green Islands, Emirau Island, and the Admiralties.
The reputation of the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla stood high with the Americans, who admired the cheerful and efficient manner in which the New Zealanders carried out their unceasing round of duties. Expressing his ‘sincere appreciation for the services you have rendered to our common cause’, General O. W. Griswold, commanding the 14th Army Corps at Torokina, said that the flotilla ‘has at all times eagerly undertaken every mission assigned and has completed them all with signal success’.
On 14 January 1944 Admiral Halsey, Commander South Pacific Area, informed the New Zealand Naval Board that the ‘current employment of Japanese submarines and estimates of their future employment indicate immunity from the submarine menace in New Zealand waters’. He proposed, therefore, that the New Zealand Fairmile motor-launches should be employed on anti-submarine patrols and other ‘defence jobs’ in the Solomon Islands, relieving American destroyers and patrol vessels for duty elsewhere. This was approved by War Cabinet on 25 January.
A forward base known as HMNZS Cook II had been established in February 1943 at Espiritu Santo under Lieutenant-Commander (S) Twhigg, RNZNVR,3 to handle pay accounts, mails, etc., for the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla. The staff and equipment of the base were transferred to Tulagi in September 1943. When the motor-launch flotillas arrived, the base was shifted to Renard Sound in the Russell Islands and renamed Kahu. For accounting and administrative purposes ML400 was commissioned by Lieutenant-Commander Cave on 1 April 1944 as HMNZS Kahu.
During the first six months of their service in the Solomons, each of the twelve Fairmiles averaged about 3000 miles a month on anti-submarine patrols and escort duties, and in less than eighteen months they logged a total of 380,000 miles. In August 1944 several of the launches went as far north as Torokina and the Green Islands, and later ML402 was employed on escort duty to Emirau Island.
The unlucky craft was ML400. On 27 April 1944 while escorting a supply ship from the Russell Islands to New Georgia, she was disabled by an explosion and fire in her engine-room. She then drifted on to a reef and sustained severe damage to her hull and underwater fittings. She was back in service at the end of the year but soon in trouble again. On the night of 29 January 1945 she was lying at anchor in Lunga roads, Guadalcanal, about 300 yards to seaward of the American ship Serpens, 3380 tons, which had arrived there from New Zealand on the 16th and was loading explosives. Shortly before midnight the Serpens was blown to pieces by a violent explosion. Chunks of steel weighing up to 40 pounds and other debris fell on the deck of ML400, causing considerable damage. She was able to proceed under her own power to the Russell Islands and the damage was made good in a fortnight.
2 The commanding officers of the Fairmiles were as follows: ML400, Lieutenant M. C. Waylen, DSC, RNZNVR; ML401, Lieutenant W. W. Black RNZNVR; ML402, Lieutenant B. W. Thorpe, RNZNVR; ML403, Lieutenant H. J. Bull, DSC, RNZNVR; ML404, Lieutenant R. L. R. Davidson, RNZNVR; ML405, Lieutenant R. E. Pugh-Williams, RNZNVR (Lieutenant F. G. Gresham, RNZNVR, from July 1944); ML406, Lieutenant J. W. Rainey, RNZNVR; ML407, Lieutenant J. C. Frankham, RNZNVR; ML408, Lieutenant R. P. W. Wills, RNZNVR; ML409, Lieutenant D. C. Algie, RNZNVR; ML410, Lieutenant P. C. Stannard, RNZNVR; ML411, Lieutenant W. H. Heath, RNZNVR.
3 Lieutenant-Commander (S) H. Twhigg, RNZNVR; born Dunedin, 17 Jun 1902; company director.
After refitting in New Zealand, the Matai and Tui returned to the Solomon Islands in October 1944, the former escorting the United States transport Alkaid which was carrying a draft of 700 officers and men of the Royal New Zealand Air Force to the Green Islands and Emirau. By the end of the year the tide of war was flowing strongly against Japan's inner defences and the South Pacific had become a back area. In December 1944 the Matai was replaced by the Arabis which, with the Kiwi and Tui, now constituted the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla. The Kiwi was detached for two months for duty at Suva and in March 1945 she and the Tui went on escort duty to Hollandia, on the north coast of Dutch New Guinea. From 6 April to the beginning of June the Arabis was stationed in the Ellice Islands. The Kiwi returned to New Zealand in May 1945, and in July the Arabis and Tui escorted the Fairmiles in two sections back to Auckland.1 The 25th Minesweeping Flotilla and the motor-launches had well earned Admiral Halsey's tribute that the ‘alert and courageous actions of the crews of these gallant little ships merit the highest praise.’
1 In January 1945 the two flotillas of Fairmiles were amalgamated as the 80th Motor Launch Flotilla under Lieutenant-Commander Bull as Senior Officer.